The Temples of Kiradu

About 43 kilometers west of Barmer in Rajasthan lie the ruins of five temples in a picturesque amphitheatre of hills. These temples date back to circa 1000 A.D. and later. Though some people ascribe it to the Rastrakuta Dynasty, it is believed to belong to the Gurjara-Praihara School of temple building. The intricately sculpted walls and pillars and the complex toranas, also seem to be paving the way for the imminent Solanki vogue. Certain Gupta influences are also apparent, obviously arising from their proximity to Gupta territory.

The Someshwara temple, like the three other small temples, is dedicated to Shiva. The images in the bhadra-niches and the doorframe iconography are proof of the same. The multi turreted spire is severely damaged but the remnants speak of its past glory. Architecturally, the three smaller Shiva temples are not very significant but the sculptured depictions of ritual eroticism, temple building, Bhishma Pitamah lying on a couch of arrows and other scenes from daily life transports one into a time wrap. In the Vishnu temple, only the shell of the sanctum and the pillars of the central octagon of the mandapa now survive. The figural decoration on the exterior of the mandapa is exquisite, particularly the scenes of combat and palace life, and the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The Kiradu group has remained largely unknown and underrated because of its location. It is a very significant group, nevertheless, because it unfolds the 10th century transition in architectural style, and offers a glimpse of the splendor that had been. A visit to Kiradu is a must for a discerning lover of architecture.


Kiradu (classical Kiratakupa) is situated 16 miles North-West of Barmer and 2 miles from the village of Hatma, in the District of Mallani. The earliest official mention is in the Report for 1907-08 of the Archaeological Survey of India. Kiratakupa was a major centre of the westernmost branch of the Paramara dynasty. References of local Paramara occupancy date between ca. AD 995-1161, after which there is no further mention, but the main Paramara lines (in Lata, Malava, Candravati and Arbuda) endured until ca. AD 1300. Stylistic analysis has dated Kiradu to ca. AD 1020.

Very little is known about the builders of these magnificent structures and the few available inscription  suggest that these temples were built during the period of comparative peace and prosperity between the earlier invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni in 1025-26 and the ultimate subjudgation of this territory by Khilji and Tughlaq Sultans in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

One inscription mentions the origin of the Parmaras from the sacrificial fire at Mt.Abu and mentions Sindhuraja (c. 995-1010 A.D.) of Marumandala. Somesvara was the fourth king in this dynasty. He was a feudatory to the Chalukya princes Jaysimha (1094-1144) and Kumarapala (1144-73). This land was coveted by many kings and therefore suffered many invasions. Somesvara lost his kingdom to the Chamahans led by Annoraja (1139) but soon regained it with the help of Jaysimha. But by 1148 Somesvara was a forgotten king and the same fate seems to have overtaken his successors. Kiratakupa slid into political insignificance as Delhi Sultanate eventually annexed it.

There is mention in another inscription that the image at Somesvara was broken by the Turuskas and was replaced by a new one by Tejapala’s wife in 1235. It was during the same time that Bhima II, the Solanki ruler of Gujarat built the great Sun temple at Modhera which set the style for many grand temples in Western Gujarat. Apparently, many structural features of the Kiradu temples have been derived from Modhera. Inscriptions on the temple walls read the date V.S. 1210 (AD 1152 / 53), which may however refer to a temporary Cahamana conquest, rather than the date of construction.

Kiradu was definitely invaded, the enormous wealth looted and carted away. In search of the hidden treasures, the sanctums were dug up relentlessly and stones dislodged from its original place. In the absence of preservation the weather did further damage, sand corroded the walls. An observation of desert landscape would lead one to believe that the cause of the entire township now being buried under sand, resulted from the sand deposits on the lee side of the three hills which formed the amphitheatre for the deserted township. Nature completed the ruin of Kiradu as an earthquake at the beginning of the 19th century with its epicenter in Kathiawar brought about unprecedented destruction.

Kiradu today lies buried in the valley of barren hills. One can stay there for days without meeting another human soul, but it is an overwhelming experience, entirely different from the routine tourist places. To discover Kiradu is to discover a forgotten page from the glorious past of India.


The earliest temple at Kiradu is dedicated to Vishnu and stands at the farthest end of the complex with hills on all three sides. One can see the magnitude of destruction from the ruins which still contain splendidly sculptured panels on the walls of the sanctum. Not much remains of the front portion of the shrine. The five-faceted (pancharatha) walls of the sanctum rise over a tall and elaborate molded plinth. The multi turreted spire or shikhara is mostly destroyed barring a few mini-spires.  Next to the temple, stone steps descend into a gorge which must have been the sacred pool.

In front of the sanctum stands the octagonal nritya-mandap or dance hall. The pillars are lavishly carved with rows of celestial dancers or apsaras adding to its beauty. They resemble figures from Baroli, in Kota. The flower and vase motif is brilliant but most outstanding are the multi-loop toranas (arches) joining the pillars. Only two specimens of these toranas have survived but the exquisite carving stands proof of the sculptor’s mastery and perfection. The ruined Vishnu temple still stands magnificent, and is of enormous sculptural wealth.

The most magnificent of this exceptionally rich but severely damaged group at Kiradu is the Somesvara temple which beautifully illustrates the Solanki style and influences of the Gupta Age. The shikhara over the sanctum is still intact. The sanctum is five-faceted. The small turrets (urusringas) cling to each other as they rise verticality to a compact crescendo. On the base (pitha) are panels of horned heads, elephants, horses and humans. An interesting feature is a large upturned lotus moulding in the base, quite like that of the early Chola temples, but much more decorative and distinctive in style. Small panels depicting Krishna-lila and scenes from the Ramayana show a splendid execution of details. These sculptures have a rare sensuousness to them and appear to be almost three dimensional. However, it is the single band of figure sculptures from the Hindu pantheon which are the most exquisite. They bring to mind the similar sculpting in the Hoysala temples in Karnataka and the Konark in Orissa.

In front of the sanctum, stands the octagonal dancing hall, with a distinctively ornamented door.  The huge pillars of this pavilion display elegant vase and foliage designs in the middle, topped by four-armed brackets. The octagonal beams of stone, which once supported the ceiling, now stands unburdened. This pavilion is surrounded by a high-walled enclosure with large openings thus forming a secured edifice. It has a multi-banded plinth whose decorative element is enhanced by layers of paneled images. Among other moldings, is a beautiful, deeply stenciled Jadyakumbha or inverted Cymarecta. The sculpture is superb. Despite its ruined condition, it is a magnificent structure.

The three Shiva temples are smaller and belong to a slightly later period. They are single-cell structures with the same features- the plinth, the paneled walls and the multi turreted spire. They are all lavishly ornamented with figure sculpture. They are essentially smaller replicas clustering around the main temples. The temple closest to the Somesvara has some splendid sculptures. The doorway, now exposed to the sun in the absence of the front porch, is the most decorative at Kiradu. All these temples have been built on ground level on a courtyard paved with stones.