Bisaldeo Temple: A visual walkthrough

The Bisaldeo Temple, situated on the banks of the Banas River near the village of Bisalpur in the Tonk district of Rajasthan, is a remarkable historical edifice, dating back to the 12th century CE. Attributed to King Vigraharaja IV or Bisaldeo of the Chauhan dynasty, its historical roots are firmly established by an inscription found within the temple's mandapa (pillared hall), dating back to 1187 CE during the reign of King Prithviraj. The historical narrative surrounding the temple draws from late medieval accounts, notably the Prithviraj Rasau, penned by the court poet of Prithviraj Chauhan, Chand Bardai. This account, although composed centuries later, provides insights into the life of King Vigraharaja IV and the temple he patronized.

The Bisaldeo Temple is intricately linked with the nearby Gokarna cave shrine, known as Gokarneshwar Mahadeva, which predates its construction. The temple’s inscriptions refer to it as the shrine of Gokarna Deva, indicating its association with the older religious site. Scholarly accounts by A.C.L. Carlleyle, an assistant of Sir Alexander Cunningham, and medieval bardic narratives shed light on the temple’s origins and its connection to the broader religious and political landscape of the Chahamana territory.

The temple’s history, intertwined with legends and historical accounts, offers a glimpse into the cultural and religious landscape of the region during the medieval period. The image gallery is a visual walkthrough of the architectural and sculptural details of the Bisaldeo Temple, as well as its inscriptions, which serve as tangible links to its storied past and the region’s religious landscape.

The Gokarneshwara or Bisaldeo Temple is situated in a courtyard near the Bisalpur dam, on the banks of the Banas River. The temple’s architectural layout includes a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), an antarala (vestibule or antechamber), a mahamandapa (pillared hall) with lateral transepts and an ardhamandapa (partially enclosed hall). It is a nirandhara prasada, meaning it lacks the pradakshina path or circumambulatory path. The sanctum is pancharatha (consisting of five projections on each side) on plan, and its walls are plain in design.
The Gokarneshwara or Bisaldeo Temple is situated in a courtyard near the Bisalpur dam, on the banks of the Banas River. The temple’s architectural layout includes a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), an antarala (vestibule or antechamber), a mahamandapa (pillared hall) with lateral transepts and an ardhamandapa (partially enclosed hall). It is a nirandhara prasada, meaning it lacks the pradakshina path or circumambulatory path. The sanctum is pancharatha (consisting of five projections on each side) on plan, and its walls are plain in design.
The layout of the Gokarneshwara Mahadeva shrine was drawn by A.C.L. Carlleyle. He describes the shrine as ‘…a cave temple, or rather a cave, in which temples or shrines have been built, within a two-storied screen or facing of masonry in the face of the rock, in the side of the mountain at the entrance to the pass, immediately opposite to the town of Visalpur… But apart from the bases of some of the pillars (which appear to be older than the rest), the whole of the structures in the cave appear to be modern…’
The layout of the Gokarneshwara Mahadeva shrine was drawn by A.C.L. Carlleyle. He describes the shrine as ‘…a cave temple, or rather a cave, in which temples or shrines have been built, within a two-storied screen or facing of masonry in the face of the rock, in the side of the mountain at the entrance to the pass, immediately opposite to the town of Visalpur… But apart from the bases of some of the pillars (which appear to be older than the rest), the whole of the structures in the cave appear to be modern…’
The shikhara (superstructure) is divided into nine storeys, marked by eight bhumi-amalakas (a segmented or notched stone disk, usually with ridges on the rim) positioned at each of the four corners. Above this truncated top of the shikhara, standard elements such as amalaka, kalasha (pitcher), etc., are present.
The shikhara (superstructure) is divided into nine storeys, marked by eight bhumi-amalakas (a segmented or notched stone disk, usually with ridges on the rim) positioned at each of the four corners. Above this truncated top of the shikhara, standard elements such as amalaka, kalasha (pitcher), etc., are present.
The current hemispherical dome above the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple. The dome seems to be a later addition to the structure.
The current hemispherical dome above the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple. The dome seems to be a later addition to the structure.
The mahamandapa (pillared hall) features lateral protrusions on either side providing asanapatta and kakshasana (elevated sitting area or seat backs), above which are five dwarf pillars. It is connected to the ardhamandapa (partially closed hall), which also has dwarf pillars. The mouldings of the mahamandapa and ardhamandapa differ from those of the sanctum.
The mahamandapa (pillared hall) features lateral protrusions on either side providing asanapatta and kakshasana (elevated sitting area or seat backs), above which are five dwarf pillars. It is connected to the ardhamandapa (partially closed hall), which also has dwarf pillars. The mouldings of the mahamandapa and ardhamandapa differ from those of the sanctum.
The ceiling of the mukhamandapa (front porch) is of the nabhichchhanda variety, featuring five bands of concentric overlapping circles carved with lotus petals.
The ceiling of the mukhamandapa (front porch) is of the nabhichchhanda variety, featuring five bands of concentric overlapping circles carved with lotus petals.
The pillar in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) features an octagonal design in the middle portion, adorned with intricate carvings of foliage, hanging bells, and spoked wheels.
The pillar in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) features an octagonal design in the middle portion, adorned with intricate carvings of foliage, hanging bells, and spoked wheels.
The ceiling of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) rests on eight elaborately carved tall pillars. Each pillar has a square base, transitioning into a shaft that changes from square to octagonal in the middle and finally becomes circular at the top. Above these are architectural moldings, a shaft that supports the capital, and carved bharvahakas (mythical flying load-bearing figures). Notably, the square portion of the shaft of each pillar in the mahamandapa is carved with a niche on each of its four faces. Within these niches are sculptures portraying various figures, including apsaras (celestial damsels), yogis (ascetic), or royal figures in acts of veneration and in one case, a four-armed Bhairav.
The ceiling of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) rests on eight elaborately carved tall pillars. Each pillar has a square base, transitioning into a shaft that changes from square to octagonal in the middle and finally becomes circular at the top. Above these are architectural moldings, a shaft that supports the capital, and carved bharvahakas (mythical flying load-bearing figures). Notably, the square portion of the shaft of each pillar in the mahamandapa is carved with a niche on each of its four faces. Within these niches are sculptures portraying various figures, including apsaras (celestial damsels), yogis (ascetic), or royal figures in acts of veneration and in one case, a four-armed Bhairav.
 Each lateral transept of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) contains a cell with a flat ceiling, currently vacant. The cells feature a flat roof and a doorway.
Each lateral transept of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) contains a cell with a flat ceiling, currently vacant. The cells feature a flat roof and a doorway.
Inside the mahamandapa (pillared hall), in its northeastern corner, rests a black Shiva linga (aniconic representation of Shiva) on a yonipatta (womb-shaped base slab) dating from a later period. A loose sculpture of a seated Nandi is also kept inside the mahamandapa, near the antarala (vestibule or antechamber), and features a prominent hump.
Inside the mahamandapa (pillared hall), in its northeastern corner, rests a black Shiva linga (aniconic representation of Shiva) on a yonipatta (womb-shaped base slab) dating from a later period. A loose sculpture of a seated Nandi is also kept inside the mahamandapa, near the antarala (vestibule or antechamber), and features a prominent hump.
The square portion of the shaft of the pillar in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) is carved with a niche on each of its four faces. Within these niches are figure sculptures depicting various scenes: some portray apsaras (celestial damsels) engaged in activities such as playing musical instruments, dancing, or playing with a ball. Others depict yogis (ascetics) or royal figures engaged in acts of veneration. One niche notably showcases a sculpture of a four-armed Bhairav.
The square portion of the shaft of the pillar in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) is carved with a niche on each of its four faces. Within these niches are figure sculptures depicting various scenes: some portray apsaras (celestial damsels) engaged in activities such as playing musical instruments, dancing, or playing with a ball. Others depict yogis (ascetics) or royal figures engaged in acts of veneration. One niche notably showcases a sculpture of a four-armed Bhairav.
The ceiling of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) is supported by eight elaborately carved tall pillars. Each pillar begins with a square base, transitioning into a shaft that is square in the lower portion, octagonal in the middle portion, and circular in the upper portion. Above these sections are architectural mouldings, a shaft that supports the capital, and carved bharvahakas (mythical flying load-bearing figures).
The ceiling of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) is supported by eight elaborately carved tall pillars. Each pillar begins with a square base, transitioning into a shaft that is square in the lower portion, octagonal in the middle portion, and circular in the upper portion. Above these sections are architectural mouldings, a shaft that supports the capital, and carved bharvahakas (mythical flying load-bearing figures).
The central hall of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) in the Bisaldeo Temple is embellished with eight beautiful makara toranas (decorative arches or gateways flanked with crocodile-like mythical figures on each end). The toranas (decorative arched gateways) are crafted to give the illusion of doorways suspended by the extended snouts of two makaras (crocodiles) at each end.
The central hall of the mahamandapa (pillared hall) in the Bisaldeo Temple is embellished with eight beautiful makara toranas (decorative arches or gateways flanked with crocodile-like mythical figures on each end). The toranas (decorative arched gateways) are crafted to give the illusion of doorways suspended by the extended snouts of two makaras (crocodiles) at each end.
The ceiling of the central hall or the mahamandapa (pillared hall) is of the nabhichchhanda variety, characterized by a band of five concentric overlapping circles decorated with lotus petals and other floral designs. The top of the ceiling is embellished with a full-blown lotus, complete with a padmakesara (stem-like) pendant.
The ceiling of the central hall or the mahamandapa (pillared hall) is of the nabhichchhanda variety, characterized by a band of five concentric overlapping circles decorated with lotus petals and other floral designs. The top of the ceiling is embellished with a full-blown lotus, complete with a padmakesara (stem-like) pendant.
The jamb of the doorway is carved with sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna, along with a Shaiva dvarapala (door guardian). The lintel of the sanctum doorway features a two-armed depiction of Lakulisa seated in padmasana (lotus pedestal pose) in dhyana mudra (meditative hand gesture), carrying a lakuta (club) in his left hand and fruit in his right hand, inside a niche on the lalatabimba (lintel). Flanking Lakulisa, there are depictions of a four-armed Brahma and Vishnu on the right and the left hand of the lintel, respectively.
The jamb of the doorway is carved with sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna, along with a Shaiva dvarapala (door guardian). The lintel of the sanctum doorway features a two-armed depiction of Lakulisa seated in padmasana (lotus pedestal pose) in dhyana mudra (meditative hand gesture), carrying a lakuta (club) in his left hand and fruit in his right hand, inside a niche on the lalatabimba (lintel). Flanking Lakulisa, there are depictions of a four-armed Brahma and Vishnu on the right and the left hand of the lintel, respectively.
A late medieval epigraph was found on the pillar within the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
A late medieval epigraph was found on the pillar within the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
This inscription, dated 1187 CE (VS 1244), was composed during the reign of Prithivaraja Chauhan and records the donation of two sword handles to the mandapa (pillared hall) of the temple of Sri Gokarna in Vigrahapura (Bisalpur). It is inscribed on a pillar in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) alongside other informative inscriptions. The inscription underscores the strong association between the city of Vigrahapura (Bisalpur) and King Vigraharaja IV, also known as Bisaldeo, who is celebrated in oral accounts and medieval bardic accounts as the temple’s patron. The mention of the city’s name in the solidifies this connection. Furthermore, it establishes the original name of the temple as the temple of Gokarna, derived from the name of the shivalinga housed within a nearby cave in the village.
This inscription, dated 1187 CE (VS 1244), was composed during the reign of Prithivaraja Chauhan and records the donation of two sword handles to the mandapa (pillared hall) of the temple of Sri Gokarna in Vigrahapura (Bisalpur). It is inscribed on a pillar in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) alongside other informative inscriptions. The inscription underscores the strong association between the city of Vigrahapura (Bisalpur) and King Vigraharaja IV, also known as Bisaldeo, who is celebrated in oral accounts and medieval bardic accounts as the temple’s patron. The mention of the city’s name in the solidifies this connection. Furthermore, it establishes the original name of the temple as the temple of Gokarna, derived from the name of the shivalinga housed within a nearby cave in the village.
The inscription dated 1174 CE (VS 1231) commences with the words Deva shri Gokarllanaghvasi, reaffirming the deity’s name as Gokarna Deva. It is inscribed on a pillar within the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the temple, alongside other informative inscriptions.
The inscription dated 1174 CE (VS 1231) commences with the words Deva shri Gokarllanaghvasi, reaffirming the deity’s name as Gokarna Deva. It is inscribed on a pillar within the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the temple, alongside other informative inscriptions.
In 1872, A.C.L. Carlleyle visited Bisalpur and provided the first known archaeological report on its temples under the supervision of Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). His report includes a fully measured plan of the Bisaldeo Temple that was lithographed at the Surveyor General’s office in 1877.
In 1872, A.C.L. Carlleyle visited Bisalpur and provided the first known archaeological report on its temples under the supervision of Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). His report includes a fully measured plan of the Bisaldeo Temple that was lithographed at the Surveyor General’s office in 1877.
The lintel of the sanctum-doorway features a depiction of Lakulisa in padmasana (lotus pose) with two arms, displaying dhyanmudra (the hand seal gesture for mediation). In his left hand, he holds a lakuta (club), while his right-hand grasps a fruit, as per his standard iconography. The image is housed inside a niche on the lalatabimba (lintel). On either side of the lintel, there are depictions of four-armed Brahma on the left and four-armed Vishnu on the right. This substitution of Shiva’s image with Lakulisa at the lintel niches of the sanctum doorway was once a common feature of the Pashupata tradition.
The lintel of the sanctum-doorway features a depiction of Lakulisa in padmasana (lotus pose) with two arms, displaying dhyanmudra (the hand seal gesture for mediation). In his left hand, he holds a lakuta (club), while his right-hand grasps a fruit, as per his standard iconography. The image is housed inside a niche on the lalatabimba (lintel). On either side of the lintel, there are depictions of four-armed Brahma on the left and four-armed Vishnu on the right. This substitution of Shiva’s image with Lakulisa at the lintel niches of the sanctum doorway was once a common feature of the Pashupata tradition.
On one of the pillars in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple is a short inscription which mentions the name of ‘Jogi Achpantadhaja’ or ‘Yogi Achintyadhvaja'.
On one of the pillars in the mahamandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple is a short inscription which mentions the name of ‘Jogi Achpantadhaja’ or ‘Yogi Achintyadhvaja'.
Unlike other apsaras (celestial damsels) carved on the shaft of pillars, this particular figure is unique. She is crowned and holds a cup in her left hand, while her right hand holds something dipped in the cup. Similar images from the Harshnath Temple Complex depict a cup being held, symbolizing the nectar of bliss attained after the completion of tantric sadhana, while the fingers of the other hands are sometimes dipped into the cup. However, connecting this obscure image of a damsel with tantric connotations might lack substantial support.
Unlike other apsaras (celestial damsels) carved on the shaft of pillars, this particular figure is unique. She is crowned and holds a cup in her left hand, while her right hand holds something dipped in the cup. Similar images from the Harshnath Temple Complex depict a cup being held, symbolizing the nectar of bliss attained after the completion of tantric sadhana, while the fingers of the other hands are sometimes dipped into the cup. However, connecting this obscure image of a damsel with tantric connotations might lack substantial support.
The ascetic is shown on one of the pillars with a long beard and what seems like a jata (matted hair). A kamandala (water carrier) is slung over one of his shoulders with a rope. He is depicted wearing nothing but a kopina (loincloth) and the janeyu (sacred thread), which is prominently displayed. The presence of the janeyu signifies the Brahmin lineage of ascetics in the Pashupata sect, tracing back to Lakulisa and his four disciples. Lakulisa himself is depicted elsewhere in this temple with a prominent janeyu. The minimalist clothing and kamandalu symbolize his asceticism.
The ascetic is shown on one of the pillars with a long beard and what seems like a jata (matted hair). A kamandala (water carrier) is slung over one of his shoulders with a rope. He is depicted wearing nothing but a kopina (loincloth) and the janeyu (sacred thread), which is prominently displayed. The presence of the janeyu signifies the Brahmin lineage of ascetics in the Pashupata sect, tracing back to Lakulisa and his four disciples. Lakulisa himself is depicted elsewhere in this temple with a prominent janeyu. The minimalist clothing and kamandalu symbolize his asceticism.
Lakulisa is depicted two-armed and in padmasana (lotus pose) with his hands forming the dhyanmudra (the hand seal gesture for mediation), carrying a lakuta (club), in his left hand and a fruit in his right hand.
Lakulisa is depicted two-armed and in padmasana (lotus pose) with his hands forming the dhyanmudra (the hand seal gesture for mediation), carrying a lakuta (club), in his left hand and a fruit in his right hand.
A heavily bejewelled royal figure holding a garland is depicted on one of the pillars of the mahamandapa (pillared hall). While one might speculate that this figure could be representing the patron king, Vigraharaja IV, there's no conclusive evidence to support this theory.
A heavily bejewelled royal figure holding a garland is depicted on one of the pillars of the mahamandapa (pillared hall). While one might speculate that this figure could be representing the patron king, Vigraharaja IV, there's no conclusive evidence to support this theory.
A heavily adorned royal figure, depicted in the tribhanga pose, exhibits damaged hands. Whether this represents the patron, King Vigraharaja IV, remains a matter of pure speculation.
A heavily adorned royal figure, depicted in the tribhanga pose, exhibits damaged hands. Whether this represents the patron, King Vigraharaja IV, remains a matter of pure speculation.
The only significant depiction of the divinity of Shiva is found in the form of a four-armed portrayal of Bhairav on a temple shaft near the entrance of the temple, within the mandapa. It is the first religious image encountered upon visiting the temple. He is adorned with a serpent necklace, but other identifying attributes have deteriorated over time. His heavily bejewelled naked body reveals his genitalia.
The only significant depiction of the divinity of Shiva is found in the form of a four-armed portrayal of Bhairav on a temple shaft near the entrance of the temple, within the mandapa. It is the first religious image encountered upon visiting the temple. He is adorned with a serpent necklace, but other identifying attributes have deteriorated over time. His heavily bejewelled naked body reveals his genitalia.
The representation of a dancing Shiva or Natesha is depicted in the niche on the cornice above the pillar of the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
The representation of a dancing Shiva or Natesha is depicted in the niche on the cornice above the pillar of the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
A cross-legged ascetic carved in the kumbha (basal moulding) niche of the pillar in the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
A cross-legged ascetic carved in the kumbha (basal moulding) niche of the pillar in the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
A cross-legged ascetic carved in the kumbha (basal moulding) niche of the pillar in the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.
A cross-legged ascetic carved in the kumbha (basal moulding) niche of the pillar in the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Bisaldeo Temple.