Sri Madhukeshwara Temple at Banavasi
This is a part of my 3 part article on my recent 3 days visit to Badami – Banavasi – Sirsi – Sonda – Yana – Gokarna
- Visit to Banavasi Sri Madhukeshwara Temple
- Visit to Badami – Pattadakkal – Aihole – Mahahut
- Visit to Sonda – Sirsi – Yana – Gokarna
Located in North Karnataka near Sirsi, we visited this temple during our recent 3 days trip to Badami – Sionde – Gokharna on our way to Mumbai from Chennai.
Sirsi at 25 kms is the nearest town. It can be reached through train from Ranibennur / Haveri on the Eastern side or from Gokharna / Kumta / Murudeshwar on the Western side.
Google map Location:
There are so many significances and attractions at Banavasi Madhukeshwara Temple that made me write an exclusive article on a particular temple after a very long time. (Of late, I’m concentrating more on publishing temple directories than articles on individual temples since the directories cover many no of temples)
An ancient town with a glorious History
Banavasi features in Hindu mythology across many eras. It is referred to as ‘Vanavasaka’ in the epic Mahabharata. Vanavasika, Jayanthipura, Konkanapura, Nandanavana, Kanakavathi, Jaladurga, Sanjayanti – over the centuries Banavasi has been called by numerous names, ruled by different dynasties, visited by acclaimed scholars and coveted by ambitious Kings.
The name ‘Banavasi’ comes from two words ‘Bana’ meaning forest and ‘Vasi’ meaning spring.
Banavasi was the first capital of Kadamba dynasty, an ancient royal dynasty of Karnataka, when they ruled over the ‘Kunthala’ region (containing present day’s Shimoga, Uttara Kannada and Dharwad disricts) from the early 4th Century to the 6th Century. Banavasi was then known by the name ‘Jayanthipura’or ‘Vaijayanthipura’.
It is located deep in the forests of Western Ghats with the Varadha river flowing around it on three sides (as you can see in the google map) and also crumbled fort walls on all sides. The Aihole inscription of Pulakeshi II refers Banavasi as “Jaladurga” or water fort.
As the most ancient city of India, perhaps next only to Varanasi, Banavasi has been a cultural and religious center for ages for all sects and creeds. Buddhist, Hindu and Jaina scholars lived and worked here and there are Jaina and Buddhist relics, attesting this fact.
The historical town has been featured in the writings of the Greco-Roman writer Ptolemy in 2nd century A.D, Persian scholar Alberuni, in the poems of Chamarasa and Kalidasa and many others.
According to Mahavamsa, a Buddhist text, Samrat Ashoka had sent missionaries to Banavasi. Legends also say that Kalidasa too visited Banavasi as an ambassador of Gupta kings. His famous work Meghaduta has references to Banavasi.
Huen Tsang, the Chinese traveler-monk who was in India between 630-644 C.E, , visited Konkanapura called Konkanapulo (referred in Chinese scripts)or Banavasi. He has recorded that there were a hundred monasteries of both Hinayana and Mahayana sects with 10,000 Buddhist monks and priests. He further records that a monastery was dedicated to Sarvana Siddha (Buddha) and a huge sandalwood image of Buddha- Mitreya at Banavasi had miraculous powers.
Not only was it considered the first capital of Karnataka, it was also the birthplace for Kannada’s first poet, Adikavi Pampa (born 902 CE), who wrote his epic poems in Banavasi. It was perhaps an ideal Indian ancient metropolis representing endless tolerance and embodiment of unity in diversity to inspire Pampa to write a Kannada poem with the meaning –
“It is a virtue to be born in Banavasi as a human being. If not as a human being, then one should be born at least as a bee or a cuckoo in the garden of Banavasi”
In 2006, a 5th century copper coin was discovered here with an inscription in the archaic Kannada script, one of the oldest such coins ever discovered. Among other objects found in the exploration here are the memorial stone of queen of the Satavahana King Pulumavi of 3rd century AD, a stone mould of a Roman coin, a terracotta figure of Skanda-Kartikeya and a carved wooden expression of a chariot. A small museum is set up on the left of the eastern entrance of the temple compound. Calling it a museum would not be proper as all the sculptures and other findings are just strewn around the hall. The priest mentioned that efforts are in place to setup the museum properly with proper tagging.
What is very inspiring today is that the temple and the village with the lovely Varadha river around are keeping their ancientness to a large extent and looks very beautiful, thanks to its location deep inside the forest. It’s a place to visit for nature lovers and photographers as well.
In the words of a fellow blogger:
“This magical land has lost its glorious sheen but not its elegance. The ornate temples, the graceful River Varada, crumbling walls of an erstwhile fort, hospitable people and delicious food continue to infuse life into this ancient town.”
In the words of another blogger:
“ Banavasi is a very peaceful place. The place has some mystic feeling which cannot be described but has to be experienced” which is very much true for us as well.
Since the temple has so many significances, the visit to the temple is justified only on taking the help of a guide and understanding each and every speciality of the temple. A priest is acting as a good guide.
Let’s see one by one..
A pair of most beautifully crafted elephants and some soldiers are standing at the temple gate for centuries welcoming visitors.
As you Enter
There are two sthambams at the entrance, one was installed by Sonde King in 1670 and the other one is being used to light deepams during the Karthigai festival.
The temple is believed to be built first by Mayura Sharma, the first King of the Kadamba dynasty in the early 4th century. The innermost sanctum sanctorum, Garba Mandapa, was built during the nascent stages of temple architecture. So, it is a very simple structure with minimal decorative sculptures on the walls and pillars. This architectural marvel has seen many modifications in later years as every dynasty which ruled Banavasi like the Chalukyas, Hoysalas and rulers of Sonda contributed their share. This is evident visually as we move out from the sombre simplicity of the innermost sanctum sanctorum to the exquisitely carved Nritya mandapa. Next to the Garba Mandapa, is the Pooja Mandapa and next to it is the Sankalpa mantapa which exhibits the influence of the Chalukyan style, while further next is the Sabha Mandapa. The last one is the Nritya mantapa or the dancing hall which was added during the Hoysala period. There are also beautifully carved stone structures, credited to Sonda rulers. So, the temple as such had evolved from early 4th century to 12th century.
Exquisite carving on the pillars and the ceiling adorn the Nritya mandapa or the dancing hall.
The typical Hoysala trademark of huge, reflective, ornamental pillars have both concave and convex carvings one below the other.
So images reflected in the shining pillars are straight on the upper half and inverted in the lower half. Imagine how it will look like during an actual dance performance! They not only accentuated the viewing experience of the performing dance artists but also speak volumes of the mastery of these stone artists.
It is here that the legendary Natyarani Shantala is said to have challenged the famed musician Allama Prabhu. She went on to become the wife of King Vishnuvardhana and inspired the renowned dancing sculptures of Belur and Halebid.
The Nandhi in the Nritya mantapa is about 7 feet huge and is positioned to look slightly to the right in such a way to look at Lord Shiva with the left eye and Mother Parvathi with the right one. If both the shrines are located perpendicular to each other, then it could have been easier to position the Nandhi. But, here, the shrines are adjacent to each other facing the same direction and Nandhi has to look between the gaps of a maze of huge pillars in various mandapas in between. A real architectural marvel!
View of Nandhi towards Parvathi devi through the maze of pillars:
By standing in front of the Parvathi Devi shrine one can verify how Nandhi’s look is gasping through to Parvathi Devi.
The temple has marvellous world popular stone works, a stone cot and a triloka mantapa from the Sonde rulers.
Like the stone rath in Hampi Virupaksheeswarar temple, the stone cot here by Raghunatha Nayaka in 1628 CE, present in a separate mandapam in the praharam, is intricately carved with the same degree of perfection and beauty as the normal wooden carving. It is not made of the usual soft stone but hard granite. The cot is being used in the ashtavathama poojas during the Rath yatra festivals. Unimaginable craftsmanship and hard to believe that it is carved out of stone! It is not a monolithic work as mentioned in many other writeups but made up of 10 pieces.
Stone triloka mandapa
Another marvellous Hoysala craftsmenship is displayed in a stone triloka mantapa depicting Bathala lok (nether), Sesha lok (earth) and Kailasa Sikara (heaven) with Shiva and Parvathi sitting on the throne in the middle part.
Even the benches are carved out of stone
The main deity, shiva linga is in the colour of honey unlike the black stone we usually see and so He is called Madhukeshava.
A Panchaloka (five metals) Bell, donated by a 5th century Maharashtra queen reverberate “Ohm” sound close to a minute as is evident from the following video (Sorry for the background noise level and the poor audio recording quality).
Ashtathik Balahas with their consorts
Possibly this is the only temple where there are separate shrines for each of the eight Ashtathik Balahas along with their consorts and their vahanas in the respective directions. The God – Direction – Vahana are given in the following list (the photos are also arranged in their respective directions):
- Lord Vayu – Northwest – Mruga (Spotted Deer, Gazella)
- Lord Gubera – North – Nara (Man)
- Isana – Northeast – Vrishbha (Bull)
- Lord Indra – East – Iravatham (White Elephant)
- Lord Agni – South East – Swaha (Male goat)
- Yama – South – Male Buffalo
- Niruthi – Southwest – Ashwa (Horse)
- Lord Varuna – West – Makara (Crocodile)
The unique attraction of the temple is the moorthy of Lord Ganesha with a vertical split right at the middle whose remaining half is said to be in Varanasi, which literally symbolises the bachelorhood of Ekadanta standing without the Ardhangi (an imaginary story, not a real one)!
Within the temple is also located a separate shrine of Lord Narasimha, portrayed unusually with two hands and a peaceful human face. It is said that the unique feature of this Salagrama idol is the eyes appear to be wide open in dim light and appear to be closed in the bright light (not verified by me).
Five hooded Naga
A five-hooded Naga sculpture dating back to the 2nd century has an inscription in Prakrit saying that Princess Sivaskanda Nagashri had this installed when she had a rest house for travellers and a tank constructed at the site.
Shrines of other sacred places
As if the bountiful of architectural marvels are not sufficient, the temple has more religious marvels as well. Since there was no photography at that time, a Kadamba king, whenever went on a pilgrimage installed the moorthy of that place in the praharam in a separate shrine for the sake of his people. Like that, there are shrines of many sacred places such as Varanasi Viswanathar, Tirupati Venkataramana, Rameshwaram Ramalingaswamy, Ayodya Ramar, Pandaripuram Vittala, Konark Sun God, Havali Madhukeshwara, Kedarnath Sri Kedhareswara, Sri Varadheswarar, Chinthamani Ganapathy, Sri Uma maheswara, Amruthapura (Shimoga) Sri Amrutheswarar, Sri Keshava and Sri Basavaligeswara. So there is a belief that visiting this temple is equivalent to visiting all the main temples of Hinduism.
From the main hall of Parvathi temple, facing Parvathi devi, we can see Sakshi Ganapathi on the left side on the outer wall of the Nirtya Mandapa of Shiva shrine. People in Banavasi say that one who visit Madhukeshwara temple should see Sakshi Ganapathi for proving their visit.
Around the temple
Temple Entrance from road
Free anna daanam in the temple served at exactly 1PM.
The complete photo album is here:
Where to stay:
The Vanavasika Tourist Lodge constructed in conjunction with the Government offers a comfortable budget stay with minimal essential facilities. It is situated on the Soraba road.
We had visited this temple during our 3 days trip to Badami – Sirsi – Gokharna on our way to Mumbai. Our main focus was Badami and Sonde Vathiraja mutt and had fit in all other places within the permissible time and route. Banavasi was kept at low priority since it involved a little diversion from Hubli to Sirsi but luckily since we had enough time before reaching Sirsi, we included Banavasi also on that day. What an ignorance! Now, especially after reading the travelogues of many fellow bloggers, I find what we had seen is just the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty more temples and places to explore around. We definitely want to make a 3 days exclusive visit to Banavasi at the earliest, especially during the monsoon (the pictures of the fellow bloggers are so mesmerising)!
Other places in Banavasi:
Sri Aadhi Madhukeshwara Temple and Pampavana at Banavasi
Close to the Madukeswara temple is the Pampavana, an unknown place for many tourists but a “not to be missed” place (I too had missed it). It’s a small botanical park consisting of many medicinal plants, many different trees, Sri Aadhi Madhukeshwara Temple, Goddes Ammanavaru Temple and Vasistha Teertha, a holy water. This park is called Pampavana because in this place Aadhi Kavi Pampa wrote many epics (line the Kuyil thoppu for Barathiyar). Folklore legend of the place states that Kalidasa drew his inspiration for the ‘Meghaduta’ from this grove of Banavasi after visiting this place. It’s a nice place to watch the beautiful sunset.
Other places around Banavasi:
- Gudnapura Lake – around 5 kms NorthWest of Banavasi to watch a beautiful sunset. Here are the remainders of the summer palace of the kings, Rani Mahal, a fifth century structure and a jain temple. Gudnapura KMT Temple under ASI control is here.
- Pineapple factory of Dr. Rauf at Banavasi where pineapples, bananas, arecanut, pepper, paddy, etc. are grown. (the location may be this – to be confirmed) Mr Sheikh is known as the “Pineapple King”. Contact: Mr. Abdul Rauf Abdulkarim Shaikh, Holemath road, Banavasi, mobile: 94480-098050, phone: 08384-264242, 264268.
- (Returning from the plantation, stop by at Mr S M Hegde’s house. He has a room full of Ganesha idols in all shapes, colours, sizes and made of varying materials. – I don’t know more details on this, pls check it out on your visit)
- Sri Kaitabeshwara Temple at Kotipura, near Anavatti . 25 kms East of Banavasi (Travelogue here)
- Sri Kedareshwar Temple at Balligavi under ASI control – 42 kms South East of Banavasi. There are other temples like Tripurantakeshvara Temple, Veerabhadreshvara Temple at Balligavi.
- Sri Pranaveshwara Temple at Talagunda, near Balligavi – 47 kms South East of Banavasi, built during 5th century by Kadambas
- Yelkundli, located between Belligavi and Keladi, is a place of sacred groves where a natural forest has been preserved with its bio-diversity intact giving you a good picture of the splendour of the Western Ghats. The whole site is sacred so we have to walk barefooted, but fortunately there is a stone path between the trees.
- Ancient Agoreshwara Temple at Ikkeri under ASI Control – 57 kms south of Banavasi
- Sri Rameswara Temple at Keladi under ASI Control – 45 kms South of Banavasi
- Gudavi Bird Sanctuary – 33 kms South of Banavasi, beautiful place to visit. Bountiful of bird if you go in season.
- Sri Akka Mahadevi Temple at Udutadi, – 46 kms South East of Banavasi. Birth place of the famous Kannada poet of Veerashaiva Bhakti movement of 12th century
- Sri Renukamba Temple at Chandragutti – 18 kms SouthWest of Banavasi
This famous temple situated in a cave on top of a hill is located on Siddapura – Banavasi road and is . One has to climb around 200 steps. There are even more bigger hills behind Chandragutti where there is a trekking trial.
- Sri Tarakeshwara Temple at Hangal – 40 kms North East of Banavasi. Once capital of Kadambas, this beautifully built temple was built by the Chalukyas during 12th century.
- Varadamoola – 60 kms South of Banavasi. A serene place where the Varadha river takes birth. An ideal place for those who want to enjoy the nature peacefully without any disturbance
My map of Banavasi and around:
To open in google mymaps directly click here
Endogenous Tourism Project, Banavasi – Rural tourism in India
The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in India have partnered the promotion of 36 rural locations including Banavasi, under the Endogenous Tourism Project/Rural Tourism Scheme with BAIF – Karnataka as the local implementing partner. The Village Tourism Development Committee has released the following detailed PDF article which gives a complete picture of the history and tourism in and around Banavasi
Other articles on Banavasi:
A 3 part article: