Divine elements in harmony 

An artistic hall in the Harihareshwara temple complex, Harihar

An inscription dated 1224 CE mentions, “Some say that there is no god beside Hari on earth, and some say that there is no god beside Hara; in order to remove this wrong perception was assumed with glory in Kudalur the one form of Harihara, may he with affection bless us.”

Harihara is the fused representation of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara) and is also known as Shankaranarayana. It is a symbolic representation of the fact that both Shiva and Vishnu represent the same entity and is hence a symbol of unity. The Hoysala rulers built many temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu all across their empire and they also built one dedicated to Harihara, on the banks of River Tungabhadra, in the eponymous town of Harihar. 

The Harihareshwara Temple was built on the right bank of River Tungabhadra by Polalva, a minister of the Hoysala King Narasimha II, in 1224 CE. The temple underwent renovation under the patronage of Somanna Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala King Narasimha III. Some historians believe that the original temple predates the Hoysalas but was of a smaller proportion and that the Hoysalas expanded it.   

According to local tales, an asura (demon) named Guhasura had his capital in the present-day Harihar. He received a boon from Brahma that he would not be killed by Shiva or Vishnu, individually. The invincible asura then became a tyrant and ruled over his people with cruelty. To put an end to this, Shiva and Vishnu took the combined form of Harihara and the descent of Harihara happened at Kudalur where there is a confluence of Tungabhadra and Haridra rivers. The idol of the deity in the garbhagriha has no feet and the explanation given by the priest is that the feet are underground as Harihara killed Guhasura by pushing him into the earth with their feet. It is most likely that the idol was damaged during the expansion of the temple. 

The temple is located at the end of a road and a gateway leads to a large courtyard in the middle of which is the main temple complex. The first thing you will notice is the sabhamantapa, which is the largest part of the temple and is supported by 58 lathe-turned pillars symmetrically placed. It has five entrances and there is a provision for seating along the half-walls.

An ornate doorway leads to a smaller closed mantapa called as Navaranga Mantapa and then comes the antarala (vestibule) which connects this mantapa to the garbhagriha. The antarala and the garbhagriha have simple but well-carved doorways. The ceilings of all the parts of the temple have some ornate and beautifully carved elements. The garbhagriha houses a large idol of Harihara and it dates back to 5th century CE confirming that the temple predates the Hoysala period. The idol is not exquisitely carved but has a life-like quality to it. Carved in black stone, the left half depicts Vishnu with shankha (conch) and chakra (discus) in the hands and a Vaishnava crown (karandamukuta) and the right half depicts Shiva with trishula (trident) and japamala (prayer beads) in the hands and matted hair (jatamukuta).

The idol is badly mutilated with the portion below the knees missing. Even the arms are said to be a later replacement to the destroyed original ones. The temple was built with soapstone but the original tower has been replaced by a new one made of brick and mortar. The outer walls have some good carving, many of which have been ravaged by the elements. Preserved within the temple premises are several old-Kannada inscriptions and hero stones. There is another smaller temple in the same courtyard which is dedicated to a form of Parvathi.

The Harihareshwara Temple is unique as it is one of those rare temples with Shaiva and Vaishnava elements in harmony. The present structures are characteristically Hoysala but the idol is much older. Harihar itself is a town that dates back to the Kadamba period and is steeped in mythology. 

Harihar lies on Pune-Bengaluru Highway and is 14 km from Davanagere and 275 km from Bengaluru. Interesting places nearby include Bheemeshwara Temple at Nilagunda, Kalleshwara Temple at Bagali and Mallikarjuna Temple at Kuruvatti. 

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Divine elements in harmony 

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