Madhya Pradesh is a state located at the geographical centre of India and is famous for its myriad tourism offerings ranging from heritage to wildlife to culture and cuisine. Madhya Pradesh is home to the Bateshwar temples considered to be one of the most astonishing archaeological sites in India. Locals say that these temples were constructed during mid-eighth to the 11th centuries. It is believed that the complex had 400 small and big temples but no one knows exactly how these temples became ruins. The current theory is that an earthquake sometime after the 13th century completely destroyed the complex.
Then in 2005, a stupendous feat of restoration by a team of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) archaeologists led by K.K. Muhammed brought back to life about 100 shrines at the site by piecing together slabs and stones and fitting them into a particular structure. Most of the temple walls and roofs had collapsed, an overgrowth of vegetation had wrecked the very foundation of some of the shrines and the stones were piled up in mounds or strewn around.
The team used preventive, remedial and restoration techniques and worked painstakingly for more than 10 years to restore the lost glory of these ancient temples. It is possibly one of the most sensitive archaeological restoration projects in history.
The problem of restoration was compounded by the fact that the region was notorious for several gangs of dacoits operating from Chambal. However, thanks to Muhammad’s unspoken truce with the dacoits, one group collaborated with the ASI and helped immensely in the initial stages of the reconstruction. This “help” consisted mostly of non-interference, the dacoits would allow the ASI workers in and out of the site every day and nobody on the project would not come to any harm from them.
Ironically, the presence of dacoits in the Chambal Valley may also have helped preserve Bateshwar. Although the site was quite well known, with the area considered so dangerous nobody attempted to smuggle any of the carved sculptures out of the temple complex.
“It is a treasure trove which deserves a lot of attention,” says Muhammed, whose painstaking work has led to the restoration of these historic and artistic temples. Bateshwar today is a fascinating blend of pristine small temples set amongst a scatter of ruins. Pillars, friezes and sculptures are everywhere with further restoration work underway in the coming years.