During my recent visit to Sonda, i visited Banavasi, known to be the capital of The Kadambas, oldest royal dynasty of Karnataka. The town of Banavasi was known by many names such as ‘Jayanthipura’ or ‘Vaijayanthipura’ during the Kadamba period and Vijaynagara inscriptions indicates that it was called ‘Kanakavathi’ during the 14th century. Whatever may be the name, the ancient town of Banavasi has its share of fascinating history. Although i did not have time to explore the whole town and its surroundings, i was able to visit the famous Madhukeshwara Temple. The temple is known to have been built by the Kadambas.
History Of Kadambas: Kadamba dynasty is regarded as one of the ancient dynasties of Karnataka. Gangas were contemporaries of Kadamba and ruled regions of modern Southern Karnataka. There are many stories related to the Kadamba dynasty’s origin. But most of the writers are of the opinion that Kadamba dynasty might have got its name from the Kadamba tree (Anthocephalus cadamba), which had grown near their house. The founder Mayurasharma, a Brahmin by origin changed his cast to Kshatirya to emphasize the start of warfare. There is lot of debate about the original cast status of Mayurasharma. Some historians believe he belonged to tribe called Kadambu while others argue that he belonged to North India as mentioned in the Talagunda inscriptions. The whole conflict can be summarized as shown below.
Historians are divided on the issue of the caste of the Kadamba family, whether the founders of the kingdom belonged to the Brahmin caste as claimed by the Talagunda inscription, or were of tribal origin. A claim has been made that the Kadambas were none other than a tribe called the Kadambu, who were in conflict with the Chera kingdom (of modern Tamil Nadu – Kerala region). The ‘Kadambus’ find mention in the Tamil Sangam literature as totemic worshippers of the Kadambu tree and the Hindu god Subramanya. While some historians have argued that they being of Brahmin descent made Mayurasharma’s ancestors natives of northern India.
The north indian argument was refuted by the claims that its common for the Dravidian People to be received into the Brahmanic caste during the ancient and later medieval times thus proving that he was a Kannadiga by origin. This was further proved by the fact that he brought in Kannada as the administrative language rather than Sanskrit. Legend has it that Mayurasharma along with his guru (grandfather) Veera Sarma went to Kanchi in 345 C.E to pursue Vedic studies. Due to some misunderstanding with a Pallava guard who humiliated Mayurasharma, he set out to seek revenge by taking up sword. Thus changing his name from Sharma to Varma to signify the change in cast to join warrior clan.The Kadambas were quite successful until they were defeated by The Chalukya and The Rashtrakuta empires under whom they continued to serve as feudal lords for 500 years. It was somewhere during the Rashtrakuta rule, the Kadambas built the Madhukeshwara Temple. Later empires like the Chalukyas, Hoysalas are known to have added to the temple complex as it stands today. The later decedents of the Kadambas had given up violence and changed to Jainism. This is seen by the number of Jain temples found in this region.
Architecture & Culture: ‘Madhu’ means ‘honey,’ and since the Shiva Linga is of the colour of honey, the temple is named Madhukeshwara Temple. The Kadamba architecture is known to be heavily influenced by dynasties like Pallavas and Chalukyas. The architecture seems very common with the two dynasties. They also had a strong connection with the architectural style of Satavahanas.
The most prominent feature of their architecture, basic as it was is their Shikara called Kadamba Shikara. The Shikara is pyramid shaped and rises in steps without any decoration with a Stupika orKalasha at the top. This style of Shikara are used several centuries later in the Doddagaddavalli Hoysala temple and the Mahakuta temples in Hampi. Some of their temples also use perforated screen windows. It has also been pointed out that in architecture and sculpture, the Kadambas contributed to the foundation of the later Chalukya-Hoysala style.
The innermost sanctum is built in a very plain style with minimal carving on the door and the lintel. The Sankalpa Mantapa, in front, reveals the influence of the Chalukya style. There is a seven-foot huge Nandi idol made of a single stone. The dancing hall was added during the Hoysala period and has exquisite carving on the pillars and the ceiling. This is the spot where the legendary Natyarani Shantala challenged the famed musician Allama Prabhu. Though presently a shivalinga of ancient times is there, it is believed that original shrine was that of Vishnu. The statues of Keshava (Vishnu) and Kartikeya are also there, which are attributed to Kadamba times.
How To Get There: The route to Banavasi is quite simple. From Sirsi its 22kms to Banavasi. Its just one straight road.