There is an old saying in Kannada which says, “Kanakagiri is a must for those who can see, and Hampi for those who can walk.” And this saying rings true in every sense for the tiny town of Kanakagiri in Gangavati taluk of Koppal district.
Historical records are of the opinion that the town got its name from Sage Kanakamuni, who apparently induced a rain of gold with his special powers. Kanakagiri was also known to be the southern capital of the Mauryan Empire. The famous geographer of 2nd century, Ptolemy, has mentioned a place called Kalligeris, positioned between Bheema and Banavasi rivers. Many believe that it is Kanakagiri. Further, old records discovered here say that the area has come under many regimes like the Satavahanas, Kadambas, Chalukyas of Badami and Kalyani, Vijayanagara kings, Tippu Sultan and Marathas over ages.
One of the major and most popular rulers of this town was the Nayaka dynasty, who claimed to be a part of the Gujjala dynasty. Hariyala Devi, mother of legendary Kumara Rama, who fought against the Sultans of Delhi before the Vijayanagara Empire came into being, belonged to the Gujjala family. It is believed that the early rulers of this kingdom joined hands with Kumara Rama in the struggle against the Delhi Sultans.
The reign of these rulers began during the period of King Devaraya-II of the Vijayanagara Empire and the Nayakas have served as chiefs of the espionage system of Vijayanagara. Around 1436-1948 AD, 12 rulers of Kanakagiri have ruled this area, of whom the first nine rulers were from Kanakagiri and the other three from Hulihyder, which was the second capital of their dynasty (1833-1948 AD).
The Nayakas of Kanakagiri were staunch believers of Lord Vishnu (Kanakachalapati) and this justifies the presence of the grand Kanakachalapathi Temple in the town. Constructed in Dravidian style, this Temple’s beautiful sculptures and mind-blowing paintings uphold the political, social and cultural traditions of the land.
About 208 feet in length and 90 feet in height, the complex has the main entrance at the east. In the main enclosure, you can find Saraswati and Laxminarayana mantapas (pillared halls) and statues of some rulers of Kanakagiri. There are many pillared halls (mantapas) like the entrance hall (dwara mantapa), the prayer hall (ranga mantapa) and the public hall (sabha mantapa) in the complex. The ornate pillars in these halls are noteworthy.
Of all these structures, perhaps the most popular one is the prayer hall, which is 54 feet in length and 36 feet in width. The structure stands strong on 40 lion pillars, which have sculptures embossed on all sides. In the niches between pillars and the roof, there are some eye-catchy carvings of Lord Ram, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Rukmini Swayamvara, Anantha Shayana, Ugra Narasimha, Murali Krishna, Maheshwara, Girija Kalyana and Seetha Kalyana.
Many lamp posts (deepa sthambha) dot the wonderful complex. Various paintings near the Temple give you an idea of the social life prevalent during medieval Karnataka. For instance, the painting of a king setting out to a battlefield depicts the scenes before a war takes place — the king on the horseback, his mother blessing him, soldiers standing in their positions, the decorated royal umbrella and horse.
It is said that the sanctum sanctorum (garbha gudi) and the vestibule (sukhanasi) were constructed by the founder of the State, Parasappa Vuducha Naayaka. Navaaba Vuducha Nayaka constructed the middle hall (madhya ranga mantapa) and Kelavadi Vuduchappa Nayaka built three big towers of the Temple. Lord Laxmi Narasimha can be found in the form of a saaligrama here. Adjacent to the enclosure, there is an attractive idol of Maruti. Later on, Kelavadi Uducha Nayaka (1533-1578 AD) beautified the Kanakachalapati Temple with mortar idols on the walls and paintings on the ceilings.
One of the major attractions of this complex is the Venkatapathi Baavi (open well). Venkatapathi Nayaka is believed to have constructed this aqua sports complex at a cost of one lakh varahas, inspired by the rulers of Vijayanagara and was meant for the use of the king’s family members only. Historians have identified a similar aqua sports complex in the ancient Indus valley civilisation.
Three sides of the well have steps leading down to the water and also host shrines of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. On the walls, there are embossed sculptures of Lord Shiva and nagas. In totality, there are 63 pillars, 37 half pillars and 16 corner pillars in the wall. There are other embossed sculptures such as a lion stomping upon a dwarf elephant, a rider sitting upon a lion with its forelegs raised, a horse rider with a long beard, a cowherd and so on. In the roof of the first floor, there are appealing carvings of mithuna (couples).
To protect themselves from oppressive forces, the Nayakas also constructed special forts at Chikkamaadinala and Yemmigudda villages of Gangavati taluk.
Although Kanakagiri reeks of history and heritage, it remains largely neglected by the tourism department. Scanty development in the past few years has taken a toll on the town. It’s time the government took appropriate steps to highlight this little piece of history and ensured greater awareness and footfalls.