Long before colonial Bangalore was deemed the capital of Karnataka, there was a lesser known capital for the state, which goes by the name of Banavasi. Set up in the 9th Century AD by the Kadamba dynasty, Banavasi was known to be the earliest known capital of Karnataka. As with most dynasties of that era, the kingdom revolves around the main temple in area. Madhukeshwara Temple occupies that significant stature in this regard. So prominent was Banvasi and the Madhukeshava temple that the temple originally built by Kadambas were renovated/extended by Chalukyas and the Hoysalas. As a result one can easily notice the different architectural styles starting from the garba griha to the mantapas. And yet there is no denying the fact that the mastery of the Hoysala craftsmen shine through. Hoysala craftsmen are top-of-the-class pioneers in stone craftsmanship. And their style is so distinct and uniform you can identify it pretty easily. The famous Hoysala artisan Jakkanacharya is being credited for the Hoysala additions. Im really beginning to doubt the existence of this character called Jakkanacharya. He’s been being associated with every Hoysala Temple dotted across the state. So unless he’s a superhuman sent from outer space, it’s highly unlikely that he would have worked with each of these temples
|Onte Kallu Mantapa|
Banavasi is a true-blooded Kannadiga pride temple town. Not only was it considered the first capital of Karnataka, it was also the birthplace for Kannada’s first poet, Adikavi Pampa. Few coins discovered here a few years ago, date back to the 5th Century with Kannada inscriptions on it. This means that the existence of a mint factory here can be considered amongst the oldest in the country.
When we arrived here, we found out, much to our dismay that there were no ASI guides who could give us a sneak peek into the history of this magnificent temple. But just as we were loitering around clicking pictures, a priest herded us together and starting giving us a guided tour of the temple. Even though we knew pretty well that there was no such thing as a free meal, we didn’t mind paying the priest for an insight about the temple. The priest began by giving a brief history of the temple built by the Kadambas and subsequently renovated and improved upon by the Chalukyas and Hoysalas. He told us the reason behind the Shivalinga being called Madhukeshava. The large linga here is in the color of honey (madhu) contrary to the black that we see elsewhere. He also talked about the specialty of the large bell outside the garba griha. This bell made from pancha loha (5 metals) is unique because the gong of the bell rings for close to a minute. He then showed us the Triloka Mantapa carved out of a single stone. It is undoubtedly the work of the Hoysala craftsmen. It goes without saying that such artwork can only be produced from the Hoysala breed of artisans. This is followed by the trademark Hoysala pillars, that’s a common garnish in every Hoysala Temple. The concave and convex reflective pillars not only accentuated the viewing experience of the performing dance artists but also speaks volumes of the mastery of these stone artists.
|Can you spot the right eye of Nandi?|
The Onte kallu Mantapa (single stone mantapa) is yet another classic from the Hoysala staple – again, carved from a single stone. The other notable and no less artistic brilliance is the Nandi statue. The first thing most of us might straight-away notice is that the Nandi is not directly looking at Shiva but is rather looking slightly to the right. The reason behind this is that while Nandi’s left eye is looking directly at the Shivalinga, its right eye is looking at Parvathi which is separate temple adjacent to Shiva’s. Such is the mastery of the stone artisans of that era that despite a maze of pillars, the right eye of Nandi is transfixed on Parvathi Devi. Unbelievable? Well, you can confirm it yourself by standing in front of the Parvathi temple and looking at Nandi. Another important attraction here is the Ardha Ganesh. This statue of Lord Ganesh is split vertically right at the middle. It is believed that the other half is in Kashi.
These are only some of the stand-out features of this temple. By the end of it all we were left dizzy with amazement. With the Sun beating down hard we decided to spend a little more time admiring the place. After all it’s not every day you get to be a part of history. All that textbook knowledge of our History lessons look so worthless compared to the couple of hours we spent here.
Now did I say there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-free-meal a while ago. Ok, I take that back, because there was a free anna daanam in the temple served at exactly 1PM. We devoured the hot rice, blistering sambar and the super cool majige like there’s no tomorrow. With a content stomach and heart we started for the next leg of our Sirsi trip – Sahasralinga.
Getting-there: Approx 30 kms from Marikamba Temple.
Must-Do: Ask the priest for a guided tour. Free Anna Daanam at 1PM.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering
My Rating: 8/10