On a Temple Trail, Haveri


The idea to visit Haveri came to me after coming across a tourist map of the region at Wikipedia. Haveri itself has not a great deal to offer to warrant a trip of 300+ kms from Bangalore. However, when seen together with places around Haveri, the region as a whole has much to offer. Haveri has the potential to become a tourist hub.

I first visited the fort at Chitradurga and then continued with the plan of visiting some of the temples around Haveri. The temples of this region are the legacy of the Western Chalukyas and the Hoysalas after them. In particular, I have realized that the great temples of Belur and Halebid are refined and mature expressions that have evolved from the basic elements of temple art and architecture experimented with by the Western Chalukyas.

Temples are not only items of interest. At Ranibennur is a wildlife sanctuary of the blackbuck. I was fortunate to spot a few of them from the train as I travelled from Harihar to Haveri. At Bankapur is a peacock sanctuary. Both are not very far from Haveri.

Map of Haveri Region. Source: Google Maps

Map of Haveri Region. Source: Google Maps


Harihara is a deity who is a combination of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva). The town derives its name from a 13th century Hoysala temple dedicated to this deity. From the main road one has to walk into a narrow street bound on both sides by shops and houses. The street ends at a dead end where the temple stands. The Harihareshwara Temple is also called Guharanyakshetra in recognition of a legend in which Lord Harihara kills the demon Guhasura.

In the entrance foyer I immediately took note of the elegant scroll capitals, a design I was to find repeated in other temples I visited on this tour. The scrolls supported a stone platform with stepped edges, a feature that is mirrored in the stellate layout of the temple itself.

Upon entering the inner courtyard, the first thing that immediately captured my attention was the fact that the temple is surrounded by a walkway. This walkway, and nothing else, separates the temple from the houses closely built all around it. Here were people living not right next to a temple, but almost within it. The second thing that caught my admiration was a pair of 20 feet high oil lamps or dvaja stambhas. Octogonal in design and tapering towards the top from its wide base, elegant projections curved out of its sides. These are meant to hold the oil. At each level four such projections were carved out on alternating sides of the lamp. Looking at it from the ground, it was of exceptional beauty.

The temple contains a wealth of carvings. The running friezes of creeper motifs, elephants, horsemen, dancers and musicians are present. In many cases, the noses of dancers and musicians are chipped. Some of the scupltures of dancers are wonderful to look at, echoing the wonders of Belur and Halebid. There are wonderful perspectives on the exterior walls created by repetitive miniatures of nagara shikaras that alternate with lions raised on two legs. The central panels of these shikaras are mostly plain but in some cases they are elaborately sculpted in different designs. These designs are fluid and free. They do not appear to be bound within the confines of the panel. Another common pattern found on these friezes is the four petalled flower bound within a diamond. Miniature pillars are also part of the wall friezes, some of which are on the smaller Lakshmi Devi temple adjacent to the main one.

Lathe-turned pillars at Harihareshwara Temple. Source: geekykitty@flickr

Lathe-turned pillars at Harihareshwara Temple. Source: geekykitty@flickr

The mukha mandapa is an open space. The ceiling and roof are supported by 58 pillars, all lathe turned. There is nothing exquisite about each pillar except that they have been formed as exact copies of a single design. Some of these are half-pillars in the sense that they stand on a seating platform that line the sides of the mandapa.

The original shikara is no more and a modern one stands in its place. The entrances to the mandapa are without balustrades. The doorway leading to the antarala has elaborately carved jambs. Nagas and naginis are interwined in their snake bodies. Fantastic animals of sometimes mythical nature are carved in miniature. Decorated motifs are carved too.

Layout of 58 pillars in the mukha mandapa of Harihareshwara Temple, Harihar

Layout of 58 pillars in the mukha mandapa of Harihareshwara Temple, Harihar


When I arrived at the Siddeshwara Temple, members of the BJP were making a puja, mindful of the imminent general elections. The priest performed the necessary rituals and streaked their foreheads with red tikkas. A saffron cloth was blessed, unwrapped and tied as an elaborate turban over each official. Photographs were taken while some drummers at the entrance noisily gathered a small crowd. I sat in a corner within the temple and did a sketch of the wonderful stone eaves that supported the overhanging roof.

This temple is from the time of the Western Chalukyas and here we can observe many elements that are later found in Hoysala temples. The mukha mandapa is an open space supported by pillars and half-pillars lathe-turned and sculpted over. The ceiling has lotus designs. Pillars end with scroll capitals. The details on these pillars are varied and decorative motifs differ from pillar to pillar. In one case, the motifs are varied on the same half-pillar.

The temple is rather small and compact. The navaranga, today containing a free standing sculpture of Ganesha, is supported by only 4 pillars. Half-pillars stand at the entrances of the mukha mandapa. These half-pillars stand on seating platforms that line the low wall of the mukha mandapa. The octogonal bases of pillars carry different stylized decorative motifs. The exterior is decorated with fantastic kirtimukhas, dancers, miniature vimanas in both dravid and nagara styles and beautifully articulated pillars. Friezes of lions, elephants, horse and horsemen are common. Aedicules and makara thoranas are common, the latter found on the lintels of the doorway that leads in from the mukha mandapa. Since inner closed spaces need to be lit, perforated stone screens provide such lighting. This is a feature found in a grander scale on exterior walls at Belur and Halebid. The layout is stellate.

The dravida style shikara is heavily worked over and packed with details. It is not a single piece of stone but many stones carefully positioned and held with only the minimal amount of mortar. It is not a high shikara and it not like the dravida gopura. The shikara is echoed in different variations in miniature on the walls. One particular shikara on an empty aedicule is essentially dravida but does not immediately look it due to its unique articulation.

In an adjacent temple within the same complex is the shrine of Ugra Narasimha. Interestingly, one of the pillars here carries swans in inverted positions. The temple complex is in a pit 4 feet below ground. A beautiful lawn surrounds the temple and it is open to public without any charge.


It is difficult not to notice the vast flat fields of cotton in the countryside around Haveri. I first noticed them on the way to Bankapur but it was a scene repeated in the visits to other towns and villages. In Haveri it is common to see the transport of bales of cotton stuffed in gunny sacks, loaded in vans, trunks and even on bikes. Loose cotton sometimes seen strewn on the streets speak of one of the providers for the local economy.

On the fields, women are more often involved in picking cotton from the short thin plants that seem to want good sunshine. A broad cloth is folded in two and tied around the waist to create a large pouch that dangles to the knees. Unlike tea picking in which baskets are worn at the back, this pouch is at the front. Cotton is picked and filled into these improvised pouches.

Bankapur’s peacock sanctuary is really something. Within two minutes into the sanctuary, I spotted one. After a couple of hours, I had spotted close to 50 peacocks and pea-hens. Unlike the docile and approachable specimens I had seen in some parks in England, these are wild peafowls that are unfamiliar with humans. Though there is a cattle farm within the sanctuary, lots of pastures for their grazing and cultivated corn fields, human-peafowl contact is still an occasional event. They started at my approach. With their heavy bodies, their flights are short and noisy. Their calls are loud and coarse. They can be heard all over the place. Often I saw them foraging on the ground. Many rested in shades near a lake. Some were perched on trees with their multi-feathered tail hanging languidly.

An educated guess is that there are as many as 1000 specimens but a recent survey carried out only last month fails to mention the exact number. The reason there is such a large population is the presence of high mounds and deep trenches. These are simply the remains of a fort that was destroyed by the Adil Shahis of Bijapur. This is an ideal habitat that offers lots of places to hide and nest.

Red-Vented Bulbul. Source: birding.in

Red-Vented Bulbul. Source: birding.in

The best time to visit this place is early in the morning. Chances are that you will spot a lot more than what you expected. Peafowl is not the only interesting aspect here for any wildlife enthusiast. I spotted a mongoose by chance. I saw many families of the common langur loitering around a small shrine dedicated to Hanuman. Among the birds, I spotted many species and I was delighted. Egrets, cranes and herons are to be seen at the lake. Woodpeckers can be heard in the background. There were many I could not identify but a board at the entrance to the sanctuary helped me identify many others:

  • Rose-ringed parakeet – commonly seen on trees and in flight.
  • Common mynah – common on the ground.
  • Jungle mynah – less common than the common mynah.
  • Brahminy kite – saw this once on the wing near the lake.
  • Red-vented bulbul – is not a shy bird. I was able to observe it within ten feet and listen to its two syllable calls.
  • Spotted dove – a common bird.
  • Black drongo – with an exceptionaly long tail that’s forked at the end, I spotted this only once. It is a shy bird that dislikes human presence.
  • Oriental magpie robin – a common bird often seen on branches and in flight.
  • Owl – I could not identify the exact species. It was well camouflaged against the bark of trees. Ears were not visible. I spotted it by chance when it moved a little. It’s only the size of a man’s palm.
  • Indian robin – not common and seen only once. This is a little black bird with red undertail coverts.
  • Green bee-eater – a beautiful small bird with resplendent feathers. It has a quick flight.
  • Hoopoe – with its flamboyant feathers, it is quite a sight.

I actually visited Bankapur to study and admire the Nagareshwara Temple. This temple is built into the ground about 8 feet under and similar in design to the one at Harihar. Unfortunately there was some restoration work going on here and I was not allowed to enter it. Tourism is not yet mature in India. There is no centralized district or state level information system that gives opening times, charges, accessibility and closure periods of sites of attraction. I did not bother asking the workmen when they would complete the work. Public works in Karnataka are ridden with delays.

I had to be contented with admiring it from the outside, looking down on it from a higher ground. It’s a nice perspective to look at the whole temple from roof level. I admired the external friezes, the pillars of the mukha mantapa, the roof and the structures above it. Some pillars are lathe-turned. Some are sculpted with alternating bands that are either octogonal or 16 sided. I could notice four pillars exquisitely sculpted in the manner of those at Badami caves. My only regret is that the finer details could not be appreciated nor could I see the carvings on the inside.


Hangal is a town of substantial size. It was not a small village that I had expected. I went in search of a certain Veerabhadra Temple. I found it but it had nothing interesting. It has been renovated in recent times and the little space behind the shrine (pradakshina patha) is used as a classroom.

More interesting is the Billeshwara Temple in Hoysala style. The building stands aloof in an open landscape and is visible from the main road. The shrine is a single space containing a shivalinga. The walls are not very interesting. The best aspect of this temple is the doorway where the jambs are spectacular with five panels on sides and three on the lintel above. These consist of superb sculpted work – diamond shaped motifs, nagas and naginis interwined in their snake bodies, celestial couples inside creeper motifs, animals in miniature, tassel motifs. Among the sculptures at the base of the doorway is a pair of goat-headed gods.

Unlike the Billeshwara Temple, the Tarakeshwara Temple is located well within a certain area of town closely built up. It is also hidden from the main thoroughfares and one finds it a surprise when it is first sighted. The main entrance is under restoration but the temple can be entered via a little passage in front of a row of village houses. This temple is huge with a wealth of carvings. It is one of the hidden treasures of central Karnataka not to be missed by any serious tourist to the region. It is easy to spend an entire day lost in its details. The absence of busy crowds makes it all the more alluring. Here is a small window to the wonder of India’s ancient art and architecture. It is through this small window that we need to understand the complexities and subtleties in manageable chunks before moving on to grander constructions.

Like other temples seen on this tour, it has its share of pillars and half-pillars. The outer walls are articulated with a mix of miniature shikaras in dravida as well as nagara styles, something I have come to see as the legacy of Western Chalukyan architecture. Kirtimukhas are wonderfully done on these walls. Scenes from the Ramayana can be studied on these walls. Balustrades are decorated with lotuses. One drain outlet is articulated beautifully as an open-mouth makara thorana. From this outlet, the morning abhishekam dripped as the priest performed the rituals within the sanctum. Erotic art is rare but there are a couple of places in which it can be seen – on the doorway to the antarala and on exterior walls.

There is plenty of decorative art on pillars that you can admire for hours. A simple diamond shaped motif that are carved in bands around pillars are done in different sizes and minor variations. Pillars that are lathe-turned have bell-shaped section. In some cases, such a section is octogonal and fans out beautifully. One of these pillars has elephants carved in such a way that a visible space separates the trunks from the pillar. A similar advancement of temple art is seen in tasselled motifs in the door jambs to the antarala. This is something that developed into more advanced and elegant forms in the temple at Belur.

The ceiling just before entering the antarala is divided unequally into nine sections, a departure from the usual manner of dividing into nine squares. Each section is decorated with an open lotus, half lotuses on the rectangular sections. It shows that lot of experimentation went on in this temple.

The domical ceiling at Tarakeshwara Temple. Source: Wikipedia

The domical ceiling at Tarakeshwara Temple. Source: Wikipedia

But the greatness and glory of this temple remains in the domical ceiling. It is art and architecture at their zenith; art because there is elegance, beauty and symmetry; architecture because of its movement, size and grandeur. An octogonal space is arranged within a square layout marked by stone beams resting on pillars. From circular dome rises from this octogon. The base of the dome is richly decorated with sculptures of deities riding on their vehicles. This probably is the inspiration of much of sculpted brackets seen in Belur excepting for the dancing theme in the latter. Eight main pillars and eight slender ones support the dome. The capital of each main pillar has five projections, something unique owing to the design.

The dome itself rises in five tiers with petal like motifs. At each level the petals alternate in position with the next level. Each petal has foils in its turn so that the whole construction looks like fractals done without the aid of a computer. There is harmony in design and perfection in execution. What’s even better is that when the dome rises to the center, it drops and fans out at the center in tiers. The central portion is supported by a circular cylindrical stone. With stone ribs, hanging pendants and decorative motifs, the dome is a masterpiece I have seen nowhere else. This alone makes a visit to this temple worthwhile. The same dome is repeated on a smaller scale in the front porch. This space, yet another unique feature, is an extension of the mukha mandapa.


I had more than 4 hours this afternoon. Plans to visit temples at Galaganatha or Haralahalli were more difficult to execute. I could not get buses easily. The heat of the afternoon was getting to me. I decided to make a visit to neighbouring Kaginele. The bus left way behind schedule. It was packed to bursting.

Kaginele has many small temples but nothing that’s really tourist worthy. It is the place of birth of a 16th century saint, Kanakadasa. He has composed many devotional songs in the school of Madhavachrya’s Dvaita philosophy. In fact, Kaginele is advertised to tourists in this manner. The sad part is that when you are in Kaginele, as an average tourist, you will be lost. There is nothing to be seen or to do in relation to this saint philosopher and social reformer. Only now there is an effort to build a new temple dedicated to this saint. This may be the only thing that’s worth a visit when its completed.

My experience of travelling to Kaginele and back is something I treasure. It was a typical country journey in a local crowded bus. These bus journeys have a way of bringing diverse religions, beliefs, social status and wealth under a single roof. Along the way, the weather changed and it started to drizzle on and off. When I got off at Kaginele, the circle had a village feel to it. Everything seemed to happen in the same place. The bus stop was also a fish market and at the hour of sunset later in the day prices were dropping by the minute. A barber was shaving a customer. A goat and her kid wandered about. Continuous traffic added to the busy scene.

A narrow lane led into a market place busy with vendors on both sides. Much of the village ambience at this market was due to bargaining and intense competition among the vendors. Vegetables, fruits, grains and spices were the main items on sale. Grains were displayed in small sacks for sale. Some vendors were frying chilli fritters and jelabis in their blackened woks. Then it started to pour.

When it rains in these parts, it is a short and quick affair. When the clouds have unloaded, there is freshness in the air. When the sky has cleared, the sun appears just as quickly and soon the land is hot again. Cattle cool off in their sheds, munching on dried-up hay. Cart wheels stand inclined on mud-caked walls. By the large lake on the outskirts of the village, a farmer washes his bullocks, women wash their clothes and the swaying palms in the distance catch the slanting light of twilight.

getting-there Getting There
From Chitradurga I took a direct bus to Harihar. Alternately, one could change at Davanagere if direct buses are not available. There is also an evening train at 1740 hours from Chitradurga to Harihar. From Harihar there are frequent buses and trains to Haveri. Haveri bus station became my haunt for two days as I travelled to Bankapur, Hangal and Kaginele. It would be much faster to cover the entire region by car but travelling by local buses is a different experience altogether. Return train from Haveri leaves at 1935 hours by the Hubli-Bangalore Passenger reaching Bangalore the next morning at 0510 hours.

hotel Accommodation
I stayed at Harihar for a night at Hotel Nandini Lodge, right opposite the bus station. With a single room with TV for Rs.200, it was clean and comfortable. Last night I stayed at Haveri at Hotel Tara Plaza. Not a great place but there are simply no better options near the bus station. Since a single room was not available I took a double for Rs. 260.
food Food
I have been quite disappointment with the standard of cleanliness at Haveri. I could not find a suitable place to eat. Kamat Restuarant looked inviting but it was always crowded. I could never find a seat.
walking Walks
A walk within the fort at Bankapur is highly recommended.


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