Sunday, March 13, 2011

Balligavi, home town of Queen Shantala devi

Never before have I undertaken research before undertaking a trip to the Malad territory, which is famed for worship of spirits ( bootha kola ), land of the King Cobra, where Pineapples are grown, Nude worship is practiced, where rivers merge in the form of tungabhadra, where spice and rice is grown. Anxiety built up with unrelenting rain pounding the region, which obviously was a bounty for tourists wanting to see Jog in full blossom. Can we capture Nature at its best with failing light condition ? Leeches are another danger one has to face during the rainy season, for a diabetic it is a scary proposition, will our vehicle endure the torturous journey after a decade was troubling my mind.

Some of the destination were not listed on the map such Kubetoor and Bandalike which were supposed to good places to visit, along with Arleguppe. I wonder sometimes why the map publishers don t look from angle of tourists ? Are they deliberately avoiding mention of the tourist destinations to seek guide or tourist operators help to go on package tour and aid the tour operators.

Some questions were raised by one of the blogger with regard to the linkage of Angkor Wat with Indian architecture. It raised my antenna, to find some concrete evidence.

Hoysala kings Vishnuvardhan’s Reign ( 1108 – 1152 AD ) blends with the
Contemporary reign of Suryavarman II ( 1113 - 1150 AD )

The main deity is Vishnu for both the rulers, who later promoted other religions
Too in secular fabric.

Suryavarman II was probably inspired by visit to Balligavi and Belur temples to
Build Angkor wat. He seems to have invited skilled artisans from this area to Cambodia to fulfill his construction of his dream edifice.

ASI was requisitioned to carry out massive restoration work of the Angkor wat
Between 1986 to 1992 in lieu of their expertise to carry out the same before it was
Declared a World heritage.
Finally the clinching evidence was provided by the discovery of Cambodian
Featured statues available in the Museum.

SHANTALA DEVI, the dancing queen

The story of Shantala Devi is very interesting tale which has been narrated down the annals of history and converted into books by G.V. Iyer, which is described in a nutshell beautifully by Sashikiran. The fictionalized story is in the background of Hoysala reign when King Vishnuvardhana adornes the crown. Vishnuvardhana ( 1108 – 1152 ) inherited a kingdom after declaring his independence from the Chalukyas to reign supreme for nearly four and half decades.

Inorder to stablise his kingdom, he had to fight many a battles against Chalukyas ,Pallavas and Gangas. During this period of consolidation he was busy in strategic warfare leaving no time to think of marriage. His mother used to goad him to marry and the King used to be stead fast in resolution. His take on avoiding marriage was simple a person who lives by the sword dies by the sword. He used to quote the example of his brothers widows. He used to tell his mother look at the plight of my brothers widows, the destiny of the kings is to be felled by the sword or arrow or be killed by traitors to the throne. Why should I get married and invite widowhood to my future wife.

Vishnuvardhana’s mother was troubled constantly in her mind, but destiny had some surprise in store. Suddenly one day she spotted the beautiful Shantala while returning from Belur temple after praying to the Lord for granting her wish to see her son married so that the progeny is carried forward. She invites Shantala to the palace to check out her antecedents.

Shantala visits the godmother in her palace. She comes to know that Shantala is the daughter of the General Marasingamayya and her mother is Manchikabbe. The queen mother is happy that Shantala is well versed in dancing bharatanatyam, singing, playing veena and good in Sanskrit and cooking too. She asks her to send her mother next day to check out her inclination towards a marriage alliance.

Once the queen mother is convinced regarding antecedents of Shantala she is eager to finalise the marriage, but how to convince the stubborn and head strong Vishnuvardhana. She is convinced that Shantala’s beauty will attract her son at once. So she invites Manchikabbe and here husband along with Shantala to attend the Upanayana ( thread ceremony ) function

The godmother devises a plan which will ensure that Vishnuvardhana will fall into the booby trap of getting convinced regarding the marriage. The godmother insists that her son should introduce each and every guest to her. Shantala is accompanied by her best friend Lakshmi who is equally beautiful along with her parents. After introducing the general and his wife, he is perplexed how to introduce two young girls ? Suddenly the forces of physical attraction or Kamadev takes over. The stubborn king melts like butter in a frying pan under the flame of passion.

After witnessing the blushing Vishnuvardhana, she is convinced that her son may ultimately relent. But to ensure that he does not get back to his old selves, she invites Shantala to give a dance performance in the palace. But she is reluctant to dance alone, so she insists on joint performance. Once again Lakshmi is tagged along for a dance performance. The king is silently made to watch the performance from the balcony. Both the dancers vying with each other, gave one of their best performances till date. The king is fully entertained and he is convinced that he may at last surrender to kamadev.

Shantala knew that the godmother had solid reason to invite her to perform in front of an elite audience. She never saw the king, who was seated on the balcony well concealed to witness the performance. While returning home she was cheerful and in jolly mood. But when she noticed her friend Lakshmi why she was sulky and sad in appearance. Lakshmi remarked that she will be soon married to the king and she would loose a good friend. She was happy for Shantala but sad that her friendship would sooner or later come to an end.

The godmother now convinced that her son would agree for marriage after seeing the dance performance of Shantala. She went to the dining table when her son was having breakfast and started the topic of marriage. Don t you think Shantala would be a perfect wife ? She wanted to check the reaction. Even though Vishnuvardhana was now convinced regarding the maiden, he was reluctant. He uttered both Shantala and Lakshmi are good friends and it seems marriage would bring them more sadness than happiness. If I am to marry I would prefer to marry Lakshmi, but I would not like to separate their long drawn friendship. This put the godmother in quandary ?

Meanwhile Shantala had made up her mind and she informed her parents that she is not willing to get married unless Lakshmi too is wedded to the King on the same day. The joyous mood in their household came crashing down. They would have to embarrassingly convey the message to the godmother regarding the challenge thrown by their daughter.

Lakshmi’s parents were orthodox Vaishnavites. Godmother knew many of their community members refuse to marry outside theirs. She however broached the subject matter with Lakshmi’s parents and they agreed readily for sake of their daughter. They also knew the King was very secular. He had built the Belur temple dedicating it to Lord Vishnu. Thus a reluctant suitor was tamed by clever moves of the Godmother. It was akin to taming the shrew.

Invitees from all over the world flocked the mega wedding. Apart from Shantala and Lakshmi, the King was offered 5 more maidens for marriage. Instead of one Vishnuvardhan ended up marrying 7 on the auspicious dusherra time. The marriage ceremonies were clubbed with dusherra festivity. The streets were lit up with lamps, fireworks lit up the sky, procession of dusherra entertained the crowd for 9 days, free food was offered on all 9 days and it was an eventful occasion to remember for all the guests.

Suryavarman II with his huge flock from Cambodia enjoyed their trip. He was mighty impressed by temples in Belur, Halebid and surrounding areas. He was determined to build an edifice beyond compare in his own backyard. Thus the idea of constructing Angor wat was germinated at Halebid. But how is he going to execute such a marathon task ? He consulted his minister and he was advised it would be impossible without the expertise of artisans from Hoysala empire. Suryavarman II requested for audience with Vishnuvardhana and told him that he wants to build something similar in Cambodia. Vishnuvardhana readily agreed to lend him 50 artisans and the master architect. Enroute back to Cambodia the plans for Angor wat was finalised.


The word Balli in kannada refers to creepers grown in forests or gardens. Gavi means cave. In ancient times Balligavi backed up as an University for learning with numerous schools with the earliest being the Jaina basadis. The availability of water in plenty with lakes and rivers surrounding the area was an ideal learning atmosphere. Malnadu area is generally blessed with abundant rainfall due to western ghats.

There were five mathas and vidyapeetas along with numerous basadis which are in various stages of crumble. If one travels across towards Talgunda from Balligavi one can spot the remains of all the school of learning. The number of education institutions were 13 in nos, 54 temples, 12 Jain Basadis, 3 Buddhist Viharas, palaces, and residential mud houses with 60,000 residents. My surmise is that it was an ideal place for kings to hide when they are in danger from their enemies. Kadambas were in constant warfare with the Pallavas forcing them to seek hideouts in such a domain where the enemies would unlikely to hunt them for revenge.

Kodiayamatha, Kadareswara matha, Jaina basadis etc all formed seat of learnings for Hindus and Jains alike. On the lake bed many a temples were constructed by the respective sects for the disciples to visit as a routine in the morning and evening. Allama Prabhu, a saint and poet belonged to Balligavi. One of his famous poem goes like this

I sawThe fragrance fleeing When the bee came,
What a wonder!I saw Intellect fleeing When the heart came.
I sawThe temple fleeing When God came.

The dancing queen Shantala Devi too hailed from Balligavi along with famous architects and sculptors of the Hoysala era, Malloja, Dasoajja, Nadoja, Siddoja etc originated from Balligavi. It will be safe to assume there was a school for sculpting too in Balligavi patronized by the Kadambas, Chalukyas and Hoysala royals. Akkamma Maha Devi too was married to a merchant hailing from Balligavi.

Garuda kambha looks like a leaning tower enroute to Talgunda. It seems to have been relocated due to crumbling structure, with the base reinforced with ordinary rock stones, which are normally used for constructing foundation of a house. The incriptions engraved on the pillar of Gandebherunda confirms that this pillar was erected by one Chamundaraya according to inscription dated 1048 AD. In the year 1063AD Chamunda Raya is probably crowned the king of this territory.

Panchalingeswara temple has crumbled enroute to Talgunda, and instead an ugly concrete structure has been constructed to house the Lord. One can find evidence of all the old pillars scattered in and around the site. It is a tragedy that ASI and state archeological department have permitted such blatant vandalism. I only hope they salvage all the remains and install them around the temple, instead of allowing priests to build their residence and thereby wiping out traces of ancient heritage.

The number of inscriptions exhibiting the patronage of various kings in Old Kannada and Sanskrit are found in plenty. Some of them are stored in Balligavi and rest have been shifted to Bandalike complex. Talgunda inscriptions seems to be myriad, but now only one is found in the compound with shape of phallus. One of the inscription stone is seen outside the compound which can be easily vandalized. Talgunda complex is a disappointment for heritage seekers.

Huen Tsang the Chinese traveller visited India inorder to follow the trail of Buddhism and universities across the country. He visited Nagayi and Balligavi which were ancient centres of learning enroute to Kanchipuram. He was impressed by the artisan skills and carried some miniature models of temples and characters as memento

Balligavi complex contains the main kedareswar temple complex , with surrounding temple edifices from Badami Chalukyan era. ( 685-86 AD) They seem to have been moved from neighbouring land in lieu of their crumbling structure. The statues adorning the fa├žade are missing. The Hoysala symbol of Sala slaying tiger is embedded by Hoysalas subsequently 1060 AD, by King Vijayaditya.

Another temple was constructed by the Hoysala king in 1070 AD, which is located in the middle of the village. The temple is called Tripurantaka, which we missed due to paucity of time.

The complex contains a huge collection of inscriptions, statues of Shiva, Vishnu and Teerthankaras. A trimurthi statue with Chinese features gives us some indication that the sculptors were involved in construction of Angor wat temple. This statue is also known as Buddhist goddess Tara Bhagvathi. The legend of the King cobra is also idolized. This may give us an evidence of tantric form of worship was prevalent. The Museum is under construction.


Arun said...

Been following this blog for a while and enjoy reading the detailed information and research material on each place you write about.

The story of Shantaladevi is interesting. The part about Suryavarman II visiting the wedding - is this a fact? Would be interested in knowing sources of the story. Thanks.

Deguide said...

Arun Bhatt, being historically oriented research is part and parcel of my endeavour. Well if you have carefully read the blog the clues to the historical perspective has already been credited to the source. thanks for your visit and comment

Anuradha Shankar said...

This is very interesting... hadnt heard this story before, or the connection with cambodia... as to the state of the temples, its indeed a pity that unless the place manages to attract a lot of attention, nobody bothers about renovating it the right way.... whereever we go, we see temples rebuilt with tiles and concrete, while beautiful sculpted pilllars are lying around, crumbling.

Deguide said...

Anu, even i was floored to read to a gr8 historical event unfolding in the form of a soap opera by G V IYER, which had been beautifully put across by Sashikiran and than it was only matter of clues that lead to a gr8 conclusion. Thanks for your concern on heritage structures.

Arti said...

Beautiful place, completely agree with Anu... there is a urgent need to take care of out heritage otherwise we may lose it in the near future..

Deguide said...

@ Thanks for the visit and concern for heritage stucture.

murali said...

please visit kanchipuram temple s and mahapalipuram .THEN YOU WILL KNOW ANKOR WAT IS BUILT BY WHAT MODEL. IT IS PALLAVA S MODEL.

Deguide said...

@ Just came back from visiting Kanchi and Mahabalipuram temples Lolz

prasad said...

story of natyarani shantala devi and vishnuvardana is really intersting, and i am proud that i belong to hoysala karnataka.


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Basically i am down to earth, take friendship to its logical end. It is my endeavour to create a wealth of co-operative ventures. Basically being a marketing man i have the acumen to spot winners. I am privileged to travel the length and breadth of the country, courtsey my father, who was with Indianoil, my employers such as Nutrine, Kurl-on, Hindustan Pencils, Prestige, Crystal, Bell Ceramics, Pentel, Sezal, Commander. Currently i am involved in Tourism, Booking Air Tickets, Agent for Jungle Lodges and Resorts Limited and Taj Group of Hotels and a numerous hotels across India. Depending on the needs of a traveller i would recommend the destination and accommodation best suited to their budget. Humour takes me on. Let us have a win win situation for all. I love travelling for sake of adventure, photography and discovering the heritage. Life is a journey and let us enjoy our drive. Come share your travel experience on indiabackpacker.