Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bankapur"s Last Temple Ruin: Footprints from Pandava times

The old Hoysala-Chalukya temples must rank among the most distractung temptations when one wants to drive quicklly along  NH4 on the Bangalore-Pune route. These temples are close by when one is between Chitradurga and Kolhapur. I have visited a few of them and photographed them  only to lose them because of computer crashes and inefficient subsequent recovery. Last week my wife and I --- some would consider me as firmly geriatric and my wife, as firmly. as a senior citizen,  not only because of her age --- were on the Bangalore-Pune route trying to make thr drive in 13 hours rushing between different health crises of close friends and relatives. 

Fortunately for me, my wife, who is the only licensed driver between the two of us, decided to rest near Bankapur and wax magnanimous enough to decide that the dog required walking near Nagareshwar temple in the old fort area of Bankapur. I quickly spent half an hour taking photos and later a considerable part of a week researching for the blog, During this search I came across a very lavish description from admirers of the very man who was the cause of destruction of the temples around this region. This I will give in the Epilogue. 

I will also have to remind ourselves of the complete failure of our educational system, and our complete disinterest in our history when we find that there has been no real treatise on Bankapur. It is  indeed a microcosm of India with all (or nearly all) of India's historical/societal conflicts/developments being mirrored in the layers of civilization that  existed around Bankapur. It has histories coming down from ancient prehistoric settlements andin historical records one may see satvahana, kadamba, rashtrakuta, chalukya, hoysala, kalyani chalukya influence. Around 1138, when the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana overcame the Kadamba rulers from Banvasi, he was “… in the camp of the royal city (rajdhani) Bankapura ruling the kigdom of the world …". 

The area aroun Bankapur fort is as adequately described as possible in the blogsite "Journeys across Karnataka". ( The fort here has a moat around it that is nicely shown from google map in tha blog mentioned.  This blog also talks of a structure that is "... supposed to be the entrance of a tunnel linking Bankapur fort and Hangal..."

What is historically interesting about this forr site is that it has had  several levels of rulers who date back at least to the 5th century AD and  to earlier  times. One does not know when and by whom the moat was built. The last of the rulers here were Adil-Shah, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, There is thus a strong Muslim influence in Bankapur village. We reached the village around lunch time. Some nicely dressed school girls in a modernish uniform (grey burqua with a pink veil over their heads) walked cheerfully in clusters in the mild-day sun. They would not recognize our language when we asked them in English and our Kannada about the location of an old temple-ruin. 

There is good coexistence of Muslim and Hindu communities in Bankapur, The central watering place for cattle has (Fig 1, left; click to expand as always and middle) a beautiful and  intricately sculpture of coiled snakes. Near the watering hole. tied to the front  pillar, is a huge ram (Fig 1, right). This is usually a sign of a Muslim house-hold.  The left side coil of the snake image belongs to the head of the snake on the right and, naturally, the right side coil to the head on the left. Since these symbols existed before the formalization of institutionalized religion, there could be ready acceptance/indiffernce by the village community for such secular objects, It nevertheless tells of available skills for stone sculpture. 

We were finally directed by their "learned" man towards the Nagareshwar temple. 

This temple is located in the grounds of Bankapur's famous peacock sanctuary, One sees more peacocks painted on signboards than they are seen in the sanctuary, However, when we drove aking a wrong path, we did see (Fig 2) magnificent black-faced langur hanuman monkeys. They were the biggest langurs I have seen! A cluster of them was seated (Fig 2 left) on a path going to a large mud-rock mound that must have constituted a part of the fort wall in ancient times. Quite separated from them was another langur chewing meditatively on a cud. A little later, it whiched by my side in a few large steps with very impressive speed. It seemed to be six feet tall and gave me a feeling that he could easily have been a proud member of any army. The langurs were everywhere and we must thank the forest department for not officially making it a langur sanctuary, as we would not have seen them just as we do not see the peacocks in the Bankapur peacock sanctuary (at least in the middle of the afternoon).

The Nagareshwara temple that we finally got to was fairly deserted (Fig 3, left) except for a few school kids bunking from their classes (perhaps) and a few outsiders from nearby. The temple base was about ten feet below the level of the ground. One had to climb down a few steps to see the temple fully. The overall  structure of the temple (Fig 3, middle) is similar to many others in the area around what used to be the Dharwad district of Karnataka such as that of the Siddheshwar temple in Haveri ,, the  (Fig 3, right). Siddheshwar temple, Haveri. There is no sign of a largish shikara being present on the Bankapur, Nagareshwar temple, however.

I will not be able to describe the  architectural details of the temple (I am still in my learning phase, mercifully). I will just try to  describe first some of the immediate features that struck me. Like many other teples in the region from the Chalukya period, the outer walls of the temple have rows of miniature shikaras or temple spires on top of which are varous carved figures from mythology as well as dancers and musicians in niches between miniature pillars (see later)For a beginning, what strikes one is the missing musicians and dancers (Fig 4, left) between the  miniature shikarasthat is usually seen in such temples. The missing dancers stand (?) out as black negatives (for those familiar with the old fashioned use of film rolls for photography) waiting to be printed into positives. The destruction seems to be relatively recent although some locals say it has been done in Hyder Ali's time. Such destruction is there almost all over the temple and one has to go towards the back to find a few that has not been damaged fully so as to get an idea of how it could have been (Fig 4, right). 
The temple has an open mantap with many pillars each of them being different from the other. Many of the pillars seemed to have been carved into various shapes first on lathes and then worked upon for other decorations. The most common of these are similar, for example, to those of the inner mantap of the Kasivisveswara temple in Lattungi (Fig 6, left; images from other places are mainly taken from the internet) or the open mantap of the Mahadeva temple in Itagi (Fig 6 midle), 
Some of the pillars are heavily decorated (Fig 5, middle) although they do not match the craftsmanship of, say, the famous pillars of the Sarasvati tem[le in Gadag (Fig 6, right). Some of the pillars in Fig 6 have vertical ridges marked on them as seen in Fig 6. What made Bankapur special the first time I saw it perhaps is that there are pillars (Fig 5, right) which have concave vertical notches or ridges scooped  out.  I had not noticed such patterns on the pillars at other temples earlier. I later learnt (from Journeys across Karnataka blog (May 2011) that the Purasiddeshwara temple at Haveri had similar pillars with ridges. 
I am not expert enough to comment on the architectural details and how one temple differs from another. I have shown in Fig 7 some of the features of the work done below the eaves (edges of a roof projecting beyond the main structure;. Fig 7, left) on the lintels (beams, rafters, struts) and capitals of pillars so mesmerizing when assembled their way (Fig 7. middle) and  flowery three-petal-circles on the ceilings (Fig 7, right). 
The stylized (straight lines instead of the usual curved lines typical of Indian craftsmen) work below the  eaves is perhaps new.
The main ceiling work (Fig 8, middle) is certainly more intricate among the works I have seen such as that in Degaon of Kittur district (Fig 8, left) or on the assembly )Fig 8, right) of such flowers om the ceiling of the oyer south porch of  Muktesvara temple at Chaudayyadanapura near Ranibennur as reported in the internet. The ceiling "flower" at Bankapur is very intricate and would perhaps require a ful day to understand its intricacy. It matches that at the Hoysala period Kaitabhesvara temple at Kubatur in the Shimoga district of Karnataka.
The carvings on the pillars of Chalukyan period are rarely repetitive, some of the carvings that seemed to be unique are shown in Fig 9. The mor unique of these are in the middle and right of Fig 9. These carvings were poinyrf out to me by a littlle boy who insisted repeatedly that I look at them. Since I see through ,my camera on these occcasionm, I could not immediately find out the feature of interest. While writing the blog, I realized that the important face is the kirttimukhi (lion-face) with bulging eyes that appears everywhere (say, in the top centre of the rectangular block in Fig 8(right and middle). On closer inspection, the kirttimukhi is also seen on the head of the animal at the corner of these blocks (rekatively clearer on the right of Fig 9), It is thus  seen that the kirthimukkhi-faced  animal is "riding" the bull or the elephant, thereby showing its domination over them. This would seem yo be saciriligeious  if the bull and the elephant are considered sacred as they usually are. I finally understood the (not so) little boy's "mounting" excitement.  
The word kirttimukha means glorious face for various reasons which we wont get into here. It is not an ordinary face of a lion, The faceis usually portrayed with bulging eyes with two strands emerging from its mouth. In some interpretations this is the face of a monster swallowing it's tail  following Shiva's order so that its was finally left with its face, just like the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland was left with its smile, or the snake swallowing its tail led to Kekule's benzene ring. The Indian (or Hindu) craftsman, asked to decorate the walls of the temple, when left to his imagination created various forms of the tail. In Bankapur, Such efforts seem to be modest when one examines what is left standing, Some of these are seen on the miniature shikaras, These miniature shikaras are arranged in rows (Fig 16). 

The miniature shikaras of the Nagareshwar temple of Bankapur all have (Fig 10, left) a kirttimukhi on the top as seen in Fig 10, right. Emerging from the mouth of this kirtimukkhi is a garland-like chain on which rests a vase. Each of the mini-shikaras have been sculpted differently indicating the whim of the time and a large repertoire to draw form. One of these has been enlarged in the inset of Fig 10. One of the mini shikaras in the left of Fig 10 is enlarged in the inset.  
These garland-like objects are probably termed as sukasanas, A nore famous exampple of which u\is that at the Ranalingeswara temple near Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh (see inset of Fig 11). An example of a vertical string of kirtimukkhis and sukhasanas is shown in the middle of Fig 11 (always click to expand) from Chikmagalur. A similar string is seen in the Kalivisvesara temple at Lakkundi. The imagination of the Hindu craftsman is indeed boundless. It has to be different every time he crafts something. No wonder the modern Indian engineering craftsman finds it very difficult to be mass manufacturing the same thing over and over again, faultlessly. Such things are better done by the more regimented or more monotheistic countries. 

In many Indian temples the arch of the entrance is usually represented as a makara torana which appears from Buddhist times in a great variety of shapes. The makara is in its simplest form some sort of a sea-elephant but could have sevral other attributes (see right of Fig 11) as describedin srinivasa rao's blogs (see, In its essence a torana  is an arch and a makara torana is an arch which end in the mouths of two makaras. In my learning processes through my blogs I have described (what I think are) makara toranas in Fig 5 of "Pantocrator: the snake, the lion and the dragon ... and Belur" of 22 Jan 2011 and in Fig 19 of "Bhuleshwar on a hill: Interior" of April 22, 2009, The (literally) central feature of these arches is that it emerge from the mouth of a kirttimukhi. Such makara toranas are not typically found in the Chalukyan temples of Karanataka.

 There is no sign of a makara torana in this temple at Bankapur. There are, however, some makara piled on the roof (Fig 11, left) which llook similar to that at Halebid shown in Fig 11, right. Halebid temple of the 12th century is of Hoysala architecture. The Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid has a makara torana at its entrance. as has the Chennakeshava temple at Belur from the Hoysala  period . There is no certainty about the Hoysala-Chalukyan chronology, The temples in Haveri (earlier in Dharwad)  districts are thought to be of Western Chalukyan architecture which in turn are thought to be contemporary with Hoysala architectures of Belur and Halebid. The presence of makara on the roof is unusual when compared to their location in the temples at  Halebid/ One could conjecture that the roof-makaras at Bankapur are part of an earlier temple. 
In other parts of the roof (Fig 12) there are other figures placed randomly without any attempt to arrange them in some recognisable congruity which is compatible with the structure below. There is also a funny yellow colour painted over the figures on the roof which may have been part of a golden brainwave of some official of the archaeological Survey of India,   There are a profusion of kityimukhis or kirtimukkhi-faced animals. 
Thr Nagareshwara temple has some beautiful carvings at an inch scale. A simple band bracelet-ing a pillar (left of Fig 13) os of about two inches width, A similar piece which seems to be unfinished isshown in the middle of Fig 13. Further signs of unfinished work is seen on the pillars *Fig 13, right; click to expand) at the back of the temple. There are some parts of the temple that are missing and have been filled up by stones.
The decorations on ther doors and jambs of the sanctum sanctorum (Fig 14 left) are similar to those in other Chalukyan or even Hoysala temples. They are similar even when the presiding deity could be of different faiths. For example the structure on Fig 14 middle is from the entrance to Kasivisveswara temple (taken from the net) where there are shrnes dedicated to  both Shiva and Surya (sun god) while a similar structure is is seen (Fig 14 right) for  the  Jain temple at Lakkundi. The tolerance towards different faiths in the Hindu (Indian) subconscious are well known. The Shaivite Challukyan worshippers could dedicate their temples to Vishnu or Jain followers as well. A temple originally dedicated to the deity of one faith could, with time, be converted to suit the purpose of another faith, This is most clearly seen in Lakkundi. The Jain Narayanan temple at Pattadakkal temple has an open mantapam  similar to that of the Bankapur temple, for instance. Although the Nagareshwara temple in Bankapur is thought to be dedicated to Shiva there is no sign of a Nandi outside.  

Among the Jain community, Bankapur itself  is famous for having a Jain institute of learning more than a thousand years ago under the Rashtrakutas before it was shifted to Shravanbelogla which is famous for the giant monolithic (~ sixty feet) figure of . Balubali or Saint Gomateshwara, son of the first Jain Teerthankara,Adinatha. It is at Bankapura that the completed text of Gunabhadra's epic Mahapurna, which gives a complete account of the Jain tradition, was released. It can be conceived that the Jain devotees were driven out by, say Chalukyan rulers and their monuments detroyed or re-built to locate Shaivite figures, 
One of the features of the temple at Bankapur is the markings on the floor of the temple (Fig 15, left and middle) which seems to have been formed by rubbing or by constant dripping of water from leaking roofs over long time. A cursory inspection of the roof (for example, Fig 7, right or Fig 8, middle) shows little sign of recent leakage The local people insist that these are marks left by the Pandavas who spent their year of vanavas (exile in forests) at Bankapur. One web site that Bankapur was part of the premises of Ghatotkocha where the Pandavas escaped to through a tunnel from their palace. This may seem an exaggeration to the "educated" but it could require some interpretation. After all there is thought to be a 25 km long tunnel from Hangal to Bankapur which was probably built when there was a fierce battle for suzerainty between the Kadambas of Hangal and Hoysala kings. The Kadambas initial base was at Banavasi in the thick Konkan forests. 

One could also conjecture, that the Bankapur temple was built upon the ruins of a more ancient temple (say, Jain) with a leaking roof that made marks on the floor. These marks are also found on some parts of the walls where the temples stand. Some of these marks show recent scratches made with a chisel. It is possible that the archaeological survey of India would like tofill up these spots and a trial was made to see how this could be done.

The archaeological survey of India (ASI) is sometimes a real threat when maintainingg the integrity and beauty of old ruins. They have a love for cheap cement which they use to fill up cracks or to fix sculpted figures or lintels as seen in Figs 11-13. Such works are usually done using a pulic tender system which gives the contract to the bidder with the lowest rate without worrying about the bidder's archaeological expertise or love for history. This would account for the cheap cement used in archaeological repairs, for example. 

There is a recent tender (No: J(11)/HVR/AR (NP)/12-13 /Cons Date of Opening: 30 .11.2012) by the Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Dharwad Circle, Dharwad, for "earth work excavation in hard soil for exposing original foundation wall including shifting and lifting upto 1.5 Mtr high and disposing of the same from the site etc complete all around the (Nagareshwars) Temple"  ,,, "as directed by the Engineer-in-charge".. The contractor has to enclose a :"Performance guarantee certificate" (whatever that means) on a bond paper, .More interestingly, there has to be a "Third party inspection at regular intervals at their (contractor;s party;s) cost, but Archaeological Survey of India will identify the Third party.:

I dont think anybody would really know what one means by "... exposing original foundation wall including shifting and lifting upto 1.5 Mtr high ..." and what is going to become of whatever is left of the temple. The base of the Nagareshwar temple at Bankapur is at least 2 metres below ground level. This is not the case for other Chalukyan temples. It attests probably to the antiquity of the temple. Maybe the mounds around the temple have more history to be excavated.

The little boy who pointed out the sculptures in Fig 9 also ,mentioned to me when I was looking at disfigured sculpting on the walls that it was Hyder Ali the father of Tipu Sultan and son of Adil Shah who was responsible for the damages. Somewhere during my internet search on the internet for Bankapur and Hyder Ali I came across a book "Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia", Edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence, University Press of Florida, Gainesville· Tallahassee· Tampa· Boca Raton (2000). It has a Chapter entitled "Admiring the Works of the Ancients: The Ellora Temples as Viewed by Indo-Muslim Authors" by Carl W. Ernst. Ernst was examining the Islamic mindset in their seemingly "insatiable propensity of Muslims to destroy idols at every opportunity". For this he analysed the writing of an author, Rafi' aI-Din ShiraZi, serving Sultan Ali 'Adil Shahhas as steward and scribe in Bijapur around 1600. In a piece with a strange title "Description of the Wonders and Rarities of the Building of Ellora in Daulatabad, Which Parchand Rao, the Emperor of India, Built Nearly 4,000 Years Ago" he makes a description of a town of Lakmir which is set in the neighbourhood of Bankapur. He writes

"In the neighborhood of Bankapur is a town called Lakmir.In ancient tinles, it was the capital of one of the great emperors of unbelief. With the greatest architectural skill, the emperors, princes, and pillars of the realm built many idol temples in imitation of one another, extremely large and well built. Years passed, and most of the buildings fell into ruin, and only a few were still inhabited. But four hundred idol temples remained perfectly sound, having been constructed with the utmost of painstaking and elegant workmanship. At the time when we saw it, we saw many wonders and rarities, and astonishment increased upon astonishment. Out of all those, we saw one idol temple with dimensions of seventy cubits by fifty cubits. Both inside and outside of it a trough (taghiirf) had been cut in relief. Its subtlety was to the degree that in the space of a hand, in natural proportions, the forms of ten men had been made, along with the forms of ten or fifteen animals, both beasts and birds, in such a way iliat the eyelashes and fingernails were visible. On the border were roses, tulips, and trees of the locality, about the size of one hand. This degree of artistry has been forgotten.

"Imagine how much work has been done on the inside and outside of all the idol temples, and how many days and how much time it took to complete them. May God the exalted and transcendent forgive the World-Protector [Le., 'Ali 'Adil Shah, d. 988/1580] with the light of his compassion, for after the conquest of Vijayanagar, he with his own blessed hand destroyed five or six thousand adored idols of unbelief, and ruined most of the idol temples [at the battle of Talikota or Bannihatti, January 1565]. But the limited number [of buildings] on which the welfare of ilie time and the kingdom depended, which we know as the art of Ellora in Daulatabad,this kind of idol temple and art we have forgotten."

Ernst would continue "This last gesture turns the stereotype of Muslim iconoclasm on its head. ShiraZI acknowledges that temple destruction has taken place in military and political contexts
of conquest, but he deplores it as a violation of beauty and, ultimately, as an offense against God."  Ernst then writes "The iconoclasm stereotype derives not from the actual attitudes of Muslims toward temples, but from a predetermined normative definition of Islam." Ernst thereby shifts the blame for this stereotype to the perception of Muslims but to their action.

It is difficult for those of us who have beheld the destruction not to be angry with the destroyer. At the same time one has perhaps to agree somewhat with the idea that the destruction of temples cannot be attributed solely to Muslims. It is part of the process of stamping the ruler's signature over those earlier ones he has conquered.  In the same article Ernst (I am referring to Ernst only because it seems to be fair to him) would write "Muslims were not the only ones to reinvent Ellora's significance along new lines. When the Rashtrakutas conquered the Chalukyas and took over power in the Deccan in the seventh century, in addition to adding new Hindu monuments such as the Kailas temple, they converted Buddhist viharas into Hindu temples, chiseling out many Buddha images at Ellora and covering or replacing some with images of
Vishnu.". I think I will agree with this in some way. After all, I seem to think that the image of the Jain idol at Lakkundi is superimposed on an earlier Buddhist (or Bodhisatva) figure judging by the position of the remnant halo behind the idol's head (Fig 14, right).

Whatever the justification there is considerable rankling when one reads (from Ernst) ".... the temple at Bankapur ... was evidently the "superb temple" that 'All 'Adil Shah destroyed and replaced with a mosque when he took the city in 1575.'. We have little idea of what this temple could have been. A Madhwa Brahmin's house has the presiding deity (Lord Narshimha) of Bankapur below the ground level to "... protect it from Muslim aggression during later part of the 18th century". 

At the same time whatever the destruction that has taken place, the ordinary people of this country (say of erstwhile Bankapur) must remain one of the most creative craftsmen who can fashion images of god at will and almost in an instant. No matter how much one destroys they will come up again with the same cheer and song that come so naturally to them even if a fear of religion is thrust on them. 

If the monotheistic god of Islam or Jews brooks little tolerance for other gods, our infinite-theistic approach can brook every intolerance and come out unperturbed absorbing al destruction and coming out in a new creation. That is what Bankapur teaches us. The secular snakes in Fig 1 could be the past and the future.

 I am finishing this blog on pongal or sankranti which is our new year.which we mark by our harvests. The fresh crop of bajra comes again and that is enough to celebrate. Happy pongal!


A lot requires to be done by the archaelological society of India than just exceuting reiar jobs using the ceheapest cement!