Bhadravati's link with epics

Bhadravati's link with epics

Chitra Ramaswamy writes about how the steel town of Bhadravati came about, evolving over aeons of Gods and rulers

Bhadravati, the industrial town in Shimoga gets its name from the titular Bhadra river that flows through it. The Puranas have referred to the town by various names like Bhadrapuri, Devanarsipura and Lakshmipura due to the presence of a Lakshminarasimha Temple here.

According to mythology, Bhadravati was formed when Vishnu in his Varaha avatar churned the ocean to rescue Mother Earth from the clutches of the demon Hiranyaksha. As he pulled her up from under the sea and balanced her on his sharp tusks, two trenches were formed giving birth to the Tunga and Bhadra rivers.

This industrial town that is roughly 600 m above sea level was for long known as Vankipura, named after Vanki Maharshi who undertook penance here. Pleased by his devotion, Lord Lakshminarasimha appeared before him in the form of an idol precisely at the spot where the temple stands today. 

A long tale of history

With time Vankipura came to be called Benkipura and Benki Pattana, meaning ‘City of Fire,’ because of the presence of huge iron ore deposits and the consequential establishment of several furnaces here that produced firearms for export. Historical records point to the Lakshminarasimha Temple as having been restored by Hoysala emperor Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Veeranarasimha in the 13th Century.

Legend has it that during Rama’s rule of Ayodhya, when he made rounds of his kingdom to ascertain the welfare of his people, he observed his shadow appeared in two forms: one as a vanara or monkey, and the other as a human. Puzzled by this unusual phenomenon, he sought the reason for this. 

The twin shadows apparently were caused because he had been cursed by the vanara king Vaali whom he had killed, not face-to-face, but while hiding himself behind a tree in a confrontation that was really between Sugreeva and Vaali. This was contrary to the Kshatriya traditions. To be relieved of Vaali’s curse, Rama was asked to go to the sacred Tungabhadra river, pray to Lord Narasimha and install the Ishwara lingam. 

The ornate Lakshminarasimha Temple in Bhadravathi may not display the grandeur and sculptural profusion associated with the Hoysala shrines at Belur, Halebid or Somanathapura, but it more than makes up for this by being replete with fascinating tales from mythology. 

The Temple also finds mention in the Mahabharata. Following the battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna the means by which he could atone the sin of killing his own kith and kin in the war. Krishna suggests that the mere darshan of Lord Laksminarasimha at Vankipura would enable the atonement.

There are several unique features associated with the Temple which is also referred to as a swatantra or independent temple. Normally, when the design and layout of a city is planned, temples are located either on the outskirts where the installed deities serve as guardians of the city; or, in spaces found vacant after allocations have been made for various other facilities within the city. 

Contrary to this norm, the Lakshminarasimha Temple in Bhadravathi was the first structure to be planned while the city’s layout was still being designed. The rest of the city came up around the Temple. It  was also the first building in the city to be illuminated when electricity was first introduced.

The dhwajasthamba and garudasthamba greet us as we enter the courtyard. The Temple is built on a three feet-high star-shaped platform that appears to rest on the back of ashtadikgajas (eight elephants). This is symbolic of the fact that elephants were used to transport the stones from the quarry required for building the structure. 

The exterior walls along the circumambulation path contain sculptures of deities, apsaras, musicians and dancers, some of which are defaced and damaged. However, the turrets, sculpted on the higher reaches of the wall, over a hundred of them, are intact and represent models of towers seen in various temples of India. 

Three steps from the platform takes us to the interiors that comprises, from outside-in, the typical trio of chambers: the navaranga, sukhanasani and the garba griha. Unlike in several other Hoysala temples where the bhuvaneshwari or ceiling of the navaranga contain the sculptures of the main deity surrounded by the ashtadikpalakas or eight guards, this Temple has sculptures of the banana flower on its ceiling.

Architecture

The Temple, designed in the trikutachala architectural style, has three shrines, each with its own tower. The central deity, Lakshminarasimha, is flanked by Venugopalaswamy on the right and Purushottama on the left. All three idols, made of saligramashila, were crafted by the renowned Dakanna, son of the most famed Hoysala period sculptor Jakanachari. While the entire Temple is made of soapstone in two colours – black and cream, the deities are all made of saligrama stone.

A rare feature of the Narasimhaswamy idol here is that he has trinethra or three eyes as mentioned in the Puranas. The Lord wields the shanka, chakra, gadha, padma and is in the abhayahastha pose.

His consort, seated on his lap holds the amrutha kalash in her left hand and has her right hand encircling the Lord’s waist, in an aalingana posture.

Twice in the year – during Uttarayana and Dakshinayana, it has been observed that the rays of the sun fall directly on Lord Narasimha in the sanctum sanctorum. The idol of Venugopalaswamy, flute in hand, surrounded by gopis, cows and cowherds, is dressed up as Mohini and bedecked with butter, especially on the occasion of Janmashtami. 

Karnataka takes pride in housing only one of two shrines supposedly built for Purushottama in the whole of South India, the other being in Tamil Nadu. On Vaikunta Ekadashi, he is decked as Srinivasa and on all the nine days of Navaratri he is adorned in different ways. 

On Durgashtami, he is dressed up as Lokanayaki and on Vijayadashami day he is attired like a king. Besides the three main shrines, there are smaller sanctums dedicated to Benne Vinayaka whose belly gets adorned with butter and to Sharadamba, the goddess who bestows knowledge and wisdom.

The Temple takes on grand festive hues for seven days during Buddha Purnima with rathothsava or the chariot festival when the Temple chariot is taken in a procession.

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