Luminous Lakkundi

A city that minted the gold coins for the Western Chalukya kingdom is now a forgotten village in Gadag district. Yet, it shines on.

MANIK

The slowly moving windmills that dotted the landscape on the road to Lakkundi seemed like the inevitable march of history.

We were travelling in the fertile doab between the mighty rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra in Karnataka. The arches put up by the various town municipalities welcomed us to the ‘Rice Bowl of India’, which was indeed proved by the rolling green fields of paddy interspersed with the cheerful yellow fields of sunflowers.

I thought of the fierce battles fought for the control of the region a thousand years ago by the powerful Western Chalukya kings and the crafty Cholas of the south.

Lakkundi, a great city that minted the gold coins for the Western Chalukya kingdom during the 10th and 12th centuries, is now a forgotten village in the Gadag district.

But this dusty village houses the most beautiful pieces of architecture of yore. Some of the 50-odd ancient temples and the 100 stepwells called kalyanis are restored and protected by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).

The first temple we visited after getting the ticket from the office of the ASI was the Manikeshwara Temple. It’s built using greenschist, a kind of soapstone, which is available in the region. The architects made good use of it.

The carvings on the temple walls are fine and opulent.

An intricate stepwell called Musukina Bavi is built near the Manikeshwara Temple. Stepwells were built to manage the groundwater, and they were invaluable during the searing summer.

The builders dug deep trenches to make the groundwater available throughout the year and constructed artistic steps for people to go down.

Hangouts

Step wells were also places of social gathering. Women played a major role in keeping these wells in good condition as they were the ones who fetched water.

Women offer prayers and bagina even now to these wells. The galleries and chambers in the various levels of Musukina Bavi are elaborately carved.

The step wells must have been welcome cool retreats for the women of the town a thousand years ago! They have withstood the test of time.

The Kashi Vishveshwara Temple built in 1087 CE has carved doorways and polished lathe-turned pillars, reminding one of the Hoysala temples. It is dedicated to Shiva. To its west is a Surya temple, and towards its east is the Nanneshwara temple. A platform constructed here is used to perform dances during the annual Lakkundi Festival.

Another beautiful temple is the Brahma Jinalaya, a Jain basadi built during mid-11th century.

It has an idol of Mahavira made of polished black stone standing four-feet tall. In the inner hall, there is a fine idol of Brahma. Goddess Saraswati’s image at the entrance of the vestibule is holding a book, a lemon, an ankush (elephant goad), and a lotus in each of her four hands.

One of the stone inscriptions in Kannada here eulogises Dhallapa, the chief minister in Chalukyan King Tailapa II’s court as a highly learned scholar, brave and proficient in war. It’s said that 90 per cent of the Chalukyan royal inscriptions are in Kannada.

Interestingly, Dhallapa’s daughter-in-law was the famous Attimabbe, who is remembered to this day for her charity and love for literature.

Born in an aristocratic Jain family, Attimabbe was married to Dhallapa’s son Nagadeva in 965 CE. According to the inscriptions in Lakkundi, Nagadeva, a great warrior, was victorious in the battle for Vengi — the fertile doab region. Nagadeva was killed in the battlefield when Attimabbe was only 34 years old. 

Attimabbe constructed 1,500 Jain temples in her life, including the Brahma Jinalaya at Lakkundi. A patron of art and literature, she got 1,000 copies of Ponna’s Shantipurana written on palm-leaf books and distributed them to scholars.

Scholar Jyotsna Kamat says, “She encouraged poets and writers during an age that valued fighting more than learning.”

Poet Ranna has called her Dana Chintamani in his magnum opus Ajitha Purana. Inscriptions at Lakkundi attribute many miracles to her. An annual award for literature has been instituted in Attimabbe’s name by the Government of Karnataka.

The setting sun illuminated the ancient temples with a golden light. We stood gazing at the Nanneshwara Temple as the local guide talked on his cell phone.

The ancient meets the modern seamlessly at here.

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