This is the third in the series of posts on our visit to Polo Forest. See the earlier two post on the Heritage Palace and the natural beauty around the forest here. The people of Vijayanagar, Sabarkantha and around the Polo Forest seemed to be bhakts (devotees) of Lord Shiva since ancient times. In our exploration of the region we found a number of ancient temples mostly in ruins, though some were better preserved. Two of the Shiva Temples were currently being actively served with a regular stream of worshippers.
The first Shiva Temple we visited as we approached the town was called Vireshvar Mahadev Mandir. It had a natural flow of water coming out of a Gaumukh shaped fountain, probably from an underground spring. Gaumukh literally means the mouth of a cow. Apparently this source of water never dries up even in the hottest month or during a drought. The water had natural mineral properties and was said to be as pure as ‘Ganga Jal’, water from the holy river Ganga. This was the most actively served temple we visited. Devotees were collecting water from the fountain in bottles to take home as it was considered to have medicinal properties and was used for puja (worship).
The second temple was a 15th Century Shiva Temple named Sharaneshwar temple, Abhapur. This was the second active temple, just inside the Polo Forest. Perhaps due to its location the crowd of devotees were fewer here and there were more tourists around. There was a Nandi mandapa (pavilion) in front of the temple. Nandi is a sacred bull, the gatekeeper and vahana (vehicle) of Lord Shiva. Rarely seen in temple architecture, it had a two storeyed construction. The temple had a surrounding wall with entrances from the East and West. There were intricate carvings on the plinth and external walls of the temple depicting divinities, scenes of social life, mythical figures, elephants, horses and swans.
We visited another two 15th Century Shiva Temples, Shiva Panchayatan-1, Antarsuba and Shiva Panchayatan-2, Antarsuba. The two temples were a few kilometers apart. Shiva Panchayatan-1 did not have a proper approach road and people in the area did not seem to be aware of its existence. This was when we started to note the sorry state of our archeological heritage! The two temples were not in use and were partly in ruins. They were similar in design. Each temple complex consisted of a group of five temples on one platform with the main temple in the center. Four smaller temples were in the four corners of the platform. This design was known as the Panchayatana. While the main temple in the middle of the platform was more or less intact in both the temple complexes, the smaller temples in the corner were in ruins.
As we were roaming around the Panchayatana-2, at the back of the platform we noticed, at a distance, ruins of temples overrun with trees. We decided to explore and took a not very clean path to the back of the Panchayatan-2. And what we discovered was another wonder of wonders! It convinced us of the callous way in which we allow our heritage to crumble to ruins. It turned out to be a complex of ancient Jain Temples. But to read about and see this exciting discovery move on to the next post!