Remember our discussion of temples A, B and C at Kasba-Sangmeshwar? I was pulled in the enigma of the medieval temples so much so, that I kept combing through various books and archives to learn more about the temples. And as I continue with that, maybe I should take my discussion on medieval temples a little further.
The temple of Karneshwar is a celebrated Shiva temple on the bank of river Shastri in Kasba-Sangmeshwar. The temple lies at the heart of the iterations in Sangmeshwar Mahatmya, a regional text from the early-medieval period in South Asia. And numerous other temples get a mention in the text. Let us look at the other temples which now lie mostly in ruins.
To the south of Kasba, lie several temples ruins, that can easily be missed if one walks to Karneshwar and back from Shastri bridge. Only on taking a slight turn south, these ruins with their multitude of stories begin to emerge. A temple of Kalabhairav as the southernmost shrine in Kasba, today, continues to draw devotees. This recently refurbished temple is also mentioned in the Sangmeshwar Mahatmya. Let us move to the west of this temple, where our story for today’s post begins.
The sheer number of basalt stone slabs are enough for a keen student of history and archaeology to plod through the puddles to get to the ruins. The rubble gives an impression of almost half-a dozen shrines standing there in antiquity. Today, only two edifices with discernible features remain standing. A water tank lined with basalt stone slabs, a slab with reclining Vishnu sculpture, a hero-stone and a Nandi sculpture with a chipped-off muzzle immediately catch the eye. The sculptural pieces hewn with these fragments, in the environs of the temple makes you wonder what exactly might have happened. There is no denying that the best and well-preserved sculptural pieces from the shrines have already been taken, sold or shipped away. And there is understandably no trace for such “lost” sculptures from Konkan area.
A rough sanctum with its geometric designs and sculptural friezes presents itself as a humble abode of the gods. The temple has a shivlingam and comes very close to the Vijaynagara architectural style. The temple ruins indicate the presence of a once-affluent temple with generous devotee base. Some details on the interior of the temple, such as the sculpture of a yogi and a student, may indicate a sustained tradition of religious teaching at the site of Kasba. The series of swans executed on the exterior walls of the temple intrigue me. I wonder whether it is a stylistic choice of hamsa-mala as seen on temples on the plateau (Deccan), or is it symbolic?
Another standing temple is also with a Shiva-lingam. This temple is more elaborate with its intact spire and elaborate carvings on the interior and the exterior of the temple. Kirtimukha makes its appearance again, and the elaborate pilasters lend an edge of royalty. The antarala or the vestibule that connects the garbhagriha with the mandapa, is executed in a similar style as that of Karneshwara temple. The empty niches in the antarala may have been once occupied with delicately carved sculptures. The temple allows bright sunlight in through the vatayanas or latticed windows. The stone lattice is geometrical and seems quite utilitarian than ornate.
I sat there, looking at the lattices windows and the light that poured in. I could not get over the stench of bat excreta inside the temple. But the sculptural details were too good to let go without a second, or even a third look. Granted, that these temples may not have been as resplendent as say Rani ki Vaav in Gujarat, or the Virupaksha temple in Karnataka. But the temples in black stone, on the land of red laterite, was itself a trove of historical feats for me. Hauling the slabs of black basalt from the plateau was one thing but creating a town with so many temples was wholly another.
I let myself drift in the imaginarium, as I mentally put the literary and archaeological pieces of the puzzle for my satisfaction. I was content with thinking that the Chalukya kings came to Konkan, they saw, and they conquered. History has other layered secrets about the past, but I was happy thinking of one benevolent king Karna of the Chalukya line, who made Sangmeshwar a heaven for his subjects (such fairytale!). And then I proceeded to the next set of temple ruins to the north of Kasba.
16 of 30 in the series “Konkan: May-illuminate”