Barsoor is 22 kms from the town of Gidam. Gidam is 72 kms from Jagdalpur where I put up for last night. So it’s going to be quite a ride to Barsoor and back. An early start is absolutely a must since getting transport to Barsoor may be difficult.
By quarter past six I am at the bus station at Jagdalpur. I get a bus right away but it doesn’t leave another twenty minutes. The road to Gidam is pretty good. I arrive there by quarter to eight. As expected the real problem is getting to Barsoor from here.
A jeep waits to fill up. With ten people already in it, the driver waits for more passengers. He says he will not leave without at least six more. He claims to have been waiting since six this morning. At half past eight we move off only to make a round of this small town to look for more passengers. Finally we leave at quarter to nine. It’s been an hour at Gidam just waiting for more passengers. The main road of Gidam is an old rubble track. Piles of sand and stones, drums and tar are in place all along the road. Gidam will get a brand new road in a few days. Or will it take them weeks or months to get this work done?
The temples at Barsoor are not all that famous. It is easy to see why. There are no architectural or artistic wonders. The 32-pillar temple containing two sanctums is extremely plain. Two lingas are enshrined in the sanctums. It is unique perhaps because of two sanctums and not one. Two Nandis face the sanctums. The decorative relief work on these Nandis are beautiful.
The other artistic merit to note here is the twin sculptures in the Ganesha Temple further down. The temple itself exists in a rubble of stones and barely surviving plinths. Ground has been cleared and under a proper covering, the two Ganesha statues of sandstone are displayed.
One of them is about 3 feet and the other is 6 feet high. Both are sitting postures. There are no great decorative motifs on them but the figures are corpulent and contented as Ganesha is expected to be. There is a certain poise in them that only Ganesha can achieve. This comes across beautifully in the sculptures.
Walking further across village houses and their fields of vegetables and greens, I come across a tall shikara in the typical Orissan style. This temple has a curious name – Mama Bhanja Temple (Uncle-Nephew Temple).
‘Why do they call this the mama bhanja temple?’ I ask the sweeper at the temple. His words will be common knowledge and popular belief, not necessarily historic truth.
‘It’s an old story. Mama built this temple but the nephew killed him, hung his head from the shikara and claimed that he himself had built the temple,’ he replies.
He points out to a face carved on the shikara. ‘That’s the face of the mama,’ he says.
I admire the decorations on the shikara and the sanctum as well. Nothing spectacular but it is the best of decorations in Barsoor.
Next to a large tank, with the hills in the background, is a small temple with a shikara. This temple has erotic imagery but they have none of the charm or skilful execution of Khajuraho. During the days of the weekly market, I am told that this place will be busy with activity.
There is one last temple dedicated to Danteshwari. It is housed in a modern building but an older temple building may have been here earlier. Danteshwari is a popular deity in these parts.
All temples are properly enclosed by walls and iron fences. The people here are quite rural in lifestyle. Without such protection, the temples may have long gone. Barsoor and its environs are the stronghold of Naxalites. I suppose they don’t want cultural desecration but only political attention.
A strange thing happens when I am walking out of the village. A man who is busy bringing firewood home, drops his load, approaches me and starts begging. He will not take no for an answer. He continues his demands a good two minutes until he gives up on my miserly soul in a mouthful of abuses.