When Lord Kedarnath came to the South

The Kedareshwara temple at Balligave is undoubtedly a delicate construction representing the period’s matured temple architecture.

Published: 22nd July 2022 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st July 2022 11:07 PM   |  A+A-

Balligave Kedareshwwara Temple

Balligave Kedareshwwara Temple.

Kedarnath, the abode of Kedareshwara Siva, is one of the most significant Jyotirlingas. It is a place of great attraction, for both spiritual and physical experiences. I always wondered if the mighty Himalayas have hidden many more exciting places in the vast range. 

Among the 12 Jyotirlingas, Kedareshwara is the most important one. The Kshetra Darshana of Kedareshwara, even with the best mode of transportation today, has its own constraints. Kedarnath is nestled amidst the magnanimous, mighty Himalayan ranges and is approachable by ancient pavement pathways (about 17 km) from Gaurikund and Sonprayag.

The trekking pathway follows the edge of a mighty mountain on one side while the Mandakini River is on another. Even with modern-day amenities, the Kshetra Darshana of Kedarnath is risky and demanding. The region’s high altitude, sudden climatic change and lack of oxygen can threaten life. However, despite all such difficulties, pilgrims visit in plenty to see the ultimate abode of the lord (I visited the Kshetra in the last week of May 2022).

The ancient records of the temple date back to the 8–9th century. That marks the visit of Adi Guru Shankaracharya, who set right the pooja procedure both at Kedar and Badarinath. 

It is said that he consecrated the Sivalinga in its present position and caused the temple construction. Kedareshwara temple has a beautiful nagara shikhara temple with a garbhagriha and a hall, where sculptures of the Pandavas are enshrined in niches. The temple’s main entrance has a pediment-like form on the doorway, which has a statue of an apsara. It is simply an imposing architecture and a typical example of the Himalayan temples. Similar temples may be seen at Ukhi Mutt, Badari, Tunganath, Guptha Kashi, etc. 

The fascinating aspect is the presence of Kedareshwara temples in southern India, especially in Karnataka. There are more than a dozen temples named after Kedareshwara. Interestingly, the majority of these temples were built after 8–9th Century CE. 

It also indicates Sri Shankaracharya’s influence on bringing the Kedareshwara and other Jyotirlinga temples to southern India. It is true that even today, all Siva devotees may not be able to visit Kedarnath. The pilgrimage is not easy; hence, Kedarnath has descended to south India. Anyone desirous of visiting Kedarnath must face a lot of difficulties. That is probably why all remote and far-flung Jyotirlingas have been installed in Karnataka. 

(R ) Balligave Kedareshwara Temple (rear view)

The one I wish to introduce here is at Balligave, in Shikaripur Taluk of Shimoga District in Karnataka. Balligave was a flourishing town from the times of the Badami Chalukyas. It was the centre of learning and merchants. Later, during the Kalyan Chalukya period, it developed as an essential centre of architecture and sculpture and also the Kalamukha Saiva seat. There were six Mutts, of which the Kedareshwara Mutt belongs to the Kalamukha sect of Saivism. It also serves as the headquarters of the Kalamukha Saiva teachers, whose names are mentioned in many inscriptions of the Kalyan Chalukya period in Balligave and nearby places. 

The Kedareshwara temple at Balligave is undoubtedly a delicate construction representing the period’s matured temple architecture. It has three garbhagrihas built in the Vesara style in 1070 CE during the time of Kalyan Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI. It was renovated under Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana in 1131 CE. The central garbhagriha was enshrined with Sivalinga, while the side shrines also have Sivalingas and images of Vishnu. In medieval Karnataka, in the later Chalukya period, Tripurusha temples were built in good numbers. 

Even Brahma was installed in the form of Sivalinga, known as Brahmeshwara. The Kedareshwara temple of Balligave has unique architectural features. The temple is a Trikuta, with a wide, open sabha mantapa and has three towers erected in the Vera style. The main hall has lathe-turned, finely polished pillars, while the central ceiling has Ashta Dikpalas on their respective vehicles flanking the centrally-depicted Nataraja Siva. Balligave’s importance to the Kalamukha guru parampara is mentioned in the inscriptions. The Kalamukha sect of Saiva school is an offshoot of Pashupata school, somewhat connected to the North Indian Saiva Siddhanta. The Kedar Peetha Saiva school is possibly connected to the Kalamukha School at Balligave. Like Kedarnath, Balligave also has a myth associated with the Pandavas. It is believed that during their vanavas, the Pandavas came here. The temple was the centre of Kalamukha teachers and activities. It was also the seat of Shakti Parishad, and teachers like Kedarashakti Pandita headed the sect. His disciple was Srikantha Pandita, and his descale was Someshwara Pandita. 

Kedareshwara temple, Kedar, Uttarakhand

They even served the royal family as preceptors. Kedareshwara temple at Balligave is a living temple worshipped as reverentially as the Kedarnath temple of the Himalayas. Besides its historical, religious and architectural importance, Balligave was a centre of artists and artisans. Balligave Dasoja was a famous artist who worked on the Chennakeshava temple in Belur. Luminary architects like Bisadoja, Chavoja and Singoja worked on Kedareshwara Temple. 

The later Chalukya period saw the emergence of Jyotirlinga temples in Karnataka. Saurashtra Someswara and Srisaila Mallikarjuna are other important and popular Sivalingas along with Kedareshwara. The Hoysala kings, too, followed the same tradition. Medieval beliefs brought the North Indian holy pilgrimage places closed in religious terms to the South. 

Similarly, Lakshmeshwara in Gada District has a temple named Somnath–Saurashtra Someshwara. Kedareshwara descending to the South is a religious and spiritual necessity of the early medieval period. 

R H Kulkarni

Professor & HOD, Art History, College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath


India Matters


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