A Day in Jabalpur (Part1) Dhuandar Falls; 64 Yogini Temple ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

I have to be honest here. I may never have taken out time to visit Jabalpur if it wasn’t on my husband’s work itinerary! As a daughter of an army man, I had heard of Jabalpur only in the context of it being a cantonment. However, this is a town that needs to be explored for many other reasons- as I discovered. You may need a day or two to see the sights and here, I will describe what we could achieve in a day.

Jabalpur is situated by the River Narmada which is also known as Rewa. It gets its name from the local legend that says that the Sage Jabali meditated by the River Narmada. And as I visited each site, the layers of this city were unpeeled just like an onion, one layer at a time.

Ancient History: References from the Mahabharata and the Puranas speak about a settlement called Tripuri (modern Tewar that is 12 km from Jabalpur). Legend says that it was the capital of three asuras; Tarakasura, Vidunmali, and Maya who were all vanquished by Lord Shiva. In ancient times, it was an important town that connected Mahishmti, Ujjain, Vidisha, and Kaushambi. The site was discovered by a Bengal Sappers engineer named Lt.Col Yule in 1860-61. Tripuri was part of the Chedi Kingdom (one of the 16 Mahajanapadas) in the 6th century BC. Then it came under the Mauryan dynasty. After the fall of the Mauryan dynasty in the 2nd century BC, it was captured by the Satavahanas in the 1st century BC. After their reign, came some local small rulers who were feudatories of the Gupta dynasty. In the 7th century, AD, the Haihaya Kaluchari was founded by King Vamaraja. In the 13th century, the reign of the Kalucharis began to decline and was taken over by the Gond dynasty and the heroism of Rani Durgavati will be discussed later in the series. In 1562, Emperor Akbar captured the region and ruled over it for the next 25 years. It was returned to the Gonds in 1591, under the suzerainty of the Mughals. In 1796, the Marathas took over the region and in 1796, the Bhonsles took charge from Nagpur. In 1851, after the Battle of Sitalbadi, the British forces took charge and hence Jabalpur is a cantonment to date. A significant event in the Indian Independence struggle was the Tripuri session of the Indian National Congress (1939) on the Tilwara banks of the River Narmada. So much history in this small town!

Back to our trip! We arrived at lunchtime and checked into our hotel Grand Heritage Narmada Jackson. It was the wedding season, and the hotel was milling with guests for the wedding. After a good lunch, we left to explore this city which has seen so much of history.

The city of Jabalpur stands in a rocky basin, surrounded by low hills about 9.6 km from the Narmada River. The Narmada River, perhaps, is what gives Jabalpur its unique identity. I will give the story of the Narmada River at the end of the blog. But for now let’s start exploring in and around Jabalpur.

Dhuandar Falls: Dhuandhar, literally meaning misty falls (dhuan means smoke and dhar means stream), is a 10-meter drop of the Narmada River. It is an impressive waterfall by any imagination. The Narmada River, makes its way through the magnificent marble rocks (described below), narrows down and then plunges into this waterfall. A ropeway to the falls allows tourists to see the view from the top. However, we opted just to see from the ground level.

64 Yogini Temple, Bhedaghat: Our next stop was the Chausath Yogini Mandir (64 Yogini Temple). The name is a misnomer, as it has 81 yoginis as compared to the usual 64 yoginis that is found in other temples in the country. These temples are found in Orissa, at Hirapur and Ranipur. The other three are in Madhya Pradesh – one at Khajuraho, one at Morena and the one we visited at Bhedaghat, Jabalpur. It is also called Golakhi Math or a circular lodge. According to historian and scholar David Gordon White, temple would have been the Kalachuri dynasty’s largest building project. Kalachuris of Mahishmati, were an Indian dynasty that ruled in west-central India between 6th and 7th centuries. They are also known as the Haihayas or as the Early Kalachuris to distinguish them from their later namesake. The 81 yoginis are described in the Mula Chakra of the Sri Matottara Tantra, which survives in manuscript form in Nepal. It tells of 9 Matrikas (not the usual 8); each is counted as a yogini, and leads a group of 8 other yoginis, so that there are 9 groups of 9. 

We had to climb a flight of 100 steps to reach the top. The temple is within a circular walled compound and the statues of the 81 yoginis are built on the other side of the wall. The circular structure has an inner diameter 116 feet and outer diameter 131 feet. From the top, you get a birds eye view of the city of Jabalpur.

The inner part of the circular wall is broken down in 84 equal cells, out of which three serves as gateways. The gateway in the south-west direction consists of one cells; the gateway in the south-east direction consists of two adjoining cells. As we circumambulate the temple, we see that many statues have all borne the ravages of time. Many statues have no face, some have no limbs, and some have large chunks of the statue that is missing. I did count the number of cells to find that there were 85 cells. Three niches are now occupied by male gods, namely a dancing Ganesh and two Shiva, most likely from the central shrine as originally constructed. The yogini images that once occupied those niches have been lost, and many other surviving yogini images are heavily vandalised. Most of the images have had their faces broken; some survive only from the waist down. (Do read on to know the reason).

According to popular belief in the Tantric tradition, eight great Female Goddesses or Shaktis emerged from the cosmic soul of the Principle Deities and formed Kali Durga, the Universal Shakti Power, These were the grand mothers (Ashta Matrikas), of all subsequent Yoginis. According to Kaula Tantra, these eight each in turn manifested into eight Divine Shaktis, thus resulting in the 64 Tantric Yoginis. These 64 powerful Goddesses are supposed to have unique personas and powers to fulfil desires, drive away negativity and fear, prevent misfortunes. They are also believed to bestow knowledge, peace, all-around prosperity, good progeny, and auspiciousness. In the picture below is the horse-headed Yogini, the Erudi Yogini, who does not appear in the main tantric texts (64 yoginis) and is of uncertain, possibly local origin, according to William Dalrymple. I have already given you the math of the 81 yoginis earlier!

After circumambulating the temple, we move towards the central structure in the temple complex. This is a later structure and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and is known as the Gowri Shankar temple. The temple was built early in the 11th Century AD by King Yuvaraja II, of the dynasty of the Kalachuris of Tripuri, who lived around 975-1025 AD. The city of Tripuri was four miles away, just across the Narmada River from the temple. According to the scholar David Gordon White, the temple would have been the Kalachuri dynasty’s largest building project. This temple was the reason that the area was called Bhairavghat, which later got corrupted to Bhedaghat. The priest was a friendly person and he conducted a special puja for us and explained that the sanctum sanctorum at the Gauri-Shankar temple is unique, in that Lord Shiva and Parvati ride on the Nandi bull together.

History records that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was on a destroying spree of the temples of Indian Continent, he also reached Jabalpur. He was responsible for the destruction of many Yogini’s statues. When he went to the central shrine of Shankar and Parvati sitting on Nandi Bull to destroy. He was unable to destroy as honey bees appeared miraculously and thwarted the attack. Indeed – a miracle and the hand of the divine.

The temple complex is now under the Archaeological Survey of India.

Our next stop were the Marble Rocks and the boat ride on the River Narmada. That warrants a separate post, as it is spectacular and I have some great pictures to share too. So stay tuned!!

6 thoughts on “A Day in Jabalpur (Part1) Dhuandar Falls; 64 Yogini Temple ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

  1. Pingback: A Day in Jabalpur:Madan Mahal Fort, Rani Durgawati Museum, Shiva Statue at Kachnar City (Part 3) ©Sangeeta Venkatesh | sojourn-with-san

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