Some medieval temples at Kasba-Sangmeshwar – I

It is an enigma, that I want to understand! The site of Sangmeshwar.

The town, Sangmeshwar, is located in the Ratnagiri district, and I have mentioned the town in connection with a medieval text. My first visit to Sangmeshwar in 2013 was no less than ordinary, as I waded through dirt puddles to get to the scattered ruins of the temples executed in black basalt. The Hindu temple ruins that lay scattered across the old town of Sangmeshwar, called Kasba; make for a fascinating “Indiana Jones” moment(s). Or if you are anything like me, let’s call those “Tomb Raider (Angelina Jolie starrer)” moments.

Sangmeshwar was probably the capital of the kingdom ruled by king Karna. The Shiva temple, that stands to this day, has a name Karneshwara, maybe because of the commissioner of the temple. Karneshwara temple is a tourist’s favourite, and the priest at the temple will ensure that your trip is enjoyable with the local lore and stories that he will narrate to you. Often, he will also point to the key sculptural friezes on the temple that tell multi-layered stories of the local religion, polity and economics.

And removed from this hustle, is a group of three temples, neatly tucked away in the thickets of Kasba. The site allegedly had over 300 temples dedicated to various Hindu gods, mainly Shiva. Some temples crumbled with time, some were looted, and some were lost in memory. The temples in the thicket, let us call them A, B and C, exude the enigma that envelops me on my every visit to Sangmeshwar.

The largest of the temples, temple A, is a Shiva temple. And I can be sure of it because of the Shaivite iconography on the exterior of the temple, as well as some indication for a lingam installed in the sanctum of the temple. Mirashi’s paper that I cursorily referred to in my post on Sangmeshwar Mahatmya, links the site with the rise of lingam worship of Shiva. A tangential reference of Lingayat guru, Basavanna, residing at certain Sangmeshwar can be made in this relation. Basavanna’s Sangmeshwar is however another town by the same name, in the state of Karnataka. Basavanna’s inception of Lingayat sect in Shaivism stressed the worship of Shiva in the form of Lingam and highlighted the importance of personal worship of Shiva without the mediation of a priest. This grand temple of Shiva points some of the tenets of Lingayat and Basavanna’s personal Shiva worship.

Temple A in the foreground

The second temple, temple B, in this area boasts of exquisite kakshasana (bench) in the outer sanctum of the temple. The style of kakshasana is replicated and repeated throughout most of the temples in Konkan, and has become a quintessential aspect of Konkani religious architecture. This temple, with its narrative friezes as if speaks to the devotee or the visitor. The narrative unfolds in the direction of circumambulation around the temple. Some of the panels leave more questions than answers about the intent, subject and narration itself…

Depiction of Shiva devotees with a lingam and hooded serpent (on Kakshasana of Temple B). Notice the headgear of the devotees. And of course, the details such as the legged seat (paat or chauranga) for the devotees.

A small canopy in front of the temple continues to stand and brave the Konkani monsoon. Maybe it is the nandi-mandapa, where a bull figure as the mount of Shiva may have been installed. Today, we have but imagination and reconstruction in our minds.

The third, temple C, and relatively smaller temple reminds of Angkor ruins. The spire of the temple is supported by the trees that grew from the cracks of the building. Even in its precarious state, the temple exudes a charm fit for the Chalukyan times. Some of the pilasters in the temple suggest meticulous work on the temple. The kirtimukha, a half-smiling demon-like face flanked by floral patterns, is juxtaposed between other decorative elements of the pilaster embellishment.

A four-sided hero stone stands in the vicinity, indicating a memorial for a prominent soldier or a ruler who may have laid down their life for the good of the people. The hero stone is indeed unique, and maybe a characteristic of hero stones in Ratnagiri district specifically in the environs of a temple. The hero stones typically narrate the story of death of the hero on earth, who gets an eternal place in heaven. This four-faced hero stone narrates four stories. One of them is here:

Hero and Sati stones is another fascinating layer of semi-religious iconography, and my musings on some of the examples from Gujarat can be found here, here and here.

These temples at Sangmeshwar probably reveal ancient pattern of settling at Kasba Sangmeshwar. The temple of Karneshwara neat the river seems to be a public shrine, while these three shrines may have been reserved for the royalty or specific families. I hypothesise based on the secluded position of these temple structures to this day, and the details of sculptural embellishment in the interior as well as the exterior of the temples. Furthermore, the relative location of other public places such as the market, the inland port on the river and the foot bridge site for crossing over to the neighbouring village make this area a likely candidate for the royal quarters. Regrettably, no residential structures from the time of king Karna survive in Kasba (not that I know of). The later house building activity from the later medieval to modern period suggests a slight shift of the town centre towards the southern point of Sangmeshwara. I plan to look at the site more in depth, to discern further from my initial hunch.


15 of 30 in the series “Konkan: May-illuminate”


Published by Kalemighty

Penned thoughts from South Asian culture. Follow for thoughts on Archaeology, Anthropology, and Pedagogy around the world

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