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Deccan Herald » Sunday Herald » Detailed Story
Bouncing off to Banavasi
Chayapathi recreates the grandeur of the Kadambas with his religiously satisfying trip to Banavasi in Karnataka.
It was long time ago, as children, we were taught the famous poet Pampa's epic work which had a clarion declaration— “Aarankusavittodam, Nenevudenna Manam Banavasi Desam” which means “even if someone kills me, my mind will remember Banavasi”. As we embarked on our journey to the place that is the capital of the kingdom of Kadambas, these words were reverberating in my mind.

According to the Talagunda Pillar inscription, the founder of the Kadamba Kingdom was one Mayurasharma who belonged to an orthodox Brahmin family. The family was deeply devoted to Vedic studies. The Kadamba tree that grew near their house gave the family its name.

Mayurasharma went to Kanchi to pursue his Vedic studies. In a freak incident, a quarrel broke out between Mayurasharma and a Pallava guard. Humiliated, Mayurasharma gave up his studies, to take revenge on the Pallavas. This is how Mayurasharma transformed in to a Kshatriya and became an indomitable force under a new name— Mayuravarma. Unable to take on the mighty power of Mayuravarma, the Pallava rulers compromised with him. He came to the throne in 350 AD and ruled Banavasi for about two decades.

After Mayuravarma, Kangavarma, Baghiratha, Raghu and Kakusthavarma ruled Banavasi. Under Kakusthavarma, Kadamba Empire reached the pinnacle of its greatness. The Talagunda and Halmidi inscriptions hail him as “the ornament” and “formidable warrior” of the Kadamba Dynasty.

After Kakusthavarma, the Kadamba Kingdom at Banavasi was ruled by Shantivarma, Mrigeshavarma and later Ravivarma who rules for 34 years. The Kadamba Kingdom seems to have weakened later on under the growing power of the Chalukyas and the Pallavas.

Banavasi was a prosperous state with both agricultural products as well as plenty of sandalwood around. Most of the kings who ruled the region seemed to have given thrust on art and architecture, equal respect for all religions and special status for scholars. Huen Tsang, the great Chinese traveller, who was in India in the 7th century, visited Banavasi. He has made a special mention of the sandalwood handicrafts which stands testimony to the skills of Banavasi people.

As we travelled through the country road, full of pits, for once, we did not think of the problems we were confronting, because the incessant rains, paddy fields where farmers busy in their agricultural activities, greeted us keeping us smiling throughout our Journey. After a few moments, we were moving in the thick jungles indicating that the destination was indeed nearing.

Banavasi is a tiny town on the border of North Karnataka and Shimoga districts. Nestled deep in the forests of Western Ghats, this temple town is covered by Varada river on three sides. In its fertile soil, grows rice, sugarcane, arecanut, spices and pineapple. Banavasi literally means the “inhabitant of the forest”.

The only reminder of the Kadamba era is the famous Madhukeshwara Temple around which the town of Banavasi has grown. Though the place is far from being a developed tourist centre, we could get the help of the priest who took us down memory lane. ‘Madhu’ means ‘honey,’ and since the Shiva Linga is of the colour of honey, the temple is named Madhukeshwara Temple. Built during the period of Mayuravarma, this temple is one of the finest examples of architectural marvel of the Kadambas.

With a blend of different styles, Madhukeshwara Temple provides a real treat to the admirers of architecture. The innermost sanctum sanctorum is built in a very plain style with minimal carving on the door and the lintel. The Sankalpa Mantapa, in front, reveals the influence of the Chalukya style. There is a seven-foot huge Nandi idol made of a single stone.

The dancing hall was added during the Hoysala period and has exquisite carving on the pillars and the ceiling. This is the spot where the legendary Natyarani Shantala challenged the famed musician Allama Prabhu. These diverse forms in different parts of the temple amply prove that the temple has taken several centuries and contributions from many dynasties to reach its present shape.

Madhukeshwara Temple is surrounded by a number of temples dedicated to Parvati, Veerabhadra, Narasimha and Srirama. A unique 'Ardha Ganapathi' which literally portrays vertically-half Lord Ganesha, symbolises the bachelorhood of Ekadanta standing without the Ardhangi. Collection of beautiful works of Gods and Goddesses from all main pilgrim centres of the country are added attractions here. “If you visit Madhukeshwara Temple, you can feel the satisfaction of having visited all the important pilgrim centres in India,” were the proud words of the priest.

Banavasi is yet to develop as a tourist place. Kadambothsava, a cultural festival held during December, provides a good platform for artistes and performers from this part of the country. Shivaratri is another special occasion to visit this place.


*Distance: 374 km from Bangalore

*Nearest rail head: Shimoga is 112 km away

*Nearest town: Sirsi is 18 km away

*ccommodation: No lodging available. Better to stay in Sirsi or Jog. Jog Falls is a two-hour drive from Banavasi.

*pecial time to visit: December, during Kadambothsava and February/March, during Mahashivarathri.
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