My friend at the Archeological Survey of India had told me to look out for stepwells or Kalyanis or Pushkarnis in Lakkundi. Apart from temples, the ancient city is also well known for ornate stepped wells (Pushkarni) which served as ritual bathing places, many of which are well preserved.
Historical perspective: Stepwells are wells or ponds with stairs descending to the water. They may be covered and protected and are often of architectural significance. They are most common in western India. They are also found in other more arid regions of the subcontinent, extending into Pakistan. The stepped tank, about three meters deep, into which water was fed by a series of stone channels is an example of expert engineering techniques developed several centuries ago.
Stepwells also served as a place for social gatherings and religious ceremonies. In ancient India women were associated with these wells because they were the ones who collected water.
Also, it was they who prayed and offered gifts to the goddess of the well for her blessing.
According to noted architect Charles Correa, “Stepwells are elaborate architectural constructions built within the earth’s surface. They make the path down to the water a ritualistic pilgrimage, a matter of profound metaphysical meaning considering water is seen as the giver of life.”
At Lakkundi, sculptors have exhibited their skills even in the construction of wells. As per records, Lakkundi boasts of 101 step wells which are popular for their exquisite carvings and architectural beauty. Among them Chateer Bavi, Kanne Bavi and Musukina Bavi are well known for their elaborate architecture. Their designs were later incorporated by the Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara empire in the coming centuries.
Musikina Bavi: My map brought me to the right side of the highway to Gadag, on the outskirts of Lakkundi in the middle of a quiet grove. Here the Manikeshwara temple complex is situated along with the beautiful and elaborate Kalyani, the Musukina Baavi. Of all the temples I have seen, I would consider this as a unique Kalyani for its architecture and style. The sheer magnificence of this temple transports you to the grandeur of the Chalukyas.
The 12th century Manikeshwara temple gets its name from the shinning Shiva Linga. The entrance to the temple has a mandapa with shinning pillars of typical Vesara architecture. The outer walls have exquisite carvings.
The temple’s unique architectural characteristics are the pierced windows which form a part of the artistically adorned lintels and door jambs. The painstakingly carved multi-banded door-jambs are breathtaking. The doorway is exotic with exquisite lattice work screens that match the decorative door frames.
The enormous Musukina baavi has an unusual design. It looked as if it had not been too long since it was excavated. Looking at it, one cannot but wonder how much of effort must have gone into creating this well.
The ornate stepwell has four symmetrical sides with a flight of steps leading to water on the southern, eastern and western sides.
Over the flight of steps on the southern side is a double-storied mantapa.
On either side, the well is flanked by smaller shrines with beautifully carved shikaras.
The approach to the mandapa is flanked by two temples and it forms a bridge which approaches the fourth side. Pillars support the mantapa and the bridge.
The tank is artistically built with 10 small canopied niches inside the walls of the well which once enshrined Shiva lingas justifying the name Musukina(Veiled) Baavi. The galleries and chambers surrounding this well have been carved profusely with elaborate detail and designed to become cool, quiet retreats during hot summers.
A well maintained garden adds to glory of the place. As we approached a bunch of kids playing on the steps looked at us shyly with a tinge of curiosity.
But soon they got over their shyness and started following us posing for pictures. We took shelter under the mandapa to avoid the harsh glare of the summer sun.
Apart from temples and stepwells, Lakkundi is also famous for jasmine flowers, sweet guava and ber fruits, and Ambasi Phadiki Dhadi panje (dhoti).
The blaze of the afternoon sun prevented us from going in search of the weavers. We were forced to beat a hasty retreat towards Gadag.