The Story of Karnataka

Again, the southern temples are much larger in size than the northern ones, and in this respect also, the Chalukyan temples stand in between them. The southern temples invariably have extensive pillared halls attached to them, whearas the northern ones have seldom more than a single small closed mantapa. The Chalukyan builders seem to have tried to retain both. Dravidian temples generally have, in addition to the main shrine, a number of subsidiary shrines and corridors inside the compound; the northern ones, except in a few cases forming what is known as Panchaytana, are more solitary in their distribution. In this detail, the Chalukyan temples leaned towards the northern style in the earlier days a nd towards the southern style in later days.

 Thus, Karnataka, situated as it is between the Aryan dominated north India and the Dravidian dominated South India, has become the meeting place of their respective styles of architecture, together with other details of culture and civilization .The actual place where this sacred confluence is conspicuously apparent is Pattadkal. Here we cannot only find temples of both the styles standing side by side with each other in addition to other temples of mixed nature, but we can also see, on the pilasters of the central hall of the temple of Papanatha, figures of amorous couples wearing fancy dresses, which display both the Tamilian and the Gujarathi styles, indicating thereby the meeting of persons of different pats of India at Pattadakal, which was a renowned place of pilgrimage.

Another more or less a unique feature of the Chalukyan sculptures is that many of them furnish the names of the artists who figured them, and the fairly large number in which these names appear clearly indicated the existence of a regular guild of sculptors in those days. This feature may be seen to have continued in the Hoysala Style also.

As has been already indicated, there are two periods of Chalukyan rule over Karnataka, belonging in the chronological order, to the Chalukyas of Badami and to the Chalukyans of Kalyan.

During the former period, the art of temple building was still in an infant stage. The temples of this period are, of therefore, a very ordinary caliber. But by the time of the later period, the art had reached a sufficiently developed stage and therefore, the temples of this period are not only more complicated in the matters of layout and construction, but are also filled with beautifully finished sculptural details of various designs. Especially some of the examples of this period are so fully decorated with these ornaments that we find it difficult to find even a square foot of plain space on the surface. Looking at this state of affairs, one western scholar had said; ” In the more ornate examples, the amount of ornamental details crowded over the surface of one temple would suffice for two or more if sparingly and judiciously applied”. The main reason for this wonderful advance in the later period was, of course, the experience gained through centuries of work. But there was another reason almost as important as the above and that was the change in the type of the material used for the work. What was used in the earlier days was the red or yellowish red sandstone. No fine or minute work has possible with this material and therefore we find only hugeness (and this, in contrast with the later work, formed the very characteristic feature of the earlier Chalukyan art) in the works of this period. Moreover, this kind of stone could not stand the forces of nature and as a result of this, we find many examples of this period having suffered badly at the hands of time .But in later period the Chalukyan artists abandoned this, in favour of a new building material, the greenish or bluish black horn blend. This new material is very smoothly traceably under the chisel and is therefore eminently suited for the fine, minute and intricate carving work, which is so characteristic of the later Chalukyan art. This change in material was also naturally followed by a diminution in the size of the masonry. It would, therefore, not be an exaggeration to say that it was this stone was, to a very large extent, responsible for some of the world famous examples of the later Chalukyan period and also of the Hoysala period later still.

Now a few words about the sects to which these temples belong or rather originally belonged. Though, at present, work in gold or silver could possibly be finer and the patterns to this day are copied by gold- smiths, who take casts and moulds from them, but fail in representing the sharpness and finish of the original”. Another property of this stone is that it is soft at the time of being quarried and gets hard on exposure to the weather, and it is this property that makes it practically every one of these temples contains a Linga and Nandi (the reason for this being the rise of the Lingayat sect in the 12th Century, which militantly appropriated every temple to its own purpose), it is generally held that all, or almost all, the earlier temples were Vaishna in dedication. Whatever may be the presiding deity at present, the original deity to which a particular temple was dedicated can be easily and unmistakably found out by looking at the image that is made to preside on the shrine door. In case of a Vaishnava temple, it is of Laxmi, Gajalaxmi or Garuda; in the case of Shaiva temple, there is either Ganapati or Kartikeya; and in the case of Jaina temple a majority of the earlier temples are dedicated to Vaishnava deities, Many of the later period have been dedicated to Shaiva and Jaina deities as well.

Among the earlier temples, the Durga temple at Aihole and the Virupaksha and Papanatha temples at Pattadkal have pillars in some of the later Shaiva temples and mutts, are unimaginably smooth and shining. It is while speaking of such temple that Colonel Neados Taylor remarked: “It is impossible to describe the exquisite finish of the pillars of the interior of this temple, nor to estimate how they were completed in their present condition without they being turned in a lathe”. There are other temples of this period which are known for the minute decorations of their pillars. Though all these pillars look similar from a distance, each of them differs from the other in the details of design and decoration.

For profusely and beautifully decorated doorways, perhaps the best example is provided by the temple of Nanneshwara at Lakkundi. Here we find bands of intricate carvings of varied shapes and sizes. Wonder struck by this sort of work, Alexr Rea exclaims: “No one who has examined any single specimen of Chalukyan carving can have failed to see its marvelous intricacy and artistic finish in the minutest details”. At the foot of the doors of the earlier temples, are often found the images of the river gooddesses Ganga and Yamuna, one of the either side. In the earlier temples, the figure sculpture is very realistic and free from restraint, whereas in the later ones, it is found more or less crystallised into strict conventional forms. As a result of this, there is as much copying and repetition of sculptural forms in the later work as there is originally and variety in the former.

The fact that each principal deity has its own stereotyped pose in accordance with descriptions in the religious literature indicates that by the time of the later period of the Chalukyan architecture, the art of image sculpture had assumed the status of a regular science with its own rigorous rules and regulations. The walls of the earlier temples have been occupied by the sculptures of the heroes and warriors as well as of the scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata, wheareas those of the later ones are filled with deities not necessarily from these works; now and then are also found the figures of yogis and dancing girls in the recesses of the later temples. Animals have been given no entrance, except in small ornamental bands, the most favorite animal being the elephant.

We have now come to the end of a short outline of the general features of the Chalukyan architecture. Now, at last, a word or regret, and that are regarding the present state of these temples. Many of these temples, especially of the earlier days, are now in a most dilapidated and uncared-for condition. Local people do not care for them; we have no eyes to look at them and appreciate their beauty. Foreigners have to come and show us the beauty in them. Writing about the temples of Pattadkal, E.B. Havell says that ‘there is a closer affinity between these South Indian temples and Parthenon of Greece….’ But the Parthenon became world-famous, while our temples failed to be understood and appreciated by our own people. This state of affairs should soon end. Chalukyan architecture means Karnataka architecture and that, in turn, forms a part and parcel of our cultural heritage. Have we nothing to contribute towards its preservation, if not development?

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