While penning this piece about the Doddagaddavalli temple in Karnataka’s Hassan district last week, terrible news came in. The image of the Goddess Maha Kali there was destroyed by some miscreants. That a precious monument and one of the state’s most important sculptures was attacked and fractured, that too during heritage week, has left the locals and the art-loving world in shock. This is a tribute to the temple and the Maha Kali idol, in the hope that the rich Hoysala heritage would be taken care of better in the future.
Doddagaddavalli, a small village in Belur taluk, is one of the early centres of Hoysala art and architecture. The village has a very important and unique temple dedicated to the Goddess Maha Lakshmi, but is today popularly known for Maha Kali (Durga).
Situated on the banks of a large pond, it was built in 1113 CE, four years prior to the famous Belur Chennakeshava temple constructed by Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana. The Doddagaddavalli temple is one of the earliest dated monuments of Hoysala architectural history. The dedicatory inscription here eulogises Vishnuvardhana and notes that the temple was built and dedicated due to munificent grants by the merchant Kalhana Rautar. The wealthy trader was inspired by the temple for Maha Lakshmi in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur and built a similar one in Doddagaddavalli. The village, historically referred to as Doddagaddumballe in inscriptions, was even renamed as Abhinava Kolhapur.
The Doddagaddavalli temple complex has raised compound walls with an entrance through a pillared hall-like mantapa. In the corners of the large compound walls, there are four small shrines. The main temple in the centre of the compound has four garbagrihas (sanctum sanctorums)—making it a chatushkuta temple. Hoysala architects built temples with different numbers of garbagrihas—one (ekakuta, eg. Belur), two (dvikuta, eg. Halebidu), three (trikuta, eg. Somanathapura) and even four and five (panchakuta, eg. Govindanahalli). This is the only chatushkuta temple in Hoysala history. The four garbagrihas share a common hall and main entrance. There is also another independent temple dedicated to Bhairava near the southern entrance of the temple.
While Hoysala temples such as the ones in Belur and Halebidu are known for their richly carved intricate sculptures, this is of the non-ornate type. Nevertheless, the temple has evolved with salient features of typical Hoysala temple architecture, such as ‘lathe-turned’ pillars and richly carved ceilings depicting Ashta Dikpalakas and Nataraja in the main hall of the temple.
The four garbagrihas in the main temple have Maha Lakshmi (East), Maha Kali (South), Vishnu (North, missing now) and Shiva (West). Each deity has individual sanctums with beautiful doorways. The shikaras are of the Dravida and Phamsana-Kadamba Nagara styles. Malloja and Maniyoja are the architects of the temple and have been mentioned in the dedicatory inscription.
The most interesting and important aspects of the temple are the Maha Kali and Maha Lakshmi images, both installed in 1113 CE. Maha Lakshmi is standing in samabhanga with four arms, having shanka, chakra, gada and padma as attributes. The image has been carved with great details such as an intricate kirita and jewellery. The sculpture reminds us of the Kolhapur image in its style and features.
The Goddess Maha Kali image, which was fractured by miscreants last week, is a unique one. The iconographic features, attributes and her posture are noteworthy for their characteristic carvings. The Devi is seated right on the dead body of a rakshasa figure who serves as her asana. The main peetha is depicted with a seated image of an emaciated bhuta figure. The Goddess has eight arms, spread in circular architectonic form holding various weapons. The Devi’s right-side arms have a khadga, trishula, gada and arrow, while on the left, a bowl, damaru, bow and noose are depicted. On the northern wall of the Maha Kali garbagriha, there is a seated image of Devi identical in her style and depiction of attributes to the idol inside.
Maha Kali’s strong frontal posture with her benign facial details makes the divine highly spiritual. She has been worshipped here as the village deity. The corroborating images and ambience of the Maha Kali shrine directly associates the image with tantric practices. The doorway and its lalata pattika (upper jamb) have bhuta mukhas, while either sides of the walls have depictions of life-sized bhuta figures in standing posture as door guardians. The bhuta figures are supposed to accompany the Devi in her expeditions against demons.
To support the tantric affiliation of Maha Kali, the sculptures on the doorframe of the smaller Bhairava temple may also be observed. One of the sculptures is shown as tearing open the entrails while the other figure is cutting his own head.
It is most unfortunate that this over 900-year-old Maha Kali idol has been desecrated. In an earlier article, I wrote about how there were Kalyan Chalukya monuments lying uncared for (Kalgi, home to Ragamala sculptures and dilapidated temples, June 25). One hopes this serves as a wake-up call and that both the government and philanthropists take better care of our priceless heritage.
R H Kulkarni
Professor, Dept of Art History, College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath