Sunday, April 28, 2013

An unusual motif

Dambal is one of those places India abounds in, a generic village, so to speak: hot, dusty, with a row of tiny tea shops where men in turbans sit around a table drinking chai. It also happens to have a 1000-year-old temple, a 900-year-old temple, a beautiful kalyani, remains of temples and basadis, and a ruined fort. Like I said, a typical Indian village!

Most people who find their way to Dambal, about 15 km southeast of Lakkundi, come for the Doddabasappa temple - a magnificent temple, truly one-of-its-kind, built about 1124 AD. Constructed when the Chalukyas were reigning, some people think it is a precursor of sorts to the flamboyance of the Hoysalas who started building their dazzling temples in Belur and Halebid at about the same time, but completed them much later. Like the Hoysala temples, the Doddabasappa temple is also constructed with grey-green chloritic schist. This is a slightly softer stone than granite which  most other Chalukyan temples use. Historians wax eloquent about its unique stellate plan. And yet, when you see the temple, it looks circular, not star-shaped. That is because the architects dreamed up the temple plan by taking a  square and rotating it eight times to get a 32-pointed star, which at first glance, looks circular. Ingenious!

Like the Hoysala temples, this one too is decorated on its outer walls, but not quite as profusely. And whereas the Belur & Halebid temples abound in images of sinuous gods and goddesses, here the recurring motifs are architectural elements from the temples in miniature! One very common motif is a single pillar topped with a little gopura-like structure. Very cute, methinks!

There is another temple across the street, also a Chalukyan-period construction. It is quite plain, especially when compared to the Doddabasappa temple, but still worth a look. There is also quite a pretty kalyani (stepped well) not far from the two temples. When we went, it was still being renovated. We walked through some fields to get to it and came upon it quite suddenly, without much warning. Stones were falling off its sides and the water was green with algae, but the setting sun turned the stone a beautiful golden brown. I loved the isolation and the pastoral setting.

But what about the fort and the remains of numerous basadis that Dambal is supposed to have had? I shall just have to go back and look for them. 

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