Bandhavgarh National Park was once the hunting grounds for the kings from Rewa kingdom. But the history of the place, the remnants of Bandhavgarh Fort, the caves found on the hills, all date back to an era as far as Ramayana. The jungles of Bandhavgarh hold stories that are fascinating from times that have gone by. With most of the fort being inaccessible now, it is the tigers that get to rule the Bandhavgarh Fort. And amidst this greenery and atop a hill lies the statue of Lord Vishnu, unperturbed about the wildlife or maybe guarding the jungle. Fondly called as Shesh Shaiya of Bandhavgarh National Park, this is the only place in the whole forest that you are allowed to get off the vehicle and explore by foot. The legend of Sheshshaiya dates back to a dynasty that am hearing for the first time called the Kalachuri Dynasty.
Bandhavgarh is said to be the land or fort set by Lord Rama and gifted to his brother Lakshman after the war in Sri Lanka. Bandhav translates to brother or brotherly bond and garh translates to home, so the story kind of makes sense. The forest guide points to a distant white spot on the hill and says that is the Sita Devi temple, because they all once dwelled here. It is a lone hill that stands in the middle of Bandhavgarh National Park. The sun was just rising and the golden rays were illuminating the hill. There is a mention of the Bandhavgarh fort in Skanda Purana it seems, that could mean the story is quite true. Or at least it is true that it existed before christ era. Bandhavgarh fort is denied access now. Keeping in mind the conservation of the forest area and not to venture too much into the wildlife territory, the access to Bandhavgarh fort has now been stopped. However, my guide mentioned that during festival days, villagers are allowed to visit the Sita Devi temple atop the hill and they move in crowds, so it is okay to go.
Shesh Shaiya is still accessible to the public. Thankfully my forest guide popped the question if am interested to visit Sheshshaiya, otherwise, I was unaware of it. I promptly asked, "What if the tiger comes?" And he replied, "Run as fast as you can to the jeep!". Yup! There have been tiger and leopard sightings at Shesh Shaiya. And you can accompany this place only with the assistance and in the presence of the forest guide. After a wonderful sighting of Tiger at Tala zone, the jeep chugged up the hill to visit the Shesh Shaiya shrine.
Also read - Spotting Tiger at Bandhavgarh National Park - Read here
Kalachuris of Tripuri
There seem to be multiple branches of Kalachuri dynasties, some spread around Karnataka, and some around central India. That is because the founder of the Kalachuri Dynasty, Kokalla, decided to have 18 sons. And unfortunately only the first one can be the king, so the rest of the sons decided to spread apart and set up their own Kalachuri dynasties. The most prominent and well-known one is the Kalachuris of Tripuri. And from my research, the closest who could have built this place seems to be the Kalachuris of Tripuri also known as the Kalachuris of Chedi. They ruled around the current Madhya Pradesh and a little more of Central India between 7th to 13th centuries. Their capital was Tripuri which is now called as Tewar, close to Jabalpur. Kalachuri stands for mustache and sword, probably their symbol for bravery. There were many successors and many battles fought but then the dynasty fell off soon too. Of the many kings, it was during the period of King Yuvarajdev, the sculpture of Sheshshaiya was installed. Minister of King Yuvarajdev, Gollak built this temple. Which means Shesh Shaiya is about a 1000-year-old sculpture.
I was wondering if the jeep would make it at all to the top. It comes midway to the Bandhavgarh fort and the view of the jungle from here is stunning. A small fleet of steps takes you to the Vishnu statue, literally lying in the middle of the jungle. Covered in moss is the 35 feet long Lord Vishnu found in a reclining position. He is seen resting on the seven-headed serpent called Sheshnaag and hence he gets the name, "Sheshshaiya". It is not just the Lord Vishnu statue there. There is a Shiva Linga to the left and there is Brahma to His right. However, the Brahma statue is just not visible, there are roots all over it and you cannot make out. But the idea was to set up a Trimoorthy (Trinity of Gods) in this place and that is what is seen.
Vishnu statue is carved out of a single sandstone. And from his feet originates the perennial river called, "Charan Ganga". The river never dries up and the whole of Bandhavgarh benefits by this river. In old scriptures, this river is addressed as Vetravali Ganga. The pond in front of him always has water. The presence of blue-green algae all over it stood as a testimony. Since it is a water hole with water all through the year, it is common for the tiger and leopard and other wildlife to come here to quench their thirst. I stood there watching the sun rays illuminating the entire place. Was it planned to be a temple or was the plan itself to just make these three sculptures is unknown. But to know that this place was once a royal kingdom and now ruined down to moss and bricks is pretty appalling to think what time can do.
I kept staring at the Vishnu sculpture for some time. I was greedy and wanted a leopard or tiger to walk down and pose along the moss-covered Shesh Shaiya. But then it didn't happen, not even langurs came. There have been sightings and someday I hope I get lucky to see such sightings.
On our way back were some rest houses meant for tourists or army men who belonged to the Bandhavgarh fort. And another was said to be the horse's stable. It looked too small to be called a horse's stable. It was also in ruins. My guide continued to talk about Bandhavgarh fort and Badi Gufa and the many more sculptures found in these caves and rooms of the fort. While I wished to see it, it is also good to be kept closed for the sake of wild animals.
The sun was blaring as we left the place. The views were fantastic that I wished we could stay a little longer. But then the time to close the gates had arrived and we had to bid goodbye to Bandhavgarh National Park. Hope I get back soon :)
Note: Sheshshaiya is located in the Tala zone of Bandhavgarh National Park.