Eklingji is a place famed for exquisite temple sculptures. Just 22 kms north of Udaipur, it is also supposed to be the family deity of the Maharanas of Mewar based in Udaipur.
The bus stops at a row of shops. There is no need to enquire. I can see the entrance to the temple. It is just a few paces away. I try to ignore urgent calls from vendors offering flowers and stuff.
‘Hurry up. The temple is going to close. You can pay later,’ one guy reaches out with a basket of offerings. It is half past one. I wonder if the temple will close for the afternoon. My timing may have just been bad.
Truly, the massive doors are shut. A wicket door is open. The security guard is urging me to rush in. I enter, dump my backpack and remove my boots. I walk on a strip of coir carpet.
‘Hurry up. Hurry up,’ shouts the guard behind me. I see other visitors dashing through the courtyard. I get the idea. I spring into a quick jog. I enter the mandapa. Except for a handful of devotees there is no queue. Two priests are closing the doors. I glimpse for a moment the linga in the sanctum. It is covered by decorative cloth. I must have looked at it for just three seconds. The doors to the sanctum are closed. One of the priests dispenses prasada. I respectfully accept the same and walk back to the entrance.
I didn’t get a good look at the linga. My eyes could not adjust so quickly to the darkness of the sanctum. What is the use of such a darshan? I suppose for many the simple act of darshan is enough to merit good karma. You need not think or pray. Just looking at the consecrated idol is enough.
I can see that the temple is beautiful, packed with sculptures. Within the complex is not one but many shrines. With royal patronage, one can expect nothing less. Unfortunately the temple complex is closing and I have to leave. Perhaps I will come back in the evening if I have the time. As I leave I meet by coincidence a couple living in a village nearby. The guy is local but his wife hails from Karnataka. We exchange a few words in Kannada.
I leave the main road, take a short cut, share the prasada with a few school boys and climb up a shaded dirt path. I arrive at a high road. I turn right. There is a large lake here. I follow the road to a hill. At its summit is a Jain temple. I do not find it interesting enough. The full weight of my backpack means that I am less enthusiastic to walk up the steep slopes.
I continue walking along a lone road until I arrive at a wide open field. At its dead center are the ruins of an old temple. It stands surrounded by a weed covered pond. With hills in the background, it is quite picturesque here. I sit for a few minutes under the shade of a palm tree. Some women in the distance appear to be weeding the ground. Cattle are grazing in the heat. To the right, partly hidden by vegetation, are stone ruins that suggest a greater temple. This is the temple I have been meaning to visit.
‘Why is this called the Sas-Bahu Temple?’ I ask a caretaker of the place. The place is beautifully maintained. Hedges are neatly trimmed. The ruins stand on a plain high plinth. Small saplings have been planted around the plinth.
‘The name comes from sahasrabahu in dedication to Thousand-shouldered Vishnu. There is also a theory that this was built by a certain sas and bahu,’ he replies. A temple of a similar name stands within the fort at Gwalior.
The temple complex is from the 11th century. Two main temples are surrounded by smaller ones. This sort of an arrangement is similar to the great Kailasa Temple of Ellora. The general layout of the main temples is a front mukha mandapa, the mandapa and finally the sanctum. Except for the shikara on a smaller temple, many other shikaras are gone. The shikaras were of brick and mortar while much of what remain are the stone bases. These stone walls carry jali screens and sculptures of good art. I see the trinity gods of Hinduism, Indra on his elephant as well as other deities. The sculptures on the inside are much better.
The interior is packed with reliefs on walls, pillars, cornices, architraves and ceiling. Serpentine makara-torana arches link the capitals of sculpted pillars. Rounded pendentives hang from these torana arches. Pillars are stellate. Their bases contain aedicules with full length deities in standing poses. Gunas stylistically support heavy stone beams. Miniature deities pack thickly the cornices. The ceiling is divided into panels and within each are floral motifs, hanging alcoves, dancers, musicians and kirtimukhas. I am reminded of Hoysala art of Somnathpur and Kakatiya art of Hanamkonda.
There is a strange rumbling in the stomach department. ‘Is there a toilet here?’ I ask the caretaker.
‘Yes. It’s outside. You ask the man outside.’
I approach him but he is relunctant to give my the key. I am sure he has it.
‘Where can I get the key?’ I ask. I am not giving up. The rumbling hasn’t.
‘It will cost you ten rupees,’ he says dismissively. He expects me to walk away.
‘I can pay ten rupees.’
He cannot refuse now. He calls out his daughter. I pay her ten rupees for the key in return. The toilet is western. It is clean. Water flows in the pipes. It flushes. So far out in rural Rajastahan, it is all too much to believe. It is quite clear that this facility is meant only for foriegn tourists; and though they would not be asked to pay for it a tip would be expected.