The Hoysalas are best known for perfecting the art of temple architecture and for their use of soap-stone for building their architectural marvels. What many don’t know is that the Hoysalas were deeply influenced by the Kalyani Chalukyas (or Later Chalukyas) who were the first to use soap-stone as the major construction material. The Hoysalas also adopted the Kalyani Chalukya temple elements like lathe-turned pillars and ornate makaratoranas (lintel with mythical figures). The Chennakeshava Temple at Belur built by the Hoysalas has borrowed heavily from the style and aesthetics of Kalyani Chalukya architecture.
While the Mahadeva temple at Itagi is the largest and most ornate of the temples built by the Kalyani Chalukyas, there are many smaller temples scattered in the Tungabhadra region which was their southern-most stronghold. The Kalleshwara Temple at Bagali first constructed by the Rashtrakutas and then expanded to its full glory by the Kalyani Chalukyas is a beautiful specimen to study the two architectural styles seamlessly blended. The shrine and the closed hall belong to the late Rashtrakuta style and the open mantapa built with soap-stone belong to the Western Chalukya style. The current Vimana looks like a much later addition. The outer walls of the Rashtarakuta period shrine are decorated with erotica while the outer walls of the closed hall are bereft of any sculpture. Earlier dynasties like the Rashtrakutas had no qualms using erotic reliefs to decorate temple walls but later dynasties like the Hoysalas were discreet about it. Though not sculpturally brilliant like the ones at Khujaraho , the erotica at Kalleshwara is definitely worth a mention.
The garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorium) houses a linga representing Shiva and the deity is known as Kalideva. An antarala (vestibule) connects the garbhagriha to a mahamantapa (closed pillared hall) which has two entrances, one in the east and on in the south. Both the doors have beautifully carved doorways with multiple door jambs. The makaratorana at the entrance of the antarala is ornate as expected. Then comes the 54 pillared hall known as the sabhamantapa and each of those pillars is well carved. There is a nandi (bull) at the eastern end of the sabhamantapa. A shrine for Ugranarasimha along with an antarala is to the north of the sabhamantapa and a passageway connects it to the main temple. The idol of Ugranarasimha is exquisite. It shows how advanced the Kalyani Chalukyas were in terms of sculpture. The idol depicts Vishnu as half-man half-lion with one foot on the ground, the other bent to support the demon Hiranyakashipu. Two hands of the deity have torn open the demon’s intestine and the entrails form a garland. Numerous other hands hold weapons. The stone is polished so as to give it the look of a bronze sculpture. Unfortunately this priceless piece has been vandalised.
There is also a shrine dedicated to Suryanarayana which is to the east of the main temple with a tower of its own. There are eight smaller shrines all around and the idols they housed are now kept at an Archaeological Museum in the village. Inscriptions, hero stones and sati stones were found at the temple premises spanning across the 11th and 12th century. They too have been housed at the museum.
The Kalleshwara Temple is built close to the embankment of a huge tank which is now characterised by a few puddles of water. Hills dotted with windmills surround the temple. Bagali, earlier known as Balaguli was an important agrahara (rent-free land occupied by Brahmins) but is now an unimportant village. Many are unaware of the treasure it houses but the ASI has maintained the temple complex and the museum very well.
Bagali is located 8 km from Harapanahalli on SH-131 (Shimoga-Harihar-Hospet road). Harapanahalli which is in Davangere District is well connected with bus services from other nearby major towns – Harihar, Hospet and Davanagere. Harapanahalli has small restaurants and lunch-homes. Otherwise Bagali is bereft of tourist infrastructure. If you plan to visit Bagali, you can also visit the Harihareshwara Temple (Hoysala Style) at Harihar and the Bheemeshwara Temple (Kalyani Chalukya Style) at Neelagunda.
Plan a day trip from Bengaluru:
Bengaluru – Harihareshwara Temple, Harihar – Bheemeshwara Temple, Nilagunda – Kalleshwara Temple, Bagali – Davangere – Bengaluru
Also read my articles on the Harihareshwara Temple at Harihar and Bheemeshwara Temple at Nilagunda.
An article on this temple was published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald on 7th February, 2017. DH Article