Lost somewhere along the Tungabhadra, are the sleepy templetowns of Gadag. Although often ignored for their more famous cousins in Hampi, Badami and Pattadakal, the architectural marvels of the #GadagCircuit are no less breathtaking.
A tourist on the Gadag circuit is a rarity. A backpacker is almost an abomination. The temple towns aren’t well known enough. The roads aren’t well maintained enough. The Karnataka tourism hasn’t promoted them aggressively enough. But if you actually make the effort to embark upon this circuit, you would be rewarded with some wonderful memories.
I took the bus from Mumbai to Gadag ( Good old trusted VRL) and landed at around 730. I had booked a hotel via telephone earlier. This quaint little place called Durga Vihar, located on Mulgund Naka gave me shelter for two days. Inexpensive with decent rooms with clean sheets and running water. Its restaurants served great Dosas. That’s all I could ask for.
Itagi: Emperor Among Temples
The first stop on day one was Itagi. All my trips on this circuit were from the Old Bus stand of Gadag.
Ask for Kuknoor Itagi. There is another Itagi towards Gajendragarh which has a famous Bhimambika temple so the bus folk would be easily confused unless you are specific.
Itagi is a tough cookie. Very difficult to figure it out. The chap at the hotel counter kept on requesting (and almost begged me to take a cab) when i mentioned Itagi. But I refused. I decided to check out Itagi the way a backpacker would. I took the bus towards Kuknoor and since I had missed the Itagi bus, I got down at this village called Mandelgiri and took a six seater rickshaw ( known locally as Tom-Tom) to Itagi. You can see the temple emerge from the shadows as the rickshaw stumbles into the village.
The Mahadeva temple is a dream in stone. No other words for it. It’s the perfect temple. Well-proportioned with a shikhara that ascends gracefully and wide breezy mandapas, the temple is an immortal testimonial to the skill of the Kalyani Chalukyas.
The Shikhara and the Mahamandapa are the two features of this temple which endorse its position as the foremost example of Chalukyan grace. The Shikhara has “Kirtimukhas” on each of the horizontal tiers, exquisitely sculpted in schist. As you walk around in the Mahamandapa, look at the ceiling. The art of the ceiling is called as “Bhuvaneshwari”. Here you could see Shiva with ten arms in a celestial dancing pose, surrounded by gods, musicians, dancers and floral patterns. Don’t miss this view.
Mahadeva Temple of Itagi is known as “Devalaya Chakravarthin”, an Emperor among Temples and is considered to be the “finest in the Kannada country after Halebidu”.
Finding a bus from Itagi is equally difficult. I took a tom-tom towards Kuknoor and got onto a return bus towards Gadag. But got off at Lakkundi.
Lakkundi: Step down in History
This is the heart of the Gadag circuit. I had randomly stumbled upon a picture of the Stepwells of Lakkundi and that was the inspiration behind this trip.
A brisk walk from the bus stand will get you to the KashiVishweswara temple . You’ll need to walk through the dusty bylanes of Lakkundi to reach the temples. You will see that it is in reality a double temple. Two shrines share a single platform, one dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Surya. This “dvikuta” character of this temple would make it a photographer’s paradise.
I stumbled upon a local guide who graciously showed me around the temple. If you had to show all the features and characters of a Hindu temple to a student, this temple would be the perfect example. He seemed quite impressed when I recognized the Makara patterns, the Gandabherunda bird and the Salabhanjikas. The doorjambs and lintels (especially of the Southern entrance) have exquisite carvings on them with the southern entrance having 9 rows of carvings, each a separate story in itself. This is not a living temple and no regular prayers are offered here. The outer walls of the temple has scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. Only a guide would be able to point them out to you.
Across the road from this temple is the Nanneswara Temple, another beautiful Chalukyan temple. This temple is much simpler when compared to the KashiVishweswara temple. Walk towards the Lakkundi museum which abuts the Jain temple of Lakkundi. The Museum is a simple 4 roomed affair but is a commendable effort by the ASI to preserve the treasures of Lakkundi. Next to it, is the Jain Temple of Lakkundi.
The Western Chalukyan Empire underwent a period of Jain patronage and these temples, scattered across the Tungabhadra and Krishna basins are proof of it. The Brahma Jinalaya of Lakkundi is dedicated to Mahavira and follows the same pattern of architecture as the rest of Lakkundi temples.
Walk back towards the Bus stand and ask for the Kalyani. This is the highpoint of the trip. The Kalyani is the local name for a stepwell. The Muskina bavi (Veiled Well) is the one thing you cannot afford to miss. As you walk towards the Manikeswara Temple, the well just emerges out of nowhere in front of your eyes, stair after stair of sheer grandness. The well actually begins beneath the temple and extends outward. There is an entrance to the well just next to the temple. You could sit on the steps and spend an entire evening contemplating the universe. There are several minor shrines within the steps( although they contain no deities inside). The stepwell is the among the best in India.
The hot March sun ensured that the well was empty but I am sure it would be a wonderful sight in the Monsoons.
There are several other temples in Lakkundi, but most in them in disrepair and in dire need of preservation. They have been encroached upon and some, even form walls of houses in the village. ASI has not been successful in restoring them. Lakkundi is a very dirty village with garbage strewn all around and swine gallivanting happily across the thoroughfares. So be prepared for it.
I returned to Gadag from Lakkundi and decided to explore the local temples.
Gadag: Forgotten Temple Town
The Trikuteswara Temple.
This temple is a walkable distance from… literally anywhere in the city. Ask for directions and you could reach it within a few minutes. The Trikuteswara temple is thus known because of the three lingams inside the sanctum sanctorum . The long drooping eaves of the main shrine and of the subsidiary Saraswathi shrine are what separate this shrines from other Chalukyan temples.
The statue of Saraswathi in the smaller shrine is among the biggest sculptures of the Chalukyan period and is among rare temples dedicated to the Goddess of learning.
VeeraNarayana temple. A little ahead from the Trikuteswara temple is the VeeraNarayana Devasthanam. The Temple of Valiant Vishnu. In the sanctum Vishnu stands, in a sublime pose wearing the VeeraKachcha (robes of a warrior) and ready to defend the Universe against the forces of dark. The medieval Kannada poet, Kumara Vyasa is associated with this temple. (There is even a pillar inside the mandapa called the VyasaStambha)
Legend has it that an elderly Brahmin narrated the story of Mahabharata to Kumara Vyasa in this temple. The Brahmin later revealed himself to be Ashwathama, and thus could recount only the first 10 parvas of the Mahabharata. Thus Kumara Vyasa writes only these parvas.
Day started off with steaming Vadas and piping hot coffee before I set out following the Western Chalukyan footsteps.
Dambal: The Stars Shine Down
If Lakkundi is the heart of the Gadag circuit, Dambal is its soul. The Star-Shaped Doddabasappa temple is undoubtedly the most perfect temple north of the Tungabhadra.
Take a bus from the Old Bus stand towards Mundirgi and get down at the Dambal stop.Its only around 22 km away from Gadag. You can see the temple as you approach Dambal. The star shaped Shikhara dwarfing everything else in the vicinity is a magnificent sight for the eyes. Through the cleanly manicured lawns, a single Neem tree will invite you into the temple premises. A large stone Bull, covered in a peacock blue ceremonial cloak faces the eastern entrance of the temple. The interiors of the temple are plain but the exteriors are exquisitely carved. The friezes portray decorative patterns and sculptures of elephants supporting the large wall reliefs above them.
The Star shaped contours of the Shikhara are unmatched in India. The temple immediately fills you with a sense of calm and solace, making it easy for you to forget the rest of the world when in Dambal. The supple finesse with which the starry Shikhara rises, gently narrowing as it approaches the sky personifies the term “Stairway to Heaven”. The outer walls of the shrine have small temples carved into them. I call it the “Blueprint Reliefs.
Don’t walk away. Sit in the lawns for a while. This is a perfect place for a quick picnic
Annegeri: Lord of Eternity
Around 20 km from Gadag is the small temple town of Annigeri. Its claim to fame is the fact that it is the hometown of the Kannada poet Adikavi Pampa.
As always, take a bus from the Old Bus Stand of Gadag. (Any bus towards Belgaum/Hubli would stop by at Annigeri). A brisk walk from across the bus stand is the Amruteswara Temple of Annigeri.
A giant slab of stone placed horizonatally across the main entrance seems to intimidate the devotee and the occasional visitor to the temple. Once you enter, you are not ready for the spectacle that is the Amrusteshwara Temple. Among all the Gadag temples, this is one that has been preserved best. As you walk across the courtyard, you cannot but compare it with the Itagi Mahadeva Temple. Infact, Amruteshwara Temple served as the prototype for the later Chalukyan Temples. The concept of the Kirtimukhas (Victory symbols) adorning the shikharas seems to have been perfected in this temple.
This is a living temple. Go inside to pray to the Lord of Eternal Life, Amruteshwara.
Lakshmeshwara: Temple Walls
Take a bus towards Haveri/ Bangalore to get off at Lakshmeshwar, around 55 km from Gadag.
The Someswara Temple is the centrepiece of Lakshmeshwar but it was a total disappointment.
As we entire the temple complex, ringfenced like a fort, your heart sinks. Major renovation is taking place all over the temple. Funded by the Infosys foundation, this renovation appears more of a reconstruction. For me, this was no longer a Chalukyan temple.
Except the Shikhara, the entire temple has lost all livery of Chalukyan inheritance and appears like a modern construction. Large boulders and slabs lie strewn all around the courtyard, as masons and artisans chisel and power saw their way in a naïve attempt to replicate ancient wonder.
Only one thing to do here. The walls of the Shikhara have several miniature temples carved on them. Look out for them. They are enough to justify your trip to Lakshmeshwar. From here it was back to Gadag.
Youll need a pair of sunglasses, generous amounts of sunscreen and a big waterbottle. Mark these as essentials. Hey.!You could avoid all my travails if you booked yourself a cab. You could even make better time. But your travelling would be a lot less exciting. The joy in hailing down a random bus is unmatched. Let your hair down a little.
Can you believe it? My total expenses were only around 4000rs (with 2600 out of them for bus tickets Mumbai-Gadag-Mumbai)
If time permits, you could visit the following places also.
- Mahamaya Temple at Kuknoor
- Itagi Bhumambika Temple
- Gajendragad fort ( site of 1786 Tipu-Maratha seige)
- Magati Bird Sanctuary.
Gadag may certainly be less known than the other sights and sounds of North Karnataka but certainly worth exploring. Give it a shot.!