Banavasi….Small dot in a map but houses one of the most powerful stories in Indian history. Banavasi will enchant you and keep surprising you with its beauty.
Traveling leaves you speechless and then turns you into a story teller- Ibn Battuta
“It is a virtue to be born in Banavasi as a human being. If not as a human being, one should be atleast be born as a cuckoo or a bee in the garden of Banavasi”- by Pampa (a Kannada Poet)
Out of curiosity I just happened to Google search a place called ‘Vaijayanthi’. Banavasi popped up and I immediately shut the search engine. I dived straight for my much thumbed, and much folded Eicher Map and homed in on Banavasi. I remember telling my wife Vidhya that I have not read anything on this place. I just know it exists and we will enjoy whatever Banavasi offers.
So then Banavasi it is!! I grandly announced to my family. We did all our packing and we started loading the stuff in our car and this time my mother- in- law too decided to join us. My Mother was verifying the location of Banavasi and at the same time checking on my knowledge of the route. I managed to squeeze through the test but in couple of instances I did encounter raised eye brows when I said “we can decide once we reach there”.
The route from Thane is Pune-Kolhapur-Belgaum-Dharwad-Hubli. Enroute to Haveri on the NH4 , turn right after Tadas. From Tadas drive through roads which meander through small villages embellished with beautiful temples and paddy fields which were turning to an indescribable yellow from effervescent green and bent benevolently with the weight of paddy to feed mankind. So much beauty and peace the countryside offers.
Now to an interesting part of the trip, we chose to stay in Vanavaasika Guest facility. The guest facility consists of basic clean rooms. Dinner is served at a ‘khanavalli’ which means a village resident who is generous enough to share their food with us! The food served was ample, simple and of course delicious. For people who are not adventurous, Shimoga is the best place to set up base and go around. Banavasi is a small village and there are no restaurants. What you will experience is a pure & unadulterated village life.
Special mention has to be made of Mr. Brahmakumar* who donned two hats- one was that of a guide and the other was that of Vanavaasika manager, very resourceful gentleman. He was with us throughout the trip. Contact details are mentioned at the end of the article.
The relevance of Banavasi lies in its quiet solitude. As a traveler, Banavasi allows you to explore its temples. You can walk on the streets and see the remnants of an old fort which once `protected its inhabitants. Sometime in 1st Century AD Banavasi was under the rule of Satavahanas and then became the home of the Kadambas.
Two elephants carved in stone welcomed us at the entrance of Madhukeshwara temple. We experienced, our first and not definitely the last, feeling of wonderment when we entered the temple. The temple houses a “Nandi” the Bull. It is huge and is carved out of one stone.
Madhukeswara temple originally was dedicated to Madhava a form of Lord Vishnu. But over centuries, Banavasi came under the rule of various dynasties. Hence, currently the temple houses Lord Shiva accompanied by his preferred vehicle- Nandi!!
The priest after completing his prayers accompanied us around the temple. According to him, the temple derived its name- Madhu on account of the Shiva Linga being honey colored.The temple houses one of the most earliest known epigraphical instance where the name of the sculptor is etched below a Naga sculpture. The temple also records a donation of water tank and vihara given by a Satakarni Princess. I suspect the temple would have been built much earlier and over the years imbibed the flavours of its various rulers. A tall flagstaff greets you as you enter the wide compound of the temple. One would notice that the sloped roof of the temple is all made of stone. I distinctly remember noticing how flawlessly the stone slabs were interwoven with each other.
The Archaeological Survey of India has some artefacts which is exhibited in a separate room. We wish there were adequate literature available on these rare artefacts.
Now it is time for a story and please do not go off to sleep! There was gentleman called Mayurasharman who happened to be a Vedic Scholar. Kanchipuram ( near Chennai) which was under Pallavan rule, was the Harvard equivalent in ancient times. So our hero and his Guru set out to Kanchipuram in order to test themselves in various treatises. On entering Kanchipuram, Mayurasharman and his Guru get into a fight with the palace guards and in the melee the Guru gets injured. Mayurasharman fights back and he kills the guards. The Vedic scholars escape from Kanchipuram but the Pallavan guards pursue the duo. Mayurasharman managed to escape into the hills of Banavasi and began to plot revenge for the insult heaped upon his Guru. He changes his name to Mayuravarman (a Kshatriya name and ahem… no ads in newspapers required) and raises an army. Soon, he marches out to Kanchipuram and a deadly battle is fought. Mayuravarman is defeated and is captured and gets dragged into the Pallavan king’s court. The Pallavan king is impressed by the valour and bravery of the scholar and not only sets Mayuravarman free but also allows him to rule the region bordering Banavasi.( Startup and venture capitalist!! We already had these ideas!!) Mayuravarman comes back and establishes the now famous Kadamba dynasty .
Now how did we know this? All this is set in stone (literally) and still can be found in a 4th Century A.D temple at a small hamlet called Talagunda. Talagunda lies 47 kms to the east of Banavasi. We do not think anyone visits this temple. And as always the case, treasure is always found in non- descript and understated places.
As you enter Pranaveswara Temple, one would notice a stone column facing the main entrance of the temple. We initially mistook the column for a flagstaff which dots almost all temples in South India. Later, on a closer look, we noticed inscriptions on the column. This, my friends, illustrates the genesis of the Kadamba Dynasty.
Note the inscriptions on the stone column which traces the start of Kadamba dynasty
This temple would have been really beautiful and an important one. The inscription is in the form of a poem written by a poet named Kubja during the times of King Kakustavarman who ruled during the early 4th Century AD.
After having spent some time at the Pranaveswara Temple, we made our way to a place called Balligavi. We were going through a village and suddenly near a beautiful water tank we saw a temple getting restored by the ASI. We scrambled out of our car and made our way gingerly to the site. Workers were going about their job and showed least interest in us. We noticed a huge Nandi outside the sanctorum. Our guide Mr, Brahmakumar mentioned that the ASI discovered the Nandi first which was sunk deep into the ground. They lifted the Nandi as it were, and started searching for the temple site in the same direction of its snout. And Lo!! They found the remains of a temple!!
Nandi the Bull
We stumbled across some amazing temples, ruins of temples, rivers, streams & mountains which carry with them stories which none of us know about. The mountains would have witnessed civilizations’ rise and then suffer an ignominious fall into the deep recesses of time and finally beget a few dog eared pages in our history books.We wish they could tell their stories. We would listen.
Place of stay: Vanavasika Guest Facility- Banavasi or Shimoga
*Contact details of Mr. Brahmakumar : +919886641496
Other places of traveler’s interest: Balligavi & Ikkeri