A visit to Ratanpur had been part of my itinerary even before I began my tour of Chhattisgarh. After my visit to the museum at Raipur and finding there some excellent sculptures from 10-12th century Ratanpur, I am motivated a little bit more to visit the place. It is not far from Bilaspur.
I would have liked to be at Ratanpur by eight but I have to take care of some train bookings. So I take an auto-rickshaw to the train station and wait for the reservation office to open at 8 am. There is already a crowd in waiting. When the shutters open, there is a mad rush to the counters that are yet to open. I am reminded of a scene from the National Geographic channel – mad rush of a herd of bisons crossing a river with crocodiles in the wait. At the counter a fight breaks out. It is a normal beginning for yet another Indian day. I wait in the queue for 20 minutes. I book my berth on an overnight train from Raipur to Jamshedpur for tomorrow night. It is on tatkal quota.
Getting to Ratanpur is quite easy and I arrive from Bilaspur within half an hour. Ask anyone, they will give a list of temples to see here. The most famous of these is the Mahamaya temple. My visit of the town starts very differently.
I walk into the village in an attempt to get lost. It is a small village. I walk through narrow lanes lined with houses, some mud and others of newer construction. Sometimes I turn left, sometimes right. I admire the bright blue colours distempered on the walls. I pose three kids in front of such a wall, with a wooden bullock cart parked in the foreground. At a Siva temple, a woman peeps through the arched doorway as I click a photo of the Nandi at the entrance. Sloping roofs are mostly tiled in terracotta. Some muds walls are capped with twigs and straws. White distempered shrines stand on the bank of a lake. One of these brick shrines is clearly breaking up by the stress of roots growing under it.
Then I walk out of town to the hills beyond. I pass a village couple engaged in making mud bricks.
‘Do you mix straw, sand or cement?’ I ask the man. The woman is mixing some dried grass with some mud.
‘No. That is for scrubbing only. Bricks are made of only mud. Nothing else is mixed,’ he clarifies.
Nearby are half completed houses – bare brick walls made of mud bricks, rafters of plain wood just as nature provides them. The sun is casting a mattress of shadows of these rafters on muddy ground. This is a village house in the making.
I continue past the last of these houses, climb up a hillock to its small summit. The view on the other side is spectacular. It is wild shrubland with farms in the far right. Ahead of me, beyond another line of hillocks is a vast stretch of green fields. Almost as far as the eye can see is a river that provides for such a rich cultivation. How different from this side of the hills!
I walk past the shrubland and towards the fields. The ground in muddy and wet. Women are busy at work. Everyone looks at me with interest and more with suspicion. I stop by the edge of lake to observe three men standing knee deep in water.
They are either fishing or searching for washed up minerals or both. Each one carries a rectangular net supported by cross poles. A horizontal wooden pole slung in front from the neck is used to drive the mud and fish towards the submerged nets. Slung from the shoulders is a tin or plastic can to store their finds. The men move in a line and make a wide circle. They stamp the pole into the ground, one step at a time to drive the catch into the nets. When the nets are hauled up, I see very little to make them smile. They move on along the shore to try at another site.
I walk to farther fields. Green is the beautiful colour of this rural landscape. I am enjoying every moment of it.
When I come out of this earthly heaven, I walk to the top of a hill. The temple dedicate to Rama has three beautiful idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The shikara here is interesting. It has projected jarokhas on all four sides. This is common in palace architecture but no so on temple shikaras. The closest parallel for temple architecture is a multi-storeyed entrance porch as in Sas-Bahu temple at Gwalior or the Dwarakish temple at Dwarka.
There is a fort in ruins at Ratanpur. At the entrance gateway are some noteworthy sculptures but without a guide I am unable of make sense of two of the important reliefs. I remember one of them to represent Ravana, something I had learnt at the Raipur museum.
The last visit at Ratanpur is an obligatory one to the Mahamaya temple. It doesn’t interest me much. Actually, by now I am tired and hungry. There is not a single decent place for lunch at Ratanpur. The only tasteful thing the last few hours is a coconut prasadam that the priest at Rama temple offered me. I need to get back to Bilaspur for a good late lunch.