In ancient India, art and religion were inseparable. It may not be wrong to say the religion was the vehicle through which the art developed, evolved and flourished. Kings and their representatives were the major patrons of art. More often than not they commissioned artists to built temples devoted to their family or state deities. Whenever a region has been ruled long enough by a dynasty, we find a cluster of temples built by the generations of the dynasty. The best Kakatiya temples were built when the rule of the Kakatiya dynasty was at its peak.
Kakatiya Temples, Warangal
Every reign also had its typical style of art, which reflected in the temple architecture and sculpture. Kakatiya Dynasty of Warangal also left their imprint in the form of temples. While most temples have been destroyed, there are a few that have survived the tide of time and give us a glimpse of the times of Kakatiya’s. Two most important Kakatiya temples that are still practicing are Thousand pillar temple at Hanamkonda and Ramappa temple at Palampet, some 70 km’s from Warangal.
Lord Shiva – Kakatiya Temples
All the Kakatiya temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva. And have a prominent presence of Nandi who has an independent mandapa for himself in all the temples. The characteristics of the Kakatiya temples are a typical Dravidian Vimana or superstructure, a star-shaped base. That is inspired from neighboring Chalukyan architecture, perforated screens with a typical diamond shaped design and the most distinct pillars. The mandapa outside the Garbhagriha is Ranga mandap or the dancing space. A circular stage in stone supported by 4 pillars that are the best-carved pillars in the temple. The pillars carved in black granite in 6 different pieces but are so well joined that they look like one. You also see the miniature version of these pillars in the doorjambs.
Nandi in Kakatiya Temples
An interesting thing about Nandi carved in Kakatiya style is that they are not sitting. But they have a front leg raised as if they are ready to get up and run the moment they get a signal from their master with their eyes intensely focused on the Shiva. They are also huge like most other South Indian Shiva temples. Most Kakatiya temples are located along a lake that was also made along with the temple. I assume that this was a part of town planning, building the town around a temple and a water body. Warangal and around are frequently dotted with man-made water bodies, most of which are created alongside a temple. You cannot but admire the water management skills of our forefathers. We need to understand their wisdom and apply it to our current times and conserve water.
Thousand Pillar temple, Hanamkonda
Thousand pillar temple is located in the Hanamkonda town, in a small alley from the main road. This temple was built in mid 12th century by the then Kakatiyan king Rudra I. It is supposed to be dedicated to the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu, and Surya, but as of now, you can see only the Shivalinga. The subsidiary shrines now act as the storage space. This is probably the best-known place of Warangal. But once you reach there you may be disappointed not to find the 1000 pillars. It looks like a small usual temple from the Kakatiyan times, with a mid-sized water tank by its side. The temple walls have also been made to look like as if pillars have been joined to make them.
There are usual features in this temple like a sanctum sanctorum, a round dancing area with four carved pillars and the subsidiary shrines on the other two sides. The shape of the temple platform is a star like. There is another part of the temple where the archaeology work was going on and is not open to the public. This temple definitely needs some maintenance. The scaffoldings seem to have been made a part of the temple and take away the beauty of the temple. The Nandi mandap is covered with a green asbestos sheet. You really wish they taught aesthetics also to archaeology department.
Ramappa temple is located in Palampet. Behind an absolutely green hillock and besides a lake that was built along with the temple. The temple seems to be standing alone in the silent wilderness. The only people you see are the ones visiting the temple. It is a typical Kakatiya temples style that has probably faced the least destruction. A general of the king built it in early 13th century. The main temple has a Dravidian style vimana. A Ranga mandap with black granite carved pillars. And is surrounded by a Nandi mandap and a smaller Shiva temple. The sides of the doorjamb have diamond shaped perforations carved that give the impression of a Jaali.
Details of Ramappa Temple
On both sides of the Doorjamb, there are panels depicting musicians and dancers in small roundels. There are smaller pillars embedded in the doorjambs like a miniature version of the bigger ones in Ranga mandap. Gajakesari or Lions and elephants, associated with the Kakatiya dynasty are carved along with other auspicious signs like Purana Ghatak or the overflowing pot symbolizing prosperity. One of the pillars here is a little flawed. The carvings are misplaced. And it is said that it was done so to avoid the evil eye that may hit the beautiful temple. And I wonder if the abode of God also needs protection from evil eye.
Carvings of Purana’s
The ceiling and bracket panels of the roof on top of pillars have stories from various Puranas carved out. But most of them have a poor visibility. Guide told us that the lower square part of the pillars have been polished and kept blank so that sunlight from all four directions falls and reflects back from them and keeps the temple lighted. Here again, the permanent scaffolding in and around the temple is an eye sore and comes between you and the artist who carved these stones.
The black stone brackets displaying Madanikas around the temple are often mentioned in the temple literature. But to be fair they are quite average. They have the same themes that you see in other temples like Khajuraho. But the quality of craftsmanship is quite ordinary. The body proportions are not ideal, the carving is pretty limited and the expressions could have been better, but one has to admire the fine polishing. The Nizams of Hyderabad removed some of these brackets for decorating their homes. Some of them have been restored here and the cementing is visually jarring. The color of the brackets also stands out from the rest of the temple.
There are images of Ganapati, Shiva-Parvati, and Shalbhanjikas that are placed randomly in the temple and are probably excavated from around the temple and kept here. Sabha mandap and the temple kitchen building have completely fallen apart and a notice forbids visitors to go there. The panels around the temple depict various Devi Devatas along with few erotic figurines. There is a panel running around the temple with 528 different poses of the elephants one after the other. This temple belongs to Lord Shiva. And its actual name is Ramlingeshwar temple. But it is known by the name of its architect, Ramappa, who built this temple and came from neighboring Karnataka. He was also associated with the Belur and Halebidu temples. But the carvings here do not match that of Belur and Halebidu.
An earthquake hit this temple, though no one could tell when. This has made the pillars of the temple go down and the stone in between them have come out in a very symmetric way. Making the floor of the temple look very interesting as if these are inclined beds. I guess the rest of the buildings might have been destroyed during the same earthquake. There is a small pavilion with an inscription stone written in Kannada/Telugu script. It tells the history of the Kakatiya temples.
On the narrow road that leads to the temple, there were many bullock carts that are fast becoming endangered species. There were a small hut with just a blue tarpaulin as the roof but covering a huge area in front of the hut with net making it a small poultry farm. The fields in front of a lush green hill dotted with water bodies here and there make pleasant scenery for the used-to-concrete eyes.
Another Kakatiya temple we saw was Bhadrakali temple, located on the bank of another man-made lake. It has a beautiful image of the Goddess and is located in between massive rocks. Though the lake needs cleaning, you can still admire the numerous lotus flowers in it.
I wish I could see some more Kakatiya temples of this period, maybe some other time.
Recommend you to read following Travel Blog about Kakatiya Dynasty & tourist attractions of Telangana.