Bhallatakipura (Inde): Behind the evergreen forests

Manjunath Sullolli

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Archaeology Capital of the Saluva kings, Bhallatakipura is now home to almost impenetrable evergreen forests. Seemingly forgotten by civilisation, this ancient town has many monuments of historical and cultural value, says Manjunath Sullolli

The history and archaeology students of Hampi Kannada University camped at Gerusoppa for 10 days recently to study the ancient town. Besides studying the area, they also cleaned the monuments spread over a kilometre, surrounded by the cane forests of Honnavar.

On the bank of the Sharavati, a small hamlet under Nagare revenue village (24 kilometres by road from Honnavar or 35 kilometres from the world famous Jog Falls), is a place of antiquity with the remains of ancient town, mounds, enclosures, hundreds of small wells and several Jain temples. One has to traverse thick evergreen forests on the way to this place. Before a decade and in earlier days this place could also be reached by sailing on the Sharavati!

The place is mentioned in several inscriptions as Nagire, Gerasappa, Kshemapura and Bhallatakipura, and the old, deserted town is called Nagarabastikeri now.

On one bank is the present village and on the other is the old town with its historical remains. The name is derived from geru (Semicarpus anacardium Linn) in Kannada (soppu being leaf), whose fruit is called bhallataki in Sanskrit, and that is why the place name has been Sanskritised as Bhallatakipura. This was the capital town of the Saluva Kings of Gerusoppa from the early 14th Century and continued to be so till 1606 AD. In 1623 AD, the Italian traveller Pietro Della Valle visited Gerusoppa and described it as once a famous city, the seat of Pepper Queen Channabhairadevi, and that the Sharavati was the most beautiful river he had ever seen. In 1845, Captain Newbold also studied and recorded this ancient town. Hundreds of wells could be found in this area. There are many small temples in ruins. Treasure hunters have severely damaged several temples around. Many temples remain encirled by the cane and green trees. Many wells have begun disappearing now.

Of the many monuments here, the Chaturmukha Basti is the chief one, a beautiful structure built in Vijayanagar style with chaturasra plan. It is only monument being protected and conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) today. The renovation work was undertaken during 2007-08 by the then superintendent of archaeology Dr Venkateshayya. It has four entrances from four directions and all these lead to the garbhagriha which has four separate images facing the four entrances. The temple is built in grey granite. Each hall in front of the garbhagriha has four thick pillars with square bases and overhanging brackets, which has a lotus. There are animal motifs like rows of makaras and swans at the bottom of the wall at the exterior.

The dwarapalakas carved in relief on each side of the four doors of the halls wear tall crowns and each hold a club entwined by a cobra. Beside them on walls are empty niches crowned with beautiful miniature temple shikhara models. The temple structure is over a jagati (platform) measuring almost a metre in height. There are four images in the garbhagriha of the Tirthankaras seated in padmasana. One of these has been damaged lately. The engravings in this basti of the dwarapalakas and other mural designs appear refined and are well executed. Within the precincts of this temple there are five other ruined temples built of laterite in which there are a few images and incriptions.

The Vardhamana basti has a fine black stone image of Mahavira in sitting posture. There are three inscriptions nearby. The first, of 1378 AD, seems to record a grant by Honnappa Setti of Chandrapur (Chandavara) under the Gerusoppa chieftains. The second inscription on a nishidhi stone at the same place is dated 1392 AD and records the death of Ramakka, wife of one Yojanasetti who’s stated to have built the Chaityalaya of Anantatirtha at Gerusoppa. The third inscription, also on a nishidhi stone, in 14th Century characters records the death of Shantaladevi, daughter of Bommarasa and Queen of Haivanarasa. Nearby is the basti of Neminatha, whose pedestal has an inscription with two verses in Kannada. There are also remains of an an­cient temple, perhaps of Venkataramana with a garbhagriha, with the deity missing. The Parshwanath Basti has a rich collection of innumerable stone images like Veerabhadra, Kapalika, Revanta, Ganapati, Tiruthankaras etc. There is a Mahasati stone and the remains of a dilapidated temple with many broken images strewn all over.

Even today, many treasure hunters dig up the temples here. There is an urgent need to survey the whole area. A serious excavation and research effort by the departments concerned are bound to unearth more of our rich historical legacy.