Standing the test of time

Distinctive architecture: Banashankari Temple in Bagalkot district exhibits an amalgam of different architectural styles.

Standing the test of time
Banashankari, nestled in the  Tilakaaranya Forest close to Badami, is known for the temple by the same name, whose presiding deity is Shakambari. Also known as Banashankari, she is believed to be the sixth incarnation of Durga, the warrior goddess, who is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati. The origin of the temple remains nebulous and there is no concurrence on the era in which it was built.

While popular belief credits the  Chalukyas of having built it in the seventh century, some historians believe the temple to have existed even before. However, what may be said with certainty is that alterations were made to its plan and design through several centuries as the edifice witnessed damages. Thus an amalgam of architectural styles is visible in present times. The Chalukyan rulers worshipped the goddess as their clan deity. The edifice, which reflects a combination of Dravidian and Vijayanagar style rock-cut architecture in its present state, is enclosed by high walls running along its perimeter. The temple is characterised by a portico, an entrance porch and the sanctum sanctorum topped by a tower.

The sanctum houses a black stone idol of Goddess Banashankari in ugra or fierce form in sitting posture, perched atop her vehicle, the lion. The eight-armed goddess is portrayed wielding a trident, drum, skull cup, war bell, Veda scripts, sword and shield, and is shown crushing a demon under her foot. The goddess is particularly venerated by the local Devanga weaver community. The Devangas are one of the oldest Kannadiga communities spread in various south Indian states, and in some parts of the rest of India also. According to legends, they are descendants of the sage Devala, who was created by Lord Shiva at the behest of Lord Brahma, to provide attire for the gods in pre-ages. Known for their skills in weaving silk and superfine cotton fabric, the Devangas display sound business acumen. Division of labour within the family is often practised. While male members work on the loom and had children assist them, women dye the yarn and spin the thread. In addition to marketing the woven material, the Devangas also engage themselves in grocery and vegetable trade.

A stone wall runs along the periphery of the sacred Harishchandra Tirtha (holy pond), a 360-foot square structure that overlooks the main temple. Now known as Haridra Tirtha, it has a circumambulatory path and on its three sides, has stone mantapas.

On one of its banks, right in front of the temple, is the victory tower which served as a guard tower. A deepa sthamba adorns its top, while sculptures and stone jalis adorn the rest of its structure. It reflects a blend of Indo-Islamic architecture, typical of the Vijayanagar fusion. The Padma Purana and Skanda Purana refer to Goddess Parvati slaying the demon Durgamasura at Banashankari. Since the goddess subsequently stayed on in the forest to protect its people, she came to be known as Vanashankari — ‘consort of Shiva residing in the forest’.

Durgamasura who inhabited the region, harassed the villagers and wrought untold misery upon them. Moved by their plight, the devas prayed to Parvati to rescue the villagers from his torture and tyranny. After Parvati came down to earth and killed the demon, she took the form of Shakambari as she provided vegetables and food to the people to survive in the times of drought.

Temple festivities
While the temple’s main celebration is the annual Banashankari Devi Fair or Banashankari Jatre, which begins on the full moon day in January, it hosts several cultural and religious events during Navaratri. The Banashankari Jatre, which lasts for 10 to 12 days, is a celebration of rural life. Bartering of utensils, household goods, agricultural produce and tools is an integral aspect of the festivities. One can also see trading of cattle, especially of white bulls. The temple and its surrounds transform into a beehive of activity with vendors doing brisk business.

The rathotsava (car festival) is a major attraction of the fair. A tall wooden chariot about six-metre high, weighing several tonnes, is dragged along the streets of the town in procession to the accompaniment of dance and music. While the exterior of the chariot is sculpted with deities from the pantheon of Hindu gods, the vehicle itself is bedecked with streamers and floral garlands.

Goddess Banashankari, draped in all finery, sits regally on the chariot and bestows her grace upon her devotees as she is taken in procession. Palleda Habba or the vegetable utsava is a unique part of the fair as the deity is offered 108 varieties of dishes made from a variety of vegetables. The pond overlooking the temple sees feverish activity during teppotsava (boat festival), another important aspect of celebrations. One can combine Banashankari visit with Badami trip. Banashankari is about five kilometres from Badami on the road to Gadag.

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