From the moment I heard about this temple I was very eager to go there but then we often say that you can’t touch the threshold of a temple till the deity there wants you to. In this case it appeared to be true. The temple is just at a distance of two hours drive from our home yet for years we could not go there. I can’t attribute any particular reason to this delay but it just didn’t happen. During that period we travelled to many places in and outside country but somehow a visit to this place couldn’t happen. And then last week the outing materialised. Though a day in the June month of scorching heat was not an ideal one for a day time trip but then whatever God plans always turns out to be the best for every one. For us too despite the initial hiccups like not turning in of the cab we booked, our day was just perfect and the temple was definitely more of a marvel than I thought of.

The temple is located in Oel village, about say 12 to 15 Km before Lakhimpur Khiri on Sitapur – Lakhimpur highway, near about 104 Km from Lucknow. The temple is unique in it’s architecture, structure. It is said that the temple was built under the guidance of a Kapalik Tantrik and is based on some yantra described in Tantra Vidya. I am not sure about the authenticity of this fact but the structure and the carvings, images on the walls of temple and other structure in the premises definitely suggest that this belief hold some truth.

The entire temple structure is erected on the back of a big frog. That is why the temple is popularly known as Medhak Mandir and Manduk Mandir. Big open mouth of the frog faces the main gate of the  premises with it’s back portion and all the four legs clearly visible in respective directions.

Near each of the limb of the frog is one double storyed tower with carving of Gods, Goddesses and other images on the outer walls. The doors leading inside the towers were locked though we could have a glimpse of some coloured murals on the walls of second storey from out side. These towers are on the ground level

In the center is main temple at the height of about 100 ft from the ground level. The steps leading to the temple from the base are in three tiers and are in the shape of Havan Kund or Yagna Vedi. The three tiers are said to represent the three Suksham Elements – Satva, Tam and Raj, Above these yagna kund like steps there are structure of lotus with eight and sixteen petals respectively and in the middle of it stands the main temple housing the main deity– Narmadeshwar Mahadeva.

The dome of the temple too is very unique. entire dome is filled with petal shaped carvings and in every petal is an inverted triangle with a dot inside it. Spiral of dome consists of metal kalash , from the side of which faces of cows with horns are clearly visible. On the top of Kalashes is a small metal flag and a half OM structure. It is said that originally it was a complete Om but vagaries of nature with passing of time damaged it.

It’s not only this Om but many images, carvings and other parts too are damaged and destroyed though restoration work too has been done and the premises is neat , lawns, plants well maintained. Considering that the temple is personal property of the royal family of Oel, the maintenance is definitely praise worthy.

Outer walls of temple and the four towers are engraved with many images. Some of these images are very intriguing. Some of the images are that of Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesha, Hanumana , Kartikeya, brahma but many images are of Yoginis, Bhairavis, Bhairav, Batuk Bhairav, some engrossed in sadhna sitting on shavas while others appear to tell some story. The animal forms in images too are strange. There are dogs on the steps as if guarding the premises. some look like jackals while others are snakes.

In the sanctum sanctoram at the center stands a vedi of about three ft. in height. It is made of what marble and in the center of  vedi is placed black coloured Shivlinga. Not in front of Shivalinga but slightly at a diagonal position stands, yes stands Nandi made of white marble. No where else have I seen a standing Nandi prior to this. Normally in almost every Shiva temple I have been so far, I have seen Nandi sitting  calmly, personifying patience but here Nandi in standing posture comes as a surprise. The ceiling of the sanctum displays many colourful murals.

Just outside the entrance to the sanctum there is a well. Yes, the well is on the height of 100 Ft from the ground but the water is at ground level only. The water is clearly seen and devotees take out water for washing hands and feet before entering the sanctum. It is said that since inception that is almost 250 years this well has never been dried.

In all the four directions of the temple structure there is open space having many shady trees, flowering plants, Bel Patra trees, Shami trees. There is a well and a handpump also in this area. the plants are well maintained.  In all the four directions in the middle of boundary wall there are thakurdwaras. Earlier a door from each thakudwara used to open towards temple and these were used as resting places for ascetics, saints and other pilgrims. Now except the thakudwara on the wall of front entrance all other three are in dilapidated conditions.

We heard two more unique things about the temple. It is said that the colour of Shivalinga changes with change in direction of sun, not in every short span of time but during the four Prahars of the day. We could not confirm that as we did not stay there till evening. It is also said that the  roof of the dome earlier used to appear to rotate with time but now that phenomenon occurs no more. It is said that with passing of time some damages has been done .

The temple was got erected by Rai Bakhat Singh, who was the Zamidar of the area. Rai Bakhat Singh expired in 1838. His successor Raja Aniruddh Singh was given the title of Raja by the Badshah of Awadh in 1849 and then later on British Government gave it a hereditary status. Present Raja of Oel Raja Vishnu Narain Dutt ji and his Rani Sudha Rani have their kothi in Oel and they visit there frequently.

According to popular belief Rai Bakht Singh ji got the temple made for the well being of his family and his subject. The temple was constructed under the guidance of a Kapalik Tantrik from Meghalaya. As suggested by Kapalik saint Rai Bakht Singh ji went on a pilgrimage to Narmda river and as predicted by the saint while taking a dip in holy river he found this Shivlinga. The Shivalinga was then brought here and was consecrated. That is why Lord Shiva of this temple is known by the name of Narmadeshwar Mahadeva.

The temple appears to have many unique features but no authentic explanation of so many things. There are many images which tell various stories but we can’t interpret those. May be because they are related to a particular sect and we in our society are not exposed to those stories. There are images of Gods and Goddesses, of Goddess Durga, Lord Hanumana, Ganesha, Brahma and Kartikeya and then there are images of Chausath Yoginis, Bhairavis, Batuk Bhairav, persons doing Sadhna sitting on dead bodies and various intriguing looking animals, animal- cum- humans. There are dogs, jackals , snakes etc.

The mouth of the big frog is wide open and the wholes on steps suggest that there must have been a time when the water poured on Shivalinga on the top travelled down and poured out of frogs mouth.

During Deepawali and Shivratri big fairs take place every year here.

The temple has got a vibrant aura, surrounding is calm . peaceful and it has a kind of mystique feel. So much is there to know and understand. Somehow you feel as if many stories are there to be heard, told and retold. It is a unique piece of our heritage and it needs to be preserved and protected.

 

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All pictures copyrighted by Sunder Iyer.