Inscriptions play a major role in understanding the political history of a place. And we are very fortunate in case of Balligave as it is rich in its wealth of inscriptions. More than hundred and thirty-five inscriptions of this place have been published till now. Situated at a strategic location, being the bed rock of the Karnataka culture, Balligave commanded the impact of rule of almost all the major dynasties of Karnataka. All of these different rules left their imprint on the cultural heritage and socio-religious conditions of the town.
The earliest inscription at Balligavi is dated 685 CE and referss to the rule of the Badami Chalukya king Vinayaditya (680-696 CE). This inscription mentions about a village fair attended by high officials. This suggest that by this time the town had already gained its fame enough to hold religious fairs attended by high crowd. This definitely takes back the antiquity of the town back to few centuries. Support of its antiquity comes from a Chaturmukha Brahma sculpture, found at Balligavi, which few scholars have dated to Satavahana period.
The political history of Karnataka was in turmoil after the fall of the Badami Chalukyas. Balligavi fails to throw any light on this intervening period, between the fall of the Badami Chalukyas and the advent of the Kalyana Chalukyas. From other sources, we know that the Rashtrakutas were in command during this period. But probably Balligavi did not get their attention and as a result we fail to find any inscription of theirs.
From the Badami Chalukyas, the political history of Balligavi directly leaps to the early eleventh century where it finds itself under the Kalyana Chalukya rule. The earliest Kalyana Chalukya inscription at Balligavi is dated 1019 CE, referring to the reign of the Kalyana Chalukya king Jayasimha II (1015-1042 CE). This is an important inscription, as it connects the Kalyana Chalukyas with the immemorial city of Ayodhya. It is told that fifty-nine of the Chalukya kings ruled at Ayodhya. It further mentions that the first Kalyana Chalukya king Tailapa drew away the Rattas and acquired the Chalukya throne. Mention is also made of the conflict between the Chola king Rajendra-chola with then Chalukya king Jayasimha II.
By the time of king Jayasimha II, the town was already adorned with many temples as we find references of Muliga-matha, Pancha-linga temple etc. Balligavi was also established as a famous Kalamukha center referred as Kalamukhi Brahmachari-sthana in its inscriptions. The priest of this Kalamukha center was Vadi-Rudragana-Lakulisvara-pandita.
King Jayasimha II, also known as Jagadhekamalla, would have setup Jagadhekamalla-deva at Balligavi as a reference of it comes in a later inscription dated 1047 CE. Somesvara I (1042-1068 CE) succeeded Jayasimha II. During his time, was setup the very famous Ganda-Berunda pillar, and establishment of the Berundesvara temple in front of the god Jagadhekamalla-deva.
By the time of Somesvara I, Balligavi was already established as the place famous for its five mathas. Among these five mathas were Berundsvara temple, Pancha-linga temple and Tripurantaka temple. Somesvara I not only also patronized the Hindu religion, but equally supported other religions. We hear Chamunda-rayarasa, the governor of Banavasi-12000, making grants to Jain temple at Balligave. He also constructed habitations for the Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Jain munis. Another minister dandanayaka Rupa-bhattayya caused to be made Jayanti Buddha vihara and setup Tara Bhagvati worship. These are some glaring examples of communal harmony practiced during the Kalyana Chalukya rule.
Kalyana Chalukya rule at Balligave provided a stable political condition. This is evident from numerous Kalyana Chalukya inscriptions at Balligavi, providing a continuous history of about two-hundred fifty years of their rule. This stable political situation resulted in a prosperous merchant community at Balligavi. A very detailed inscription of the time of Somesvara I, mentions various countries where this merchant community was engaged in business. These various countries in which the merchant community was engaged were Chera, Chola, Pandya, Maleya, Magadha, Kausala, Saurastra, Dhanushtra, Kurumbha, Kamboja, Gaula, Lala, Barvvara, Parasa, Nepala, Ekapada, Lambakarnna, Stri-rajya and Gholamukha.
This wealthy merchant community also supported the religious activities at Balligavi. Various grants, temple constructions and other works of merit were performed with support of this merchant community. This also resulted in establishment of a sculptor guild at Balligavi which grew to its zenith during the Hoysala period. Mention of Dasoja and his son Chavana will not be out of place here. Dasoja is one of the most famous artist of Sarasvatigana, an important artist guild of early medieval Karnataka.
A very important inscription at Balligavi provides details on the death of king Somesvara I and accession of king Somesvara II. We are told that on 29th March 1068 CE, Sunday, king Somesvara I having performed the rites of supreme yoga in the Tungabhadra at Kuruvatti, the master of the world ascended to heaven. The supreme yoga rites in the inscription might be the Sallekhana practice of Jains as the inscription is also dedicated to Jain religion. The same inscription further tells that on 11th April, 1068 CE, Friday, under the pushya star, in the sign of cancer, king Somesvara II ascended the throne.
With accession of Somesvara II (1068-1076 CE), we come to know the alliances between the Kalyana Chalukyas and other minor dynasties of Karnataka. The two important alliances evident in Balligave inscriptions were the Gangas and the Nolambas. The inscriptions inform us that Vikrama-Ganga-Permmadi Udeyaditya and Vira-Nolamba-Singi-deva ruling under the supremacy of Somesvara II. The Gangas and Nolambas were the buffer states between the Cholas and Chalukyas. With their enmity with the Cholas, it was natural of them to go towards the Chalukya side.
Vikrama-Ganga Udeyaditya was ruling Gangavadi-96000, Banavasi-12000 and Santalige-1000. It is also known that Vikramaditya VI, younger brother of Somesvara II, was ruling Gangavadi-96000 as his prince vice-royalty. Enmity between these two brothers, Somesvara II and Vikramaditya VI, is a well-known fact. In his later inscriptions, Somesvara was at Bankapura many times, and this suggest that he was trying to control the insurgency from his younger brother. But at last, Vikramaditya VI (1076-1126 CE) was able to overthrow his brother and with his accession started the golden period of the Kalyana Chalukyas.
Vikramaditya VI is the most successful Kalyana Chalukya ruler. He consolidated the Chalukya power in the Deccan plateau, and also kept his feudatories in control. He successfully put away the Chola threat by defeating the combined army of the Cholas and Somesvara II. Vikramaditya VI is attributed to have the largest number of inscriptions being issued during any Indian king. And Balligavi is not an exception here, majority of its inscriptions are from the period of this great king.
Various feudatories of Vikramaditya VI are found in inscriptions at Balligave. Famous among them are the Nolambas, a line of the Pandya kings, and the Kadambas. During the rule of Vikramaditya VI, which spans for great fifty years, Kalamukha sect flourished to its zenith. Kedaresvara & Pacha-linga temples at Balligavi were the major centers of this movement, though the former was more glorified than the latter. Kedaresvara temple received a continued patronage from the king and his ministers. The Acharya of the temple, Somesvara-pandita, attained the status of the raja-guru. The temple did not lose its sheen even after the fall of the Kalyana Chalukyas, as we find that it gained same respect during the Kalachuri and the Hoysala rule.
The period after Vikramaditya VI was of varied political troubles for the Kalyana Chalukyas. Their powerful feudatories started rising heads, and this resulted in the reduction of the Chalukya territories. Vikramaditya VI was followed by his son, Somesvara III (1126-1138 CE). Many inscriptions of this king are found at Balligavi suggesting that the town continued to be the center of the drama. An inscription at Balligavi, dated 1131 CE, refers to the queen of the Hoysala king Ballala II suggesting the feudatory status of the Hoysalas however this inscription does not mention the Kalyana Chalukyas as their overlord!!
Somesvara III was followed by Jagadhekamalla II (1138-1151 CE). There are two inscriptions from this king found at Balligavi but those are not from Balligavi proper but from Govindapura from near vicinity. Whether Balligavi was under Jagadhekamalla II is not very clear. An interesting Santara inscription, dated 1149 CE, at Balligavi does not mention its Chalukya overlord. Does this suggest that this region was under the Santara chiefs?
Even if this would have been the case, it would be of very temporary arrangement. Jagadhekamalla II was succeeded by Tailapa III (1151-1164 CE) and we find him making donations to Kedaresvar temple at Balligavi. Tailapa III found himself in troubled waters very early in his rule. The Hoysalas and the Kalachuris were getting stronger. The Kalachuris were able to capture Kalyani, the capital of the Kalyana Chalukyas, forcing them to move to another capital, Annigeri in this case. Balligavi was the mute witness of this transition.
An inscription, dated 1158 CE, at Balligavi refers to the third regnal year of the Kalachuri king Bijjala II (1130-1167 CE). This suggests that the Kalyana Chalukyas were ousted in about 1156 CE by the Kalachuris. There is another inscription dated 1159 CE, where Bijjala II acknowledges the supremacy of the Kalyana Chalukyas. But his later inscriptions till 1162 CE does not mention the Kalyana Chalukyas as his overlords. Again in 1164 CE, we see Bijjala II acknowledging the Kalyana Chalukyas as his overlords. This suggests that during the rule of Bijjala II, the fate of Balligavi oscillated between the Kalachuris and the Chalukyas.
Since 1168 CE, from the rule of the Kalachuri king Sovideva (1168-1176 CE), we do not hear the Kalayana Chalukyas any more at Balligavi. This confirms the Kalachuri rule over Balligavi. After Sovideva, Sankama (1176-1180 CE) and Ahavamalla (1180-1183 CE) ruled from the Kalachuri line over Balligavi. We hear the Kalachuris till 1183 CE in Balligavi. The Kalachris were strong supporter of the Pasupata sect therefore the Kalamukha center of Balligavi was further strengthened during their rule with various donations and grants. Vamasakti-deva, the priest of the Kedaresvara temple, attained the status of raja-guru during the Kalachuri rule.
Balligavi got another chance to witness another transition, and this time it was from the Kalachuris to the Hoysalas. Year 1184 CE brings Balligavi under the Hoysala rule. Under Ballala II (1173-1220 CE), Jainism received the much needed booster which was missing during the later Kalyana Chalukya rulers. But with Ballala II soon converting into Vaishnava, the attention moved back to the Hindu temples.
After the brief period of forty years of Hoysala rule, Balligavi was again forced to witness one more historical transition. This time it was from the Hoysalas to the Seunas. Ballala II was pushed back by the Seunas. Year 1215 CE, brings in the Seuna king Singhana II (1200-1247 CE), into Balligavi making grants to Kedaresvara temple. The Seuna rule brought back stability to the region. After Singhana II, Kannara (1247-1261 CE), Mahadeva (1261-1271 CE) and Ramachandra (1271-1309 CE) would have ruled Balligavi. We have inscriptions only from the last Seuna ruler at Balligavi.
After a stable period of about a century, Balligavi once again got ready for witnessing another major transition. This time, the new ruler was from another great Hindu kingdom, the Vijayanagara empire. Unfortunately, this transition did not help Balligavi much. It is very surprising that Balligavi failed to attract the attention of the Hindu Vijayanagara rulers. Not many Vijayanagara inscriptions are found here. In my knowledge there is a solo inscription, dated 1422 CE and belongs to the reign of the Vijayanagara king Vira Vijaya Bukka Raya (1422-1424 CE). This inscription is not of donation kind but religious in nature. This suggests that Balligavi fails to get any significant attention or financial assistance from the Vijayanagara kings.
History of Balligavi after the Vijayanagara period would be following the regular stream of the south Indian history, however there is no inscription to tell what exactly would have been happening during that period. The last inscription, in my knowledge, is from Chamarajendra Wadiyar of Mysore who on 24th December, 1885, visited Balligavi in order to see the Kedareshvara and other temples and was greatly pleased. He also promised for much needed renovation and maintenance for the temples.