Neelkanth Mahadev Temple: Visual walkthrough of the Shiva temple in ancient Rajorgarh

The Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is situated within the Sariska Tiger Reserve in the Alwar district of Rajasthan, India. This temple is dedicated to Shiva, nestled amidst the lush greenery and rugged terrain of the Sariska forest. It holds significant religious importance for Hindus and attracts devotees and tourists alike. The temple is more than a thousand years old and has a tranquil ambience. Its layout includes a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), an antarala (vestibule or antechamber), and a mandapa (pillared hall). Its spire is adorned with intricate carvings. Constructed primarily with stone, the temple's symbolic architecture reflects Hindu cosmology and mythology, making it a significant spiritual and cultural site. The temple forms part of a huge complex of several temples spread across approximately two kilometres, datable from the 8th through the 10th centuries CE. Referred to as the Neelkanth Mahadev group of temples, after this better-preserved shrine, the group is comprised of over a dozen structures, primarily dedicated to Shaivism, although some are devoted to the Jain tradition. Apart from the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple and the remnants of the Jain Naugaza Temple, only the foundations and scattered architectural elements of other temples remain today. The complex also includes step wells (baolis) and tanks for water storage. The Lachoro tank, situated to the west of this temple cluster, stands out as a unique example of medieval hydraulic engineering designed to supply water to the settlement. The fortified nature of the entire complex is evident from the remnants of fortification walls interspersed with gateways facing different directions.

The Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is situated amidst dense vegetation, at the foothills, inside the Sariska Tiger Reserve. The temple, built out of sandstone, stands out in the greenery spread across the plains.
The Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is situated amidst dense vegetation, at the foothills, inside the Sariska Tiger Reserve. The temple, built out of sandstone, stands out in the greenery spread across the plains.
Seen here is the eastern elevation of the Nilkantha Mahadev Temple. The central shrine is the best preserved of all shrines in the tri-kuta (triple-shrine) temple. The Latina nagara (mono-spired) variety of shikhara atop the central shrine of the Neelkanth Mahadev temple has been renovated.
Seen here is the eastern elevation of the Nilkantha Mahadev Temple. The central shrine is the best preserved of all shrines in the tri-kuta (triple-shrine) temple. The Latina nagara (mono-spired) variety of shikhara atop the central shrine of the Neelkanth Mahadev temple has been renovated.
This is a distant view of the west-facing elevation of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Now inside a fencing boundary installed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the tri-kuta (triple-shrine) temple is surrounded by trees and agricultural fields. In the foreground, some architectural elements are scattered that must have been part of the Neelkanth Temple or other temples from the group.
This is a distant view of the west-facing elevation of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Now inside a fencing boundary installed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the tri-kuta (triple-shrine) temple is surrounded by trees and agricultural fields. In the foreground, some architectural elements are scattered that must have been part of the Neelkanth Temple or other temples from the group.
The west-facing entrance of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is seen in the picture. The temple stands on a plinth. It is entered through a gate built into a later added boundary wall.
The west-facing entrance of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is seen in the picture. The temple stands on a plinth. It is entered through a gate built into a later added boundary wall.
The west-facing entrance of the temple has a mukhamandapa (front porch) with ornate pillars. Octagonal in section, the pillars have circular rings of intricate designs on the shaft, and the base is decorated with sculptures. The pillars are made of a different stone than the main temple.
The west-facing entrance of the temple has a mukhamandapa (front porch) with ornate pillars. Octagonal in section, the pillars have circular rings of intricate designs on the shaft, and the base is decorated with sculptures. The pillars are made of a different stone than the main temple.
 A closer view of the sculptures on the base of the pillar of the mukhamandapa (front porch). These sculptures are mostly of surasundaris (celestial damsels). The base of the pillar has mouldings that resemble the kumbha (pot), kalasha (a pitcher), and kapotali (cyma recta) mouldings in a temple plinth.
A closer view of the sculptures on the base of the pillar of the mukhamandapa (front porch). These sculptures are mostly of surasundaris (celestial damsels). The base of the pillar has mouldings that resemble the kumbha (pot), kalasha (a pitcher), and kapotali (cyma recta) mouldings in a temple plinth.
This is the pillar capital of the octagonal shaft pillars of the mukhamandapa (front porch) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The circular shaft ends in a four-sided bracket with bharavahaka (load bearer) sculptures. Just below the capital are broken elephant heads that must have supported a torana (arched gateway).
This is the pillar capital of the octagonal shaft pillars of the mukhamandapa (front porch) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The circular shaft ends in a four-sided bracket with bharavahaka (load bearer) sculptures. Just below the capital are broken elephant heads that must have supported a torana (arched gateway).
Pictured here is a view of the interior of the mandapa (pillared hall) of Neelkanth Mahadev Temple as seen from the northwestern corner of the mandapa. The tri-kuta (triple-shrine) temple has a shared mandapa which is in front of all three shrines. The mandapa has four pillars at the centre. All the exterior walls of the mandapa have been haphazardly covered.
Pictured here is a view of the interior of the mandapa (pillared hall) of Neelkanth Mahadev Temple as seen from the northwestern corner of the mandapa. The tri-kuta (triple-shrine) temple has a shared mandapa which is in front of all three shrines. The mandapa has four pillars at the centre. All the exterior walls of the mandapa have been haphazardly covered.
This is a view of the entrance of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple as seen from the interior of the temple. The west-facing entrance leads into a mandapa (pillared hall), which is attached to three shrines.
This is a view of the entrance of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple as seen from the interior of the temple. The west-facing entrance leads into a mandapa (pillared hall), which is attached to three shrines.
Seen here is a closer view of the pillar in the central chatuski (slightly elevated platform with four pillars) of the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. This pillar typology is similar to the pillars of the mukhamandapa (front porch). Octagonal shafts with foliage ornamentation, maladharas (garland bearers), and sculptures on all sides of the shafts are characteristics of the pillar. This is one of the most ornate varieties of pillars in all of the Neelkanth Mahadev group of temples.
Seen here is a closer view of the pillar in the central chatuski (slightly elevated platform with four pillars) of the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. This pillar typology is similar to the pillars of the mukhamandapa (front porch). Octagonal shafts with foliage ornamentation, maladharas (garland bearers), and sculptures on all sides of the shafts are characteristics of the pillar. This is one of the most ornate varieties of pillars in all of the Neelkanth Mahadev group of temples.
The central pillars of the mandapa (pillared hall) in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple have depictions of surasundaris (celestial damsels) as female bracket figures above the pillar capitals. These figures are on all four corners of the ceiling. The female figures are carved in a different stone than the pillars, lintels, and walls of the temple interiors.
The central pillars of the mandapa (pillared hall) in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple have depictions of surasundaris (celestial damsels) as female bracket figures above the pillar capitals. These figures are on all four corners of the ceiling. The female figures are carved in a different stone than the pillars, lintels, and walls of the temple interiors.
Seen here are the details of the pillar capital, the lintel above the pillar and the ceiling base in the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The large pot-shaped moulding of the pillar is topped by a four-sided bracket. Above these brackets bharavahaka (load bearers) figures, there are small square sculptural panels. The lintel beams of the frame structure have friezes depiction fighting scenes and panels of deities.
Seen here are the details of the pillar capital, the lintel above the pillar and the ceiling base in the mandapa (pillared hall) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The large pot-shaped moulding of the pillar is topped by a four-sided bracket. Above these brackets bharavahaka (load bearers) figures, there are small square sculptural panels. The lintel beams of the frame structure have friezes depiction fighting scenes and panels of deities.
View of the entrance to the southern shrine, one of the three shrines in this temple, in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The entrance is adorned with an ornate dvarashakha (door jambs). The ceiling of the passage that connects to the shrine is a flat ceiling with a lotus medallion. It has a depiction of Shiva and Parvati on the latatabimba (lintel) of the dvarashakaha. The pilasters at the entrance of the passage to the shrine are relatively simple compared to the central pillars of the mandapa (pillared hall).
View of the entrance to the southern shrine, one of the three shrines in this temple, in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The entrance is adorned with an ornate dvarashakha (door jambs). The ceiling of the passage that connects to the shrine is a flat ceiling with a lotus medallion. It has a depiction of Shiva and Parvati on the latatabimba (lintel) of the dvarashakaha. The pilasters at the entrance of the passage to the shrine are relatively simple compared to the central pillars of the mandapa (pillared hall).
View of the entrance to the northern shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Both the north and south shrines have identical dvarashakhas (door jambs) except for the deity couple above the lintel beam supported on the pillars of the shrine. The shrine has a depiction of Vishnu Lakshmi seated on Garuda. The lintel with the Vishnu Lakshmi sculpture has deep niches like the ones that are found on the exterior walls of temples.
View of the entrance to the northern shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Both the north and south shrines have identical dvarashakhas (door jambs) except for the deity couple above the lintel beam supported on the pillars of the shrine. The shrine has a depiction of Vishnu Lakshmi seated on Garuda. The lintel with the Vishnu Lakshmi sculpture has deep niches like the ones that are found on the exterior walls of temples.
This is the flat square ceiling in the aisles of the mandapa (pillared hall). The ceiling is made up of a large lotus medallion, surrounded by floral patterns. The beams below the flat ceiling have friezes with various human figures.
This is the flat square ceiling in the aisles of the mandapa (pillared hall). The ceiling is made up of a large lotus medallion, surrounded by floral patterns. The beams below the flat ceiling have friezes with various human figures.
There are sculptures inside deep niches just below the flat ceilings of the aisles of the mandapa (pillared hall). This sculpture is of Shiva and Parvati on Nandi, of which the Parvati’s sculpture is broken. The main sculpture is flanked by two attendants. There is a second niche that is beyond the attendants which has a gavaksha (dormer window) motif.
There are sculptures inside deep niches just below the flat ceilings of the aisles of the mandapa (pillared hall). This sculpture is of Shiva and Parvati on Nandi, of which the Parvati’s sculpture is broken. The main sculpture is flanked by two attendants. There is a second niche that is beyond the attendants which has a gavaksha (dormer window) motif.
The dvarashakha (door jamb) of the central garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is ornate. Seen here are details of the antarala (vestibule or antechamber) pilasters and the right side of the dvarashakha which has one main shakha (vertical band) with deities on it. The pilasters of the antarala have on their capitals bearded bharavahakas (load bearers).
The dvarashakha (door jamb) of the central garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is ornate. Seen here are details of the antarala (vestibule or antechamber) pilasters and the right side of the dvarashakha which has one main shakha (vertical band) with deities on it. The pilasters of the antarala have on their capitals bearded bharavahakas (load bearers).
A closer view of the lintel of the dvarashakha (door jamb) of the mulaprasada (main shrine) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. This lintel has five rathikas (small niches) with depictions of Shiva at the centre, flanked by Ganesha on the right and goddess on the left. The rathikas in the furthest corners are not easily accessible. Since the central rathika of the lintel has a Shiva image, the lalatabimba (key stone of the lintel) has an image of Nandi.
A closer view of the lintel of the dvarashakha (door jamb) of the mulaprasada (main shrine) of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. This lintel has five rathikas (small niches) with depictions of Shiva at the centre, flanked by Ganesha on the right and goddess on the left. The rathikas in the furthest corners are not easily accessible. Since the central rathika of the lintel has a Shiva image, the lalatabimba (key stone of the lintel) has an image of Nandi.
Inside the central garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is a large Shiva linga (aniconic representation of Shiva). It is on a high pedestal. The temple is actively used for worship. The Shivalinga is made up of polished stone.
Inside the central garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is a large Shiva linga (aniconic representation of Shiva). It is on a high pedestal. The temple is actively used for worship. The Shivalinga is made up of polished stone.
Seen here is the exterior of the southern shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev triple-shrine temple. The walls of the shrine have fallen, leaving only the plinth up to the level of the kumbha (pot) molding in situ. Few traces of the kalasha (pitcher) moulding above the kumbha have survived. The faces of the kumbha molding have depictions of various deities. The central kumbha corresponding to the main bhadra (central projection) of the temple has Vishnu Lakshmi on Garuda.
Seen here is the exterior of the southern shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev triple-shrine temple. The walls of the shrine have fallen, leaving only the plinth up to the level of the kumbha (pot) molding in situ. Few traces of the kalasha (pitcher) moulding above the kumbha have survived. The faces of the kumbha molding have depictions of various deities. The central kumbha corresponding to the main bhadra (central projection) of the temple has Vishnu Lakshmi on Garuda.
This is a view of the extant plinth of the southern shrine as seen from the south-facing elevation of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The pattern of the kumbha (pot) is similar to other wall projections. The central kumbha corresponding to the main bhadra (central projection) of the temple has a depiction of Ganesha.
This is a view of the extant plinth of the southern shrine as seen from the south-facing elevation of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The pattern of the kumbha (pot) is similar to other wall projections. The central kumbha corresponding to the main bhadra (central projection) of the temple has a depiction of Ganesha.
This is a view of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple seen from its southeastern corner. Also pictured here are the southern and eastern shrines of the temple as seen from the rear. The western side of the temple is its principal entrance, and the eastern shrine has a partially preserved and conserved shrine.
This is a view of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple seen from its southeastern corner. Also pictured here are the southern and eastern shrines of the temple as seen from the rear. The western side of the temple is its principal entrance, and the eastern shrine has a partially preserved and conserved shrine.
This is the view of the rear elevation of the southern shrine of the triple-shrine Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The exterior walls of this shrine have completely collapsed and were replaced at a later point with incongruously added wall portions. In rebuilding these walls, architectural members of the original temple have been repurposed haphazardly.
This is the view of the rear elevation of the southern shrine of the triple-shrine Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The exterior walls of this shrine have completely collapsed and were replaced at a later point with incongruously added wall portions. In rebuilding these walls, architectural members of the original temple have been repurposed haphazardly.
These are the remains of the mandapa (pillared hall) and the north shrine in the triple-shrine Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Like the south shrine, only the plinth of the exterior walls has survived. The mandapa (pillared hall) must have had kakshasanas (seats) in the original layout, which is evident from the vedika (railing) portions that are seen in this picture.
These are the remains of the mandapa (pillared hall) and the north shrine in the triple-shrine Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Like the south shrine, only the plinth of the exterior walls has survived. The mandapa (pillared hall) must have had kakshasanas (seats) in the original layout, which is evident from the vedika (railing) portions that are seen in this picture.
View of the south-facing side of the shikhara (superstructure) central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Since the central shrine has undergone renovations, the plinth, wall, and spire portions are in place. The temple is a variety of Latina nagara (mono-spired) shikhara and pancharatha (five vertical offset or projections on each side) in plan. At the plinth level, the kumbha (pot) moulding has been renovated. During this process, the deities on the faces of the kumbha might have been replastered.
View of the south-facing side of the shikhara (superstructure) central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Since the central shrine has undergone renovations, the plinth, wall, and spire portions are in place. The temple is a variety of Latina nagara (mono-spired) shikhara and pancharatha (five vertical offset or projections on each side) in plan. At the plinth level, the kumbha (pot) moulding has been renovated. During this process, the deities on the faces of the kumbha might have been replastered.
Seen here are the details of the Latina nagara (mono-spired) shikhara (superstructure) of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It is made up of five vertical projections. The central band or the madhyalata is flanked by pratilatas. These three bands are made up of a mesh of gavaksha (dormer window) motifs. The corner bands of the shikhara have aedicules which are known as bhumikhandas, again having gavaksha designs on their surfaces. These aedicules diminish in size and are separated by flat ribbed discs. Based on this shikhara, it can be speculated that the other two shrines of the temple must have had similar Latina nagara shikharas.
Seen here are the details of the Latina nagara (mono-spired) shikhara (superstructure) of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It is made up of five vertical projections. The central band or the madhyalata is flanked by pratilatas. These three bands are made up of a mesh of gavaksha (dormer window) motifs. The corner bands of the shikhara have aedicules which are known as bhumikhandas, again having gavaksha designs on their surfaces. These aedicules diminish in size and are separated by flat ribbed discs. Based on this shikhara, it can be speculated that the other two shrines of the temple must have had similar Latina nagara shikharas.
A closer view of the south-facing jangha (wall) of the central shrine of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The jangha is profusely carved with sculptures. The central bhadra (central projection) has a ferocious depiction of Shiva, and the intermediate and corner projections have ascetic, surasundaris (celestial damsels), and dikpalas (deities for cardinal directions). The recesses just flanking the central shrine have vyalas (composite mythical creatures).
A closer view of the south-facing jangha (wall) of the central shrine of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The jangha is profusely carved with sculptures. The central bhadra (central projection) has a ferocious depiction of Shiva, and the intermediate and corner projections have ascetic, surasundaris (celestial damsels), and dikpalas (deities for cardinal directions). The recesses just flanking the central shrine have vyalas (composite mythical creatures).
This is the east-facing elevation of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The bhadra (central projection) image on the exterior wall facing east, contains a unique composite image called the Harihararka (or Hariharapitamaharka), which is a depiction of Shiva, Vishnu, and Surya (and plausibly Brahma) incorporated into one sculpture. The three-faced figure is shown sitting on a chariot of seven horses, holding the attributes of all its representative deities.
This is the east-facing elevation of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The bhadra (central projection) image on the exterior wall facing east, contains a unique composite image called the Harihararka (or Hariharapitamaharka), which is a depiction of Shiva, Vishnu, and Surya (and plausibly Brahma) incorporated into one sculpture. The three-faced figure is shown sitting on a chariot of seven horses, holding the attributes of all its representative deities.
This is the north-facing elevation of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The central bhadra (central projection) has a depiction of Narasimha killing the demon Hiranyakashipu. The recesses have vyala (composite mythical creatures) and mithuna/maithuna (amorous couples) figures.
This is the north-facing elevation of the central shrine in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The central bhadra (central projection) has a depiction of Narasimha killing the demon Hiranyakashipu. The recesses have vyala (composite mythical creatures) and mithuna/maithuna (amorous couples) figures.
This is the ancillary shrine to the northeast of the main Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It is a single-shrine temple in a very dilapidated state. Only a few mouldings of its plinth have survived. The temple was originally pancharatha (five vertical offset or projections on each side) in its plan, but the structure of the mandapa (pillared hall) has fallen.
This is the ancillary shrine to the northeast of the main Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It is a single-shrine temple in a very dilapidated state. Only a few mouldings of its plinth have survived. The temple was originally pancharatha (five vertical offset or projections on each side) in its plan, but the structure of the mandapa (pillared hall) has fallen.
View of a west-facing view of the subsidiary shrine to Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Few remains of the threshold in the interiors of the temple have survived.
View of a west-facing view of the subsidiary shrine to Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Few remains of the threshold in the interiors of the temple have survived.
A row of broken mouldings with diamond designs is kept, inside the boundary wall, in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple premises. These portions must have been part of the original plinth of the temple.
A row of broken mouldings with diamond designs is kept, inside the boundary wall, in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple premises. These portions must have been part of the original plinth of the temple.
Remains of pilasters from the vicinity of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The original position is not known, but these are stylistically similar to the interior of Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The pillar shaft has a ghatapallava (pot with foliage) motif.
Remains of pilasters from the vicinity of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The original position is not known, but these are stylistically similar to the interior of Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The pillar shaft has a ghatapallava (pot with foliage) motif.
There are remains of several sculptures kept in a makeshift storehouse to the south of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. These have wall sculptures, lintels, pillar remnants, and other architectural elements. Noteworthy among these loose fragments is an image of Yogeshwar Vishnu or Vishnu sitting in the padmasana (lotus pedestal) yoga posture.
There are remains of several sculptures kept in a makeshift storehouse to the south of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. These have wall sculptures, lintels, pillar remnants, and other architectural elements. Noteworthy among these loose fragments is an image of Yogeshwar Vishnu or Vishnu sitting in the padmasana (lotus pedestal) yoga posture.
View of a fragment of a lintel found to the south of the main Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The lintel has friezes with deities depicted on it.
View of a fragment of a lintel found to the south of the main Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. The lintel has friezes with deities depicted on it.
This is the on-site storehouse housing several architectural elements and sculptural fragments found in Neelkanth Mahadev Temple and the entire temple complex. These fragments are important to understand the original fabric of the temple structure.
This is the on-site storehouse housing several architectural elements and sculptural fragments found in Neelkanth Mahadev Temple and the entire temple complex. These fragments are important to understand the original fabric of the temple structure.
A loose and damaged sculpture of Nandi found in the vicinity of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Since the central shrine in Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is dedicated to Shiva, the presence of this Nandi sculpture is noteworthy. Though the original location of this sculpture is not known, it might have been inside the mandapa (pillared hall) of the temple.
A loose and damaged sculpture of Nandi found in the vicinity of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Since the central shrine in Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is dedicated to Shiva, the presence of this Nandi sculpture is noteworthy. Though the original location of this sculpture is not known, it might have been inside the mandapa (pillared hall) of the temple.
A partially broken Shiva linga (an iconic representation of Shiva) is found on the eastern side of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. This could be the original object of worship in the central shrine of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, as the one inside the temple is a new linga.
A partially broken Shiva linga (an iconic representation of Shiva) is found on the eastern side of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. This could be the original object of worship in the central shrine of the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, as the one inside the temple is a new linga.