Historically speaking, perhaps the most important place in South Sahyadris region, in the vicinity of Yellapur, is the town of ‘Banvasi’. This town has know history of at least 2250 years. There is recorded history that shows that in the year BC 242 or shortly after the great council of the eighteenth year of Maurya Emperor Ashoka , a Buddhist missionary called “Rakshita” was sent to Banvasi to spread Buddhist religion. This ‘Banvasi’ town is located on the left bank of the ‘Varda’ river about 22 kilometers South-East of Sirsi.
I am on my way to Banvasi town now. A straight road in the interior, connects Sirsi with Banvasi and after first few kilometers, where there are dense forests on both sides of the road, it passes through much cultivated lands. Beside paddy fields, I can also see fruit orchards and pineapple cultivations. We pass through many small villages, with neat and good looking buildings. Farmers here, appear to be doing quite well. The villages appear politically very active with flags of BJP (a political party) flying everywhere. The main road through Banvasi town itself is a narrow single lane road and in case two vehicles confront each other, one needs to back out a considerable distance, before traffic can smoothen out again.
It gives me kind of strange feeling that I am visiting a town, which is couple of millenniums old. Near my home town Pune, there are famous ancient cave temples at Karle village. Apparently, one of the cave temples there was built by a merchant from this Banvasi town sometime in BC 100. Banvasi was known as Vaijayanti then and a mention is found in the famous Buddhist cave (numberd II) at Nashik in Maharashtra about the great Vaijayanti army.Ref 1 In the second century, Greek geographer Ptolemy mentions this city as Banaausi or Banauasi. From an stone inscription found in Banvasi, it is believed that a king named “ Haritiputra Shatkarni ” from the Satavahan Dynasty of Mahrashtra ruled this town during Ptolemy’s time ( 2nd century).
However, Banvasi is well known as the capital of the kingdom of Kadamba kings, who ruled from here since fourth or fifth century and the first Kadamba king is believed to be “ Trilochana ”. An indirect proof of their rule is found in the famous inscription about Chalukya King Pulakeshi II (AD 647), which mentions a siege laid by this famous king around Banwasi. Chalukya kings however won control over Banavasi at some later date and established rule over it. In those times (AD 947-48) Banvasi kingdom comprised of 12000 villages. In the year 1020, Arab geographer Al-Baruni mentions this place in his book as Banvas. From eleventh to thirteenth century, Banvasi was again ruled by second line of Kadamba kings, who lost it to the Devgiri Yadava kings. From fourteenth century it was ruled by Vijayanagara kings till their overthrow. After fall of Vijayanagara, Banvasi was ruled by the Sonde kingdom mentioned by me above in connection with another site worth visiting, Sahasralingam. Arsappa and Raghu Naik were the first two Sonde kings of Banvasi during that period.
In spite of availability of such detailed record of its glorious history, not many remnants can be found in the village, except for a temple of Lord Shiva, named as Madhukeshwara. I am on my way to this temple now. Though the main road leading to the temple is extremely narrow, enough space is available for parking of vehicles in front of the temple entrance. As I get down, I see a huge wooden chariot with beautifully engraved sides. kept in a garage like shade. This chariot is used for parading the idol through Banvasi town in the month of February every year, to celebrate the auspicious day of Mahashivaratri.
The temple courtyard prpper is enclosed by a stone wall, at least 12 to 15 feet high. Two huge statues of elephants welcome the visitors. Behind the elephant statues, an elevated portico has been built with beautifully carved stone pillars to support the roof. Intricate carvings are also seen on the sides of the elevated pedestal of the portico. As I enter the temple courtyard through the main gate, I see a tall square pillar in the front, called Garuda stambh or the Pillar of the Eagle, with an eagle carving at the base. The temple has 3 halls or mandapas, all having similar construction of an elevated pedestal and round stone pillars to support the roof, in a line before the sanctum sanctorum, which houses a Shiva linga made from a honey coloured stone. This temple, built by Architect Jakhanacharya, a Hemadpant of the Kannada Desh, gets the name Madhukeshwara, from this honey coloured deity.
A huge 7 feet high sculptured stone bull or Nandi is placed in the first hall next to the Garuda stambha or the Pillar of the Eagle. The middle hall or mandapa has a circular raised platform, where danseuses used to perform in front of the Idol. This roof of this hall is supported on round stone pillars of intricate design. These pillars have convex and concave surfaces adjacent to each other, so that simultaneous reflections of the danseuses can be clearly seen on all sides creating a spectacular kind of optical effect. In the third mandapa, near the main entry door to the temple sanctum, an elaborately carved stone structure called Trailokya mandapa (Hall of heaven, earth and hell) is kept.
On the left hand side of the principal deity of Madhukeshwara, a smaller temple of Madhumati or Parvati is seen. The huge Bull in the first hall, is so sculptured that its one eye can be seen from the sanctum of the Madhukeshwara temple whereas its second eye can be seen from the sanctum of the Madhumati temple. The Bull appears to be keeping the eye on both Lord Madhukeshwara and his wife Madhumati. Near the outer courtyard wall, many rooms and shrines have been built, housing many deities such as Ganpati, which has only the right half here, the left half is supposed to be in Kashi (Benares), Nrusinha and Lord Kadambeshwar.
An elaborately carved stone bed is kept in one of the courtyard rooms. Legs and posters of this bed are finely carved. This stone bed is used to carry the idol during February rath yatra or car festival and is a gift of King Raghu Naik of Sonde. In another shrine along the courtyard wall, a slab stone with a five hooded cobra engraving is kept. This slate has written words, which state that this slab was presented to the temple by “Haritaputra Shatkarni” sometime during first or second century. Banvasi temple without any doubt, is a store house of wealth of information for the people, who love history. There are as many as 11 stone inscriptions in the temple courtyard, most of these in ancient Kannada script.
I leave the Banvasi temple with a sad heart. This temple represents history of India for last 2250 years and yet has not been preserved the way it should be. This temple is a must see for anyone interested in ancient Indian history.
In front of the temple there is small stall selling freshly cut pineapples. I decide to have few slices. The tangy, sour taste is so delightful that I have some more. The return journey is uneventful. By the time, I reach my resort, I am extremely tired. I have early dinner and just hit the bed.
(To be continued)
Ref. 1 :- Bombay Gazetteer Vol XV Part I
11 November 2011