Chhattisgarh, or ‘the land of 36 forts’ , is endowed with an exceptional natural elegance and a resplendent cultural heritage. The state offers a beautiful amalgam of faith and rich history tinted by a distinct tribal colour. The unique, iridescent culture which has thus developed is most explicitly visible in the temples of Chhattisgarh.
Patronised by kings & rich merchants through centuries, the magnificent temple treasures of Chhattisgarh are embodiments of faith, opulence and creativity. Take a look:
This 600 year-old temple is located in the Dantewada district of the Bastar region. It was established by a King from the Kakatiya dynasty which ruled the region between 12th-14th centuries from its capital in Warangal. This temple, although popular among tourists throughout the year, comes to life during the festival of Navratri and Dussehra. Tribals, from far and wide come together to celebrate their culture through various forms of music, dance and rituals. It is believed that Goddess Danteshwari protects the people and bestows sanctity upon them.
This temple is more famously known as the ‘Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh’. Built in the 11th century CE, during the reign of the Nagavanshi rulers, it is sheer “poetry in stone”.
Enveloped by the picturesque surroundings of the Maikal Mountains and the dense green forests, the temple is carved on a rocky stone in Nagara Style. Created in the name of Lord Bhoramdeo (revered god of the Gond tribe), the temple complex consists of a main shrine dedicated to Bhoramdeo (Lord Shiva), and three other exquisite temples, including a famous Madwa Mahal ( marriage hall ).
Bilai Mata Mandir
A distinct fact about Chhattisgarh is that it takes immense pride in it’s heritage and embraces its tribal identity. In India, it is rare to find a state where tribals are revered as temple-priests. Nature worship is an important element of tribal culture and temples in Chhattisgarh are witness to the intimate relationship tribals share with nature. An example of this is the Bilai Mata Mandir in Dhamtari where the principal deity worshipped is Bilai Mata or the Holy Cat Mother Goddess. The locals believe that the Goddess guards the local community of grass-cutters from all evils.
In fact occasionally, praying along with humans, bears have been spotted too – at the Chandi Mata Mandir – causing no harm to fellow worshippers.
ASI Museum & Laxman Temple, Sirpur
The group of temples in Sirpur, with the magnificent Laxman Temple (situated on the banks of river Mahanadi in Mahasamund district) at its centre, are one of the finest brick temples of India. Sirpur offers an artistic blend of both Hindu and Buddhist culture. The Laxman Temple is one of the best examples of this syncretic architecture. It is the amalgamation of unique symmetry, precise construction and exquisite carvings in Hindu style and Buddhist-style viharas (monasteries) flaunting wonderful inscriptions and intricate decorations.
The site was first discovered by Lord Cunningham in the year 1872. Further excavations in and around the site revealed 12 Buddh Viharas, 1 Jain Vihara, monolithic statues of Buddha and Mahavira, 22 Shiv temples and 5 Vishnu temples.
The ASI Museum at Sirpur offers a broad overview of all the temple complexes apart from a lavish display of artefacts excavated from the nearby sites and is highly recommended for a visit.
One of the remarkable features of Chhattisgarh’s temples is the dominance of female deities :
In Chhattisgarh, you will notice an independent worship of female deities. While female deities are additionally worshipped as consorts of the trinity (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) as per usual practice; in Chhattisgarh, it is the belief in the Mother Goddess asa protector of all that reigns supreme for it is she who carries within her the seeds of creation and destruction.
Some of the most prominent temples in the state including Maa Bamleshwai in Dongargarh, Danteshwari Temple in Bastar District, Mahamaya Temple in Ratanpur and the Ganga Maiyya Temple in Jhalmala – all celebrate and worship femininity and represent the predominant influence of the Mother Goddess in the lives of locals.