An architectural symphony

An architectural symphony

The Hoysalas are best known for perfecting the art of temple architecture and the use of soapstone in construction. What many don’t know is that they  were influenced by Kalyani Chalukyas (also known as Western Chalukyas) who were the first to use soapstone as the major construction material. Hoysalas also adopted Kalyani Chalukya temple elements like lathe-turned pillars and ornate makara toranas (lintel with mythical figures). It is believed that the Chennakeshava Temple at Belur built by the Hoysalas has borrowed heavily from the style and aesthetics of Kalyani Chalukya architecture.

While Mahadeva Temple at Itagi is the largest and most ornate of the temples built by Kalyani Chalukyas, there are many smaller temples scattered in the Tungabhadra region, their southern-most stronghold. Kalleshwara Temple at Bagali, first constructed by the Rashtrakutas and then expanded to its full glory by Kalyani Chalukyas, is a beautiful specimen to study the seamless blend of two architectural styles. The shrine and the closed hall belong to the Rashtrakuta style, while the open mantapa built with soapstone belongs to the Western Chalukya style.

The current vimana looks like a much later addition. The outer walls of the Rashtarakuta-period shrine are decorated with erotica, while the outer walls of the closed hall are bereft of any sculpture.  Earlier dynasties like the Rashtrakutas had no qualms about using erotic reliefs to decorate temple walls, but later dynasties were discreet about it. Though not sculpturally-brilliant like the ones at Khujaraho, the erotica at Kalleshwara are definitely worth a mention.

The garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple houses a linga representing Shiva and the deity is known as Kalideva. An antarala (vestibule) connects the garbhagriha to a mahamantapa (closed pillared hall) that has two entrances, one in the east and one in the south. Both the doors have beautifully-carved doorways with multiple door jambs. The makara torana at the entrance of the antarala is ornate. Then comes the 54-pillared hall known as sabhamantapa. Each pillar of this hall is well-carved. There is a nandi (bull) at the eastern end of the sabhamantapa. A shrine of Ugranarasimha is to the north of the sabhamantapa and a passageway connects it to the main temple.

The idol of Ugranarasimha is exquisite. It shows how advanced the Kalyani Chalukyas were in terms of sculpture. The idol depicts Vishnu as half-man, half-lion with one foot on the ground, the other bent to support the demon Hiranyakashipu. Two hands of the deity have torn open the demon’s intestine, and the entrails form a garland. Numerous other hands hold weapons.

The stone is polished so as to give it the look of a bronze sculpture. Unfortunately, this priceless piece has been vandalised. There is also a shrine dedicated to Suryanarayana which is to the east of the main temple, with a tower of its own. There are eight smaller shrines all around and the idols they once housed are now kept at an archaeological museum in the village.

Inscriptions, hero stones and sati stones belonging to 11th and 12th centuries were found at the temple premises. They too have been housed at the museum. The Kalleshwara Temple is built close to the embankment of a huge tank which is now characterised by a few puddles of water. Hills dotted with windmills surround the temple.

Treasure house of sculptures
Bagali, earlier known as Balaguli, was an important agrahara in the past, but now it is just a nondescript village. Many are unaware of the treasure it houses but the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has maintained the temple complex and the museum very well.

The museum in Bagali village is a treasure house of sculptures, inscriptions and hero stones all belonging to the period between  10th and 12th centuries. There are three galleries at the museum. The first gallery displays the sculptures found in and around Kalleshwara Temple and the ones earlier housed in the outer subsidiary shrines. There are idols of Saptamatrikas, Ganesha, Suryanaryana, Uma-Maheshwara and Karthikeya.

The second gallery has a collection of memorial stones. Both veeragallus and mastikallus are housed in the museum. Inscriptions by the rulers are on display in the third gallery. The translations in Kannada and English have been put up alongside. Most of them proclaim grants of land, cattle, etc. made by the kings.

A few broken pillars, jambs, beams and sculptures of nandis lie outside the museum.

Reaching there
Bagali is located eight km from Harapanahalli in Davanagere district. When you visit Bagali, you can also visit Harihareshwara Temple (Hoysala style) at Harihar and Bheemeshwara Temple (Kalyani Chalukya style) at Neelagunda.

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