Poetry in stone-Halebidu

Posted on May 27, 2010 in Travel

Soumya Venugopal:

Let’s begin with the history of this ancient city. In travel brochures you might see this place being referred to as Halebid. Sounds too anglicized, doesn’t it? The local name of this place is Haalu Beedu which means destroyed city. The city got this name because it was ruined twice by the Bahamani Sultanate. Halebidu is located in Hassan district, Karnataka. This place was the imperial capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century. It is home to one of the best examples of the Hoysala architechture in the flamboyant Kedareshwara and Hoysaleshwara temples. The Hoysaleshwara temple was built by Ketamala and attributed to Vishnuvardhana- The Hoysala ruler during the 12th century. Later in 14th century it was attacked by Malik Kafur after which this place fell into the state of despair and neglect.

The drive was through the lush green side from Hubli towards Chikamagalur. When we reached this place there was the usual clutter and run-down pandemonium of a small Indian town. Trinket and postcard sellers swarmed but gave up quickly. I felt a small sense of disappointment when I first was the temple. All I could see was a stack of blackened stone. I wondered where the famed temple is?! Then the guide came and took us to the temple complex. The picture below shows what I saw at the entrance and I was floored. The stack of blackened stone turned out to be an epic poem in stone. Take a look.

The temple complex comprises of two temples and two Jain Bastis (Jain temples). Halebidu was previously known as Dwarasamudra which means entrance from the ocean. It got this name because of the big lake in front of the temple entrance. Personally for me the most impressive sculptures were that of two Nandi Bulls that guard the two adjoining temples. I was stumped. So much evocative beauty in these two gentle giants. The carving itself is so fluid, so life like, down to the minutest detail of how a bull sort of slumps to a side when sitting in this posture. The carving of the bells, ropes and tassels around the Nandi’s neck are flawless and have escaped the damage inflicted on the rest of the temple. These statues are monoliths. Soap stone or Chlorotic Schist was used for the construction of these temples. What disappointed me was the destruction that was caused by the invaders and more importantly the carvings done by the assorted lovers!!! (Grrrr! )

This is a view of the main vestibule of the temple and it is awesome. I got goose bumps just standing there. I felt I could literally reach back in time and be one with all those who must have frequented it during its hay days and subsequently through the ages. Right in the middle, where a small Nandi is visible, is a circular dance floor that w as used for temple dances and it is like a mirror due to its age worn sheen. All around are the viewing stands for the audiences( lower right corner of the picture) that had steps of stone to climb on to. The edges have cavities carved out in the stone. These are the oil lamps that were lit at the time of the dance performances. What an awesome sight that must have been. I hope they organize some dance festivals there in future. The pillars of the entire temple are of varied designs and all beautiful. There is something about age worn stone that warm sheen that enchants me every time I am anywhere near it.

India’s ancient history, mythology and festivals are carved on the walls with a spellbinding effect. Lord Ganesh can be found in various moods including a rare one in angry mood. According to the guide when he is angry the trunk is on the right side!

Almost all important deities can be found in that part of the temple that is devoted to the spiritual part. The other half is devoted to worldly things like dancers, animals, trees etc.

Here are some more pictures….

Lord Ram slays King Bali. Bali had a boon that he would acquire half the powers of who ever confronted him in order to kill him. It was because of this Ram stood behind trees to kill Bali. Look at the beautiful detail of the arrow piercing the trees…..800+ years and the picture is still so clear.

The temple was ransacked (for its wealth) by his army sometime in early 14th century and thereafter fell into a state of neglect.

Since Hindus used to discontinue ‘pooja’ in temples once desecrated this temple fell prey not only to the initial Muslim invaders but also to local vandals and the British (this is anecdotal but given the history of the stuff the British carried away, this could be entirely true) too are thought to have spirited away most of the sculptures that could be carted away. Below is my documentation of the plunder by various vandals.

The first place honor( in the hall of shame) goes to the Muslim armies who destroyed what they could, easily, at the lower levels. The free standing, delicate carvings at lower levels are all gone….smashed willfully but the solid stone carvings are all there. These perhaps took too much effort to destroy. I can’t help but think that India must have been the Muslim invader’s ultimate nightmare. They were instructed by their Book/Prophet to hate idol worshipping and destroy idols. They then marched to India, to capture this bounteous land, only to encounter a veritable hot house of temples, idols and more idols.

The sculptures that have taken the most hit are actually the scene of “samudra manthan’. You can still see the ‘rope’ in the hands of the destroyed figures.

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Finally the modern day vandals who engrave their names on anything of antiquity that they visit. On the snout of Nandi which is like a polished mirror the name of one Khan. On the rump of the magnificent beast two lovers have added their graffiti. Thankfully, according to our guide, this ‘modern’ graffiti is some decades old and now the temple is more protected. I hope this is true.

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This was my wonderful journey through a small part of India’s glorious heritage.