Vidisha – A Rich Historical Legacy

Bhopal, capital of  Madhya Pradesh is the ideal base for discovering  the rich historical and cultural legacy of the state . Close to the city and easily accessible by road  and rail  are ancient sites of great dynasties, forts, monuments and cave sculptures, some of the finest example of  Indian art and architecture, chronicled in stone , of the state’s unique heritage of fine antiques .

What  To  See –

Vidisha : Vidisha or Besnagar as it is called in the Pali sculptures, once the prosperous capital of the western dominions of the Sungas, contains some remarkable antiquities that throw light on the considerable architectural development of the period .

Situated in the fork of the Betwa and Bes rivers, Vidisha, 10 km from Sanchi, occupies an important place amongst the ancient cities in India . In the 6th and 5th centuries BC, it rose to become an important trade centre and a bustling city under the Sungas, Nagas, Satvahanas and Guptas. The Emperor Ashoka was governor of Vidisha and it finds mention in Kalidasa’s immortal Meghdoot . Deserted after the 6th centuary AD it came into prominence again as Bhilsa during the medieval period ( 9th to 12th centuries AD.). It later passed on to the Malwa Sultans, the Mughals, and the Scindias.

The ruins of the Brahmanical shrine at Vidisha dedicated to Vishnu reveal that the foundation bricks were cemented together with lime mortar, the first known example of the use of cement in India. The ruins are what remains of possibly the oldest known Brahmanical stone structure, dated not later than 2 BC.

Vidisha museum has a superb collection of Besnagar’s earliest antiquities, dating from the Sunga period; 9th century sculptures, and terracotta objects, representing the art that flourished under Parmara patronage, are also well represented here. Highlights of the collection from Besnagar are the Surya and Chamundi figures, the Yakshi and the Ramagupta inscriptions.

The Lohangi Rock, Gumbaz-ka-Maqbara and Bijamandal Mosque, standing on the foundations of a temple, are also worth a visit.

Close to the ruins are the remains of votive pillars with palm leaf capitals; the only one that still stands is the Heliodorus Pillar, also known as Khambha Baba. A monolithic, free-standing column, the Pillar bears an inscription which states that it was a Garuda Pillar, raised in honour of Vasudeva by Heliodorus, a resident of Taxila, who had been sent to the court of Bhagabhadra as an envoy of the Indo-Bectrian monarch, Antialkidas. This inscription is a particularly valuable historical record, revealing both the relations that existed between the region and the Greek has become a follower of the Hindu god Vishnu. The inclusion of the name of Antialkidas dates the approximated erection of the pillar to 140 BC.

Architecturally, the Pillar, with its bell capital carrying a figured super-structure, resembles the Ashoka Pillar, but is much smaller is size with more slender  proportions. The lower portion of the shaft is octagonal, the upper, sixteen–sided, with a panel above of thirty – two facets. The carvings have Buddhist motifs such as a border with geese in pairs as well as Hellenic ones such as the honeysuckle and the bead- moulding .

UDAYGIRI  CAVES  :  13km from Sanchi and 4 km from Vidisha, are group of rock-cut cave sanctuaries, carved into a sandstone hill that stands, sentinel like on the horizon, An inscription in one of these states, that it was produced during the reign of Chandragupta II ( 382-402 AD), thus dating these cave to 4-5 AD. The cave possess all the distinctive features that gave Guptat its unique vitality, vigour and richness of expression, the beautifully moulded capitals, the treatment of  the intercolomination, the design of the entranceway and the system of continuing the architrave as  a string course round the structure.

They have been numbered probably according to the sequence in which they were excavated, beginning with Cave 1, which has a frontage adapted out of a natural ledge of rock, thus forming both the roof of the cella and its portico. The row of four pillars bear the ‘vase and  foliage’ pattern of which the eminent art historian, Percy Brown, so eloquently says, “ the Gupta capital typifies a renewal of faith, the water nourishing the plant trailing from its brim, an allegory which has produce the vase and flower motif, one of the most graceful forms in India architecture” Characterised by richly carved facades and doorways, the shrines are progressively more spacious and more ornate. Cave No 9 is remarkable for its large cella and massive, 8 feet high pillars, its long portico and pillared hall. Throughout, there is evidence that the master craftsmen of Besnagar practised their art with skill and artistry under the  Guptas, four centuries later. Cave No.5 is awe-inspring in the sheer magnificence  of the vision of its builders : here, a massive carving depicts Vishnu. In his Varaha ( Boar ) incarnation, holding the earth goddess Prithvi aloft upon one tusk. Yet another stupendous sculpture is of the reclining Vishnu . Taken as a whole, this stupendous group is a rich representation of the vitality and strength of Gupta art and architecture.

GYARASPUR :  41 km north-east of Sanchi, Gyaraspur was a place of considerable importance in the medieval period. Here, in the ruins called Athakhamble ( Eight pillars ) and Chaukhambe ( Four pillars ) are what remains of the columned halls of two temples belonging to the 9th and 10th centuries AD. The faceted shafts of Athakhambe with their extreme delicacy of carving testify to the high degree of craftsmanship during the period . Other monuments of note at Gyaraspur are of the early 10th century : Bajra Math and the Mala Devi Temple, the latter distinguished by its carved pillars with foliated motifs, representatives of the richest post-Gupta style.

UDAYPUR : 9 km from Bhopal via Vidisha and Ganj Basoda. The colossal Neelkantaheshwara temple here is an outstanding example of Parmara art and architecture of the 11th century AD. The crowning beauty of this temple lies in its  well proportioned and gracefully designed spire of shikhar, and delicately carved medallions adorning its sides. The fascinating spire is perhaps unrivalled in beauty in the whole array of Indian temples. Built of fine red sandstone and standing on a lofty platform, the temple consists of a garbha-griha (shrine room), a sabha mandap (hall) and three pravesha mandaps (entrance porches).

Bijamandal, Sahi Masjid and Mahal, Sher Khan-ki-Masjid and Pisnari-Ka-Mandir are some of the other monuments in Udaypur.


By Air   : The nearest airport is at Bhopal ( 60 km ) from Vidisha.

By Rail  : Bhopal, on the Delhi-Chennai main line, is the nearest major railhead, but Sanchi, on the Jhansi-Itarsi section of the Central Railway, and Vidisha, 10 km from Sanchi are more convenient.

By  Road  :  Regular bus services connect Vidisha, Udaypur, Gyaraspur, Sanchi with Bhopal. Tongas and tempos for Udaygiri and Khamba Baba .



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