Poetry in stone

Poetry in stone


Vatsala Iyengar visits Harihara in Davangere district and is enchanted by the beauty of the Harihareshwara temple, which was built by a Hoysala king.

Karnataka is home to many temples that idolise Shiva and Vishnu as a single entity in the form of Shankaranarayana and Harihara. While the Shankaranarayana temple situated on the banks of the Varahi near Kundapur is one such example, the magnificent temple of Harihareshwara at Harihara in Davangere district situated on the right banks of the Tungabhadra represents a synthesis of Shaivism and Vaishnavism.

The ornate temple of Harihareshwara was built by Polalva, a minister under Narasimha II, a Hoysala king, and is dated to 1229. It is said that the five-storied gopura (tower) was erected by Soma, who built the Somanatha temple of Mysore district. The temple is also known as ‘Dakshina Kashi’.


The stone inscriptions in the temple premises record grants made by the Hoysalas, Vijayanagara kings, Sevunas, Tarikere Palegars and others.  One among them is a 15-feet-high stone inscription, said to be the tallest in the State.

Rich in sculptural details, the doorjambs display fine scroll work while the pillars and ceilings add ornamentation to the temple. A large open hall with a parapet wall running around provides plenty of  space for people to sit and enjoy the brilliance of the lathe turned typical Hoysala pillars.

The image of Harihara in the sanctum is made of a saligrama stone. The idol displays on the left portion Vishnu’s attributes of shankha and chakra (conch) in the hands, karnakundala in the ears and kirita, the crown.

The right portion depicts Hara or Shiva’s characteristics of trishul the trident, nagabharana, the ear ornaments, jata the coiled hair, Ganga and the half-moon. Small figures of Parvati and Lakshmi on either side and that of Ganesha are seated at the base of the image.

Mythologically speaking

The idol of Harihareshwara is only up to the knee. This is attributed to a legend in ‘Kasi Kanda’ of Skanda Purana. The legend explains that Guha, who lived in Dandakaranya or Guharanya, nursed ambitions to dominate the world.

He undertook severe penance for three long years and was granted a boon of immortality by Brahma. This invincibility turned him into a terror.

The world then approached Shiva and Vishnu and because Guha had not included Harihara in his list of people who could not slay him as part of the boon, both these gods came together as Harihareshwara. Unable to face the combined might of these two formidable gods, Guha realised his folly and prayed to Harihareshwara to rest his feet on his chest. This weight pushed Guha into the fathomless pathaala and along with him, Harihareshwara’s feet were also sucked up by the earth. The god fulfilled the final wish of Guha by permanently residing in Guharanya, the present-day Harihara.

In one corner of the temple is the shrine of Amba Bhavani, a marble image installed during the time of the Peshwas as a substitute for the images of Parvati and Lakshmi said to have existed originally.

An image of Kala Bhairava in the kshetrapala shrine to the north-east part of the temple has a scale in its hands to weigh both Kasi and Harihara. Harihara outweighed Kasi because the Karnataka town is the sacred confluence of Tungabhadra and Haridra, apart from possessing the oneness of Siva and Vishnu.

An ancient Sangameshwara temple exists at the confluence of the rivers and the place is also called as Kudaluru. During Sankranti, holeoota (lunch on river bed) is prevalent in this region.

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