Kiradu Temple in Barmer: Expressions in Sandstone

There was no fragrance of flowers and incense. There were no bell chimes or columns of devotees awaiting their turn to seek blessings. It was still a temple complex. This Shaiva and Vaishnava temple complex is without the deities. It was an empty nest of aging sculptures in Kiradu (Hatama in Rajasthan), near Indo-Pak border. The sand and wind have disfigured faces of many of these masterpieces created in Solanki style. Some of the faces, however, still bear young smiles. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is trying to conserve these smiles, because an important story of an erstwhile prosperous city is hidden here.

Classic Kiratkoop or Kiratakupa is now called Kiradu, an ancient pilgrim and trade town along the old route connecting Delhi and Sindh. Kiradu Ke Mandir is one of the 227 protected monuments in Rajasthan. The temples are about one-hour drive from Barmer town.

Shiva Parvati
Shiva and Parvati with Nandi

Only five out of all the temples originally built are now surviving, that too in parts. Sanctums of all five temples are still in place. The octagonal mandapas (halls) of Someshwara and Vishnu temples still retain their charm.

Someshwara Temple

Someshwara Temple
Back side of the sanctum of the Someshwara Temple

The Shiva temple, the largest structure in the complex, faces west. The sanctum is currently home to bats. The antechamber, hall and porch are still there. The sabha mandapa consists of eight tall pillars arranged in an octagon. The richly ornamented pillars and motifs on them are inspired by celestial beings, including kirtimukhas (the Faces of Glory), makaras, ganas (servants of Shiva who fight against evils), and vidyadharas (wise warriors from heaven).

Bat at Someshwara Temple
A bat in the sanctum of the Someshwara Temple

Kirtimukha, representing a leonine demon, is a decorative motif used for protecting the buildings. The monster is generally carved on the doorways or the towers of the temples. For those uninitiated, Lord Shiva created the demon to keep Rahu at bay. Ironically, this lion-like creature does not have lower jaw and eyelids. The absence of the lower jaw ensures that the demon cannot close the mouth. Thus, the Face of Glory cannot swallow the universe. This vehicle of energy is also popular in other parts of the world, but with different names: the Green Man in Europe and T’ao T’ieh in China.

The portrayal of the celestial world is never complete without demons, entertainers, servants, and warriors. Intricate sculptures of Makara, the sea monster from the Indian mythology, also adorns the pillars. According to the mythology, this demon deity is the ‘vahana’ (vehicle) of Lord Varuna.

Someshwara Pillars
Top section of the pillar in Someshwara Temple

The octagon is surrounded by another set of intricately carved pillars.

I noticed two statues of three-faced Vishnu on the exteriors of the temple. But both are defaced.

3 Face Vishnu
Exterior of the Someshwara Temple: (L to R) Ganesh and three-faced Vishnu

Five images of Lord Ganesh are carved in a row. The trunks of two are in one direction and the other three in opposite direction. Above the Ganesh panel, a tall statue of a woman has been installed. At her feet, there is a human figure. The sculpture of the woman is surrounded by two elephants at the bottom and two more animals at the top.

5 Ganesh
The Someshwara Temple: A woman’s statue (Hidimba?) over the panel featuring five images of Ganesh

Vishnu Temple

Vishnu Temple Hall
The remains of octagonal hall of the Vishnu Temple

In the octagonal pillared mandpa of the Vishnu Temple, warriors’ figures still stand in the mouth of the Makara. Figures of Gardua and human beings adorn the pillar tops. Bottom of the pillars are decorated with female figures. The temple facing east also has its share of Faces of Glory. The hall has two exquisitely carved arches.

Warrior in the jaw of Makara
The Vishnu Temple: A warrior in the jaw of Makara (R)

More on the Temple Art

The bare torsos of both men and women reveal equations between the two genders: Was nudity a norm? It could be, since art does not exist in isolation.

These temples, like many other ancient Hindu temples, personify the divine and illustrate stories from epics and everyday life. For example, panels of ugly lucky charm Kirtimukh are placed in both top and bottom sections of the temples.

All five temples stand on high stony pedestals for technical and hierarchical reasons. The main spires (shikhars) of about 1,000-year-old temples consist of several miniature spires. The exteriors are richly decorated.

The panels of warriors with shields and swords are common. Sculptures of saints occupy a number of niches. The rows of elephants are sculpted at the bottom to provide a stable base for huge structures. Images of horses and jockeys stand over the elephant panels, followed by rows of miniature human figures. Various common floral and geometrical patterns complement the figures.

Floral Motif
A floral motif from Kiradu temples

Meticulously carved bodies of beautiful nymphs (apsaras) and musicians (gandharvas)from the heaven expand the theme to incorporate all aspects of life. Traditionally, an analogy is drawn between the human body and the Hindu temple. The mouth, for instance, is represented as the temple door. Specific rules are thus followed to create and decorate sections of the temple depending on the importance. The nymph sculptures portray sensuous side of mankind. The enamoured couples come here to enjoy some private moments.

Names of these anonymous couples written in white chalk with shaky hands is an outburst of a desire to be famous like Tajmahal and Shahjahan. But, can a mere graffiti get these couples a place in history? Not really. In fact, these graffiti are spoiling the masterpieces of the artists who must have earned fame at least during their lifetime.

Visit the temples before they fully succumb to time and graffiti lovers.

Temple sanctum
A temple sanctum without the mandapa in the Kiradu Temple Complex

Entry Essentials

Opening hours

09:00 am – 06:00 pm


Allowed. No fee.

Entry Fee

  • INR 5 per Student
  • INR 10 per Indian visitor
  • INR 50 per Foreign visitor


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