Famous, the world over for its shimmering lakes, Udaipur, often called the Venice of the East, has a facet which is lesser known. The capital of the erstwhile princely state of Mewar, Udaipur boasts of some ancient exquisitely carved temples. Though temples like the one dedicated to Lord Jagdish, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu and the one dedicated to Lord Ekling ji, the chief deity of the Royal House of Mewar are revered and thronged by thousands, some others like the 11th century temple complex of Shahastra Baahu, popularly known by its local name ‘Saas Bahu” have been relegated to the back pages of relevance and reverence.
Set on the banks of Lake Bagela near the Ekling ji temple about 22 kms from Udaipur is the small hamlet of Nagda, which lore claim was one of the earliest capitals of Mewar. Nagda is named after its founder Nagaditya, the fourth King of Mewar from the linage of King Bappa Rawal, and is set in a surrounding which is breathtakingly picturesque. The temple of Saas Bahu expands the magic and charm of the place. Built in the early 11th century, the twin temple complex which is right on the shores of lake Bagela, is an example of exemplary architectural workmanship of ancient Vaishnav art form.
On a sunny winter December afternoon, we decided to take a road trip to the Sahastra Baahu Temple Complex. To get to the Saas Bahu temples, you have to turn left adjacent to the embankment of the Lake Bagela, as you approach the steep slope that takes you to the temple of Ekling ji at Kailashpuri. A glaring drawback en route to the temples is the absence of any road signs or indicators that might help you to reach the temples without getting the feeling of having got lost. The narrow road takes you past a resort aptly name Heritage Resort and centuries old Jain temples but even the approach road towards the Saas Bahu temple complex is devoid of any signage that might proclaim its existence to the wandering visitors. An empty and derelict parking lot added to the confusion.
We took a steep road past the parking lot and were greeted by the sound of cascading water from a small artificial water fall beside a small shop selling curios. The shop owner doubled up as a parking attendant and after paying INR 15/- as parking fees to him, we began our tryst with the complex that houses the twin temples of Saas Bahu.
Entering the complex, which is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), you are greeted by a well maintained garden and beyond that is the raised platform on which are the temples of Shahastra Bahu dedicated to Lord Vishnu in an incarnation with thousand hands (hence the name shahastra meaning thousand and baahu meaning hands)
The complex though is more widely known by its distorted name ‘Saas Bahu’ temples. Saas in the local language means mother-in-law and Bahu connotes daughter-in-law and it is not hard to fathom why the temples are known as the Saas Bahu temples. Standing right across each other, the ‘Saas’ temple which has a beautiful archway at its entrance, is comparatively larger in size than the ‘Bahu’ temple which has a fascinating octagonal carved ceiling, signifying the relative place of importance that a mother-in-law has for the daughter-in-law and the family in general. Both the temples are adorned by some exquisite carvings depicting events and figures from Hindu mythology like Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh besides others like Ram, Parshurama and Balrama that showcase the sculpting prowess and vivid imagination of the sculptors of that time.
There are two more much smaller temples on the platform, both in ruins. The ancient temple complex has been a witness to destruction by marauding invaders for centuries and it shows. Today, the temples despite the scars that ravages of time have wrecked on them mercilessly stand resplendently in resilient abeyance to their creators and as a proud reminder to modernity that the past has more gems hidden in her bosom than the future can even aspire to provide.