December 07, 2015

Kedareshwara Temple and Jain Basadis, Halebidu, Karnataka

“As the cradle of the human race, southern Asia would alone have a dim and reverential feeling connected with it... No man can pretend that the wild, barbarous, and capricious superstitions of Africa, or of savage tribes elsewhere, affect him in the way that he is affected by the ancient, monumental, cruel, and elaborate religions of Indostan, &c. The mere antiquity of Asiatic things, of their institutions, histories, modes of faith, &c., is so impressive, that to me the vast age of the race and name overpowers the sense of youth in the individual.”
– Thomas De Quincey, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821)

Forbiddingly dark, appealingly photoshopped - Parshvanatha Basadi

It had poured tremendously the entire night and consequentially the beautiful pink-blue early morning was chillier than usual. The still undisturbed landscape, lethargically being tinted yellow-green by feeble rays of sunshine twinkling and sparkling like otherworldly diamonds against tiny water droplets immovably lodged amidst leaves and foliage, was awash with telltale earthly fragrances indelibly associated with any respectable countryside – the distasteful, yet strangely attractive, odor of water-drenched rotting wood and plant waste coupled with that of fresh cowdung littered about, the unmistakably rural wood smoke drifting around and thoroughly enveloping a few households and, piercing it all, the uplifting aroma emanating from sugarcane and paddy fields interspersed by fragrant flower-bearing weeds and wildflowers. Even more pristine at this early hour than its idyllic reputation would foretell, Halebidu, formerly referred to as “Dwarasamudra”, the celebrated capital of the distinguished Hoysala sovereigns (reign AD 1026-1343 over most of Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh), was slowly beginning to rouse from its undisturbed soundless slumber. Lined along the streets, several of the bovine species sat contentedly ruminating and uninterestedly regarding the languid appearance of orange-red sun streaks on the horizon. Goaded into action by the sudden realization of querulous crows and roosters spontaneously awakening with daybreak, a few mangy dogs sprinted about collecting whatever rotten leftovers they could. Only the majestic eagles appeared to have conscientiously taken to heart the adage “Early bird gets the first worm” and were already gracefully reconnoitering in successively loftier circles the immense green fields.

Couple of hundred meters from the astonishingly gorgeous Hoysaleswara Temple, the foremost of the remarkably conceived, meticulously sculpted and architecturally unsurpassed Hoysala-era shrines dotting Karnataka’s indescribably verdant vast landscape, I stood opposite another cluster of sanctified shrines of Hindu and Jain denomination, assiduously designed, extraordinarily executed, similarly ornamented, physically smaller, equally historic, and yet far less renowned, in fact nearly irredeemably forgotten, vis-à-vis their enormous magnificent neighbor.

Minimalist - 180° panorama depicting (left to right) the Brahma Stambha, Shantinatha Basadi, Adinatha Basadi and Parshvanatha Basadi

The first self-effacing cluster, whose discontinuous construction was initiated during the supremacy of Hoysala sovereign Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (reign AD 1108-52), comprises three austerely ornamented Jain shrines ("Jinalaya"/"Basadi") composed of rudimentarily sculpted resilient granite intermittently interspersed by intricately ornate decorative panels and exquisitely polished lathe-turned pillars. Also existential within the limited peripheries of the small compound enclosing this cluster are an irregular zigzag-shaped sacred step-well (“pushkarni”) and a soaring 20-feet tall “Brahma stambha” pillar which unmistakably indicates the existence of a consecrated Jain site. The shrines, heralded by a huge, partially ruinous but excellently conserved and restored gateway and a Kannada inscription inscribed on a massive stone also depicting representations of a seated Jain Tirthankar (lit., “ford-maker”, omniscient spiritual teachers who attained liberty from the terrible cycle of rebirths and worldly attachment by fierce contemplative meditation, unremitting emphasis on non-violence, and the renunciation of worldly relationships and responsibilities) flanked by fly-whisk bearing celestial attendants, even though architecturally and artistically terribly austere and traditional, nonetheless undeniably succeed in impressing a casual visitor through their graceful humility and abhorrence of pretentious flamboyance.

It was also in Emperor Vishnuvardhana’s glorious reign that the aforementioned evocatively spellbinding Hindu shrine dedicated to Sri Hoysaleswara, and also the similarly magnificent one dedicated to Sri Chennakesava at Belur nearby, were conceived and commissioned (refer Pixelated Memories - Hoysaleswara Temple complex, Halebidu and Pixelated Memories - Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur). Jain faith too found unequivocal resonance in his immense empire since he originally adhered dutifully to that faith, and his ethereally beautiful Queen Shantala Devi afterwards too continued to sincerely believe in and plentifully patronize Jainism despite his conversion.

Symbolism - Doorjamb, Parshvanatha Basadi 

Dedicated to the legendary twenty-third Tirthankara Parshvanatha (BC 872-772) and therefore unimaginatively christened “Vijaya Parshvanatha Jinalaya” (although it was originally acknowledged by the nomenclature “Dhrohagharatta Jinalaya”), the first shrine, physically grander and artistically significantly better refined than the other two, is preceded by a large, freestanding pillared hallway and possesses embossed on its doorjamb an exquisitely intricate depiction of a tiny seated figure of a long-eared Tirthankara superimposed with three successively smaller umbrellas above his head and a voluptuous, richly attired, heavenly attendant on either flank bearing regal yak-tail flywhisks. Against the wall rest several large stone tablets delicately carved with similar religious representations and engraved with numerous medieval inscriptions chronologically recounting the commission and construction of the shrine in AD 1133 by Boppadeva in loving memory of his father Gangaraja, a high-ranking minister in the illustrious court of Emperor Vishnuvardhana, and the subsequent financial donations and structural and ornamental additions to it.

The initial disappointment, if any, upon exploring the understated exteriors of the shrines instantaneously dissipates on stepping within. Originally, the drop-dead gorgeous interiors were illuminated only by minute streams of sunlight tracing their way in through the formidably set entrance, however presently numerous high-wattage fluorescent lamps have been embedded along the indentations and sharp vertexes defining the extensively conceived roof designs. Nonetheless, the unrelentingly grim severity of darkness further accentuates the forbiddingly straight vertical and horizontal lines that define the numerous deftly designed stone pillars that support the immensely heavy roof and are tantalizingly decorated with ornate strings of sculpted trinkets and meshwork patterns, but it also succeeds in blurring all but the most prominent of the methodically detailed nature of the delicately carved stone roof that graces the hallway preceding the sanctum.

Flawless symmetry - Subsidiary shrine, Parshvanatha Basadi

In the constricted sanctum, almost frighteningly rises wraith-like an enormous 18-feet tall, eerily glistening grey-black sculpture of Tirthankara Parshvanatha compassionately smiling, standing entirely naked against an exceptionally magnificently designed, highly symmetrical archway interposed with an enormous slithering seven-hooded serpent which also reverentially forms a protective canopy above the Lord to shield him from the elements. That the meager sunlight streaming through the cavernous entrance, which is equally proportioned as the massive sculpture, so brightly illuminates the latter that it almost perceptibly glows amidst the terrifyingly blinding darkness somehow initially proves intimidating, invoking a singular aura of being as emotionally threatening as visually mesmerizingly.

Except for the spatial dimensions of the considerably narrow, pillared hallway preceding it, the Shantinatha Basadi is almost equally proportioned, identically conceived and likewise ornamented as the Parshvanatha Basadi. Consecrated to the gold-complexioned sixteenth Tirthankara Shantinatha (who supposedly lived for over 50,000 years 10^194 years ago!!), it was commissioned in AD 1196 by an affluent merchant Madhukanna Vijayanna during the reign of Emperor Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Hoysala Veer Ballala II (reign AD 1173-1220), however it’s explicitly contended that the inelegant pillared hallway composed of unsophisticatedly rough-hewn granite was constructed during the culturally renowned Vijayanagar Dynasty reign (AD 1336-1646). Curiously, the entirety’s massive spatial extent regressively reduces the adjacently located, considerably smaller, far simplistically intended and rudimentarily crafted Adinatha Basadi, which it almost physically embraces, to the visual impression of being forcefully and asymmetrically wedged between its two larger contemporaries despite it being commissioned decades earlier in AD 1138 by Devara Heggade Mallimayya, another eminent minister in the distinguished court of Emperor Vishnuvardhana.

Medieval impressions - Commemorative inscription, Adinatha Basadi

Compared to the dexterously sculpted Parshvanatha Basadi, Shantinatha Basadi is a significantly simpler affair, both internally and externally, in terms of additional decorative appendages such as exquisitely carved decorative panels and the artistic nature of the 18-feet high hallowed sculpture deified in the congested, extraordinarily dark sanctum. Along the roof-level of the aforementioned pillared hallway are employed as restrained adornments fairly rounded, markedly well-spaced and singularly thick “kangura” patterns (battlement-like ornamentation).

The Karnataka circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) deserves to be highly commended for preserving and restoring these historic monuments as well as excellently maintaining the limited grass-shrouded space around them. The diligent caretakers employed too consider their duties as essential public service and perform them laudably conscientiously. What is most impressive however, which I’m sure any adherent to the essentially non-violent and all-embracing tenets of Jainism will indulgently approve, is that even though high-wattage fluorescent lights have been meticulously installed within the shrines to highlight their unique artistic adornments and architectural features, none have been mounted within the constricted sanctums where numberless tiny bats still continue to cheerfully roost and ceaselessly chirrup.

Displaying an unparalleled excellence of artistic conception and decorative embellishment including a spatially stellar geometric structure, a dense abundance of detailed representations of mythical entities, mythological deities and anthropomorphic creatures, and an overspilling profusion of dexterously carved, highly adorned sculptures festooned with flawless jewelry and religious symbolism, the Kedareshwara temple is located very slightly more than a stone’s throw away from the surprisingly simplistic Jain Basadi cluster. A beautiful exemplar of consummate Dravidian architecture, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, and was jointly commissioned in AD 1219 by Emperor Veer Ballala II and his famous queen Abhinava Ketaladevi.

Unequaled - The Kedareshwara Temple

I shall only briefly touch upon enumerating the unique considerations exhibited by the Hoysala's Hinduism-oriented architecture since the same have been several times previously comprehensively described on this blog. Immediately conspicuous here too is the diligent attention to the minutest of ornamental details introduced by the extraordinarily accomplished artists, the overindulgence of the representation of imaginary entities like “Makara” (entities possessing the body of a fish, the face and tusks of an elephant, the limbs of a lion and the tail of a peacock) and “Kirtimukha” (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva to destroy other, mightier demons), the incredibly fantastical number of beyond-belief gorgeous sculptures of mythological deities and mythical anthropomorphic entities employed along the exterior surface barely below the layered-roof delineation and the composition of the hallowed superstructure’s colossal base comprising an outstanding variety of individualistic tiny horizontal columns (counting vertically upwards – charging elephants, fearsome lions, mounted horses, mythical “Makara” and beautiful swans respectively symbolizing insurmountable stability, formidable strength, matchless agility, unchallenged might and elegant grace; intermittently punctuated by extravagant flourishes of floral foliage scrolls and creepers and miniaturized discontinuous depictions of tales from the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and the various Puranas, followed eventually in their turn by an exaggerated mesh work of small arched alcoves inset with tens of hundreds of smaller inconsequential deities, celestial dancers and divine devotees). The smaller images give way to larger sculptures, each an exemplar not only of unparalleled sculptural art, but also of excellent ancient mythological fables that even precisely specify how a deity is to be visually depicted and which weapon and which facial expression and bodily movement symbolically represents what action and which boon-bestowing capability!

Poetry in stone (V5.0)

On the walls are carved massive sculptures of several Hindu deities and their numerous different incarnations, most prominent being Lord Vishnu, the God of life and nourishment, and Lord Shiva, the God of death and destruction – thus there is the anthropomorphic, boar-faced Varaha mightily lifting Earth Goddess Bhudevi from the sea of ether after defeating the demons who had imprisoned her; the benevolent, boon-bestowing, omniscient aspect of Lord Vishnu flanked on either side by his wives Bhudevi and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity; the ten-faced, ten-armed intellectual demon King Ravana of Lanka attempting to physically lift the massive Kailasha mountain, the abode of Lord Shiva; the supremely gifted archer-warlord Arjuna; the ten-armed Goddess Durga, a fierce manifestation of primordial feminine energy, piercing the body of buffalo-demon Mahishasura with her intimidatingly long trident; several representations of Lord Shiva furnishing his terrific trident and celestial drum and indulging in “Tandava” (the destructive dance of universal obliteration); Goddess Kali, the unruly manifestation of primordial feminine energy who reigns supreme over sexual acts and inclinations and death and destruction, being reverentially worshipped with musical instruments by cadaverous ghouls as she unusually exclaims with regret and shyness upon unknowingly stepping on her prostrate husband Lord Shiva; Lord Krishna (aka “Govardhana Girdhari” or “The Lifter of Mount Govardhana”), the ostentatious playboy-strategist-statesman-cow herder-warrior-philosopher who supposedly lived some 5,000 years ago and is regarded as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, physically lifting the mountain Govardhana to shield the inhabitants of his domain from a merciless hammering of fierce hailstorms invoked by indomitable demon lords; and Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed, pot-bellied God of auspiciousness, knowledge and beginnings. My personal favorite, as always, remains “Gajasurasamhara”/“Gajacharmambaradhari” – six-armed, combative Lord Shiva wielding numerous weapons of death and devastation while dancing blissfully upon the decapitated head of the slain elephant-demon Gajasura whose flayed hide he triumphantly raises and brandishes as an enormous cloak while his followers gaze wide-eyed terrified and deferential.

"Gajasurasamhara" - The ecstasy of a triumphant God (V4.0)

The marvelous shrine’s and consequentially the sculptures’ smaller, more human, dimensions succinctly allowed the outstandingly accomplished craftsmen-sculptors to dexterously execute astonishingly vividly detailed artworks and exceedingly convoluted foliage flourishes and jewelry. What is more interesting however is the sartorial treatment of several of the more prominent sculptures – indeed numerous portrayals of Lord Shiva have been represented unclothed, except for extensive headgear and layers upon layers of slithering snakes and serpentine foliage not very differential from each other, therefore exposing his genitalia (more often than not, like numerous other exceedingly elegant sculptures, incorrigibly damaged and disfigured by the fiercely fanatical-iconoclast Muslim armies led by Malik Kafur, the ferociously barbaric eunuch General of Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316) of Delhi Sultanate, who invaded and pitilessly ravaged Halebidu).

The road leading to the enviable shrines literally terminates at the sacred complex’s enclosing peripheries and beyond it begin ceaseless bountiful vibrant green fields. Adoringly gazing at the exceedingly delicate shrine while leaving, I could not help immediately reflecting that in numerous figurative ways too, it is indeed the end of the road. Historically, the breathtaking shrine can be chronologically considered one of the last Hoysala-era achievements and can unquestionably be regarded as cherished among its foremost distillations of miniaturization sculptural ornamentation. Little did I realize however that it would prove an agonizing end of road for me as well and soon I shall be leaving charismatic Karnataka for the immensely well-tread pathways of my beloved Delhi. I nostalgically hope to return someday.


Location: Basadihalli, approximately 500 meters from Halebidu bus stop.
How to reach: Hassan is accessible from different parts of Karnataka by regular KSRTC bus and Indian Railways train services. It is approximately 180 kilometers or five hours away by road from Bangalore. From Hassan, Halebidu is located about 32 kilometers or roughly one hour away by bus at the end of a journey that does take one on certain thoroughly pockmarked stretches of road winding through hill-flanked barren plains and fields. The bus service between Hassan and Halebidu is however not very regular and one might occasionally have to wait up to 30 minutes.
From Halebidu bus stop, keep walking towards the right for about 300 meters until you encounter another road branching off towards the left. Follow that road to reach the two temple complexes located almost adjacent in a straight line. The road terminates at Kedareshwara temple.
Open: Everyday, 8 am – 5 pm. On the occasional Sunday however, the part-time ASI caretaker, part-time knowledgeable guide at the Jain Basadi complex (though he vehemently refuses to accept pecuniary benefits for his generous assistance) might arrive around 8.30 am. The straightforward interiors of Kedareshwara temple are presently kept perennially locked and one can only look within through the iron grille.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min each
Remarks – Footwear are not allowed inside the temples and have to be left outside. No toilets and drinking water facilities are available here, but the same can be availed at Halebidu bus stop/Hoysaleswara temple complex.
Relevant Links -
Other Hoysala-era shrines in Karnataka -
Suggested reading -

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