“Mandir ke avshesh hain….dekh lo, par sham ko mat rukna….wahan bhoot aate hain (You can visit the temple ruins here, but do not stay after sunset because it is haunted)” the owner of the small restaurant told us as we sat eating the spicy local cuisine made from dried sangria beans and ker berries with Indian flat bread of Bajra flour (pearl millet flour) laced with dollop of clarified butter and a glass of sour buttermilk spiced with roasted powdered cumin seeds, salt and pepper.
We recently got posted to Barmer, a lazy sleepy small town of Rajasthan. This town is a part of Indian Thar Desert with the golden sands of Jaisalmer city in its north and Jodhpur with its majestic forts and palaces to east. Pakistan border on western side is only 80 km away. In news since 2009 due to the discovery of oil basin, Barmer is also known for Ajrakh print, a typical block print, hand-printed by local artisans on bed sheets and curtains.
No sooner did I hear about ancient temple ruins and that too haunted…my interest was piqued. Obviously on the next opportunity we drove down to the temple ruins.
I have always been fascinated with history and architecture and love visiting existing ancient monuments. My excitement knew no bounds when I saw these ruins….every stone I picked up to examine had some or the other carving…..the salvaged stone pieces lay in heaps like the jigsaw waiting to be put together.
A lone old man clad in white turban, white dhoti and and white kurta wandered around offering to tell the story of the haunted ruins. If it were not for the bright afternoon sun, his gaunt features, lethargic gait and his white attire would have been enough to scare anybody away… He could have easily been mistaken as the ghost that haunts! I wonder if that is in fact true? May be there aren’t any ghosts after all!
He told us that the ruins lay unattended, uncared for at mercy of weather with a thick growth of thorny trees all around for many years till some villagers caught two intruders, who had accidentally discovered the ruins, stealing the pieces of engraved stones.
The temple ruins according to a folk lore are cursed and the villagers wanted to protect the ruins from outsiders. Soon news spread to local authorities and the team of Archaeological Survey of India took up renovations.
According to lore popular among the local folks, centuries ago a hermit cursed the city. He however, excused a woman, the potter’s wife, from the curse because she nursed and took care of a sick pupil of the hermit. The hermit told the potter’s wife to leave the town and warned her not to look back. The potter’s wife however did look back out of curiosity and turned into a stone statue like the other villagers.
The locals believe the ghosts of those villagers still haunt the ruins at night and anybody who wanders at night in the ruins simply vanishes never to be found again!!
The locals also insist that a life like statue of a woman looking backwards exists on outskirts of ruins….!!
We however came across no such statue even though we drove quite some distance towards the outskirts of village!
History and Architecture:
Kiradu Temples (originally called Kiradkot) located 35kms from district Barmer, Rajasthan date back to 11th -12th century A.D. It was a complex of about 108 temples of which ruins of five survive. Muslim invaders raided, defaced the statues of Gods, mutilated the female figurines and destroyed the temple complex to pieces. The rest of the remains of thus plundered and ruined temple complex became the victim of strong dusty winds, general neglect and rumors of being haunted.
The temple complex was constructed from sandstone. The columns, capitals, cornices, column reliefs, ceilings…….each nook and corner is intricately carved and depicts scenes from the epics “Ramayana and Mahabharata” and the incarnations of “Lord Vishnu“. There are elaborate carvings of elephant and horse riders, war scenes and scenes from routine life of people.
The larger of the surviving ruins was the main temple. There are carvings at places, of dinosaur look-alike and creatures with dragon-face too. Sculptures depicting various positions from Kaamsutra also decorate the lintels, beams, arches and walls of all the existing temples. There even was wall with some inscription in either Sanskrit or some dialect in the temple complex.
One of the surviving ruins was supposedly a dance hall for the king‘s entertainment and has remnants of a high seat like platform which might have been used to place the king’s throne.
I could imagine the grand silk curtains rustling in the winds, anklets of the dancing girls reverberating, the folk music echoing in the temple complex and the benevolent king pleased with the performance lauding the artists with pearls, rubies and gold coins.
I was immensely pleased at this jewel hidden in the golden sands of the desert. So lost was I in exploring and wandering in the ruins that I did not hear the shouts of my husband and daughter who wanted to return home as they had had enough of the stones.
“Are you sure, you aren’t the ghost of the potter’s wife?” my husband teased me after I joined them finally.
I could have spent the whole day wandering in those ruins….But then who wants to tempt the Ghosts of Kiradu Temples by visiting at night?