Introduction – Neelagunda is a village in Davanagere district of Karnataka. It has been referred as Nirgunda in its inscriptions. On its etymology, L D Barnett suggests that ‘nir’ stands for water and ‘gunda’ might refer to Kannada word ‘gundi’, standing for ‘low ground’. As the village lies at the bank of Tungabhadra and there exists remains of few ancient tanks hence the name Nirgunda seems appropriate for it.
The history of the village can be traced from eleventh century CE. An inscription, dated in 1087 CE, mentions that the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI, granted Neelaguda with its two adjacent hamlets to three-hundred Brahmans who migrated from Dravidian lands. Neelagunda was then part of Vikkiga-70 territory. The same inscription also traces the Chalukya descent from their ancestors who were ruling in Ayodhya. It is indeed interesting to see that an agrahara is setup for the brahmans who migrated from Dravidian lands, or most probably might be the case that those were invited to live at this newly setup agrahara.
However, the above inscription is not the earliest one as there is another inscription which is dated in 1079 CE mentioning a land grant made by the brahmans of Neelagunda to a temple in Haleyahalu. Few years later, few more additional villages were also granted to the same Brahmans.
The village continued receiving the patronage from the Kalachuris and Hoysalas who came ruling after the Western Chalukyas. Interestingly, we do not find any inscription of the Vijayanagara period, perhaps the village had already lost its importance by that time and no royal patronage was provided.
.Monuments – There are three temples of interest in this village, Bheemeshvara, Lakshmi-Naryaana and Anantasayana. The best preserved is Bheemeshvara Temple and the other two are in various stages of preservation.
Bheemeshvara Temple – The east facing temple is consisted of a garbhagrha (sanctum), antarala (vestibule), a mandapa (hall) and two lateral shrines with their antaralas connecting to same common mandapa. Thus this forms a trikuta structure however the antarala of the lateral shrines is half the size of the antarala of the main shrine. The main cell faces east, while the lateral ones are in south and north. A small porch is attached to the eastern entrance of the mandapa. There is another shrine, opposite to the eastern entrance of the mandapa, not directly connected to the main structure however is axially aligned to the main shrine. All together, these four shrines form a chatur-kuta structure.
The mandapa is interesting with its feature of jali screens at the either side of the main entrance. The central ceiling of the mandapa is supported on four pillars and the roof has depiction of ashta-dikpalas. Inside the mandapa are four niches, two on either side of the anatarala doorway and one each at northern and southern end. Ganesha and Mahishasuramardini occupies the antarala side niches while the other two houses Sapta-matrikas and a yaksha or nidhi. A loose sculpture of Lakshmi-Narayana is placed in this mandapa, this image was brought from the nearby Lakshmi-Narayana temple.
The antarala doorway is very interesting and very beautifully carved. It has Gaja-Lakshmi on its lakata-bimba. Above this is a trimurti torana depicting the Hindu Trinity. Shiva is in middle, Brahma and Vishnu on either sides, all with their respective goddesses sitting on their laps. Shiva is also accompanied with Ganesha and Kumara. Shaiva dvarpalas are on the door jambs. The sanctum doorway is simple and it also has Gaja-Lakshmi on its lalata-bimba however it is not carved as a separate stone but within the doorway frame. Shaiva dvarpalas are also present at the sanctum door jambs.
The main shrine has a shivalinga inside. The two lateral shrines are empty except one which has few loose sculptures. The roof over these two lateral shrines has no more survived expect the first tala (storey). The central shrine has a tri-tala (three story) vimana with a square dome on the top. Kalasa above is missing.
The temple vimana has interspersed projections and recesses. The projections are decorated with shikharas of vesara style supported on pilasters while the recesses are decorated with shikharas in dravidian style supported on a single pilaster. There are three niches on the three sides of main vimana, housing a Shiva image in the western niche, ugra-Narasimha on the northern niche. Southern niche is at present has a loose sculpture however Rea mentioned that it houses a mutilated Bhairava during his visit.
The shikhara has many carved panels depicting Brahma, Shiva and various gods and goddesses. A curious Hoysala image of a man wearing a long robe is also found here. He is usually shown wearing a cap and holding a ring and a snake. Here, he is shown without cap however holding a ring but his snake seems to have broken off.
Foekema if of opinion that though the earliest inscription is from the Western Chalukya rule, however the temple seems to have undergone major reconstruction during the Hoysala period. The original temple would have been constructed around 1100 CE but the current structure can be dated between 1200-1250 CE.
- On a slab set up inside the Muktesvara Temple – South Indian Inscriptions vol IX, no 141 – dated in Chalukya-Vikrama year 4, corresponding to 1079 CE – refers itself to the reign of the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI – . It records that, while his feudatory Tribhuvanamalla-Rayapandyadeva was ruling over Nolambavadi-32000 and Kaniyakallu-300 from the nelvidu of Uluva, the Brahman Mahajanas of Nirgunda made a grant of land for the service of Mulasthana-Svayambhu-Ramesvara of Haleyahalu. The five-hundred merchants of the place made a gift of a kani per load of betel leaves. It also records that in the Chalukya-Vikrama year 61, corresponding to 1136 CE, the Totigas, Konekaras, Telligas and others made money contributions at the rate of a paga per uli and per ladder and a sotige of oil per oil-mill for the service of the god.
- Nilgunda plates of Vikramaditya VI – Epigraphia Indica vol XII – Written in Nagari characters, language is Sanskrit – dates in Chalukya-Vikrama year 12, corresponding to 1087 CE – The inscription refers to the grant of village Nirgunda and two adjacent hamlets to a number of Brahmans by the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI made in 1123 CE in confirmation to his previous grant of the year 1087 CE. It mentions that 59 sovereigns of the Chalukya family were formerly ruling in Ayodhya and later 16 of them ruled in the South. After the temporary obstruction, their fortunes were restored by Jayasimha I, who overcame the Rashtrakuta king Indra, son of Krishna, and slew five hundred other kings. Then came his son Ranaraga, his son Pulakesin I, and his son Kirtivarman I, the conqueror of the Nalas, Kadambas and Mauryas; his younger brother Mangalisa, who captured the island of Revati and humbled the Kalachuri kings, reigning as regent during the childhood of his elder brother’s son; and then the later Satyasraya I (Pulakesin II), who conquered Harsha of Kanauj. We are then informed that next two monarch’s were Satyasraya’s son Nedamari and the latter’s son Adityavarman. From Adityavarman, the genealogy is Vikramaditya I, Yuddhamalla, Vijayaditya, Vikramaditya II, Kirtivarman II. It was Kirtivarman II when the dynasty suffered an eclipse. Then came the brother of Vikramaditya II, whose name is not given. The genealogy of this brother is given as, Kirtivarman III, Taila I, Vikramaditya III, Bhima II, Ayyana I. Ayyana I married the daughter of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III. From her he got Vikramaditya IV, who married Bonthadevi, daughter of the Chedi king Lakshmana. From her, he got Taila II who conquered the Rashtrakuta Karkara and Ranastambha and restored the fortunes of his dynasty and married Jakabba, the daughter of the Ratta Bhammaha. His son was Satyasraya II and Dasavarman. Dasavarman was married to Bhagyavati. Their son, Vikramaditya V ruled after the death of the elder brother of his father. His younger brother was Jayasimha II (also styled as Jagadekamalla and Mallikamoda) ruled after his. His son Ahavamalla (Someshvara I) made his power felt by the kings of Malva, Chola and Kanauj. His sons were Bhuvanaikamalla (Someshvara II) and Tribhuvanamalla (Vikramaditya VI) who made the present grant. In twelfth Chalukya-Vikrama year, from his victorious camp at Kalyana, Vikramaditya VI on a petition of Palata Pandya, grant to three-hundred Brahmans coming from Dravidian lands, the village named Nirgunda situated in Vikkiga-70 forming part of territory of Kokali-500. Later, in forty-eighth Chalukya-Vikrama year, the same king from his victorious camp at Vaijayanti, on a petition of Raya Pandya, the grandson of Palata Pandya, grant the same village and likewise Krishnapallika, together with lands thereof, to the same Brahmans, five-hundred in number, for four hundred pieces of gold as alimony to be paid to the owners to these lands by the Brahmans. The bounds of the villages are mentioned. For the worship of the local god Bhimeshvara and proper maintenance of various activities related to the temple, the hamlet of Adityapallika has been granted. Then comes verses by Veda-Vyasa specifying moral duty of a king to respect the past grants from his ancestors or other kings.
- On a hero slab set up in front of the Ramalinga Temple – South Indian Inscriptions vol XI, no 188 – This inscription is dated Chalukya-Vikrama year 3, corresponding to 1106 CE – It records the death of Chava-Gavunda and Holli-Gavunda in a battle on the occasion of a campaign of Nilagunde by Chagaladevi, wife of a Mahasamanta (name lost) of Toragale.
- On the third slab set up in the courtyard of Bhimeshvara temple – South Indian Inscriptions, vol IX, no 176 – dated in Chalukya-Vikrama year 33, corresponding to 1107 CE in the reign of the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI – It records the grant of some land made by a Dandanayaka (name lost) in charge of the toll-revenue, for the service of the god Viresvaradeva.
- On a slab set up in the courtyard of the Bhimeshvara Temple – South Indian Inscription, vol IX, no 181 – dated in Chalukya-Vikrama year 35, corresponding to 1110 CE, in the reign of the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI who was ruling from Kalyana – His Dandanayakas, Anantapalayya and Muddarasa who were in charge of the toll-revenue, made a gift of a portion of the tolls for the service of the god Bhimesvaradeva at Nirgunda. The record is damaged.
- On a slab set up in the court yard of the Bhimeshvara Temple – South Indian Inscriptions vol IX, no 293 – dated in the cyclic year Chitrabhanu and belongs to the reign of the Kalachuri king, Mahamandalesvara, Bhujabalachakravarti Bijjala II. Chitrabhanu in the reign of Bijjala was Saka 1084 corresponding to 1162 CE – The king’s feudatory, Tribhuvanamalla-Vira-Pandyadeva who had the title “lord of Kanchipura” is stated to have been ruling over Kogali-500 and Kadambalike-1000. Under Vira-Pandya’s orders Kallimayya, the Superintendent of tolls (Sunkad-adhish-thayaka) in Kogali and Kadambalike, made a grant of a fixed portion of the toll-revenue in Nirugunda, the chief town of Kogali-500, for the service of the god Bhimesvaradeva in the village.
- On the fourth slab set up in the courtyard of the Bhimeshvara temple – South Indian Inscriptions vol IX, no 340 – dated Saka 1145, corresponding to 1224 CE – It belongs to the reign of the Hoysala king Narasimha II. His father Ballala is stated to have driven out single handed the Seuna army from Soratur up to the bank of the Krishnaveni river, being mounted on his elephant. It register the gift of some village (name lost) for the service of the god Bhimesvara.
- On the fourth slab set up in the courtyard of the Bhimeshvara temple – South Indian Inscriptions vol IX, no 352 – dated in the cyclic year Kilaka, probably 1309 CE – This record, which is engraved in continuation of no 340, registers the gift of the village Talavagilahalli by the Mahamandalesvara Bijjarasa-Achchutadeva.
- On a pillar in Bhimeshvara temple – Annual Report on Epigraphy 1913-14, no 117 of 1913 – Mentions the Mahasamantadhipati Adipemmana of Mahabali-vamsa and the village Nirgunda.
- On a viragal set up in front of the Mukteshvara Temple – Annual Report on Epigraphy 1913-14, no 119 of 1913 – Records the death of Kallaganga, the Muliga of Nirgunda on the occasion of Mareyal[v]a. son of Chayandiyarasa, fought in Banavasi-nadu to rescue the cows of Nirgunda.
- On a second viragal set up in front of the same temple – Annual Report on Epigraphy, 1913-14, no 120 of 1913 – Much damaged, mentions Pallavadhirajadhiraja.
How to Reach – Neelagunda is located in Davanagere district, about 10 km from Harapanahalli and 40 km from Davanagere which is the nearest railway station.
- Abhishankar, K (1972). Bellary District Gazetteer. Karnataka Government. Bangalore.
- Konow, Sten (1982). Epigraphia Indica vol XII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Rea, Alexander (1896). Chalukyan Architecture. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Patil, Channabasappa S (1992). Temples of Raichur and Bellary Districts. Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. Mysore.
- Patil, Channabasappa S (1997). Inscriptions of Bellary District. Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. Mysore.
- Sewell, Robert (1882). List of Antiquarian Remains in the Presidency of Madras. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.