Wrapped up 2009 with a big salute to the genius of the Chalukyas, who at the peak of their power, ruled over a vast tract of the Deccan peninsula stretching from the Narmada valley to the Kaveri Basin. The heart of this empire ,that lasted merely two centuries( 6th. to 8th. AD), was on the bank of River Malaprabha, in present day Uttara Karnataka . And to that heartland we took a train on 27th. December, for a 3- day gaping-fest !
Gadag. The only associations this name used to evoke in me were the "Gadag- seeri" ( a variety of fine, durable handloom sarees) and "Gadugina Bharata"( the classical Kannada Mahabharata).
Discovered a whole lot more about this place during the visit.
Officially the town is called Gadag -Betageri , conjoined twin towns with a common municipality in Gadag District. The district, rather backward and under developed to begin with, was one of the worst hit during the recent floods.
The land is sort of arid, but Sunflower, jowar and Cotton cultivation seems to thrive. We were quite surprised to learn that the first Co-operative Society, not just in India , but in the whole of Asia, was started in a village called Kanaginahal in this district, as soon as the British Govt. had passed the Co-operative Credit Societies Act in 1904 . A trend setter.
One of the earliest Bird Sanctuaries in Karnataka was established at The Magadi Tank , in Gadag.
It is the home town of two dazzling stars of Hindustani Classical Music : Ganayogi Panchakshari Gawai and Sri Bhimsen Joshi.
Handlooms and the printing press used to be major industries here till recently. Now, Wind Power Generation is the big one. While it seems like a good development in the right direction, locals fear that avarice and unconscionable promotion of windmill farms are hurting the environment. Not only is allotment of land to these companies diminishing cultivation, but it is also driving away the indigenous fauna that once had safe haven here, especially The Indian Grey Wolf and the migratory Bar Headed Goose.
More pertinent to our visit is the fact that Gadag was the epicentre of Kalyani Chalukya art and architecture.
The most impressive structure that we saw in Gadag Betageri was The Trikuteshwara Temple Complex ( 8th or 9th Cent AD). Dedicated to the Trinity, Brahma Vishnu and Maheshwara ; all three represented as lingams placed on a common pedestal.
I had always imagined that the artistry of Belur , Halebid and Somnathpur was peerless and unbeatable. But after seeing this complex, i was forced to reconsider my conviction.
The profusely ornamented pillars, the intricate, filigreed stone "jaali"s, the delicate lace like carvings on the Dwara-bandhas at Trikuteshwara are to be seen to be believed. The art is so exquisite and individualistic that it is celebrated as The Gadag Style of temple architecture, a class by itself.
Four old men were lounging on the polished stone platforms of the cool antarala, snacking on peanuts and gossiping about delayed flood relief operations. They were extremely proud of their heritage and eagerly pointed out to us many finer details of the architecture. They also kept criticising ASI for not doing better , all the while tossing peanut shells nonchalantly across the ardhamantapa ! Whose heritage is it anyway !
( Note on picture above. This is part of a door frame decoration,in close-up. The carving is in 3D, such that a paper ribbon can pass right around the figure with ease. The size of each "medalllion"figure is....just two inches across ! )
The pie'ce de re'sistance , the priceless jewel of the complex is the Saraswathi Temple. Each pillar is a treasure . The green grey stone shines like smooth polished jade at some places giving us an intimation of what a splendid sight it must have been when new. But sadly, major portions of the structure are covered with stubborn, centuries old brown dust ! Though it is labeled by ASI as a Protected Monument, no regular cleaning is evidenced. We could not see the main idol because it was locked up ; it is reportedly damaged and hence not offered puja. Just beside this is a smaller shrine, also decorated with very fine carvings, which houses Savithri, Gayathri and Sharada, three modern day idols, replacements for lost originals. Hidden behind the Saraswathi temple is a small shrine, supposedly for Ganapathi, but now empty. There are a couple of houses attached to the temples where the homemakers were go about their chores of washing clothes and cleaning grain.
Situated at the back of the main temple is the Rudra Teertha, a holy pond built like a step well. I couldn't bear to look in - it was half full of sludgy green water and chocking with garbage, breeding an explosion of bugs.
The other famous temple in Gadag town is The Veera Narayana Temple (11th cent). Its the place where poet Kumaravyasa held the inaugural reading out his epic composition "Bharata Kathamanjari". The old temple has been completely renovated or rebuilt, so much so that it looks like a 20th century temple. Only the Mahadwaras retain some old elements. Some ancient carved panels are "preserved" with a thick coating of blue oil paint. God bless whoever came up with this bright idea ! The temple is in"active use", attracting throngs of pilgrims all round the year.The Sthala Vriksha looks beautiful - it is a composite of Peepul and Neem, (ritualistically "married" as saplings and grown enmeshed as one, down the years) and seems to be of venerable age.
Lakkundi : 12 km. from Gadag lies the old chalukyan Capital of Lakkundi known for its temples and Jain Basadis. And its "101 Pushkarinis ". You just have to stumble here, to fall on an ancient structure. There are literally hundreds of...........(alas!) ruins ! The Archeological Survey of India has salvaged just about a dozen or so sites and given them "Protected Monument" status ; the rest are in various stages of decay.
During my sojourn through Lakkundi, I was pained to notice that magnificent edifices left by the Chalukyas are today reduced to weed sprouting cella, most of the stones having been used up in later town building activities ; and that these crumbling shelters now function variously as cattle sheds, piggeries, laundry houses, godowns, saloons, garbage bins and public toilets . It hurt very much to see the hoary carved stone pillars and walls abused thus.
Brahmajinalaya is the masterpiece of Lakkundi and is dated to late 11th. century. Built with smooth green schist stone, this shrine is presided over by Vardhamana Mahavira in the sanctum. Just outside the sanctum stands a magnificent, life size statue of Chathurmukha Brahma, lavishly ornamented. Two of its hands are broken, but the rest of it is in excellent state of preservation. Since there are no lights within, the lone watchman uses a sheet of tin as reflector, directing and enhancing the scant sunlight pouring through the trellised window, to illuminate the idol . Photography is strictly prohibited within the temple , so we had to capture all details only through our eyes and have them imprinted in memory.
The splendid doorway has a series of "dwarabandhas" and " lalata-bimbas" on the lintels, all finished with embellishments of the highest order.The stone seems to have yielded well to all the artistic aspirations of the skillful sculptors. This shrine was supposedly built with endowment from "Daanachintamani" Rani Attimabbe, wife of the local Chalukyan chieftain , patron of the celebrated poet Ranna and a noted philanthropist. She is supposed to have built 1500 Jain Basadis, of which this Jinalaya was the last. The Brahma was put inside the Jinalaya by Bharataraya, who got the shrine repaired after largescale destruction of Jaina basadis by the warlord GoggaRasa who favoured Hinduism. One lifesize decapitated jaina statue in meditating pose sits outside the shrine on a manicured lawn provided by the ASI . This temple is well protected by fencing and taken good care of. Daily worship is also offered.
The other one enjoying similar care is the splendid Kasi Viswanatha Temple Complex, just a block away. On the way to it though, are remnants of at least three other ruined gems.
The Kasi Viswanatha Temple is also a treasure trove of sculptural wealth and sports massive, squat , lathe turned pillars of shiny black stone in the main vestibule. The intricacy of the decorations on the door jambs and lintels is astonishing. The demon faced Kirthimukhas, stacked in a horizontal row on the shikhara are very attractive too. Facing this shrine, built upon the same Adhishtana ( platform), is a shrine to Surya, who is represented on the Mukhapatti with his wives Usha and Pratyusha. Across the road from this complex is another small temple, Nanneshwara, rather plain , but well preserved.
Of all the Step Wells of Lakkundi, only one seems to be maintained in good condition. This is found in front of the Manikeshwara temple, which looks older than the others and of smaller height. Called Musukina Bavi, this well has small niche mantapas embedded at intervals all around the walls. The symmetrical steps arranged like lines of a neat 'rangoli' presents a very pleasing geometric picture . One only wishes that the green slimy water stagnating is cleaned out regularly.
There's a small ASI Museum where a lot of salvaged sculptures are yet to be properly labeled and displayed. We heard that the Govt. celebrates "Lakkundi Festival" once a while, still the place does not seem to attract many visitors except regular "study tours" from nearby rural schools.
( Photos : By son )