Is the legacy of a place eternally bound to exploits of kings and queens who may have ruled over it centuries ago? Or is it a composite of dreams and aspirations of commoners who have toiled on its bosom since the beginning of its history? Is the legacy musing of an artist or is its destiny indifferent to humans? I, Banavasi—an ancient temple town in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka—have served as a cradle for art, music and architecture to flourish, though what I cherish most are ordinary moments.
I am no stranger to the dispassionate march of time but these days I prefer the illusory comfort of rotten decaying echoes. I can barely recollect my childhood days but my earliest memories are of the age of Mahabharata when I was lovingly called Vanavasika. I distinctly remember a stirring young man who landed at my doorstep around 1,700 years ago with a fiery desire to be a great king. This glorious phase of my journey was heralded by the crowning of Mayura Sharma, who was the first of Kadamba Kings and tales of his bountiful reign are still recounted with awe. The naïve Vanavasika of yore had grown up to be hailed as Jayanthipura, capital of a prominent kingdom of Karnataka.
Most symbols of my royal past have since been washed away by the incessant rains that satiate my thirst every monsoon or have been swallowed by the galloping water of my neighbour, river Varada. The excavated ruins of a palatial residence at Gudnapur, around half a yojana from here, with a pillar having a genealogical inscription by King Ravivarma, are sad reminders of my heydays.
Nandanavana, Kanakavathi, Konkanapura and Jaladurga were other fond names conferred on me over time by unknown inhabitants. My doors were open to tired travellers who would nurse their aching feet in our streams and fill their empty stomachs on our hospitality. One such passerby was a traveller monk who belonged to a different world. It has been 1,400 years since Hiuen Tsang’s chants reverberated in the numerous Buddhist monasteries that once existed here.
Kings were envious of my splendour and usurpers lurked behind dark shadows of the dense jungles. Often I would find companions who weren’t beguiled by prospect of gold but were content in relishing the immense natural wealth I possessed. Of all mystics who found solace in my friendship, Pampa’s presence can still be felt in fragrance of lotus and lilies that bloom in the ponds.
Much has changed in 1,000 years since Pampa wrote his literary masterpiece, Pampa Bharata, but time has stood still in the mantapas of Madhukeshwara Temple. The beautiful honey coloured lingam in the garbha-griha dating to Kadamba period continues to be venerated though the eroded sculptures on worn-out outer walls offer futile resistance to moss and lichen.
The temple premises bear an unmistakable imprint of Chalukyas, Hoysalas, Kadamba and Sonda chisel. However the festivities that rang in temple corridors have gradually lost their fervour, the guardians of eight directions glance longingly at the Nritya Mantapa reminiscing its musical past. Though every winter during the Kadambotsava festival I dress myself in finest silks and jewellery to dance with folk artists.
The endless queues of admirers have trickled down to pious pilgrims and curious storytellers interested in former events blurred by tricks of time. The pomp and grandeur of yesteryears has given way to peaceful streets lined with wooden houses interspersed with workshops of carpenters, potters and rangoli artists. Nose-tingling aroma wafts from modest Khanavalis (small eateries) serving lip-smacking dishes.
Do I miss the olden days of adventure? I have overheard conversations about a vast lake just beyond my reach where the sunsets are particularly calming. The sun paints the landscape a golden orange as it disappears behind distant hills. The wheel of life continues to churn and the petty concerns of a lonely senile are whiny ramblings best buried in bulky books on dusty shelves.