Baseswara temple in Bajoura (Kullu, Himachal Pradesh)

While staying in Sarsai near Manali with my friend in early April this year, I came across photographs of the beautiful  Baseswara temple (11th -12th c. CE built) located in the Bajoura town of the Kullu district. Despite grim warnings by my friend about how hot Kullu will be by late morning, and her attempts to keep me safe in the cooler upper reaches of Sarsai, I decided to take the plunge. So one fine morning saw us bundled in a car, driving down towards Kullu, braving the heat and traffic jams owing to ongoing road work on both the state and national highways.

A brief history of the Kullu valley

The Kullu district, a well known tourist hub in the state of Himachal Pradesh, has many ancient to medieval era temples, and the place is often referred to as the Valley of Gods. The ancient name of Kullu was Kulut or Kulantapitha, and finds mention in Mahabharata and the Puranas as a republic or janapada of the north India The term Kulut is historically important as it denotes a place that was beyond the then dominant socio-political norms or kula- vyavastha. Around 6th c. CE, after defeating the imperial Guptas, Khashas became the dominant ruling class in this area (as recorded on the Salanu inscription from the Tirthan valley), and they established a Gana-rajya, a form of theocracy, of which Malana remains an extant example. Few centuries later, the Rajputs removed the Khashas and replaced the gana-rajya/theocracy with their feudal system, forcing the Khashas to migrate to elsewhere. Interestingly, the Khashas later came back as Rajputs, and are still considered powerful in the outer and inner Seraj region of the Kullu valley.

A somewhat definitive history of the Kullu valley can be derived  from the genealogical records of the Rajas of Kullu known as Vanshavali. From this record it is believed that Vihangamani Pal after being displaced from his seat in Haridwar (then known as Mayapuri; though there are some speculations that Vihangamani Pal came from Prayag) came to establish his kingdom at Jagat Sukh, with the blessings of the Hadimba devi. Thus, started the Pal dynasty that ruled Kullu until 1450 CE. From Jagat Sukh, Raja Visudh Pal shifted his capital to Naggar, and later the capital was again moved to Sultanpur (Kullu) in 1660 under Raja Jagat Singh.

The entire Kullu valley, covering Manali to Mandi, is dotted with temples built predominantly in the Nagara style of temple architecture dating roughly from 11th -13th c. CE.

A collage of different Himachal temples in Naggar and Manali (For more on Himachali temples click here ) 

Documenting the Baseswara temple in photographs:

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Nagara style with sukhanasas on all four sides

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The three faces of Shiva. a common sight in the Himalayan temples. The calm face in the centre represents the Tatpurusha with sensuous lips; Aghora on the left is the face of destruction, rage, and aggression; the third face on the right is that of Uma or Vamdeo, the feminine aspect or creation of life.

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Kinnara couples 

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Kirtimukhas

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Decorative peacocks, chaitya motifs, and ghatakalasha on the lintel and pillars of a niche

Yalis and elephants form part of the temple wall ornamentation

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Naga couple

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The river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna flank the base of pilasters on two sides of the entrance door to antarala

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Inside the garbagriha

On the three bhadra niches are three beautiful murtis of the Ganesh, Mahisasurmardini, and Vishnu. Standing separately is a murti of the Viswarupa Vishnu. 

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The Viswarupa Vishnu

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All gods come together under the original tree of life, the ashwattha. (To read more on tree of life click on this )

How to reach: Bajoura is  a small town in the Kullu district, and is around 2-3 hour drive from Manali, so one can cover this temple and explore the Kullu town all in one day. Since there are also many temples to be seen in the nearby town of Mandi, the other option would be stay a day in Mandi, see the temples there and next day stop for a visit at Bajoura, en-route to Manali. There are plenty of buses and other local conveyances on this route for those wishing to take the public transport. The temple is a little off route from the national highway, and a narrow lane near a school takes one to it, so it’s best to ask for directions once one reaches Bajoura. There are ruins of another temple near the Baseswara temple, which one can explore if one chooses to do so. There are people near this temple almost all the time, so getting directions to the other ruined mandir should not be a problem.

When to go: since Mandi and Kullu are at lower heights these places get pretty hot during the summer months (April and May). Barring these two months, one can visit the temple at any time. The local food of Himachal is absolutely delicious, and a local thali is a must do on a trip here.

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