Markanda is a small village in Gadhciroli tahsil situated on
the left bank of the Wainganga river about 64.37 km. (40 miles) east of Candrapur and known amongst the Hindus as a place of pilgrimage. It is not far away from Camorsi, and the archaeological finds discovered between Markanda and Camorsi, including broken idols, go to suggest that at one time Markanda must have been a large and prosperous township extending up to Camorsi. To-day, however, it is no more than an insignificant village, except for its group of temples and holiness, with 520 inhabitants and a primary school. Markanda is supposed to derive its name as well as fame from sage Markandeya who according to the Hindu holy scriptures worshipped Siva here and obtained immortality [There is, however, a dispute among the historians regarding the exact place where Markandeya obtained the boon, and they are not unanimous in accepting Markanda as the place.]; and secondly from a beautiful group of temples, including the one housing Siva linga which Markandeya is
believed to have worshipped, built in rich purple coloured stone
finely situated on a high bluff overlooking the river. The small
hillocks, the group of temples and the river flowing below have made Markanda a pleasing spot. The more pious of the Hindu worshippers here picture Wainganga as chafing uneasily in her bed and meditating the last despairing sweep northwards to join the waters of holy Mother Ganga. For some miles the river has its will, but the relentless fate is too strong for it and hurries it southwards away from the haven where it would be. Victrix Causa deis
placuit, sed victa Catoni: and man honouring the rivers unavailing yearning after purity, has raised a group of noble temples to mark the spot at which it begins its efforts to force its course for the last time to the north. There are nearly twenty four temples in the group and are enclosed in a quadrangle measuring 59.74x35.96 metres (196'x 118'), with entrances on the river side, in front and in two side walls. Some of these are in complete ruins, and others are very small, but the general effect is very impressive. " The whole taken together,'' wrote Sir Cunningnam, " forms perhaps the most picturesque group of temples that I have seen. There are no inscriptions to tell their age, but their style is so similar to that of the Candel temples of Khajuraho and other places, that there can be little doubt, that they belong to the same period of 10th and 11th centuries. " It is said that when Bibhisan, the brother of Ravan, the prince of the Raksasas, was sick, Hemadpant the minister of the Yadavas, cured him and the grateful patient told him to ask for a boon. Hemadpant asked for the aid of Raksasas to build temples wherever he might require them. The boon was granted but on condition that the Raksasas were not to work for more than one night at a time. Hemadpant accordingly built all the temples at Markanda, Bhandak, Neri, etc., in one night. This is a stock story told about the temples of Hemadpanti origin in this district as also the rest of Maharastra. Hemadpant has been indentified with Hemadri, the Srikarnadhipa or the Head of the Secretariat of the Yadava Kings of Devagiri, Maha-dev and Ramcandra. He was a renowned Sanskrt scholar. But Hemadri's date is 1260-71 A.D. and the archaeologists date the Markanda temples about 10th or 11th century A.D. Temples of the Hemadpanti style are found in about 30 villages in the district some of which lie in utter ruins to-day. Some of them are of remarkable beauty and display wonderful stone carvings. Modern temples and shrines are still built in imitation of these, but carvings are no longer of the same beauty and finish. Among the Hemadpanti temples in the district the Markanda temples are undoubtedly the most beautiful.
By far the largest and the most elaborately sculptured temple of the group is that of sage Markandeya, dedicated to Siva. In general style and finish this temple bears great resemblance to the Khajuraho temples. The whole surface is literally covered with statues and ornaments, human figures, geese and monkeys. Sir A. Cunningham counted over 400 such figures, and there are
about half as many sculptures of lions and elephants forming
divisions between the human figures. About halt of the panels
are devoted to representations of Siva and Parvati in various forms, the former being frequently represented in a state of nudity. Nude female figures also abound, but these are not represented indelicately. The attitudes of all the figures are easy, but the features are devoid of all intelligent expression. About 260 years ago the temple was struck by a lightning, and the upper part of the massive spire was hurled down on the roof of the mahamandap which was broken in. Another small temple was also utterly destroyed. The roof was repaired later by one of the Gond Rajas, whose architect introduced huge piers with radiating arches inside the principal room. The upper part of the temple now seems to topple over at any minute, but the stones are said to have hung in their apparently precarious position for a long time. On the jambs of the south door is inscribed ' Sri Magardhvaj Jogi 700.' Similar inscriptions have been found in several other places and have long puzzled the archaeologists, who presumed the figure 700 to indicate a date but could fit it in with no known era. The explanation now generally accepted and which has been given by Hira Lal, is that the figure indicates the number of disciples who formed the following of Magardhvaj. Facing the Markandeya temple and nearer the river once stood the pavilion of Nandikesvar, housing a huge nandi image. It has now fallen and a small nandi replaces the original. Such shrines are adjuncts to temples dedicated to Siva. The second largest temple of the group is named after Murkand Rsi who is said to have been the father of Markanda. Four richly ornamented pillars support the roof of the hall of this temple, and over the shrine rises a lofty spire, which is nearly perfect, and is a very graceful specimen of its kind. This temple is dedicated to Siva and has his linga in the shrine. Unique of its kind among this group is a shrine dedicated to Yama Dharmaraj or the God of Death. Faced as it is by one dedicated to Siva as Mrtyunjaya or the conqueror of death, it would appear that the intention of the builder was to represent Siva in a two-fold capacity as Yama or death and as Mrtyunjaya or conqueror of death by reproduction. In front is a Maratha dharmasala and to the north of Markandeya mandir is installed a marble statue of Sant Gadge Maharaj, a noted saint of Vidarbha. The only other building requiring detailed notice is the temple of the Das Avtara or ten incarnations of Visnu. This is an open cloister 75 feet long by 7 feet wide within, which runs along the western wall of the enclosure. It is divided by pilasters into twelve compartments, two of the divisions being probably intended for statues of Visnu, and the remaining ten for the Avataras. In each division there is a pedestal, but several of them are now empty. These temple are probably the oldest in the whole group and apparently belong to the 6th or 7th century A.D. An inscription carved on a broken pillar is believed to belong to that date. There are also several curious square pillars which
seem to be much more ancient than any of the temples. Nearly all of them are sculptured, and some bear inscriptions. The chief figures are soldiers wearing anklets and armed with battle axes, bow and arrow-laden quiver, and depicted in an attitude of
attack [Most of the account of the temples of Markanda is based on Sir A. Cunningham's description of Markanda, in vol. IX of the Report of the Archaeological Survey of India. The volume contains a ground plan of the temples and several plates illustrating details of the architecture.].
The quiet of this spot is seldom broken save once a year, when on Mahasivratru a large fair is held and to which the pious resort in order to wash away their sins in the waters of the holy Wain-ganga. Previously the fair was a one-day affair but now it prolongs up to 15 days. In recent years the importance of the fair has anything but increased, for now there are good roads leading up to the temple and ample water-supply. The annual fair attendance comes to over 50,000 and the place is no more plagued with water scarcity.