Banavasi is a small yet significant town in Karnataka. The first time I went there, all I knew was that there were some really nice old sculptures. Second time around, I knew no better. But thankfully I had a very knowledgeable companion with me. I was told that Banavasi used to be the capital during the Kadamba dynasty. This lush green town is rich in both beauty and culture.
The main attraction is the Madhukeshwara temple, built in the 9th century by the Kadambas. The structure is monolithic and is beautifully carved. The other rulers of Banavasi went on adding structures to the main temple. But we will come to that later. Although I am not much of a ‘temple person’, this place sure had a certain mystic calm about it.
The Shiva temple has a huge stone Nandi placed at the entrance, its more than 8ft tall. There are many ornately carved pillars and there are stone benches, with a central circular floor, giving the feeling of a ‘sabha’. It is said that a very famous dancer Shantala used to dance here (she later on married a Hoysala ruler – another dynasty which made many wonderful monuments and even has sculptures inspired from her).
The area surrounding the temple has many idols of nearly all the main deities. There is a vertically half idol of Ganesha, signifying his bachelorhood stage and it is believed that the other half is in Varanasi. There is a five-hooded Naga sculpture dating back to the 2nd century. It has an inscription in Prakrit (the old language). There is also a very unique idol there, unique because when you see it in the morning, the face looks childish, in the afternoon it looks like an adult and in the evening – that of an old man! I saw it in the evening. Buddhism and Jainism influences can also be found in Banavasi.
Outside the temple, you will also find a huge rath minutely carved ofcourse. Those ancient people wouldn’t have it any other way.
The river Varada flows nearby. There are also many beautiful ponds in Banavasi. Pampa, the first Kannada poet and also the court poet of Chalukyas, stayed in this town and wrote many verses praising the beauty of Banavasi.
It is said, that during the reign of Samrat Ashok, Banavasi was a learning centre for Buddhist monks. Banavasi finds a mention even in the Mahabharatha. In 1st centaury A.D. Greek geographer Ptomlemy mentioned Banavasi as ‘Banousi’ in his famous book. I was told that recently a 5th century copper coin was discovered here with an inscription in the Kannada script, one of the oldest such coins ever discovered.
There are many artisans in this town who make sandalwood sculptures, Yakshagana masks, etc. “Kadambotsava” – a cultural festival is organized by the Govt. every year featuring folk dancers, drama troupes, classical musicians and art exhibitions.
It was quite a pleasant second visit, I hope I get to see the ‘unique’ idol in its childish face stage when I visit Banavasi again.