Up in the Kumaon Himalayas, the author connects with a historic temple.

At an altitude of 2,100m (approx) in the Chakot valley is the historic temple of Taleshwar. Taleshwar literally means “the lord of musical beats”. The temple is dedicated to Shiva. The village that now houses the temple is also named Taleshwar and is a one-hour uphill walk from Deghat — the last approachable road.

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

These lines by Gandhi simply mean — stay connected to your culture.

The temple group, in and around Taleshwar in the Kumaon Himalayas, is a classic example. It is nearly 110 km from the garrison town of Ranikhet; roughly 40 km from the proposed summer capital of Uttarakhand-Gairsain, it borders the Kumaon and Garhwal regions.

A large stone-carved statue of Ganesha is placed outside the main shrine which houses a Shiva linga. Opposite these are two mammoth statues of Nandi Ganas. There are also separate temples of Kaal Bhairav and Vishnu. A small temple also houses a pair of stone-carved Ram padukas. However, these temples appear to be of relatively recent origin than the main shrine and the idols in them also lack the craftsmanship that is present on the statue of Ganesha.

The walls of the main shrine are made of stone bricks, and the roof, which is conical, is made of stone slates. Inscribed stone slates can be found in abundance in the temple premises.

The village is roughly at a distance of 40 km from the historic town of Dwarahat, the capital of the Katyuri kings. Three other temple groups are located within a radius of two to four km from Taleshwar in the villages of Bharsoli, Chamyari and Binsar (not to be confused with the one near Ranikhet). The temples at Bharsoli are now in ruins but the ones at Chamyari are intact though the idols were stolen long ago.

Fine stone carving can be seen at the entrance of these temples. In 1915, two copper plate grants were discovered while digging the foundation for a wall in the village. These were brought to light by C.E.D. Peters, ICS, the then Deputy Commissioner of Almora. The plates were later given to the Lucknow Museum. Y.R. Gupte, who had the honour of being the first to decipher the plates, wrote in his report titled “Two Talesvara Copperplates”: “Both the grants purport to have been issued from Brahmapura, one by Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja sri Dyutivarmman and the other by Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja sri Vishnuvarmman… each of the plates has an oval seal soldered to it…on the whole the letters (in the seal and the plates) show similarity to the Gupta alphabets of the later half of the 4th century AD.” This report was later included in the Epigraphica Indica Vol.XIII, a copy of which I could read from the National Museum Library, New Delhi. The copper grants are important for two reasons. First, “we hardly have any records from about the fourth to the eighth century, issued by or concerning the ruling dynasties of Kumaon and Garhwal region… they also supply us with the name of some hitherto unknown kings.” Second, “they give a vivid description of many cities, villages and fields, which are of much geographical and historical interest” in Uttarakhand (quotes from Epigraphica Indica Vol.XIII). Both these kings belonged to the kingdom of Parvatakara, with Brahmapura as its capital. The city finds mention in the records of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang. Nothing definite has been said by historians about the exact location of Brahmapura. However, Gupte along with some others roughly opine Brahmapura to be modern Lakhanpur or somewhere near it.

Though there is no mention of the temple in either of the copper plates, if one observes the geographical location and the terrain of the temple, it can be convincingly concluded that the temple existed at the time when the plates were commissioned. Had this not been the case, it is unlikely that the plates be found in a place as remote and aloof as the village of Taleshwar. How else could the plates reach the place devoid of any other archaeological sites nearby except the ones mentioned above?

Chamoli is also mentioned in the Taleshwar copper grants. “The plate reveals that the ancient capital of Brahmapura had one of its administrative centres at Chamoli.” (Land and People of Indian States and Union Territories, Vol. 27 by Gopal K. Bhargava and S.C. Bhatt).

Every year, Shivratri is celebrated in the temple and a mela is also organised in the village. Due to the availability of cheap alcohol and its rapid percolation in the hills of Uttarakhand, the mela has become a one-day affair. As a child, I remember running a toy shop in the Shivratri mela with my neighbour’s son. These historic temples lose their original look by the laying on of poor quality tiles, in the name of beautification. They are in fact “being robbed by our own granites,” as Rajshekhar Pant, a senior journalist from Uttarakhand, rightly puts it, in context of a similar apathy elsewhere in the Kumaon Hills.

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