Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Monsoon Magic


Hoysala Temples of Balligavi

Best Time to Visit - All round the year
Nearest Railway Station - Shimoga

Some of the most magnificent specimens of South Indian temples are those attributed to the Hoysala dynasty of Karnataka.

The style of temple architecture, which developed under the patronage of Hoysala rulers, differed from the traditional south Indian temple architecture in a number of ways. Compared to the traditional temple architecture seen in south India, the temples built by the Hoysalas were squat structures, which were constructed on a star shaped platform (a feature hitherto never seen in temples of India). The elaborately carved surfaces of these temples, more than made up for their lack in height and reflect the high quality of sculptural craftsmanship achieved by the Hoysala architects and sculptors.

My thirst for traveling and quest for exploration got me to Balligavi, a small hamlet about1, 1, 1/2 hrs drive from Shimoga, famous for it's temples of Hoysala dynasty. The most famous of which can be seen in Belur, Halebeedu and Somanathapura. The 1,1/2 hr drive, through many a narrow roads, snaking through many a small villages can take it's toll on your back. They resemble classic village roads, half metalled, half asphalted. But the view of the lush green paddy fields on either side will present a very glorious view of the countryside. The curious view of the onlookers, especially by children will surprise any traveler. The curious look on the face of the children will make anybody think "Have I descended from an other planet???”

Tripurantakeshvara temple and Kedareshvara temple, of the Hoysala dynasty are two structures of historical importance, which can be found in Balligavi. It is said that Hoysala queen Shantaladevi, known for her dancing prowess, hails from Balligavi. Her talent and beauty mesmerized raja Vishnuvardhana, when he first saw her here at Balligavi.

The Temple guides were more than willing to help and explained each and every bit about the temple, architecture etc., which I would like to share it with the readers.

One cannot help pausing a moment to look at the trademark of the temples of Hoysala dynasty, the royal emblem. The story of "Sa'la” killing the tiger as though comes to life. He has been immortalized along with the tiger and thus this heroic act has become the royal emblem of the Hoysala dynasty. This emblem is found at the entrance of almost all their temples.

The Hoysalas were great warriors who had established a great empire between the Malaprabha and Kaveri rivers in Karnataka. How this powerful dynasty got its name is a tale that must have been narrated time and again. Hoy Sa'la meaning, "strike Sa'la!” were the words spoken to Sa'la (legendary head of this dynasty) to kill the tiger. Since Sa'la tackled the tiger single-handed and killed him, this heroic deed took the form of the dynasty's name. The rulers of this clan were called the Yadava Kings who ruled with tremendous power after having defeated the Chalukyas and rose above all to become the paramount rulers even over the Cholas and Pandyas in South India. The Hoysala dynasty originally had their capital at Halebeedu (about 17 kms from Belur) where they ruled for over 150 years. However, it was attacked by invaders a couple of times during the 14th century, reducing the once grand capital to poverty and ruins. Thus, the Hoysalas shifted their seat of power to Belur, which stood proud as a powerful empire.

Like all Hoysala temples, the Temples here are squat and compact but its dimensions are striking. Every inch of available wall surface, from the base to the projected eaves of this temple is covered with exquisitely sculptured imagery. However, Hoysala sculpture reaches its apogee in the depiction of celestial maidens, carved with a marvelous plasticity of modeling and infused with the most accomplished grace and elegance. These madannikais or celestial beauties depict the various occupations of their lazy lifestyle - nursing pets, dancing, admiring their own beauty in the mirror, warding off a playful monkey, frightened by a scorpion etc. Even the droplets of water trailing down the body of a beautiful maiden has been captured and frozen for posterity by the Hoysala sculptor. These small figures under the eaves stand out in their fantastic jewelry and elaborate coiffures.

Pillars in the Hall (which forms an important part of the temple structure) are, ingeniously carved, and marvelously smooth. An interesting aspect of the hall is that no two pillars are alike, and each one of them is a masterpiece in its own right and so is the magnificent idol of basavanna, the bull.

A wide pathway runs around the temple on the outside for ritual circumambulating (pradakshina). The tower (shikhara) was subdued by horizontal lines and moldings. It has also miniature-sculptured shrines, fretted stringcourses and moldings.

Kedareshvara temple is believed to be made out of soapstone.

Temples of Hoysala dynasties were monuments of the phenomenal concentration, super technical skill, imagination and profound religious consciousness of those concerned in their creation, there is no parallel to these anywhere in the world.

Balligavi also called the Dakshina Kedara is 21 Kms north east of Shikaripur town. The place is associated with several eminent Veershaiva saints like Allama prabhu, Akka-Mahadevi, Animishayya and Ekantada Ramayya. There are remains of many temples, shrines, mastikals, viragals and nisidigals. ASI boards can be seen almost everywhere. A Shivalinga, popularly known as Pachelinga, exhibits a unique phenomenon by changing its color thrice a day. Truly, a very interesting thing. But sadly the temple structure which houses the Shivalinga is in ruins as so is many others nearby and has not come to the attention of ASI. Another important temple is Prabhudeva temple. It is a smaller Trikutchala structure. The place is also known for ruined Basdi of 11 Century AD where the idols of Parsvanath and Devi Ambika of 3 feet are still there in ruined conditions.