History on the walls of a temple

The temple’s architecture conveys more than just about the God it houses, it talks about the rulers during the time, customs and traditions- in short the life that thrived. The aromatic

Published: 03rd December 2011 07:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 03:21 PM   |  A+A-

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Someshwara temple at Madivala | Suresh Nampoothiri

The temple’s architecture conveys more than just about the God it houses, it talks about the rulers during the time, customs and traditions- in short the life that thrived.

The aromatic incense of burning camphor swirled in the sweet fragrance of flowers in myriad colours, light from diyas dancing to the tune of hymns sung by orthodox priests, graceful deities dressed in silk and jewels, the sound of huge bells reverberating beyond walls, devotees on their routine visit to the almighty, a temple scene is all this and more. Places where prayers are offered and heard, temples are places of faith and worship where hope is kept alive.

However, temples that we see now are not what they were long ago. Like mankind, even temples have also evolved, taking the shape of the whims and fancies of rulers who in a way dictated the way people prayed.

While Buddhism and Jainism flourished under some rulers, they made way for Hinduism in the later centuries. Even as the Gods changed, places of worship remained the same. Temples were built over temples. Conversions took places, people took sides; in Hinduism it was worshippers of Shiva against those of Vishnu.

Karnataka, under the Gangas, Nolambas and Cholas saw a number of Shiva temples. The Cholas were famous for their intricate gopurams (temple tower), the most famous being the Shiva temple in Tanjore.

Bangalore too is home to many Shiva temples. One such temple is the Someshwara temple at Madivala. Dr Meera Iyer, Co-convener, INTACH says that the Someshwara temple is one of the oldest temples in Bangalore.

Built by Cholas, like many other temples it has been renovated by successive rulers — the Hoysalas and later the Vijayanagara kings. In an article she mentions that the inscriptions on the outer walls are in Tamil and Grantha script that can attest to the temple’s age.

The earliest record dates to 1247 AD and refers to lands donated ‘below the big tank of Vengalur’ by a resident of ‘Veppur’ (Begur).

Other inscriptions record grants made during the reigns of Hoysala king Ballala III and Chola king Rajendra. One record, from 1365, mentions a land grant at Tamaraikkirai (meaning ‘the banks of the lotus pond’ in Tamil). She also has a good story about the meaning behind the name Madival.

“Madivala is said to mean a colony of washermen. Some historians think it might be derived from an old Tamil term which means land near a temple that was donated by kings for Brahmins to stay in. There are five inscriptions in the temple. One of the inscriptions does mention that a Hoysala king gave land to 20 Brahmins for conducting some rituals in the temple,” she says.

Temple architecture conveys more than just about the God it houses, it talks about the rulers during the time, customs and traditions- in short the life that thrived. In his book Indian Sculpture: 700 - 1200 AD, Pratipalya Pal makes some interesting observations about how temples have evolved over time.

He says — ‘Before the eight century, the Indian temple whether Hindu, Buddhist or Jain was a modest structure. By 11th century, both Hindu and Jain temples not only expanded physically, becoming enormous conglomerations of several buildings but also grew into the major social and cultural centres in a given community.

The temple increasingly became the focal point of public life, serving as the community’s town hall, theatre for dance and drama and public art gallery. Hence, nothing excluded from the architect’s repertoire and the sculptor drew on all forms of human activities both spiritual and mundane to educate and delight his visitors. Thus, apart from gods and goddesses and mythological themes one fins a plethora of genres depicting dancers, musicians, battles etc.’

From the modest house of God to architectural extravagant social centres, temples have come a long way. One can only wonder, what is next?

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