“It is a virtue to be born in Banavasi as a human. If not as a human then at least one should be born as a bee or a cuckoo in the garden of Banavasi.”
The first poet of Kannada language, Adikavi Pampa, quoted the above lines about the temple town of Banavasi.
An ancient temple town located deep within the dense rainforests of Uttar Kannada District, Banavasi is the oldest town in Karnataka. It was the capital of the Kadamba Dynasty that ruled Northern Karnataka from 345-525 CE, and also enjoys the credit of being the first capital of the Kannada Kingdom.
Mayurasharma, a Kannada scholar and native of Talagunda which is the modern day Shimoga district, founded the Kadamba kingdom in 345 CE. Being a dedicated devotee of the Hindu God Shiva, he built the Madhukeshwara Temple on the banks of river Varada. There took birth the temple town of Banavasi about which poet Pampa referred as a Heaven on Earth.
Madhukeshwara Banavasi Temple
Residing on the banks of the divine river Varada, is the Madhukeshwara temple. It is one of the only remaining structures of Banavasi, and dates back to the 9th century CE.
The name Madhukeshwara comes from the honey hued Shiva Lingam inside the sanctum. Built by Mayurasharma, it was considered as the crux of the Banavasi town. After the Kadamba dynasty came the Chalukya dynasty and the Hoysala period. The temple was subjected to numerous renovations and additions to finally take its form as we have it today. This means that it showcases how the architectural styles in Karnataka have changed over the years.
Banavasi Temple Architecture
A pair of stone elephants greets the visitors at the entrance. When you walk past the elephants, and the giant stone pillars and overhead lotuses inscribed on the wall, the main shrine or the Garba Mandapa comes into view on the other side. Between the entrance and the Mandapa, right at the centre of the temple, is the Dwajasthambam or the flagstaff.
The main shrine has a very simple construction with minimal stone carvings. Inside the shrine is the honey-hued Shiva Lingam. Under the reign of the Chalukya Dynasty, a Sankalpa Mandapa was also built. The devotees would stand in line on either side inside the mandapa to get a glimpse of their favorite god.
During the Hoysala reign, the temple was again modified with the construction of a Nrithya Mandapa. In contrast to the Sankalpa Mandapa, this area showcases an exquisite collection of carving on ceilings, walls, and pillars. There are also 8 separate shrines for the Ashtathik Balakas, meaning the Guardians of Directions. Apparently, this is the only temple which has 8 separate shrines for all the 8 guardians.
Inside the Nrithya Mandapa is a 7 foot tall stone statue of Nandi. It is designed in such a way that its left eye seems to be looking towards Lord Shiva and its right eye towards Parvati. The pillars in the Mandapa are also constructed in such a way that they don’t obstruct the bull’s line of vision.
Every December, the locals of the Uttar Kannada district get together to celebrate the annual cultural festival to commemorate Banavasi’s history. It is a 3 day cultural event organised by the Karnataka State Government. The city comes alive with potters, painters, sculptures, and various other artists. The traditional Yakshagana performance during the festival has now acquired great popularity all across the world.
Places to Visit around Banavasi Temple
Gudnapur is another historical town, just 5km from Banavasi. The inscriptions on the ruins here speak about the rise of the Kadamba dynasty, and the presence of a large palace, temple, and dance halls that once stood there. During one excavation, a large number of precious gemstones and jewellery were found from the site.
The Tripurantakeshvara Temple
This is another famous temple in the town. Unlike the Madhukeshwara temple, this temple failed to stand the test of time as many areas of the temples are crumbled and ruined. The remains sit on a platform that has scene of Panchatantra carved into it, along with numerous erotic ones. It also has a sculpture of Lord shiva killing Gajasura.
43 kms from Banavasi is the tranquil village of Balligavi. This is where the Madhukeshwara temple and the Tripurantakeshvara Temple are located. A few kilometers from the Madhukeshwara temple is the Pampavana, which is a small, beautiful garden enriched with all sorts of medicinal plants and trees. This is where the poet Pampa wrote numerous poems about Banavasi and the temple.
Located just 24km from Banavasi is the city of Sirsi.Known as the Gateway of Western Ghats, it is one of the prime tourist spots in Karnataka. It is surrounded by forests, and is home to a large number of waterfalls; Shivganga falls, Jog falls, Magod falls, and Uchalli falls to name a few.