At Agroha there is a large temple with three prominent shikaras. These shikaras are neither the Dravidian vimanas nor the rekha nagara shikaras. They are rectangular blocks tapering slightly as they rise up to their lotus topped crowns. The entire temple complex is modern. It does not appeal to me a great deal but perhaps I can stay a night here.
I wait around in a corridor to see the manager. When I get my turn, he spares a few moments to talk to me. Yes, I can get a room. Although they don’t give it to singles, he will make an exception since I have come from so far. The room will cost Rs. 200, it is quite basic and without an attached bathroom. I think I’ll give it a miss and stay for the night at my next destination.
Unlike true temples and their holy water tanks, this temple has a water park in the spirit of modern theme parks. Shrines in the temple can be accessed by walking through “caves”. All the popular deities are represented. Tirupati Venkateshwara, Krishna and Radha, the linga of Amarnath and Vaishnavo Devi sit in their designated places. Priests make pujas for pilgrims who come and go. I am a little skeptical of the whole affair.
The main deity of the temple is Maha Lakshmi. She is flanked by Goddess Saraswati and Lord Agrasen who sit in their individual shrines. Agrasen is that legendary righteous king of the region. His kingdom of Agroha has long been famous but putting a date to his rule is more elusive. I learn that the community of people we call Agrawals are actually descendants of those who once lived in Agroha (Agroha wallah). Apparently, the clan of Agrasen is immortalized in 18 surnames.
I have lunch of vegetable pulao at a restaurant next door to the temple. I am glad for it because this is the only one anywhere close. There is nothing else in this hot and arid place but the highway going to Punjab. After lunch I walk a little down the highway to find a turning to the left. Security guards here are playing cards. They take notice of my entrance but can’t be bothered to ask who or why. I walk uphill and within a couple of minutes I am in the midst of ruins 2000 years old.
A board claims that the excavated ruins of Agroha are from as early as 4th century BC. From here I can see the three shikaras of the temple and a tall Hanuman rising above a mass of throny shrubland. The place is so dry that I wonder how it could have once supported a great civilization. The ruins are moderate. The first brick ruin resembles a Buddhist stupa standing six feet above ground level and enclosed with a compound wall. A rectangular brick structure slowly tapers to a circular platform which might have once supported a dome. Nearby steps lead up to a platform. Perhaps this was a shrine.
I walk from the stupa to another ruin. I see remnants of monastic cells, temples and shrines. The ruins are rather neat, thanks to overenthusiastic restoration and reconstruction. Another impressive structure among these ruins suggests a fort with its four corner bastions. The ruins are scattered on a huge mound. The view from here is far-reaching if somewhat unimpressive. On this hot and dry afternoon, the sky is too bright even to reveal its true colour. There is not a cloud in sight. The low-lying thorning vegetation, the distant road and still air somehow takes me away from present times to a past I can only imagine.