Davanagere district is known for its emerald green rice fields, industries, and of course, benne dose. But not known to many is that it is the region where different architectural schools came together resulting in unique temples with unusual plans. Unfortunately, their remote locations keep them away from tourist circuits.
On the outskirts of Nilagunda village, set on the tank bund is the Bheemeshwara Temple built by the Kalyani Chalukyas in the late 11th century. The east facing temple is constructed in tri-kuta style having three garbha-grihas (sanctums), one each on the west, the north and the south. All three have their own antarala (vestibule) and share a common closed sabha-mantapa (pillared audience hall). A mukha-mantapa (front pillared porch) is attached to this sabha-mantapa. A shrine dedicated to Surya (sun god) is attached to the mukha-mantapa on the east. Only the central shrine has a Vimana (tower). The tower is an amalgamation of different styles. It is mainly built in the Vesara style however the stupa at the top is square in shape which puts it under the Nagara style.
While the northern and southern shrines are bereft of idols, the western garbha-griha houses a linga representing Shiva and the deity is known as Bheemeshwara. Its doorway has Gaja-Lakshmi as the centre piece of the lintel and dvarpalas (door keepers) at the jambs. The antarala (vestibule) doorway is profusely carved with dvarpalas at its jambs. The makaratorana (lintel flanked by mythical creatures) has an exquisite representation of the Hindu Trinity, Shiva with Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya are in the middle, Brahma with Saraswati on the left and Vishnu with Lakshmi on the right. There’s an intricately carved Gaja-Lakshmi again as the centrepiece of the doorway just below the makarathorana. There are also four subsidiary shrines around the western garbha-griha in the sabha-mantapa. The roof of the sabha-mantapa is simple yet well carved. A large idol lies resting against one of the pillars of the sabha-mantapa. It depicts Narayana in a seated position with Lakshmi seated on the folded leg. The posture is intimate with one hand of Narayana curved around Lakshmi and holding her. Unfortunately some of the projecting hands have been vandalised. Most likely, the idol was brought here from another temple.
The outer walls have niches with repetitive designs. There are a few sculptures of gods which have been ravaged by wind and water. The Ugra Narasimha is noteworthy. The Vimana is well decorated with kirti-mukha motifs and sculptures of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara in various forms. Overall, the temple seems like it was finshed off in a hurry because the main doorway to the sabha-mantapa is bereft of any ornamentation in contrast to the other doorways and the outer walls have some plain niches prepared for carving.
Nilagunda is a village in the Harapanahalli taluk of Davanagere district. It was an important village during the reign of the Kalyana Chalukyas as it was in the proximity of soapstone quarries. It is referred to as Nirgunda in the inscriptions found at the temple. Nirgunda could be the name derived from the plant Nirgundi, whose flower is offered to Lord Shiva. It could also be a reference to its location beside a lake – nir (water) and gundi (hole) in Kannada. Nilagunda is about 30 km from Harihar and 10 km from Harapanahalli via Shimoga-Harihar-Hospet state highway.
Plan a day trip
Bengaluru – Harihareshwara Temple, Harihar – Bheemeshwara Temple, Nilagunda – Kalleshwara Temple, Bagali – Davangere (try the Benne Dose) – Bengaluru
Read my articles on the Harihareshwara Temple at Harihar and Kalleshwara Temple at Bagali.
This article was published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald on 13th June, 2017. DH Article