Royal remains of a glorious era

Royal remains of a glorious era

Royal remains of a glorious era

The later medieval period of south India is marked with numerous dynasties that ruled different provinces from time to time.

When we think of this era, the most notable lineage of rulers that comes to mind is undoubtedly the Vijayanagar empire.

Almost at the same time, a queen ruled in the coastal region of Karnataka for about fifty years. This was Rani Chennabyradevi of Gerusoppa.

She is known in history as a brave lady who not only defended her territory from local rulers but also from repeated advances of European nations.

In those days, the area which then included the present districts of Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, parts of southern Goa and Malabar region, was a store house of treasures with a rich cultivation of various spices especially pepper.

The high quality pepper produced here was so much in demand, more so in European countries that the foreign invasions that took place here were mainly to get hold of the trade potential that existed.

A fearless ruler

The Portuguese who made attempts to annexe the province nicknamed her Raina da Pimenta, meaning the pepper queen.

The queen who descended from the Saluva dynasty was known to be an efficient and dynamic ruler.

Rani Chennabyradevi, a Jain herself, encouraged building of temples in addition to numerous Jain shrines in the area.

There were always attacks from neighbouring rulers to get hold of the wealthy province which she time and again thwarted successfully.

Later, when the kings of Keladi and Bilgi jointly launched an attack, the queen lost her kingdom after ruling from 1554 AD to 1602 AD .

In course of time the monuments and basadis that were built in those days also began to fade.

Gerusoppa, the tiny township about 30 km from Honnavar is where one can find some of these fine monuments that are getting ruined by the day.

So I set about from Honnavar to visit the place and to know more about it.

The pleasant drive through the ghats and greenery brought me to a hamlet called Nagarabasti keri. A short walk in the jungle led me to a precarious hanging bridge on the river.

While the bridge squeaked and swayed as I walked, the view of Sharavathi river flowing below  was lovely.

The first shrine to be seen was the temple of Jwalamalini where a ritual was going on. The surroundings had the ruins of mantapas and sculptural artifacts.

Soon, I was met by M R Nayak, an attendant who volunteered to show me around.
As we walked towards the Chaturmukha basadi in the middle of the forest, he narrated how this place thrived in the bygone era when the queen ruled.

There were 108 temples, about 3,000 dwellings and equal number of wells.

The speciality of the wells here, he said, was that all of them were ground wells without a parapet wall for safety.

We saw a few wells which were not in use.

A beautiful remnant
The Chaturmukha basadi is a square structure on a high platform.

The doorway is well carved with beautiful images on either side. The central hall which can be approached from four sides has four images of Jain thirthankaras looking in four directions. Hence the name Chaturmukha basadi.

On close observation, I could see a miniscule version of the symbol for each saint, like the horse and elephant engraved at the bottom.

There is a well hidden deep in the middle of the statues, Nayak said, which can not be seen.

The basadi is artistic in appearance and stands strong even today. But it is not a complete structure as some of the pillars testify. Around the basadi, there are shrines of Vardhaman, Neminatha and Parshwanatha each in its own enclosure.

An image of a thirthankara stands in mute silence outside a shrine while some murals and inscriptions are strewn about the place.

Though the concerned departments are putting in their efforts to protect the place, more attention is certainly needed.

Being a heritage area, it would be meaningful to include this place under the main tourist circuit.