Where stones are treasures

Where stones are treasures

Where stones are treasures
The road to Tadipatri took me beyond Anantapur town with expanses of shrub forests on both sides, interspersed with thousands of giant windmills towering into the sky, and large cement factories blowing out grey smoke out of their chimneys. Trucks loaded with cement were passing by frequently, making me wonder if I was on the right track to reach the renowned hidden treasures of antiquity said to be located in the area, the famous architectural wonders of Tadipatri.

I reached the small town set amidst the industrial belt, about 60 km from Anantapur, and a signage of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) confirmed that my destination had been reached. The 500- year-old twin temples of Chintala Venkataramana and Bugga Ramalingeswara were located close by.

Both these shrines are reckoned as true architectural and sculptural marvels of the Vijayanagara era. Though declared as protected monuments, these are still living temples.

My first stop was at the Chintala Venkataramana Temple located in the heart of Tadipatri town. As soon as I got out from the car, a few guides accosted me and I accepted one of them who could speak understandable English. As we moved towards the entrance, my guide started his narration.

According to him, Tadipari got its name from 'tatipatri', meaning coconut palm trees, which abound in the surroundings. There was another version that the demoness Tataka, who attempted to kill Sri Rama, was slain at this locale. He said that as per sthala purana, the twin temples were built simultaneously by two brothers in the 16th century. It took about 80 years to complete these beautiful monuments. The Chintala Venkataramana shrine was completed first, but unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the Bugga Ramalingeswara shrine was left incomplete.

The Chintala Venkataramana shrine is large and has a vast compound of five acres around it, which is well maintained by the ASI. At the mahadwara (entrance) stands a majestic five-tiered rajagopura ornately decorated with beautiful statuettes of gods, goddesses, apsaras and animals. I could notice that it had been recently rebuilt and renovated. The base of the gopura was also adorned on all sides with ornate sculptures and carvings, which have been preserved well.

Within the complex

Inside the complex, marvellous sculptures and architectural masterpieces greeted me all around. I was struck by the sight of a lovely stone chariot, almost a miniature replica of the same found in the Vittala Temple in Hampi, but made out of black stone. Next to it stood a beautifully crafted Tulasi Kootam with a thulasi plant in it. The outer walls of the shrine presented a host of innumerable miniature sculptural marvels, where different stone panels depicted episodes from the Ramayana. The interesting ones were Anjaneya meeting Sita in Ashoka Vana, his setting fire to Lanka by being seated on the high pedestal made out of his coiled tail and having an audience with Ravana, etc.

A long multi-pillared corridor ran on all three sides of the shrine. A multi-pillared mukhamantapa stood at the entrance. Beyond this was the garbhagriha, built in typical Vijayanagara style, with black stone. Lord Srinivasa’s idol was placed in the garbhagriha. According to my guide, this temple was ravaged by the invaders and the original idol was brutally disfigured. Later, a new idol was installed here. The name 'Chintala' came from ‘remover of chinta’ or worries. A beautiful vimana rose above the sanctum. There were several intricate carvings of Lord Vishnu’s Dasavathara and scenes from the Mahabharatha and Bhagavatha on the outer walls of the garbhagriha. There was also a small shrine nearby for a devi known as Anandavalli Thayar.

After relishing the delicate details of the architectural splendour of this ancient shrine, I moved towards the next. The Bugga Ramalingeswara Temple was only a short distance away, at the north end of the town. This was located right on the banks of Penna river, which provided a picturesque backdrop. I noticed a plain-looking gopura ahead with a funny shape and two Nandis seated before it.

On enquiry, I was told by my guide that the original gopura was damaged during a massive flood in the Penna river that swept away the upper tiers, leaving the granite base structure intact. It was rebuilt with supporting walls in front. The top was missing. Entering through the half-gopura, I looked back at the inner base and could imagine the original glory from what remained of the beautiful sculptural adornment around it. The magnificent sculptures on the base of this gopura have been hailed as the finest example of sculptural perfection attained during the Vijayanagara period.

About the destroyer

Inside the prakaram (the main shrine), the rangamantapa and the garbhagriha, with its vimana, were all found to be intact. These parts did not boast of any noteworthy sculptural artistry like the other temple, but some carvings depicting the legends about Lord Shiva could be seen. My guide explained that the Shiva linga here is said to be a swayambhu and was worshipped by Parashurama. Also, Bugga was an underground natural spring that regularly sprinkled water around the Shiva linga placed inside the garbhagriha — hence the name Bugga Ramalingeswara.

There is said to be a secret tunnel from the garbhagriha going up to Tirupati, but its entrance has been closed by the ASI.

In this temple complex, there are also small shrines for Sri Rama, Sita, Anjaneya and Parvati. On the eastern side of the prakaram there stood a kalyanamantapa where the divine wedding of Shiva and Parvati is re-enacted as a festival every year.

The outer walls of the shrine lacked any noteworthy sculptures. But when I reached the northern gopura facing the river, I was aghast by what met my eyes. There was a massive but incomplete half-constructed gopura, in fact, in two parts, without any superstructure. These two great wall-like structures made out of black sandstone were flooded with innumerable ornate carvings on their sides, each appearing to compete with the other in artistic excellence. Together, they presented a gigantic picture of the marvels of temple architecture. There were varied themes depicting animals in action, dancing apsaras, floral designs and what not! There is a rare sculpture that is half-Vishnu and half-Lakshmi, a verisimilitude to the Ardhanareeshwara form. Legend says that the famous sculptor Ramachari was asked to stop his work on this gopura by Lord Shiva, and hence he left it incomplete. Nevertheless, what remains is still a masterpiece. Had it been completed, this shrine could have competed for equal honours with similar architectural marvels like Konark, Khajuraho and Somnathpura shrines. I returned with a heavy heart, visualising how the majestic gopura would have looked had it been finished. Some things are best left to the imagination.
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