The Story of Karnataka


Karnataka is situated just between the two parts of India, which are culturally more or less different from each other i.e., the North which is dominated by Vaishnavism and therefore by the Vaishnava or the Indo Aryan style of architecture, and the South which is the stronghold of Shaivism and therefore the homeland of the Shaiva or the Dravidian school of architecture.

 Probably no other part of India presents such a grand variety of architectural styles as does Karnataka. This of course is not without reason. Historically, Karnataka was rule both by Hindu and Muslim dynasties, and this is the reason why we find therein architecture of both the styles, the most important examples of the latter school being found at Bijapur. Geographically, Karnataka is situated just between the two parts o India, which are culturally more or less different from each other i.e., the North which is dominated by Vaishnavism and therefore by the Vaishnava or the Indo Aryan style of architecture. And the South which is the stronghold of Shaivism and therefore the homeland of the Shaiva or the Dravidian school of architecture. Hence Karnataka not only presents temples belongings to both these styles, but also possesses, in the northern districts of Karnataka examples of beautiful mixture of these two styles, called the Chalukyan architecture.

 Again, a further development of this style, now recognized as the Hoysala architecture is met with in its southern part, namely, Mysore State. From the point of the Christian era, has given shelter to people of various religious like the Buddhists, Jainas, Mohammedans, Jews, Christians etc., and therefore possesses buildings, religious and otherwise, belonging to all these sects.

Lastly, from the constructional stand point also, Karnataka displays quite a variety of types, namely structural excavated and partly and even among the structural ones, there is again variety in the material used i.e., red sandstone, greenish blue horn blend and hard black rock. In short, Karnataka with its singularly abundant and varied architectural wealth presents literally an architectural gallery and provides almost unlimited information and material to the students of architecture in general and to the students of Indian architecture in particular.

From what has been said above, it becomes clear that Chalukyan (with its later development, the Hoysala) architecture is Karnataka’s own or special contribution to Indian architecture.

Strict definitions, correct to the letter, are not possible in architecture in general and much less in Indian architecture , partly due to the almost imperceptible fusion or intermixture of different styles of Indian architecture and partly due to the various methods of classification and nomenclature adopted by different scholars. “The student through the somewhat bewildering mazes of Indian art is”, as E.B. Havell says “often confused by the classification and analysis of European writers.

First of all it should be made clear that the scope of the term ‘Chalukyan architecture’ is not to be restricted to those few temples which were exclusively caused to be built by the kings and queens of the Chalukyan family, but it embraces all the temples erected throughout the area that was under their rule, and throughout the period that the Chalukyan kings and their feudatories had their sway over that area. The Chalukyan rule over the regions forming the present Karnataka can conveniently be divided into two parts-the first belonging to the so-called Chalukayas of Badami, from Jayasimha to Kirtivarman II (about A.D.500 to A.D. 760)and the second, belonging to the western Chalukyas or the Chalukyas of Kalyan, from Taipala II to Tailapa III (about A.D. 970 to 1170). Roughly, we can take the period of the creations of these temples to be from the beginning of the 6th century A.D. , To the closing years of the 12th Century A.D. Which means seven solid centuries - a period long enough for an architectural style of reach a fairly high level of protection. As in point of time, so in point of space. The example of this style of architecture or their remains are found over an extensive range of the country, its place of birth being Aihole, at present a small village in the Bijapur district. The Chalukyas who declare themselves to have come from the North first settled at Aihole only (This, however is a controversial point and some eminent historians are of the opinion that chalukyan family was a purely indigenous family of Karnataka). Aihole remained the capital of the Chalukyan rulers from about A.D., 500 to A.D. 550, when Pulikeshi I changed his capital from Aihole to Vatapipura, the present Badami. Even today that ancient- looking village abounds in historical remains including not less than seventy temples big and small, which bring before our mind’s eye all its past glory and grandeur. With Aihole, then as the centre, this style of architecture radiated in all directions. In the former period, the activity was restricted to a limited area; but during the later period, it spread far and wide, which the world famous contributions are found at Halebid, Belur and Somanathapura in the Mysore State.

According to some scholars in the field of architecture, Chalukyan architecture is the result of the perfect blending of the two then prevalent schools of architecture – the northern called the Indo-Aryan or the Vaishanava style and the southern called the Dravidian or the Shaiva style. But a closer study of these temples, especially the earlier ones, cannot but reveal that the Chalukyan builders, in addition to drawing liberally from both these schools, added a number of new ideas and novels details in order to develop a separate style of their own. An observant eye cannot also fail to see that the temples of this style have a stronger leaning towards the southern than towards the northern style. In fact, as it has been rightly pointed out by Henry Cousins, the different steps in the course of their growth from the purely Dravidian style can actually be traced in certain earlier cases, though in the later ones, the additions and alterations have been so numerous as to make it almost impossible to detect the original forms.

 Perhaps the most distinguished characteristic feature of the Dravidian style is the existence of more than one storey and their horizontal arrangement in the tower. As, against this, the tower of a northern temple is marked out by its perpendicular arrangement, reduplications, in this case, being obtained by the repetition of similar but small towers around the main one. Now, the Chalukyna being more Dravidian than Aryan in every respect, naturally followed the principles of Dravidian style in the matter of general outlines and thus retained character of the southern tower; they only reduced the height of each storey and added to their number. At the same time, they borrowed from the northern tower firstly the idea of radial symmetry of the tower secondly the tower itself, in miniature, for the purpose of decorations, thus presenting, in several examples, more or less continuous horizontal bands up the centre of each face of the main tower. To these southern and northern features, they finally added a great variety of ornamental details, so much so that they entirely covered the whole surface with them, especially in the later examples.


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