The Ganges or the River Ganga is considered to be holy to Hindus. And in Varanasi or Benares, the Ganga is considered to be at its holiest. Do you know why? It is because the Ganga’s flow is uttarabhimukhi or from South to North there, as against the usual West to East, or the less common East to West. I learnt about this piece of trivia when I visited Pattadakal.
Pattadakal is a small village in North Karnataka, situated on the banks of the river Malaprabha. It is a rather unremarkable looking, dusty village, made remarkable for one thing—the Malaprabha is also uttarabhimukhi here. This unique feature was considered an auspicious sign by the rulers of the Chalukya dynasty, thereby singling it out for royal attention.
And what an attention Pattadakal got ! The Chalukya Kings chose Pattadakal as the site for their coronation ceremonies. Being lovers of art and culture, they also chose Pattadakal as the site for building a unique temple complex that would blend the architectural and artistic traits of the northern and southern styles of temple-building that was in vogue in the 8th century. Eight temples were built on one site as a group, while two other temples were built some distance away in Pattadakal. This group of monuments at Pattadakal are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our group visited the Pattadakal site, which had 8 temples grouped together: Sangameshwara, Virupaksha, Mallikarjuna, Chandrasekhara (all built in the southern Dravida Vimana style), Kadasiddeshwara, Jambulinga, Galaganatha, and Kasivisveshwara (the last 4 built in the northern Rekhanagara Prasada style).
All the temples in this Pattadakal site are built out of the local red sandstone, and is probably the only place in India, where both the northern and southern temple-building styles can be found together. The main, immediately evident, difference between the two styles is in the gopuram—the southern style gopuram is shorter, broader at the base, and squat as compared to the northern style which is taller and better proportioned. A more detailed examination throws up another difference—the southern style temples are richly carved, both inside and out, while the northern style temples, have plain outer walls, with only an occasional carving to break the monotony. In contrast, the gopuram of the latter is richly carved.
Among the 8 temples here, only the Virupaksha Temple continues to be a living temple today. An enormous Nandi greets you at the entrance to the temple.
It is also one of the most richly carved temples in the complex with beautifully proportioned, and intricately sculpted murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Like the Bhootnatha Temple in Badami, the setting of this temple complex is sheer poetry with large spreading trees at the banks of the Malaprabha.
Like Bijapur and Badami, the Pattadakal temples are extremely well maintained. I guess a lot the credit of course goes to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for restoration work and the “Green Police” to ensure that visitors do not litter or desecrate it in any way. When I mentioned this to our guide, he gave a grim smile and said that this was not always the case. Till a couple of decades ago the temples were occupied by villagers who were using them as dwellings in every sense of the word. When the ASI acquired the temples, they had quite a task at hand in evicting the families who had occupied these temples. Some of the families even produced deeds claiming ownership to the temples! “Rehabilitation” of these families was a long process and restoration of the temples and repairing the damage caused by the dwellers in these temples was an even longer one. A process, I suspect, is an ongoing one.
Doreen, our tour organiser, too had a story to share. When she had visited Pattdakal with another tour group in 2007, the area was recovering from floods, the worst in many years. The temples had surprisingly, or may be not surprisingly, been unaffected by the floods. The tour group arrived to find the temples occupied by the villagers, drying their salvaged belongings on the premises. Thankfully, there was no cooking happening on the site !
As we got into our vehicles to Aihole, our next destination, I could not help notice the contrast between the internal (the Pattadakal Temples) and the external (the village itself) environments—the green, spotless monuments and the dusty, not so clean village ! Or the subtle conflict between the two environments.
P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.