Though at one time Balligavi had over forty-five temples, that grandeur is lost and now the village has been reduced to its old world charms strewn all around in dilapidated conditions. Very few temples were able to retain their beauty as many did not survive the toll of the time. Whatever have survived are mostly Hindu temples and monuments. There are only traces left of Jain and Buddhist structures.
There were few Jain temples at Balligavi as evident from inscriptions. Chiefs under the Western Chalukya rule supported Jainism and constructed temples and basadis at Balligavi. As the chiefs were from Ganga and Kadamba families, so their Jain affiliation is understood.
In 1048 CE, Chamunda-rayarasa, under king Somesvara I, made certain grants to a Jain temple. In 1068 CE, Lakshmana, governor of Banavasi province under king Somesvara I, converted a wooden Jain temple into a stone temple. In 1077 CE, Barmma-devarasa, the governor of Banavasi province, made some grants to a Jain temple, Chalukya-Ganga-Permmanadi-Jinalaya, which was earlier constructed by king Vikramaditya VI when he was a prince. Unfortunately, none of these temples survived except few broken sculptures scattered around the village.
Balligavi was also adorned with few Buddhist temples and viharas. In 1065 CE, minister Rupa-bhattaya, under king Somesvara I, constructed a Buddhist vihara and provided worship for Tara Bhagavati and other gods of Buddhist pantheon. Two years later, 1067 CE, a lady Nagiyakka, caused to be made Tara Bhagavati and made some land grants. Nothing is left of these structures now.
Kedareshvara Temple – This is the main temple of the village and probably the oldest one. This temple is situated behind the embankment of the Tavarakere (lotus tank). This tank is also mentioned in the Talagunda pillar inscription. Though no foundation inscription is found, but this temple can be dated to ninth-tenth century CE if not earlier.
This east facing temple is constructed in tri-kuta-chala (triple-shrine) fashion. Constructed in the east-west orientation, the temple has three cells, one each on west, north and south. South and west cells have linga inside, while the north cell has an image of Vishnu. With this arrangement, it may be said that the linga in the south cell represents Brahma. The cell on the west is adorned with a sukanasi, which is missing in case of the other two cells. Sukanasi is replaced with an ardha-mandapa for north and south cells.
All these cells are connected with a six-pillared maha-mandapa which opens up into a huge sabha-mandapa. This sabha-mandapa has polished pillars with sixteen-sides treated with leaf decoration. This might be the place where dance ceremonies were witnessed. The central ceiling of the mandapa is decorated with Shiva accompanied with ashta-dikapalas. Shiva is shown with Nandi, Ganesha and Kartikeya in the central panel, while Indra, Agni, Yama, Nrriti, Vayu, Varuna, Kubera and Ishana are distributed on around him.
As per an inscription, a mandapa of the temple was completed in 1103 CE and the raja-guru was happy that it was completed within the contract time. Being pleased, the raj-guru provided certain grants to the architects, Bisadoja, Chavoja and Singoja.
All the three cells have towers on top with projections bearing Hoysala crests. These crests would have been added later. The crest on the north tower has fallen down, the other two are intact. These three towers are similar in form to each other with the wall details repeated at each level (tala).
This temple was the epicenter of the Kalamukha sect. The temple enjoyed the patronage of the royal houses of the Western Chalukyas, the Kalachuris, The Seunas and the Hoysalas. The priests of the temple were from the Muvara-koneya-samtati of the Parvatavali of Sakti-parshe (Sakti-parishad). The first priest was Kedarasakti-pandita. He was succeeded by his disciple Srikanta-pandita. His disciple and successor was Somesvara-pandita who attained the status of a raja-guru. His younger brother was Vidhyabharana. Vidhyabharana passed over the business of the matha to his senior Vamashakti-deva.
Vamasakti-deva was the raja-guru of the Kalachuris and the Hoysalas. An inscription, referring to the reign of the Kalachuri king Bijjala II, mentions that the raja-guru Vamashakti-deva and his disciple Jnanashakti-deva, will maintain the land and three houses in the town, granted on the specified date to a dancing girl, Mallave and the drummer Madiga as a temple endowment. The status of the dancing girls was much elevated during that period and taking grants from them was not considered as a taboo.
In the same complex, on the north-west of the main temple, there is another shrine which is very similar to the Kedaresvara temple. This is a tri-kuta-chala structure and known as temple of Prabhudeva. Prabhudeva would be the original name of Allama Prabu before attaining the enlightenment. The western and southern cell have lingas inside while the northern one has a Veerabhadra image.
Mysore Archaeological Report of year 1911 mentions a small shrine outside the temple, to the left, in which there is a naked female figure with a lotus in place of head seated in a peculiar posture exposing the private parts. It was called Udutadiyamma or Kamalamma and was worshipped by the villagers.
There was a tradition among the Lingayats that the figure represented the daughter of the king of Udutadi and that on her appearing before Shaiva devotees in a naked condition during Basava’s time, her head vanished and a lotus took its place.
I am not sure if this temple and figure is still at its original place, but I do remember seeing a similar figure in Badami museum where it was known as Lajja-Gauri. Images of Lajja-Gauri theme have been found from many parts of India and all depicts the lady with fertility powers.
Tripuranteshvara Temple – This temple is situated in the north-west corner of the village and would be contemporary of the Kedaresvara temple. From the foundation inscription of the temple, it is evident that it was constructed in 1070 CE under the reign of the Western Chalukya king Somesvara II.
This is a double temple, having two parallel shrines facing east. Both these shrines are built upon a high rising platform (jagati). The shrine to the north has its garbha-griha (sanctum) on the west and adorned with antarala (vestibule) and ardha-mandapa. The shrine to the south also has its sanctum with all other attachments as that of the north shrine.
The shrine on the south is exquisitely carved and suggests its supremacy on the other one. Its entrance is flanked with dvarpalas (guards) on either sides. These dvarpalas are of carved with superior craftsmanship. On either side of these dvarpalas, there are provided pierced windows. These windows carry medallions depicting various dancers. Total of sixteen dancers are on a window, out which only three are female. Does this suggest the male dominance in this art during those times?
In the ardha-mandapa of this shrine, there is an elaborately carved lintel supported on two free standing pillars. There are two female attendants on extreme sides of these pillars. These female figures very much resemble with the shala-bhanjika figures of early Buddhist period as present at Sanchi and found at many other Buddhist sites. The theme carved on the lintel piece is little bit controversial.
Mysore Gazetteer mentions that the lintel piece of this temple is a perfect marvel in delicate imagery and workmanship. It further mentions that this apparently depicts a combined representation of Tripura legend. Though Shiva in the center is standing over an elephant-head, but the writer disapprove this representation as of Gaja-samhara-murti, but instead goes for Tripura story mentioned in Mahabharata. One argument of his in support of his theory is that Shiva is shown wearing a tiara which represents him as the army chief. I would prefer to go with Gaja-samhara-murti rather than Tripuranataka.
Both shrines are connected to the maha-mandapa (hall) which has massive square based circular pillars supporting the roof. On the central piece of this roof, depiction of ashta-dikapalas is found. This common maha-mandapa has two entrances, at the east and the south. Its massive square based pillars once had bracket figures on the upper section, now only the supports are remaining.
The plinth of the temple is decorated with friezes at the base. These friezes contain various depictions of daily life activities, erotic sculptures and stories. Among the stories are found some famous stories from Panchatantra. You will find depiction of the ‘Monkey and Crocodile’ story, the ‘Rams and Jackal’ story and the ‘Swans and Tortoise’ story. This temple holds an important place among other few temples where depiction of Panchatantra stories are found.
Bherundeshvara Pillar – This is the most striking object standing in the village of Balligavi. You will find this pillar, on a cross-road, where it stands in its full majesty. This huge pillar, about 9 m high, has its base enclosed by a small structure. It is raised over a two-tiered platform of about 3 m height. Now known as Garudha-khamba, this pillar was originally erected to support a life-like statue of Ganda-Berunda.
This pillar was erected by maha-mandalesvara Chamunda-rayarasa in 1047 CE, when he was ruling over Banavasi-12000, Santalige-300 and Hayve-500. Chamnuda-rayarasa was under the service of the Kalyana Chalukya king Somesvara I. The inscription mentions that this pillar was erected in front of god Jagadekamallesvara. God Jagadekamallesvara would have been setup by the Chamunda-rayarasa as he was also known by the title Jagadhekamalla. No remains of this temple survive except this singular pillar standing tall.
The statue of Ganda-Berunda is no more on the top of the pillar. It is kept inside the enclosure on which this pillar is standing. It is kept inside a locked gate. Ganda-Berunda represents a mythological bird, having half-bird and half-human body. As per Hindu Mythology, Ganda-Berunda fought with Sharabha for about eighteen days resulting in the death of the latter. Sharabha was an incarnation of Shiva to get rid of Narasimha.
This figure of Ganda-Berunda is in standing posture, with slight bent knees, supposedly ready to sweep down to its prey. The heads are of an eagle, with strong beak. Ganda-Berunda was the royal insignia of the Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore. Later, it was adopted as an official emblem of the Karnataka Government.
There is another interesting stone, originally placed nearby the pillar. This stone is popularly known as Shula-Brahma stone. I am not sure whether this stone is not at its original location or moved to some museum, however it deserves a mention here because of the singular inscription it bears. This inscription is dated 1060 CE and refers to the rule of the Kadamba feudatory of the Kalyana Chalukya king Somesvara I.
The stone has three tableaux describing the heroic deed of a man who vowed himself to death. The carvings are so wonderfully realistic that the whole story of the inscription is played in front of a viewer. The story goes, Tuluva Chandiga, took a vow saying, “I will not let (the nail) grow on my finger”. This was done probably to arrest some agreement related to Banavasi fort to which he was probably opposed. When the ruling chiefs made grants to the fort, Chandiga went to Permalu temple, cut off his finger, and climbing the Ganda-Berunda pillar, leaped upon the pointed ends of spears, ending his life.
The first tableaux shows a man kneeling in front of a linga, taking blessing from the lord for his courageous deed. The next tableaux shows the same person now standing on top of the Ganda-Berunda pillar. He is shown in a dancing posture, suggesting his joyous mood and fearless attitude towards death. He is accompanied by a celestial nymph, who has come down to witness the event. The man is about to leap onto the points of a row of stakes below. The third and the last tableaux shows the man fallen upon the stakes, full length on his belly.
An inscribed stone, referring to the reign of the Kalyana Chalukya king Somesvara II and dated 1071 CE, found at the bund of a tank has an interesting image on it. This image represents Gunagalla yogi who is said to have erected temples of Nagesvara and Svambhu in Kondali-nad, to the east of Tumbigere and west of Mosale-nadu. He also erected the temples of Yogesvara, Hariharaditya and Vassayana at Balligavi. On the southern bank of the Kiru-dore (little river), at Mattur, belonging to Kuruvatti, he created the Siddha-tirtha. Though the image is not of any artistic quality, but it is an important one in the category of the portrait sculptures.
Someshvara Temple – Somesvara temple would have been established by the time of the Kalyana Chalukya king Somesvara I (1042-1068 CE), though there is no foundation inscription. On the plan, the temple is consisted of a garbhagriha (sanctum), an antarala (vestibule) and a pillared hall which also serves as mukha-mandapa. The doorways of the sanctum and antarala are exquisitely carved.
There is a Shivalinga inside the sanctum. Inside the mukha-mandapa, there are two niches on either side of the doorway on the west wall. These niches are empty at present. The entrance door of this mandapa is flanked with pierced windows on either side, provisioning for a sunlit hall inside. The temple is built on a plinth and provided with elephant balustrade steps. The exterior wall is plain, devoid of any decoration.
Pancha-linga temple – This temple is towards the north of the village, near Jiddi tank. The dvarpalas of this temple are said to be in the Bangalore museum. The villagers say that soon after their removal, a fire broke out in the village resulting in the destruction of nearly 60 houses. To avoid further wrath form the gods, the villagers pray for their return.
There is an image of Uma-Mahesvara which needs attention. Uma is seated on Shiva’s lap while he himself is resting on a simhasana. He wears a tiara on which he is shown with Vishnu and Brahma. Beneath him is shown Ganesha, Kartikeya, Bringi and Nandi. The sculpture is of great artistic value.
Jalasayana temple – To the north-west of the village is an island, Sita-Honda. On this island is located the Jalasayana temple. Many of the statues from this island had been moved to Shimoga museum. The main statue of Vishnu in reclining posture is still in the shrine. This image was caused to be made by Govindamayya, who was governing Banavasi-12000, Santalige-1000, Belvala-300 & Puligere-300, when he was in the royal city of Balligavi, in 1114 CE. He also caused to be made twenty four images depicting twenty-four forms of Vishnu.