Historically speaking, perhaps the most important place in South Sahyadris region, in the vicinity of Yellapur, is the town of ‘Banvasi’. This town has know history of at least 2250 years. There is recorded history that shows that in the year BC 242 or shortly after the great council of the eighteenth year of Maurya Emperor Ashoka , a Buddhist missionary called “Rakshita” was sent to Banvasi to spread Buddhist religion. This ‘Banvasi’ town is located on the left bank of the ‘Varda’ river about 22 kilometers South-East of Sirsi.
I am on my way to Banvasi town now. A straight road in the interior, connects Sirsi with Banvasi and after first few kilometers, where there are dense forests on both sides of the road, it passes through much cultivated lands. Beside paddy fields, I can also see fruit orchards and pineapple cultivations. We pass through many small villages, with neat and good looking buildings. Farmers here, appear to be doing quite well. The villages appear politically very active with flags of BJP (a political party) flying everywhere. The main road through Banvasi town itself is a narrow single lane road and in case two vehicles confront each other, one needs to back out a considerable distance, before traffic can smoothen out again.
It gives me kind of strange feeling that I am visiting a town, which is couple of millenniums old. Near my home town Pune, there are famous ancient cave temples at Karle village. Apparently, one of the cave temples there was built by a merchant from this Banvasi town sometime in BC 100. Banvasi was known as Vaijayanti then and similarly a mention is found in the famous Buddhist cave (numbered II) at Nashik in Maharashtra about the great Vaijayanti army.Ref 1 In the second century, Greek geographer Ptolemy mentions this city as Banaausi or Banauasi. From an stone inscription found in Banvasi, it is believed that a king named “ Haritiputra Shatkarni ” from the Satavahan Dynasty of Mahrashtra ruled this town during Ptolemy’s time ( 2nd century).
However, Banvasi is well known as the capital of the kingdom of Kadamba kings, who ruled from here since fourth or fifth century and the first Kadamba king is believed to be “ Trilochana ”. An indirect proof of their rule is found in the famous inscription about Chalukya King Pulakeshi II (AD 647), which mentions a siege laid by this famous king around Banwasi. Chalukya kings however won control over Banavasi at some later date and established rule over it. In those times (AD 947-48) Banvasi kingdom comprised of 12000 villages. In the year 1020, Arab geographer Al-Baruni mentions this place in his book as Banvas. From eleventh to thirteenth century, Banvasi was again ruled by second line of Kadamba kings, who lost it to the Devgiri Yadava kings. From fourteenth century it was ruled by Vijayanagara kings till their overthrow. After fall of Vijayanagara, Banvasi was ruled by the Sonde kingdom mentioned by me above in connection with another site worth visiting, Sahasralingam. Arsappa and Raghu Naik were the first two Sonde kings of Banvasi during that period.
In spite of availability of such detailed record of its glorious history, not many remnants can be found in the village, except for a temple of Lord Shiva, named as Madhukeshwara. I am on my way to this temple now. Though the main road leading to the temple is extremely narrow, enough space is available for parking of vehicles in front of the temple entrance. As I get down, I see a huge wooden chariot with beautifully engraved sides. kept in a garage like shade. This chariot is used for parading the idol through Banvasi town in the month of February every year, to celebrate the auspicious day of Mahashivaratri.
Elephant sculptures at the temple entrance
Sunlight shines on a stone pillar on the portico
Garuda Stambha or the pillar of the eagle
Engraved figure at the base of the pillar
Madhukeshwara temple Banvasi; smaller shrine on the right is that of Madhumati
Side view of the temple showing three halls or mandapas in line
The Bull; Nandi ; Keeping an eye on the Lord and his wife
Trailokya mandap ; representing Heaven, Earth and Hell
5 hooded serpant : symbolic representation of hell
Shiv and Parvati ride a bull ; symbolic representation of heaven
Figure engraved on the Trailokya mandapa
Fine architecture of Madhukeshwara temple
Intricate carvings on temple dome
Finely crafted stone bed poster
Idol of Vishnu
Engraving on door panel
A panel with Bass relief
In front of the temple there is small stall selling freshly cut pineapples. I decide to have few slices. The tangy, sour taste is so delightful that I have some more. The return journey is uneventful. By the time, I reach my resort, I am extremely tired. I have early dinner and just hit the bed.
(To be continued)
Ref. 1 :- Bombay Gazetteer Vol XV Part I
11 November 2011