Many pillared wonder
A primitive looking town in Haveri district, Bankapur, has a rich history. A fort that lies in shambles today, was once conquered by Bahamani kings, and a temple here, built in the Chalukyan style still stands, and is popularly known as Aravattu Kambada Gudi, in local parlance, writes B V Prakash
Bankapur is a primitive looking town in Haveri district of northern Karnataka. If one were to delve into the history of the place, you’ll learn that the place is famous for its fine fort of yore, a strategic location where many battles were waged by a succession of rulers.
Then, one realises all about the vandalism that the ornate Chalukyan temple was subject to. Today the fortress is in shambles with a few ruined structures surrounded by a deep moat covered with bushes. However, the temple of Nagareshwara retains some of its sculptural beauty.
Said to have been built in the 11th century, this temple of Ranganatha Nagareshwara is a fine example of Chalukyan style. The highlight of the architecture here is the large number of well carved pillars, as many as 66. In common parlance, it is known as “Aravattu Kambada Gudi,” meaning a temple with 60 pillars in Kannada.
The whole structure was built in a depression so as to conceal it from invaders who frequently laid siege to the adjacent fort. Though the temple was a centre for study and research on Jainism at one point of time, it was dedicated to Shiva as per one of the 16 inscriptions which also bear references to the history of the place. Bankapur got its name after Bankeyarasa, a feudatory of Rashtrakuta king Amoghavarsha I during the ninth century. The Kadambas took over in the 11th century followed by Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana.
Invasion by Bahamani kings
By the 16th century, the Bahamani kings attacked the place and Mustapha Khan of Bijapur annexed the fortress after a pitched battle for more than a year. The Nawabs of Savanur and the Marathas held short spells before Hyder Ali and Tipu gained its possession and ultimately it was ceded to British. It was during the time of Mustapha Khan that the temple was damaged most. Evidently the back corners of the temple hall have been chiselled away. So also a number of images in the exterior wall panels have been chopped off. In spite of the devastation, the pillars, the ceiling designs and the artistic carvings have survived.
Inscriptions in Halagannada
The entrance to the mukhamantapa has on its sides large clear inscriptions in old Kannada. The main hall of the temple is supported by the 66 intricately sculpted pillars.
Except the four pillars in blackstone, all the others have been hewn out of dark grey stone. The plain surfaces are well polished to reflect light.
The ceiling in the centre is large and dome shaped with concentric rings and ornate cusps. The other parts of the ceiling also have carved rosettes. The sanctum of the shrine however does not have the Shivalinga . Also as many images of the temple are disfigured regular pooja is not offered. The exterior of the structure is 12 cornered and in between run the band of five rows of sculptures. Unlike the Hoysalan temples, these carvings are modest with mainly floral designs and tower-like images.
The courtyard outside the temple has a few tombs with Arabic inscriptions which suggest the strong influence of the Mughals. The premises though maintained by the Archaeological Department is left unattended, with any kind of fencing.
Building a compound and keeping the premises under lock and key is vital to protect this attractive ancient temple.
Apart from its religious and historical importance, Bankapur has something more. The fields here are the favourite haunt of lovely peacocks. An estimated 1,000 peafowls wander here in the quiet undisturbed surroundings and every visitor here is sure to spot them.
It is heartening that 52 acres have been earmarked for the peacock sanctuary and efforts are on to protect and breed the national bird. A unique ancient temple, the ruins of a significant fort and a haven for beautiful peacocks all make Bankapur a potential tourist destination.
Bankapur is 357 kms from Bangalore & well connected by buses via Haveri. Haveri 23 kms away is the nearby major railway station.
Driving on NH4 to Haveri & further for 23kms Bankapur can be reached.
Food & Accommodation: Haveri has moderate hotels. Hubli 50 kms away has more options.