The first sight of the temple at Avani can be deceptive. There is no towering gopuram at the entrance and it is comparatively small in size. But once you enter, you are overwhelmed with its sheer beauty.
Sri Ramalingeshwara temple is steeped in antiquity and enveloped in mythology. The temple was built in 10th century, when the Nolamba dynasty was in power. The Nolambas ruled from the 8th to the 12th centuries C.E, over an area called Nolambavadi which extended over south-east Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Hemavati was the capital of the Nolambas. They built many spectacular temples but unfortunately very few history books mention about them. They flourished under Rashtrakuta tutelage, but after their collapse they were overrun by the Ganga King Marasimha, who called himself Nolambakulantaka after vanquishing the Nolamba royalty.
The walled courtyard resembles the Bhoganandeeshwara temple complex at the foot of the Nandi Hills, which was also built by the Nolamba kings. Inside the temple precincts, there are shrines named after Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna as also for Vali and Sugriva. Each of these shrines has a Shivlinga. The Ramalingeshwara, Lakshmanalingeshwara and Shatrughanlingeshwara shrines stand adjacent to each other. The Ramalingeshwara is the central one and is also the main temple which is still in worship. The Bharatalingeshwara shrine lies on the other side of the temple premises.
We started with the Ramalingeshwara shrine. The exquisitely decorated linga lit by a few oil lamps in the dark garbhagriha had an ethereal impact enhanced by the sonorous voice of the priest chanting the mantras. He briefly outlined the sthalapurana of the place and the significance associated with it. It was nice to know that his son was learning the vedas and after completing BA in Sanskrit would continue the legacy of the family. After spending some time in his company we started exploring other shrines in the complex.
The shrines of Lakshmanalingesvara and Bharatalingeshwara are the most ornate. The ceiling of both of them have superbly carved figures of Uma Mahesvara surrounded by the Ashta Dikpalakas, divine guardians of eight directions of the universe. Each one of them is depicted on their vahanas: Indra on elephant, Agni on goat, Yama on buffalo, Nirurti on horse, Varuna on crocodile, Vayu on deer, Kubera on Man, Isana on bull. The pillars have intricate relief sculptures. The entrance to both these shrines have elaborately carved doorways. The outer walls of the shrines are decorated with delicate carvings and graceful sculptures of various Hindu gods. The Chola and Vijayanagara rulers have added various elements to the original Nolamba structure. In one corner of the temple, the figure of a boar, the emblem of the Vijayanagara empire, is carved on the wall!
A small hill, strewn with boulders forms an interesting backdrop to this ancient temple. It is believed that Sita retreated to this hill after her trial by fire and gave birth to Lava and Kusha who grew up in the hermitage of Valmiki. Avani means earth and Sita is also referred to as Avanisuta, daughter of earth. There is a temple devoted to Sita and Parvathi on top of the hill as also various caves. One of them is believed to be the ashram of Valmiki. The mud there is reported to have medicinal properties and people take it, mix it with water and drink it to cure illnesses.
The village of Avani attained prominence due to the legends associated with it. It is said to be the site of Uttara Ramayana. When Rama performed the Ashwamedha Yagna, the ceremonial horses were left to wander freely. When the horses reached Avani, Lava and Kusha challenged the authority of Rama, not realizing that he was their father. Rama sent his brothers Bharata, Shatrugna and Lakshmana all of whom were defeated in the battle. Then Rama himself went and fought against Lava and Kusha till Valmiki told him that they were his sons and aborted the battle. The shivalingas, which are named after them, were installed by Rama and his brothers to beg forgiveness from Lord Shiva for fighting with Lava and Kusha.
It is quite amazing to note how stories from the Ramayana are woven into the collective memory of people across India and through their association with temples like the one at Avani.
The temple at Avani is sheer poetry in stone. Every verse of it has been carefully and lovingly crafted by talented artisans who unfortunately remain unnamed. Faces, forms, textures and designs come alive through their chisels.
From ancient stones
You can become part of them
If you melt into them…
Glimpses At: photos.app.goo.gl/B2HHxHVLSCV3B9q8A
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