Balligavi is an open air museum of the Karnataka temple architecture and the cradle to the Kalamukha and Lingayat (Veerashaivism) sects. Though now reduced to a small hamlet, in its golden era of the bygone times, Balligavi enjoyed the status of the royal city of Banavasi-12000 vice-royalty. The town sustained this status for almost a thousand years, at the end reducing to its current status.
While doing research, I came across a very strange phenomenon. This town is referred with so many different names by various authorized agencies that finding the correct name became a tough task. I am not very sure what is the correct name of this place, therefore I lay out all the information I have collected from different agencies and leave the decision to the reader.
These days, it would be hard to defy Wikipedia, which has emerged as a commonly accepted encyclopaedia with credible information. This village is known as Balligavi in Wikipedia. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), an Indian government organization and keeper of all Indian heritage sites, refers this village as Belligavi. National Information Centre (NIC) is an Indian government body providing infrastructure to local governments to maintain information on-line. Shimoga also host a webpage on NIC, and in it, this village is referred as Ballegavi.
India Post, an Indian government postal organization, has presence in almost all of Indian villages. In Shikarpur taluk of Shimoga district, there is only one village with its name starting with letter “B”. And this village is Belagavi with its pin-code 577428. I have little doubt if it is not same as of Balligavi of Wikipedia. KSRTC, a fleet operator organization of the Karnataka government, refers this village as Belagavi, very similar to India Post.
This confusion is not of the modern period, in the ancient times, this village had been known variously as Belgami, Belligave, Balligave, Balligame, Belligamve, Ballegavi, Baligrama, Balipura and Balinagara. I will keep the Wikipedia name in this article so that search over internet is coherent.
Balligavi is situated in Shikarpur taluk of Shimoga district in Karnataka. Brimmed with natural beauty, idyllic atmosphere and away from the very meaning of hustle and bustle, Balligavi embraces you like your grandmother’s village. I visited this place during monsoons and believe me, this would be best season to visit if you do not mind incessant but mild rains. The slippery pathways in middle of fields, taking you to its innumerable temples is an experience in itself.
Though reduced to a small hamlet at present, Balligavi once was famous as the royal city of Banavasi-12000 region. It was known as Dakshina Kedara, famous for its Kedaresvara temple which is compared with Kedarnath in North India. The importance and beauty of this village is evident in its inscriptions. It has been extolled for its inspirational beauty and surroundings. Alas! nothing is left of its past charms.
Balligave is compared with Amaravati, Bhogavati-pura and Alkapura in its inscriptions. There has been many instances where this place has been extolled for its natural beauty. An inscription (no 27 of this article) describes this royal city of Banavasi as “with clusters of lotus, with swarms of bees, with mango groves filled with beautiful swans, parrots and cuckoos, surrounded with climbing betel vines, areca palms, begonias, and muchukunda, Balligave was like the twining curls of the lady the Kuntala country.”
Another inscription (no 11 of this article) praises Balligavi as, ““With lines of temples of Jina, Rudra, Buddha, and Hari, decorated with gold and jewels, Bali-nagara is well known as the place of five mathas. Among the many countries in Jambu-dvipa, the most excellent is Bharata land, in it is the Kuntala country, in which like perpetual spring is Banavase, and in the Vanavasi country is Bali-grama, frequented by Bhavyas.”
As per a legend, Balligavi was habituated by the asura (demon) king Bali from whom it got its name Balipura. King Bali, though with demon ancestry, was a pious king known for his charities. As king Bali had won over the heavens from the gods, therefore there was an immediate need to reinstate the balance in the universe. Lord Vishnu took over this task, and appeared on the earth in his Vamana form with an idea to exploit the charitable nature of the king. This story is told in various mythological texts and epics.
This legend is supported in an inscription found here. This inscription (inscription no 59), dated 1181 CE, tells how the raja-guru Vamasakti-deva explained the greatness of the city. He told, “The rakshasa Bali having in his time dwelt in this kshetra, made gifts and in the course of manvantaras been considered as Indra himself, I literally knows not how to praise the greatness of Balipura”.
An another legend, links this place with the Pandavas of Mahabharata. An inscription (no 3 of this article), dated 1036 CE, tells that the Pandavas, while performing Rajasuya sacrifice, after taking tributes from Vibhishana of Lanka, visited Balligavi and setup the Pancha Lingas. From Mahabharata, we come to know that Sahadeva was assigned to conduct the southern conquest during the Rajasuya. Sahadeva did not visit Lanka but sent his messengers. Vibhishana, the king of Lanka, sent back the messengers with bounties paying tributes to the Pandavas. Though, Balligavi does not find any mention in Mahabharata.
Balligavi is also famous as the birth place of Allama Prabhu, a twelfth century Lingayat saint, the one among the Trinity of Lingayatism. Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi together with Basavanna constitute the Trinity of Lingayatism. Akka Mahadevi, was born in Udutadi, situated near Balligavi. Thus Balligavi held a special regard for the Lingayats (Veershaivas). Being an ancient centre of the Kalamukhas, it provided ideal environment fostering the Lingayat movement.
Harihara, the first poetic biographer of Allama Prabhu, tells that Allama was born in the caste of temple-performers in Balligavi. He grew up into a handsome youth, expert in playing maddale, a kind of drum. While performing once at the temple he fell in love with the temple dancer Kamalathe. She reciprocated, and they got married. But misfortune stroke the couple, a fatal illness took away Kamalathe. Like all legendary lovers, Allama went insane. This lasted, till he discovered a hidden garden and temple where his future guru Animisha was waiting for him. Initiated into secrets of ‘linga’, Allama became enlightened.