If the cave paintings of Ajantha and Ellora fascinated you, a similar treat awaits you just 20 kilometres north of Tumkur district, the Lakshminarasimha Swamy temple in Seebi village on National Highway 4. The temple itself is quite simple but the ceiling in the mukha mantapa of the main shrine and the Mahadwara contain exquisite painted murals from the tales of Bhagavata, Narasimha Purana, Ramayana and Mahabharata. These mural paintings are alluring and very similar to the ones found in Daria Daulat Bagh of Sreerangapatna.
Seebi, a small village now, was once a jungle where Sage Seebi, the grandson of King Prahlad is believed to have meditated. The Lakshminarasimha Swamy temple was built during the late 18th century A.D. by the three sons of Kacheri Krishnappa who served as a Dewan in the Mysore court. His sons Lakshminarasappa, Puttanna and Nallappa collected revenue during the reign of Tipu Sultan.
The 200 year old temple is built in the Dravidian style with a three-tier Mahadwara Gopuram and a large open courtyard. The navaranga houses small temples of Sri Rama, Ambegal Krishna, Angaraka, Sriranga in the reclining posture, Narasimha, Ganapathi, Saptamatrikeyaru, and Appaiah Dixitaru. The navaranga is supported by pillars and is artistically built with about 130 small canopied niches on the roof all around the temple housing small idols. The three-storied Vimana Gopuram is surrounded by a set of canopied niches covering it.
There are four dwaja stambhas, a Maranavami mantapa, a Butana Gudi and five Kalyanis. Nallappa, the temple trustee laments, “For the last 10 years, there has been no rains in this area and all Kalyanis have dried up including a flowing stream that was found besides the temple”.
What makes this temple different from others is the ancient mural paintings.
There are three rows of paintings on the walls and the ceiling of the Mahadwara. The first one contains depictions from Krishna leela, the second Karnik Nallappa in the court of young King Krishnaraja Wodeyar while the third row depicts the court of Haidar Ali where Kacheri Krishnaiah, Ravanappa and Venkatappa (maternal uncles of Nallappa) who were subedars in the court of Haidar Ali are seen.
The presence of Krishnaraja Wodeyar along with those of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan in the picture creates confusion about its exact date. Historian Veena Shekar who has written about “Mural Paintings of Sibi” opines the picture of Wodeyar could have been incorporated later as the style adopted reveals it may be early 19th century.
The ceiling of the Mahadwara mantapa also has a forest scene with Tipu Sultan. This picture shows the great admiration that Karnik Nallappa had for Tipu Sultan. A great deal of details can be seen in this panel. You can see Krishna playing the flute to his young cowherd friends, looking at Tipu Sultan who stands in the middle of the forest fighting a tiger.
There are four beams with procession scenes. In the first, there are horses without riders followed by huge elephants moving in rows carrying men. The second beam has a set of soldiers galloping on horses with two soldiers walking in a procession followed by soldiers in red coats carrying red flags. The soldiers wear conical caps like that of the Vijayanagara period. The third beam has men on horseback and some on foot followed by elephants and a cart carrying cannons.
According to Veena Shekar, the paintings in Seebi does not follow a set pattern in its thematic representation and this makes it appealing. “The tradition of mural art in Karnataka had travelled a long distance by the time it reached Seebi, taking a receding plane and losing its aesthetic importance, becoming decorative and folkish.” All paintings are decorative and are very elaborate. They are well protected and provide a sense of déja vu to the viewers.