Most tourists who visit Hampi and Pattadakal often miss out Lakkundi which is on the highway itself and those who do take that extra effort, are never disappointed. If the architecture in Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal of the early Chalukyan or Badami Chalukyan period excite you, then Lakkundi, the cradle of later or Western or Kalyana Chalukyan or Vesara architecture, will leave you spellbound.
According to officials at the Archaeological Survey of India, while the group of 8th century monuments in Pattadakal displays both Dravidian (Southern) and the Nagara (Northern, Indo-Aryan) styles of temple architecture, Lakkundi is a major centre for a new style (Vesara) of temple architecture which combines new ideas with features from North Indian (Nagara) and South Indian (Dravida) styles. Several novel designs introduced here were later adopted by the Hoysalas in their temples.
Keen on exploring this exquisite site, we set out armed with a navigation-friendly map, drawn up by a friend in the Archeological Survey of India, that provided directions to all monuments according to its distance from the main bus stop. We stopped at the early 11th century Kasivisvesvara temple, Lakkundi’s most famous temple marking the high point of Chalukyan architecture, where you can see an intelligent combination of north and south Indian temple styles.
This dvikuta temple (two shrines facing each other) turned out to be one of the most flamboyant structures I had ever seen. The main shrine faces east and is dedicated to Kasivis-veswara (Shiva). The other shrine is dedicated to God Surya and is called Suryanarayana and faces west. This makes the temple unique as most Surya temples are east facing.
According to Henry Cousen from the Archeological Survey of India, the ornamentation on the lower part of the temple’s pedestal that has lotus petals and a frieze of elephants is a pattern common in Gujarat but rarely seen in this region.
The Shikara in the Nagara style is particularly unusual. The successive storey’s are innovatively linked using trefoil arches and gargoyles. There is a common platform between both the shrines and historians think that this must originally have been an open mandapa.
The outer walls are covered with fine intricate carvings.
The Kirtimukha or the legendary face which was the main sign of the rulers of those times is seen carved on the outer part of the temple. On the door, there is Makara which is a very strange creature with an elephant trunk, a peacock tail and a crocodile body. This is supposed to be a Hindu mythical animal and is considered to be the vehicle of the Gods Varuna and Ganga.
The main deity of the temple is Shiva Linga. The temple is a photographer’s paradise but I was sourly disappointed when the guide reminded us that photography inside the temple was prohibited. On a beam in the temple mandapa there is an inscription believed to be that of Vikramaditya VI dated 1087 A.D. This inscription and the plainness of that part of the temple suggest that the original construction may have been simpler and the decorations may have been added at a later period after the Chola invasions of this territory. Most inscriptions in Lakkundi date from 1170 AD onwards. According to Cousens, as the Hoysala king Veera Ballala II annexed Lakkundi from the Seunas of Devagiri in 1193 AD and made it his capital, it is possible that they could have made some renovations to the temple in their time.
We then went to the Nanneshwara Temple located to the north of Kasi Vishweshwara . This temple looks like a simple and small replica of the much elaborate Kashi Vishweshwara Temple. Probably the Nanneshwara Temple was built as a prototype before the grand Kashi Vishweshwara Temple was executed.
Leaving this temple, I understood why Henry Cousens calls it the most ornate temple in the Kannada spoken region in India. It epitomises the shift in Chalukyan artistic achievements, towards sharper and crisper stone work not seen in earlier constructions, taking full advantage of the effect of light and shade.