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Saturday, 28 April 2012

India's heritage lives in its heartland

DIPANKAR MUKHERJEE explains why Madhya Pradesh's world heritage sites are witnessing a tourist boom over the past several years

Tourism in Madhya Pradesh is growing fast and it is not just due to increase in the number of hotels, air services, communication links and travel options. The reason behind this growth lies in popular interest in the world heritage sites located in the State.

With every passing day, the interest of national and foreign tourists is growing in the world heritage sites of the State. The Khajuraho temples are one of the favourite tourist destinations, while interest in Bhimbetka caves and Sanchi stupas has increased with time. Madhya Pradesh also has innumerable monuments, exquisitely carved temples, stupas, forts and palaces which attract visitors.

MP Tourism has stressed a lot on developing better facilities around the world heritage site. From air services to state-of-art hotels, MP tourism has developed the sites catering to modern tourist demands.

Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation general manager RP Chouhan said MP tourism is constantly working to promote tourism in the State. An air taxi service has been started for Khajuraho and development work in Sanchi on Public Private Partnership mode is being carried out. A highway treat has been started near Bhimbetka caves. More services and facilities will be added from time to time, he promised.

The fascinating temples of Khajuraho, MP's unique gift to the world, represent the expression of a highly mature civilization. These temples were the first historical site in the State to be declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1986. An untouched cultural heritage, Khajuraho is a tourist haven admired the world over for their beauty and the boldness.

The Chandela rulers built the temples of Khajuraho in central India in the tenth century AD and these marvelous temples contain stunning sculptures. Every form and mood of human beings has been beautifully etched out in stone, justifying the excellent craftsmanship and artistry of the Chandela Rajputs.

MP Tourism has established excellent services of boarding and lodging in this small village to promote tourism, the country's biggest hotel groups have hotels here. Hotel Radisson and Taj Group's hotel Chandela have more than 90 rooms, four executive suites and a conference hall. MP Tourism has started an air service to Khajuraho a few months ago.

Each temple stands on a high platform with a distinct upward direction to their build. The three main compartments are the entrance (ardhamandapa), assembly hall (mandapa), and the sanctum sanctorum (garbha griha). The temples are classified in three groups based on their location - western, eastern and southern. The Khajuraho temples also attract a large number of school and college excursions.

The most prominent structure at Khajuraho is the Kandariya Mahadeo temple, which is the largest and dedicated to Lord Shiva. The sanctum enshrines a lingam, a phallic symbol. The amorous couples are most sensuously depicted in the Chaunsath Yogini temple, dedicated to goddess Kali. Facing eastwards to the rising sum, Chitragupta temple is dedicated to the sun god. A three-headed image of Brahma is enshrined in Vishwanath Temple. The lintel over the entrance of beautiful Lakshman Temple shows the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara and Lakshmi, Vishnu's consort.

The temples in this group can be divided in two, one being a cluster of Jain temples and another scattered through the small village. Parsvanath Temple is the largest in this group. The temple was initially dedicated to Adinath but the statue was replaced by that of Parasnath in 1860. The Jain Gantai temple has a frieze which depicts the 16 dreams of Mahavira's mother and a Jain goddess on a winged Garuda. Dedicated to the Jain saint Adinath, the temple is lavishly embellished with sculpted figures including yakshis.

A track running south from Jain enclosures reaches the Duladeo Temple. It is among the newer temples in Khajuraho; more accurate, finer and equally graceful, with figures of maithuna (sexual intercourse) in various positions. The Chaturbhuj Temple has a three-metre high image of Vishnu.

The Sanchi stupas

Located on the foot of a hill, Sanchi is just 46 km away from Bhopal. Sanchi is a religious site of global archaeological significance. Sanchi is known for its stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD. The most famous of these monuments, the Sanchi Stupa I was originally built by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. Ashoka built the first stupa and put up many pillars. The crown of the famous Ashoka pillars, with four lions standing back to back has been adopted as the national emblem of India.

In 1818, Sanchi was rediscovered and gradually the historical and religious significance of the place was recognised. Work on the stupas started in 1881 and finally between 1912 and 1919 these were carefully repaired and restored. It was accepted that the structure in Sanchi was the most organised construction which went into the engineering of temples in the medieval period. The carvings here are done with the precision of jewellers.

Despite the damage and restoration work done Sanchi, is the most evocative and attractive Buddhist site in India. Sanchi is the place of stupas and pillars but the gorgeous gateways add grace to the place. These gateways are beautifully carved and carry scenes from the life of Ashoka.

Bhimbetka caves

In Bhimbetka there are about 600 caves in all filled with paintings of various activities of cave dwellers. The Bhimbetka caves are the largest collection of prehistoric caves in India. The paintings are about 9,000 years old making them the oldest paintings in the world signifying the earliest traces of human being on the planet.

Just 47 km from the capital city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh in the Vindhyas, the history of the caves of Bhimbetka goes back to the time of the Mahabharata.

Another point of interest about the caves is that the temperature inside them is very low as compared to that outside the caves. The caves can be easily reached by road from Bhopal city. The caves of Bhimbetka were discovered by Dr Wakankar in the year 1958.


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