An architectural amalgam

Tucked away in a small village at the foothills of Nandidurga or Nandi Hills, 60 km from Bengaluru, is one of Karnataka’s oldest temples, that of Bhoga Nandishwara. Inscriptions and copper plates found in Chikkaballapur credit the temple construction to Queen Ratnavali, consort of Vidhyadhara, the 9th century Bana king. Though the temple is majorly reflective of Dravidian architecture, it is an amalgam of styles of successive empires as it was enhanced over the following seven centuries by various dynasties including the Gangas, Cholas, Hoysalas, and the Vijayanagara kings, who held sway over the region. The Chola kings, it is believed, added the roof to the temple structure in the 11th century, while the Hoysalas constructed the Kalyana Mantapa. According to historians, all the other structures in the complex, including the Vasantha Mantapa and Tulabhara Mantapa, were built by the Vijayanagar kings in the 13th century.

We enter the portals of the huge temple complex via its sprawling lush lawns and a rectangular cluster of small enclosures which perhaps served as living quarters of guards or stables during its days of glory. In addition to these structures, the verdure also encompasses a tank, sculptures of serpents and ruins of Mahanavami Dibba, a raised platform. It was the enclosure from where the royals would witness the Navaratri celebrations, dance and music programmes. We walk along a tree-lined pathway and come upon a shrine dedicated to Shiva as Veerabhadra, the temple chariot and its unused painted stone wheels, before entering the main doorway of the temple.

Unique features

According to the temple priest, the temple boasts several unique features. It is perhaps the only shrine of its kind in India where Shiva and Parvati as Uma Maheshwara are carved from a single saligrama stone and worshipped together. Yet again, unlike in other temples dedicated to Shiva where he is revered in the linga form, here he is worshipped in idol form. The pair of deities is covered in a gold-plated kavacha

The temple is one of the finest and most ornate of Dravidian temples in Karnataka. A trio of shrines adorns the temple complex. Each of these shrines encompasses a vestibule or sukanasi, followed by the navaranga or worship hall which in turn leads to the main sanctum. The sukanasi and the navaranga display sculptured jalis.

The sanctum dedicated to Uma Maheshwara, minor of the three shrines and a later addition, is flanked on the right and left by shrines honouring Arunachaleshwara, built by the Gangas of Talakad in the 13th century, and Bhoga Nandishwara, constructed by the Cholas, respectively. Yet again, this temple enjoys the distinction of being only one of the two temples where Shiva as Arunachala is worshipped, the other being the temple at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.

The kalyana mantapa facing the central sanctum of Uma Maheshwara is held aloft by a quartet of profusely ornamented pillars, built during the Hoysala period. The black stone columns are adorned with reliefs depicting the pantheon of Hindu gods and bas-reliefs of creepers and avian creatures.

Nandi Mantapas with granite Nandis in all sculptural grandeur beckon devotees at the entrance to the navarangas of the Bhoga Nandishwara and Arunachala shrines. The pillars of the navaranga of the Bhoga Nandiswara shrine are carved with fine, small figures on all sides and its square ceiling is intricately sculpted with the figures of the ashtadikpalakas with Shiva and Parvati in the central panel. Apart from the royal Linga in the sanctum built by the Chola king, Rajendra Chola, the shrine also contains a figure of the king. The Arunachaleshwara shrine has a one-of-its-kind Lord Ganesha, Simha Ganapathi or Ugra Ganapathi in fierce form, standing guard outside the sanctum sanctorum. 

Temple tank

In keeping with the Hindu way of life, the twin shrines of Arunachaleswara and Bhoga Nandiswara which are forms of Shiva, symbolise two stages in the life of the Lord – that of childhood and youth, while the shrine of Uma Maheshwara represents the third and wedded stage of his with consort Parvati. This is in contrast to the Yoga Nandeeshwara Temple on top of Nandi Hills, where Shiva enjoys the final stage of his life as a renunciate, engaged in meditation. Hence, while no celebrations or festivities are observed in the hilltop temple, they are all observed with pomp and pageantry at the Bhoga Nandishwara Temple.

Separate shrines for the consorts Kuchamba and Girijamba, the consorts of Arunachaleshwara and Bhoga Nandishwara respectively, adorn the main courtyard and circumambulatory path.

The exterior walls of the Arunachala and Bhoga Nandishwara sanctums are embellished with pilasters, turrets, lattice windows and are dotted with figurines of deities. The lower segments of the walls are ornamented with tiers of sculptures of elephants, lions and the mythical yaalis. The towers of both sanctums, similar in design, are built of black stone.

The Vasantha Mantapa and Tulabhara Mantapa form part of a separate courtyard that is sandwiched between the main set of shrines and the Shringi Teertha, the sacred temple tank. The Vasantha Mantapa, an ornate Hoysala era contribution, is the venue for the wedding of Shiva and Parvati that is performed annually during Maha Shivaratri. Subsequently, Brahmotsava takes place when the deity is taken in procession on the temple ratha or chariot. The hall which is open on all sides, exposed to all the five elements of nature, stands on exquisitely carved sandstone pillars, each of which narrates the story of the divine wedding of Shiva and Parvati.

The square Shringi Teertha at the farthest end of the temple has enclosures on all its sides, which supposedly served as changing rooms for devotees who took a dip in its sacred waters. Rock-cut steps are there on all the sides with a pathway running along its periphery. Sculpted figures of deities deck the pyramidal walls of these enclosures. The steps come alive with tens of thousands of earthenware lamps lit to coincide with Deepavali and other festive occasions. According to legend, the tank is believed to have been built by Nandi, Shiva’s divine bull. He is believed to have dug into the ground with his horn and drawn out the water from the Holy Ganga. Beautiful landscape, architectural splendour, and historical and spiritual significance have made this temple complex a sought-after location among tourists.

 

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An architectural amalgam

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