Heritage marvels of Ramdurg

step well Junipet

Karnataka’s tourism tagline ‘one state, many worlds’ rings true when one travels across Ramdurg taluk in Belagavi district. The region is blessed with varied heritage monuments. Forts, palaces, palatial houses, lakes, trees, temples, stepwells, you name it and Ramdurg has it. Barely 100 km from Belagavi, Ramdurg has a history that dates back to more than a millennia.

What is known is the history from as early as 1742, when it was separated from the princely state of Nargund. For a brief while, between 1785 and 1799, it came under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan’s reign, but was again taken over by Yogirao Bhave through his regent Ranade, till the British gained control for just two years between 1827 and 1829. The clan ruled Ramdurg till it ceded to India in 1947. Today, you can spot the traces of the former princely reign in the form of an old palace, which now belongs to Udaysinhrao Shinde, the Jahagirdar of the region.

Natural wonders

What strikes you strongly is the utter neglect of almost all heritage monuments in this region. In Hannikeri village, we saw a temple with a linga, but with a clear inscription inside attributing it as a Jain Basadi. You are greeted at the entrance by some stone artefacts that are strewn around, including a Ganesha and, what appears to be a part of a door jamb. The temple has a massive fig tree grown over its ceiling, toilets built within a hand’s distance by the house owners beside it and the precincts are used as a dum pyard. The locals mentioned about some holy man spending a few years on top of the temple. The pitiable state of the temple leaves one with utter disgust at the sad mentality of our people who destroy heritage monuments with neglect. 

On the way towards K Junipet, also called as Khanpet, off Ramdurg-Katkol Road, one can see a massive silk cotton tree with a girth of almost 40 feet. Again, what would have been a proud natural heritage site has been turned into a storage yard by the land owner with a shabby tin shed constructed around the tree. You stand stunned watching the sheer size of the tree and wonder how kids would have reacted seeing it. This area is originally arid, but with irrigation from the Malaprabha canal, sugarcane is the new cash crop. 

K Junipet is today known more for a sugar factory which is located near the Bhutnath temple complex. However, the quaint town is also famous for the Neminath Tirthankar Basadi that lies hidden amidst deep vegetation. The once bare stone structure has been painted over, which robs it of its original charm. The Basadi has, bang in front of it, a large well, also known as Kalyani. Surrounding the well are massive fruit trees laden with fruit and hundreds of hanging nests of the weaver bird. The Basadi’s compound holds something unusual in the form of a stepwell.

Again, the narrow winding path leading towards the stepwell has tall weed grass grown all along and waste scattered throughout the pathway. But when you reach the well, you are mesmerised by its design. Locals mention about the cleaning activity having taken place last year, but from what you see today, the water is covered by deep green algae and the stone structure is in utter neglect. The well has around 20 steps leading to the water. Two large protrusions would have once held the pulleys to fetch water. Below the stone protrusions are large niches which clearly show signs of holding the idols of deities which are missing today. The rectangular well reminds you of similar wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan. This site can be a popular tourist place if restored to its past glory and maintained well. The stepwell is surrounded by knee-level grass and is in utter neglect. Some elderly people who spoke to us mentioned that the well could have been built for the queens of the rulers of this area as a private recreation spot. Surprisingly, the entrance to this Basadi is reminiscent of Maratha architecture, which could be a later addition, considering a lot of Maratha monuments used arches as an Islamic influence.

As you move towards the Bhutnath temple complex, you cross Junipet town with peculiar houses painted in varied hues. Almost all are built using the Sidnal sandstone, and each house boasts of a unique door panel. Hundreds of such houses are lined in straight lanes perpendicular to each other make it all the more interesting. These houses are said to have been originally built to accommodate soldiers and sentinels, officials and others who were part of the security of the fort.

The front part of each house is on a small elevation with some storage space created below the raised platform. Amidst these rows of small houses is the palatial old style house of Shinde Sarkar whose descendants have now made Kolhapur their home. The sprawling low lying bungalow with tiled roof has a gun, a few cannonballs, a palanquin and a rocking chair strewn around its compound. 

Killa Torgal is quite a famous place among tourists, who visit it along with the Mudakavi Fort, among other places in Ramdurg. One can visit both the forts which are located at a distance of about 20 km from each other. Torgal Fort is said to have had a bastion of seven walls, of which three remain today. Entry to the fort is through two gates, each elaborately built like a labyrinth.

At one place, you can even spot motifs like the kukkutsarpa which is intrinsically considered a Jain motif. At other places, you can see stables, wells and arches, reminiscent of several architectural and cultural influences. The fort also has another house belonging to the Shinde’s. Almost all monuments in this part seem to have been constructed using locally available sandstone called ‘Sidnal stone’, named after the place Sidnal where it is commonly found. 

Hidden inside the Torgal Fort is a beautiful temple complex, popularly known as Bhutnath complex, after the main temple dedicated to the eponymous deity, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The complex reminds you of the similar temple complex in Pattadkal, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Both these temple complexes are situated on the banks of River Malaprabha. Interestingly, the river takes a reverse meandering route at this place.

There are a total of 14 temples in the complex, not all of which have a deity inside. Only the main temple has a Shivalinga which is worshipped by the devotees. Interestingly, all the temples are built in different styles, a couple of temples are in the Dravida Shikhara style with miniature temples carved on them, while others are in Kadamba Nagara or the stepped superstructure type, commonly found in
Badami, Hampi, Halasi, etc., taking the history of the region to around 4th century AD. 

Elaborate carvings

Stones lie strewn around the complex, possibly part of an earlier restoration plan. Several temples here need urgent restoration for the beams have cracked, and stones and pillars have loosened. A couple of temples have elaborate carvings on the walls, very similar to the Jain temples in Bailhongal and Belagavi regions, some with decorative miniature temples on the outer walls and sloping gopuras with idols carved on every level. 

Elaborate courtyard built in sandstone is a common feature but lies broken at many places. One temple is built in the Kalinga Nagara style with the main sanctum decorated by a vimana on top. At one glance, you can spot the similarities between the Bhutnath complex at Torgal and the one at Pattadkal and marvel at the architecture used in both. 

On the way towards Belagavi is a quiet place called Salahalli, which has a marvelous Shiva temple off the road. Interestingly, the entire temple that came in the middle of the newly widened state highway was relocated to the other side of the road. 

Ramdurg region is also famous for Shabari Kolla at Sureban and the unique Godachi fair. After a visit to Ramdurg, what remains with you is the wealth that our quaint towns are blessed with and the neglect that ruins this heritage.

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Heritage marvels of Ramdurg

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