Draw a line from the North to South of India, from Kedarnath in the Himalayas to Rameshwaram on an island on the southern tip of India and you will find it dotted with the famous Shiva temples, the mystical 12 jyotirlingas. One temple that could have been as famous as temples on that list, is Bhojeshwar temple near Bhopal as it boasts of having the tallest shivling in India!
Located about 28 kms from Bhopal, in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, is the small village of Bhojpur on banks of the Betwa river. The temple here was built by the Parmara ruler of Malwa, Raja Bhoj (1010 -1055 CE). The King lived in his capital, Dhar and was a great patron of art, literature and science. Interestingly, according to folklore, he is also said to have founded the settlement of Bhopal, originally called Bhojpal.
In Bhojpur, Raja Bhoj is said to have built three large earthen dams and created a massive reservoir that was later destroyed by Sultan Hoshang Shah of Malwa. On the banks of this man-made lake, he commissioned a large Shiva temple, called the Bhojeshwar temple, with a massive shivling measuring 7.5 feet (2.3 m) in height and 17.8 feet (5.4 m) in circumference. It is set on a square platform, whose sides measure 21.5 feet (6.6 m).The total height of the lingam, including the platform is over 40 feet (12 m)! This makes it the tallest in the country. It is made of three limestone blocks superimposed on each other.
The exact date of the construction of this temple is not known but historian Dr Kirit Mankodi, dates it to the later part of Raja Bhoj’s reign, around mid 11th century CE. However, construction was abruptly stopped midway and the temple was never completed. Historians have speculated that this may have been due to a natural disaster, war or lack of financial resources. Raw material, unfinished parts and even architectural plans carved in stone have been found abandoned around the temple.
In 2006-2007, an ASI team led by archeologist KK Muhammad led the conservation efforts at the temple. According to KK Muhammad, one reason why the temple was abandoned could have been because calculations show that the structure was not able to bear the load of the stone roof and the roof collapsed. Thereafter, the king was not able to rebuild the roof and complete the temple.
The original architectural plans carved in stone show that a much larger temple complex was planned by Raja Bhoj but never built. Had it been completed, it would have been one of the largest temple complexes in the country and could perhaps have taken up a prominent place along with the famous jyotirlingas!
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Bhojeshwar temple is located in Bhojpur village, in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. The nearest railway station is Bhopal Junction, around 30 kms away. Bhopal's Raja Bhoj Airport, 45 kms away is the nearest airport.