Temples on the gorge
THE road that moves from Bundi to Chittorgarh passes by the Menal temple complex very close. Once the temple complex was a safe retreat for great kings. When it rains, the water flows over the granite rocks and plunges into a gorge 100 feet below into a pool and then proceeds onwards.
This complex was built by Someshvar Chhahamana and his queen Suhavadevi of the Sakhambari dynasty in the 11th century. The construction of the main structural group, on the left side of the gorge, is credited to the king while the single temple with a detached monastery across the river is associated with the queen, albeit the foundation inscription has been lost now.
We have a patron
builder king from the Solanki dynasty, who got married to a princess
from the Kalachuris of Malwa. The consequence was the mixing up of the
two styles. The pair has left two different, but co-mingling,
impressions on the structure. The Saas-Bahu temple of Gwalior
fort provides us with another cognate example, where structure,
iconography and rituals were moulded by the closely related kings.
One enters through a triple-storey wall-gate (resembling a Buddhist vihar, as we see in the Panch Mahal of Fatehpur Sikri) fixed in a conspicuously high fort-like wall that surrounds the complex. As a big gate-edifice, it seems to have a conceptual similarity to the gopuram of the south. Though the main Shiv shrine is built in sand-stone, brick-work is visible wherever the surface of the tower covering of the smaller temples (perhaps even older) has peeled off. Before the main temple of Mahanala is a Nandi enclosure, solidly built, but barely sufficient to accommodate the bull. Some of the four-armed sculptures that are on the entrance are unusual and seem to be the associates of Bhairav. One of them carries a kamandal in one hand while supporting a bird in another open, uplifted hand. A scantily-dressed mother gives her waist an extra swing so as to securely seat her baby. The diminutive hero, riding a great mystic horse-like creature, is a motif. Compared to its superb rendering at the Kalyan Mandap of the Vitthal-Swami temple at Hampi, it is crude here.
The temple has a conventional ground plan—with five graduated projections dictating pillar positions. Strings of mini-shrines on the tower are bulkier as compared to the finer ones at Bijolian.
One can see the free-standing, toran
door-frames for festivities like Gangaur. The conical tendency of the
finial of Central Indian lineage is a reminder that the temples can be
studied fruitfully as an illustration—how different schools can
produce one balanced structure.