Classicism defines Saligrama

Classicism defines Saligrama

Classicism defines Saligrama

Gouri Satya searches for the classic Hoysala architecture in the temples of Saligrama.

Saligrama, the very name evokes a religious and spiritual feeling.

Ammonite shell-turned hard stone, found on the banks of the River Gandaki, a tributary of the River Ganga in Nepal, is sacred to all the devoted followers of Sri Vaishnava faith.

They attribute remarkable virtues to it and worship it as a symbol of Vishnu. How this South Indian town, located on the bank of the River Cauvery, 63 km from Mysore, derived its name from an ancient village bearing the same name, located on the bank of the Gandaki in the north, is not clear.

Whatever may be the mystery behind the name of this town, Saligrama abounds in history and mythology.

The name Saligrama can be traced to early 12th century itself, corresponding to the period of Ramanujacharya, the saint of Vaishnavas. Earlier, it was known as Saligame.

A lesser known town
Saligrama, in K R Nagar taluk of Mysore district, does not attract many people because very few know about its past and its association with the chief exponent of Vishishtadvaita, at whose influence Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana, otherwise known as Bittideva, embraced Vaishnavism, changing his faith from Jainism.

This place has Jain basadis too besides an old Ishwara Temple.

Escaping from the wrath of the religious men in Kanchi, travelling through the forests and crossing the River Cauvery, Ramanujacharya is said to have first set his foot at Saligrama.

Hence, it has acquired a place in religious history as a sacred place. His followers reside in good numbers in this town.

It was quite an effort to look for a Hoysala temple at Saligrama.

On enquiries, some fruit and flower vendors directed us to Bhashyagara Temple, about a mile down the road.

Disappointment awaited us when we went there.

This 12th century Temple complex had very little architectural or sculptural work which we were looking for.

The kshetra was ill-maintained with overgrown weeds and plants and neglected mantapas.

It was back to Yoganarasimhaswamy Temple which we had passed by a little earlier. This Dravidian structure was equally disappointing.

The main deity of Yoganarasimha was a recent one, less impressive than the traditional carvings of the Hoysala craftsmen.

According to the priest, the Temple was built during Chola period.

The much defaced 12th century inscription, standing in front of the Temple only records a grant of land to the Temple.

We halted for a tea break at a village tea house on our way back. Coming to know the purpose of our visit, the tea shop owner directed us to the Jyotirmaheswaraswamy Temple.

“It has artistic pillars. You will like it,” he said.

A village teacher Venkatesh, who had just joined us, offered to show as around the Temple as the priest was away. As we approached the Temple, it offered nothing of the classic Hoysala temple features.

Art of the Hoysalas

But our disappointment was short-lived. Once we entered the semi-dark interiors, we were happy we had not missed it. Indeed, it was the most artistic Temple in the town.

The spacious yagashala and pakashala in the front was a later addition to the old Temple entrance, lime plastered and colour quoted dwarapalakas, Veerabhadra and a few other carvings adorning on either sides of the entrance to the navaranga.

The lintel had a makarathorana with image of Tandaveswara attended by Vishnu and Brahma.

But, the navaranga revealed four interesting lathe-turned soapstone pillars of the Hoysala style.

The sanctum sanctorum housing a linga was laid with glazed tiles, revealing very little of its past.

Priest Lakshminarayana confirmed what we had presumed. “The Temple was in a dilapidated condition with no worship. One Srikantaiah who came to Saligrama renovated it and built the yagashala, prior to which the entry was directly into the navaranga, on either side of which stand two dwarapalakas. After consecrating the Ishwara linga, he prayed for a son, as he had no male heir. His prayer was fulfilled and hence he renamed the renovated temple as Jyotirmaheswaraswamy. The original name of the Temple was Ankanatheswara also called Pranabeshwara.”

Etched beauties

The pillar capitals and the four directions branching out from the brackets between the roof and the turreted columns has interesting carvings of Ganesha, elephant trunks, flying yakshas, a snake charmer, and snakes with variety of hoods, generally not seen in other similar navarangas.

Interestingly, these cobras had what could be described as the mythical nagamani or cobra pearl on their head.

In the hall outside, there were a few broken sculptures, including a Mahishasura Mardhini with four arms slaying the demon, Mahishasura.

“There are many snakes here,” was our teacher-guide’s instant remark immediately after seeing the carvings of the snakes atop the pillars.

He then took us back to the period of Ramanuja, narrating whatever he knew about the Acharya and the Temples.

The first Temple, Bhashyagara Temple, is indeed the place where the saint’s footprint is worshipped and hence sacred to all Vaishnavas.

It was built to mark Ramanuja’s visit. A pond close by, Sripada theertham is also held sacred.

Its holy water cures all ailments and the theertham carried in a bottle will not be spoilt.

A legend reveals how the pond became sacred.

Initially, the villagers of Saligrama were opposed to Ramanuja.

But, the saint turned the water of the pond holy and when the villagers drank it, they felt a change and took to Vaishnavism.

The saint’s followers consider the water of the pond bestowed with healing powers even now. The Temple is still in-charge of the descendents of the family of Vadhuhanambi, whose forefather became a disciple of the proponent of Sri Vaishnava philosophy.

According to the local legend, the main idol was Ugra Narasimha. After writing his interpretations propounding Vaishnavism, the Bhashyakara converted ugra (ferocious) to yoga (meditative) Narasimha.

Hence, it is called Yoganarasimhaswamy Temple, instead of Ugranarasimhaswamy Temple.

After a year’s stay and accomplishing his visit in Saligrama, Ramanuja proceeded eastwards to Thondanur (present Thonnur), near the famous Vaishnavite pilgrim centre, Melkote, which seems to have been the then capital or a capital outpost of the Hoysala Ballala kings ruling at Dwarasamudra or Halebid.

Jyothirmaheswara – the God who dispels ignorance and sheds radiance had blessed us too.

It was time for us to leave the town, in search of the Saint’s further footmarks from the town where he had first set his foot and written the tenets of Vishishtadvaita over nine centuries ago.