Bhatkal – A Port of Contention

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All Bhatkal temples have a similar layout; a small garbha-grha, and ardha-mandapa on a stone basement completely enclosed by a rectangular stone screen. A narrow passageway is left around the rear of the garbha-grha  and ardha-mandapa, and columns in front of the entrance to the latter support the rectangular pitched roof that covers the whole structure. The temples are constructed entirely of stone. All are rectangular in plan.

Unique features of these temples are their sloping roof, stone screens and balustrade entrance. With high rainfall in the coastal regions, sloping roofs are the necessity of any structure. Stone screens are used for two benefits, first it saves the interior from battering rain and second it allows ample light to counteract against moisture and heat during other seasons than monsoon. Balustrade entrance is a feature mostly encountered in Vijayanagara edifices and all the Bhatkal temples were constructed during that time so it is not surprising to find this element in almost all structures.

Martin Alfonzo de Souza, the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa attacked Queen Channa Bhaira Devi of Bhatkal in 1542 CE and killed the subjects with the sword and burnt the town. In 1554 CE the Queen made a treaty with the Portuguese which helped in reconstruction of the town and its temples. Most of the temples that could be seen today are built between 1543 and 1590 CE.

The Saraswat Brahmans (Konkanis) of the town were involved in sea-trade and amassed wealth which they also used for philanthropic purposes including temple building activities. Santappa Nayak, who traded in horses from Arabia, purchased a piece of land from the Queen and constructed Santappa Nayaka temple in 1555 CE. Petty traders of areca-nut donated liberally for erecting Adike Narayana Temple. Two brothers, Bala Kini and Narayana Kini built Raghunatha Temple in 1567 CE. In the same year Lakar Kamati constructed Lakar Kamati Narayana Temple.

Jettappa Naikana Chandranatheshvara Basti

Jettappa Naikana Chandranathesvara Basti – The present entrance to the basti is from its behind, the main entrance is at the rear of the complex. This basti has two blocks of buildings connected with an intervening porch. Both these two buildings are of two stories, lower one is larger than the upper one. Each story has three cells containing images of Jinas. The temple is consisted of an agrasala, bhogamandapa and basti. It is called in the inscription of 1556 CE as Vardhamana Basti, and stated to have been built by one Narayana Nayaka, a commander of Chennabhairadevi.

Main Entrance

In front of the main entrance, a dvajastambha is standing on a platform of about 14 feet square. The pillar is a single shaft of 21 feet in height. It is surmounted by a quadrangular capital. Behind the basti is a smaller pillar called Yakshabrahmakhambha. This pillar is 19 feet in length. It stands on a platform with four pillars at the corners, with lintel laid over them.

Parshvanatha Basti

Parshvanatha Basti – This basti is a rectangular building measuring 58 feet by 18 feet. The entrance is through balustrade staircase. The temple consists of a pillared mandapa, antarala and garbha-grha. It is a sandhara temple, having pradakshina-path around the garbha-grha. Mandapa doorway is flanked with dvarpalas on either side. Mandapa is supported on four pillars. Antarala doorway is also flanked by dvarpalas on either sides. A marble statue of Parshvanatha is placed inside the garbha-grha. The statue is placed over a high pitha.

Balustrade Entrance

The temple does not have any shikhara. A low sloping roof is laid above the mandapa. A high dvajastambha stands at the entrance of this basti. Four cardinal directional gods are carved on the four sides of the pillar near its base. It was built in Saka 1465, corresponding 1542 CE.

Ketpai Narayana Temple

Ketpai Narayana Temple – This temple is enclosed within a laterite prakara wall with stone foundations measuring approximately 40 by 60 feet. It is entered from west through a stone-framed doorway flanked by a pair of high-relief door guardians. These guardians are shown wearing Persian costumes. This suggests that there were Persian guards during those times.

East-south view

The temple measures 34.5 feet by 18 feet. Facing the entrance is a garuda-stambha on a stepped basement. On the basement of this stambha are carved donor couple with his five sons and daughter-in-laws. The mandapa is entered from a balustrade staircase. On the doorway are two dvarpalas on either sides. Both the dvarpalas are shown holding chakra, shankha and gada (club) while their one foot is rested above a serpent hood. Presence of namam, without a central bar continuing down through the ‘u’, and also the presence of monkeys near the dvarpalas suggest that the temple was of the Vadakalai branch of Srivaishnavism rather than of the Tenkalai branch.

Dragging a temple chariot

Stone windows are inserted all around the mandapa. The mandapa is supported on four central pillars. The ceiling has Ashta-dikapalas on their respective cardinal points. Antarala doorway has two guardians which appears to be Garuda and Shesha. Above these dvarpalas, on either side, are two panels, depicting Krishna as Venu-Gopala and Krishna stealing cloths of gopis. There is an image of Vishnu inside the garbha-grha. It is built in black basalt.

Kidnap of Sita Episode

On the base of the temple and inside the prakara wall are various small stone panels depicting Ramayana, secular daily life scenes, dancers and musicians, wrestlers, warriors etc. The base of the temple depicts many scenes from the Ramayana starting from Bala Kanda and ending with Yuddha Kanda.

Display of Strength Episode

The donors of the temple are recorded as Ketpai and his five sons. ‘Pai’ or ‘Payya’ is a caste-suffix for the Brahmin Gauda Saraswat or Konkani Brahmins, a community that migrated south from Goa and the Konkan in the sixteenth century and subsequently acquired a reputation of successful businessmen. The patron of this temple was one of these migrants along the coast during this era of commercial expansion.

Narasimha Temple

Narasimha Temple – The temple consists of a mandapa, garbha-grha and a front porch. Porch is supported on two columns and two pilasters. Mandapa entrance is flanked with balustrade stairs. Mandapa ceiling depicts Ashta-dikpalas. Stone screens are inserted in mandapa and garbha-grha exteriors. Garbha-grha has two dvarpalas on either side. Pradakshina-path is provided across the garbha-grha.

Lakar Kamati Narayana Temple

Lakar Kamati Narayana Temple – This temple, assignable to 1550 CE, consists of a garbha-grha and a mandapa. Mandapa entrance is flanked with balustrade entrance. Stone screens are provided across mandapa. Garbha-grha is flanked with two dvarpalas on either side. These dvarpalas are holding shankha, chakra and gada, depicting their Vaishnava character. Lintel lalata-bimba has Gaja-Lakshmi.

Santapa Nayaka Temple

Santapa Nayaka Temple – This temple is built in black basalt and measures about 32 feet by 16 feet. The dvajastambha is 18 feet high but has lost its top. The temple consists of a garbha-grha and a mandapa. All the local features are present in this temple, sloping roof, stone screens and balustrade entrance. On the base of the exterior pillars, sculptures are carved, which is the uniqueness of this temple. The theme is secular and daily-life scenes. Sculptures are also present on the middle shaft of these pillars.

Vaishnava dvarpalas flank the mandapa entrance. Presence of monkeys with these dvarpalas suggests affinity to the Vadakalai branch of Sri-vaishnavism. This black stone temple was erected by one Santappa in 1555 CE.

Adike Narayana Temple

Adike Narayana Temple – The Adike Narayana is another temple at Bhatkal assigned to 1550 CE and stated to have been built by an areca-nut (adike) merchant. On plan, the Adike Narayan temple has a garbha-grha, an antarala and an open mandapa. On elevation the walls of this temple are plain. Two sculpture pillars are supporting the open mandapa on either side of the entrance. On these pillars are carved Bhakta-Prahalada story.

Prahalada Story

Stone screens are arranged along the mandapa exterior. This screen is placed leaving a narrow margin along the whole temple structure. Mandapa entrance is through balustrade stairs. Roof is flat at present, the sloping roof probably did not survive the toll of time. An image of Vishnu in sambhaga posture is installed inside the garbha-grha.

Joshi Shankarnarayana Temple

Joshi Shankaranarayana Temple – This is a plain small temple in two blocks, erected in 1554 CE as per an inscription. The two blocks are joined together and each block has pyramidal form of roof. The front block  measures 32 feet by 13 feet while the block behind measures 12 feet by 10 feet. The dvajastambha is about 14 feet high but has lost its top.

In its garbha-grha is an interesting image, probably of Harihara, who is shown holding a Trishul (trident) and gada (club) in his upper two hands. In his lower two hands, he is shown holding an akshamala and another gada (club). Why the image is holding two gadas is not very clear. Gardua and Nandi are shown near his feet.

Raghunatha Temple

Raghunath Temple – This is the only temple which is constructed in Dravidian style, without sloping roofs and stone screen. It has an open mandapa, antarala and a grabha-grha. The shikhara is in Dravidian style with two stories. Above the shikhara is a square canopy, which according to some agamas puts it under the Nagara style of shikhara.

The antarala is entered through balustrade entrance. It is flanked with two big Vaishnava dvarpalas. Garbha-grha entrance has two guardians on the door jambs. Gaja-Lakshmi is present on lintel lalata-bimba. An image of Vishnu is installed inside the garbha-grha. The temple is said to be built by Balkini, son of Anantakini, about 1590 CE.

Choleeshvara Temple

Choleeshvara Temple – This temple is built in dravida style and has two storied shikhara. The entrance is flanked with dvarpalas on either side. In front is a detached Nandi-mandapa. Legend says that a king of Cholamandala lost all his children by snake-bite, and coming to the village of Hadili, his queen was delivered of a son, which a snake immediately bit; but a Brahmana of the place skilled in the mantras for curing snake-bites, forced the snake to suck back its own poison: whereupon the child revived and the king erected this temple to commemorate the event.

The temple seems to have been built during the Chola occupation of the region. There are few Tamil inscription however of quite late period.

European Graves

Three European Graves – There are three European graves of seventeenth century CE, 1637 & 1638 precisely. These might be the Portuguese merchants/soldiers who were killed in the 1542 CE raid in Bhatkal.


How to Reach – Bhatkal is located on NH-17 connecting Mumbai and Kochi. It is well connected with all major towns of Karnataka. Bhatkal is a railway head on Konkan railways. Mangalore is the nearest airport. There are moderate accommodation options at Bhatkal.


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