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Kalayat in Haryana

Kalayat village in Haryana is home to the oldest brick temple north of Delhi 

People stopped to gaze at us. Children ran ahead crying, “photo-photo”. Old men in the narrow lane saluted us with “jai Ramji ki”. Granny on her charpoy wanted to know who we were visiting -- someone dear to her, perhaps? Offers of chai-pani dropped at every step…

We pushed on with our sweetest apologetic smiles and waves. Life in the city had attuned us to niceties, not niceness. The gentle folk of Kalayat would not hold our haste against us, we hoped.


Aeons ago, the sage Kapil set up his ashram on this soil. Perhaps he perceived the land as blessed or it may be that his presence invested it with supernatural powers. The sage wrote his treatise Sankhyashastra and also instructed his mother Devabhuti here. In time, the area came to be known as Kapilayatana after its illustrious inhabitant.

Kapil muni passed away but the land did not lose its powers. Once king Salvahana, a mighty ruler of ancient Haryana, came to hunt in the woods surrounding the ashram. Though a powerful king, he was afflicted with a disease that left his body practically lifeless at night.

During the hunt, one of Salvahana’s arrows missed its mark and stuck in the soil. In pulling out the shaft, his finger licked some mud but he took no note of it till night when he found himself capable of moving just that finger! Salvahana had discovered the secret power of Kapilayatana. 

He ordered that a pond be dug at the site for people to wash away their ailments. And legend says he also got built five brick temples around the pond. These were not ordinary brick structures but made up of interlocking sculpted bricks that needed no mortar or plaster to hold together. 
Legend apart, nobody knows whether Salvahana built the Kapilayatana temples. It is also not certain whether five temples existed. All the Archaeological Survey of India will vouch for is that the two brick temples standing in Kalayat (corruption of Kapilayatana) village of Haryana’s Kaithal district were built around 850 AD. “The temples are representative of the Gurjar-Pratihara style inspired by temples from the Gupta and post-Gupta periods,” says an ASI board at the site.


Though an agrarian state, Haryana has remarkably good roads. Driving on the Ambala-Kaithal and thereafter Kaithal-Narwana state highways is a breeze. Numerous canals criss-cross the roughly 100 km stretch, breaking the monotony of lush green basmati fields. 

We had not been on this road before but finding Kalayat was not a problem. Not only did the village lie along the highway but also its ancient temples were clearly visible from a distance. As we turned into the dirt lane leading to the first of the temples, a herd of buffaloes slowly emerged from the Kapil pond and blocked our path. We immediately got a sense of the power the pond could imbue bathers with! 

The first temple was a compact brick structure without a distinct base or spire. It was set in a walled compound of later construction. The temple had been fully restored by Archaeological Survey of India but was not being maintained by them. There were telltale signs of its being used for worship. Offerings and incense were kept inside the shrine while white tiles had been used in the doorway. 

The temple’s red brick walls gradually tapered upwards and were surmounted by a small mortar or cement dome. Ornamentation was limited to carved bricks in the top half of the walls. On a closer look, the bricks did seem to have gaps between them but going by the fine symmetry of the walls, it was hard to believe that they had been put together without any cementing agent. 

The temple stood on a raised platform adjoining the Kapil pond and offered a good view of its larger counterpart further down the ghat. Before visiting this temple, we stopped at Kapil muni’s ashram, a sprawling compound with several small temples. The priest showed us a doorframe made of carved stone – relic of an ancient temple. This suggested that Kalayat must have had stone temples in addition to the brick ones.

We found another specimen of stone art in the larger brick temple. It was the pedestal of a broken idol with just the feet showing. The temple also had a stone lingam inside but it probably was not as old as the temple.

It was in the bigger temple (for want of a better description) that the beauty of brick art shone. Its walls were decorated all the way to the top. The lower halves had intricate patterns similar to those found in Buddhist chaityas. Not only was the temple bigger and more beautiful but also it stood on a fortress-like elevated platform with a dedicated tank and bathing ghats. Twelve hundred years ago it must have been the village’s centrepiece.

The old order

Like its temples, most old houses in Kalayat were also made of thin bricks, albeit plain ones. These havelis or mansions had beautiful facades embellished with carvings, stuccoes and paintings. Since most of their wealthy inhabitants had moved to big cities, the havelis were crumbling but a sight nonetheless. 

The priest at Kapil ashram had told us about an old chabootra or platform that had been the scene of village councils since times immemorial. He had said that 360 neighbouring villages fell under Kalayat’s jurisdiction and whenever a dispute arose in any of them the case was resolved at Lal Chabootra. It was an interesting account and we were naturally curious to see this structure.

Lal Chabootra lay in the heart of the village and it was nothing like what we had expected. Rather than a round platform around a banyan, what we found was an ornate building with arched doorways and a large hall. Children were playing around it. An elderly shopkeeper confirmed that the chabootra had seen glorious days but the growing influence of magistrates and courts had limited its power to Kalayat. From a live institution it had been reduced to a curiosity, like the havelis and temples of the village. 


Location: Kalayat village lies on the Kaithal-Narwana road in Kaithal district of Haryana.
Route: Ambala-Kaithal-Kalayat (100 km). There are alternative routes to Kaithal from Karnal and Kurukshetra, cities on NH-1.
Where to stay: Instead of stopping at a hotel in Kaithal town, tourists would prefer staying at Haryana Tourism’s two hotels in Kurukshetra city, about 60 km away.


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