A masterpiece in stone

A masterpiece in stone

A masterpiece in stone
The name of Santhebennur town in Davangere district brings to mind images of a historical pushkarini (sacred pond), which is known for its architectural beauty. In fact, the history of Santhebennur is closely linked to the pushkarini. The region was a part of the Vijayanagar empire, and Kenga Hanumantappa Nayaka, a local palegar, built a Rama Temple and a pushkarini here in the 16th century. God Rama was the family deity of the Nayaka rulers. Now, even after five centuries, the structure remains intact. Today, the pushkarini with a majestic mantapa at the centre is considered to be one of the magnificent structures of South India.

Indo-Arabic style

It is said that the Vasanta Mantapa, at the centre of the pushkarini, was built to commemorate Kenga Hanumantappa Nayaka’s victory over the rulers of Bijapur. The sides of the pushkarini, also known as Santhebennur Honda, are veneered with granite steps.

There are 52 granite steps from the main entrance in the west direction and 44 steps in other three sides. Initially, there were eight towers at the cardinal points (representing eight directions). However, of these eight, only six remain intact now.

The pond spans over an area of about 250 feet (length) and 240 feet (width), with a depth of over 30 feet. The Vasantha Mantapa is a symmetrical pillared tower and exhibits Indo-Arabic style of architecture. The multi-level mantapa covers an area of about 34 square feet. While the arches, vaults and domes of the mantapa represent the Arabic style; its columns, pyramidical towers and carving embody Indian style of architecture.

The mantapa is built in such a way that, for an onlooker on the banks of the pushkarini, it appears to be floating on water. It is said that the mantapa has a water storage facility at its base and supplies water to an inbuilt working fountain. This feature of the mantapa gives it another name  — karanji mantapa (fountain mantapa).

Different geometrical figures, specifically flowers, adorn each floor, enhancing its beauty. These artworks exhibit the ingenuity of artists of that era. The first floor has similar openings on all four sides. The top floor has a hemispherical dome embedded with carvings. Local people say that when the pond is full, the water can cover the mantapa till a height of 10 feet.

The pond was used to perform teppotsava, or floating festival, of the deity. As per the ritual, the utsava murthi of the main deity was taken out of the temple and was placed on a decorated platform on a boat and taken around the  pushkarini.

It is said that scores of people from across the region used to gather to witness this colourful festival and the family members of the Nayaka rulers would witness the festival from
the mantapas on the banks of the pushkarini.

A place to rest
According to historical records, later in the 17th century, the army of Bijapur sultan led by commander Ranadullakhan invaded Santhebennur. Ranadullakhan, along with his followers Pattekhan and Faridkhan, constructed a musafirkhana (a place to rest) on the bank of the pond.
 
The spacious building with a dimension of 150 feet length and 40 feet width exhibits Muslim architectural style and is made of granite stones. A large, pillared hall with pointed arches and attractive inlay work was probably used as a prayer hall as well.

The entrance to the hall is flanked by many arched windows. The entrance is arched and can be identified by its large width. These are built in the Indo-Arabic style. Artistic stone pillars with columns on four sides can be seen supporting the roof inside this building. The interiors of the building with pillars placed in three horizontal and eight vertical lines makes it a geometrically-perfect design.

The four-century-old building is still strong and the minars carved on the edges of the front part of the building add to the beauty of the building. Floral sculptures are embossed on the walls while intricate designs decorate the windows. Entry to the building, which was also used as a military store for sometime, is restricted now. One can see similar buildings in Vijayapura too.

It is said that in the due course, Ranadullakhan built a masjid here. Thus, now one can see both Rama Temple and a masjid together near the pushkarini, representing communal integrity.

The premises of the pushkarini is being maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India — Bengaluru Circle (ASI). Within this premises, one can find a beautifully maintained garden as well. If you are looking to visit the pushkarini, Santhebennur is around 250 km from Bengaluru and 30 km from Davangere. Other places of interest in the region include Bathi Gudda, Shantisagara Dam and Kundawada Tank. Temples such as  Harihareshwara Temple, Eshwara Temple and Bagali Kalleshwara Temple are popular as well.

(Translated by AP)
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