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Monday 30 October 2023

Annigere – The Marvel of Western Chalukyan Carvings

A visit to the charming town of Annigeri in Karnataka's Dharwad district is nothing short of essential. Here, one can behold temples that effortlessly blend the intricate styles of both northern and southern temple architecture.

A view of the black soapstone temple 

At the heart of this historical town lies the Amrutheshwara temple, a true masterpiece that seamlessly fuses the architectural traditions of Nagara from northern India and Dravidian from the south. This remarkable amalgamation, known as the Vesara style, found its genesis in the fertile creative grounds of northern Karnataka during the 5th to 7th centuries, making the region the birthplace of this unique architectural form.

As you explore the temple's sacred precincts, your eyes will be drawn to the Western Chalukyas' ingenious contributions. They pioneered the concept of adorning the temple walls with decorative Kirthimukhas, captivating visages akin to demon faces.

Outer temple wall has both kirthimukhas and shikaras as characteristic of the Chalukyan architecture

Moreover, the temple boasts an array of distinctive Western Chalukyan windows, showcasing various patterns of florals and geometric designs.

Temple with windows having floral patterns

Another window with floral design

Beyond these marvels, the outer walls of the temple come alive with a profusion of mythological and mystical figures—Makaras, aquatic creatures, dancers, musicians, gods, goddesses, miniature shikaras, scrolls, and even mithunas, celebrating the art of the erotic.
Outer wall of the temple has mystic figures including dancers, gods, etc

Though the temple's ceilings are cloaked in subdued light, keen observers will discern intricate floral designs, often featuring the resplendent lotus, and tales from the timeless epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Ceilings having geometric patterns

Turning your attention to the temple's exterior, you'll find side doors adorned with ornate carvings, each boasting five panels adorned with exquisite floral and geometric motifs.

The side doors with five panels having intricate carvings

In stark contrast, the inner doors present an even more intricate spectacle, featuring nine panels arranged both vertically and horizontally. Meanwhile, the main entry door maintains an elegant simplicity, adorned with just four panels and minimalist designs.

Four panelled doors with simple carvings

For a deeper understanding of the temple's significance, I had the privilege of speaking with Shivappa, the Priest of Amritshwara Temple, who shared, "This sacred ground is a rudrabhoomi, a hallowed resting place dedicated to Lord Shiva, Parvati, and Nandi. It has withstood the ravages of time, even surviving the onslaught of Muhammad Ghazini's attack."

A nandi bull without its head as the temple suffered immense destruction

One of the temple's most intriguing features lies beneath your feet. The temple's flooring bears the etchings of countless ancient games, some within the sanctum, others in the temple's courtyard. Here, you'll find depictions of games like dice (pagade) and marbles (goli), offering a fascinating glimpse into the leisure activities of a bygone era.

As Annigeri is hailed as the birthplace of the renowned Kannada poet Adikavi Pampa, his indelible mark can be found on one of the temple's pillars, a testament to his enduring legacy.

Notably, this temple serves as a prototype for the Itagi Mahadeva temple in Koppal district, a testament to the lasting impact of Western Chalukyan artistry, inviting all who visit to witness the convergence of two distinct architectural traditions within one magnificent edifice.

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