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Reinterpreting "Divine Intervention" in the Documentation of the Chamunda mata Temple Complex

Situated in the wilderness and agricultural fields on the outskirts of the village of Gajnikhedi in District Ujjain, stands the quaint Chamunda mata Temple Complex. The core temple complex covers an area of approximately 8 acres and comprises a main shrine and a few chattris and sati pavilions, as well as a baoli (stepped wells). This temple is dedicated to the Saptamatrikas, or seven goddesses. Per Indian mythology, these seven goddesses are described as possessing dangerous qualities and are ferocious in nature, representing a destructive force. These types of temples are located in the wilderness usually near lakes or rivers and are made of vermillion-smeared stones. Due to their inauspicious connotations they were never located in a village or town but actually in the forests or cremation grounds. The Chamunda mata Temple is built on the premises of a crematorium.

A visitor's first impression of the site is rather deceiving as one tends to think that this is a contemporary temple given the modern concrete parapet and bulbous domes on the terrace. Since this temple is only locally significant, there wasn't much information about it in historical reports or books. Over the years the community had repaired the temple using the donations they received from pilgrims and patrons. These repairs had been incremental and at most times incongruous to the historical fabric of the temple. We were told that the beautifully carved stone walls were recovered from under layers of plaster by the Department of Archaeology only a few years earlier.

While we were scratching our heads trying to figure out the temple’s evolution, a villager came up to us out of the blue and handed us a photograph of the temple with its original stone shikhar (top) intact, photocopied from a rare Archaeological Survey of India Report from 1916-17. This was the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that suddenly was presented to us—we would say it was god sent.

We experienced a second divine intervention when we were debating the scope of our own intervention; since our budget was restricted, what was of concern was prioritizing the water management of the site. The project coordination team was under the impression that the site would get waterlogged but we were confident that the water drained off naturally and there would only be a need for minimal intervention for the baoli. This was an ongoing debate that started in early February 2014 when on a site visit to Mahidpur Fort, which is located 70 kilometers (44 miles) away from Chamunda mata Temple. Overconfident that since Chamunda mata Temple was only 70 kilometers away, we could easily make the trip and head back to Indore which was another 120 kilometers (75 miles), and take the 9:00 p.m. flight back in time. We set off at 3:00 p.m. for Chamunda mata Temple. However what we didn't account for was the condition of the roads and by the time we reached the temple it was past 6:00 p.m. When I was sure that we would never make it in time for our flight, it started pouring cats and dogs with thunder and lightning. It felt strange because storms are a rare occurrence at this time of the year. Then, I received an SMS that the flight was postponed by two hours and would now depart at 11:00 p.m. The raging storm suddenly stopped thereafter giving us a complete demonstration of how the surface water drains off the site in a matter of minutes, essentially ending our debate with the project consultant team! This only strengthened our belief that the interventions that we planned for the temple were mystically approved by "Chamunda mata."

WMF has partnered with the government of Madhya Pradesh’s Department of Culture to develop a sustainable management program for continued conservation and maintenance of the state’s heritage sites.