Volume: 17, No: 11 ; November-2023
In the heart of Uttar Pradesh, roughly just over 125 km, three and half hours from Lucknow and only 36 km, one and half hours from Kanpur, nestled in the quite village of Behta Bujurg, is a temple shrouded in mystique – the Jagannath Temple. Its distinct dome, mirroring the architectural elegance of West Bengal and Odisha, whispers tales of forgotten eras, its secrets yet to be deciphered.
The temple is full of paradoxes, from its design to its main God to its age. Moreover, the temple has become more famous over time because of a common faith among the locals and worshippers that it forecasts the rainy season accurately every year. A week before the rain, a stone plate in the roof of the temple’s innermost chamber becomes moist. If it stays dry, the rain that year will be mild, but if it forms drops of water on the roof, it means a good rainy season ahead. For local farmers, this phenomenon is an oracle, guiding their crucial kharif crop sowing decisions.
Adding to the mystery, the temple stands in stark contrast to surrounding ancient brick temples, most notably the Bhitargaon Dewal, believed to be from the 5th century AD. It was first recorded by Alexander Cunningham, the British founder of Archeological Survey of India, who explored the area in 1876-77. He asserted that the temple’s origins were significantly more recent.
Flowing nearby is the Arvind River, with its treasure trove of temples, adds a spiritual aura to the landscape. But the temple at Behta is different, as it is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, which is unusual for the area. Most temples nearby are for Vishnu, Shiva, or Chandrika Devi. The Behta temple also has a unique Rath Yatra festival, attracting lots of devotees every year.
Constructed entirely with stone, the Behta temple stands alone amidst the region’s brick-built neighbours. This unusual material suggests a later construction date. However, archaeologist Longhurst, visiting in 1909, discovered remnants of an ancient brick and stone temple beneath the current façade. He found carved pillars, door jambs, and even deities – Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, Lakshmi and Ganesha – scattered around the compound. These beautifully crafted pieces, neglected and unused, hinted at a grander past. He concluded that Behta held the remnants of another, more ancient temple, its treasures repurposed for the new structure.
It presents a historical puzzle. Scholars disagree on its origin and age, leading to conflicting theories. One theory suggests, the temple is an old structure repurposed with salvaged materials from the ruined Bhitargaon temple nearby (10 minutes away). Arguments for this include the proximity of Bhitargaon and the presence of architectural elements resembling missing features from that temple. However, historian Mohammad Zaheer refutes this, citing the temple’s late Mughal-style elements and widespread stone usage at the time of its construction. Adding to the mystery, the temple’s inner sanctum features a Gupta-era-like pillar distinct from the rest. Murals of Vishnu avatars and other deities further complicate the timeline.
Buried beneath layers of history, the secrets of the Behta temple lie hidden, waiting to be unearthed. With no single theory holding definitive proof. Some believe a hidden older structure lies beneath the current one, built as protection against Muslim invasions. Despite the lack of clarity, the temple remains a thriving cultural hub, drawing devotees to its annual Rath Yatra festival. While the past of the Behta temple may be vague, its present vibrancy and unique features continue to fascinate and spark curiosity.
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