Saundatti is an old town that rose out of the riverine basin of the River Malaprabha. Its skyline is dominated by a fort and the many temple towers. The history of the town goes back more than a thousand years ago when it was an important part of the Ratta Dynasty. The Jain religion flourished here once upon a time.
Located 78 kms from Belgaum, the town is one of the most visited temple towns in the Northern part of Karnataka. It is most well known for the Yellamma Temple, the centrepiece of the region which attracts devotees from all over. Along with Yellamma Temple, there are many other landmarks that one can visit to understand the layered history of the place.
Sightseeing in and around Saundatti
There are many temples and other sightseeing options in and around the town. Here are a few of them:
Yellamma Temple – The Centrepiece of Saundatti
The hill top Yellamma or Renuka temple is dedicated to a fertility goddess. The site overlooks the Malaprabha and is home to many archaeological treasures. The site has been actively inhabited for more than a millennium, dating back to the days of the Rashtrakutas and the later Chalukyas. There have even been tombs discovered near the temple which predates the rest of the site.
History of the Yellamma Temple
The history of Yellamma Temple and the town of Saundatti is interwoven. Built in the early 16th century by Bomappa Naik, the present structure stands on the site of much older temples. Evidence has been found in the form of ceramics and pottery pieces which have been dated to the 3rd century BC, more than two millennia ago. In more modern history, the management of the temple was handed over to the Government of Karnataka in 1975.
Architecture, Features, and Festivals of Yellamma Temple
The Renuka or Yellamma Temple is built using designs and architectural concepts inspired by the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta ages. This Jain architecture style is one of the hallmark features of the Yellamma Temple. Behind the temple, one will find three ponds where devotees have a holy bath or dip. A sacred well also exists here, the water from which, devotees believe cures ailments of the skin. Bharathi Hunime and Banada Hunime are two main festivals here. During the festivals, up to a million people converge at Saundatti, including pilgrims from neighbouring states like Maharashtra, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. Yellamma Jatre is an important festival celebrated at the Renuka Temple.
There are many more landmarks in the town of Saundatti and these include a group of historic and culturally relevant temples. One of these is the Puradeshwara Temple, which features a late Chalukya style of architecture. It is a three-chambered or trikutachala temple and its main highlights include three shiva lingas, a weathered shikhara and navaranga pillars. The temple is adorned with images of Parvati and Veerabhadra and the outer walls feature many intricate carvings depicting important event from Hindu mythology. Another fascinating aspect of this temple’s design is that during Ugadi or the Deccan New Year, the sun’s rays directly fall on one of the shiva lingas of this temple.
The Ankeshwara temple dates back to the 11th century, and is another example of the architectural prowess of the Rattas who ruled Saundatti. The Western Chalukya style temple is below the ground level and falls in the large expanse of the Saundatti fort.
Built in the 18th century the Saundatti Fort is the predominant structure of this old town. The fort, which was built by Srisangi Desai, features eight bastions. The Kadasiddheshwara temple is one of the main attractions inside the fort, which also includes intricate carvings, some painted. The other temples of the fort include Nagarkere Mallikarjuna, Dyamavva and Ulvi Basavaeshwara.
Renuka Sagara was formed as a reservoir for the Navilatirtha Dam and offers a serene and scenic spot for people to unwind in Saundatti. This is also a place where people come and take holy dips after the various religious activities in the temples of the town.
How to Reach Saundatti
The main towns close to Saundatti are Belgaum and Dharwad, so most transit options will be via these towns, depending on where the starting point is.
The Belgaum Airport is the nearest airport to Saundatti, around 75 kilometres away.
Dharwad Railway station is just 40 kilometres south of Saundatti and the Saundatti-Dharwad Road connects the two towns. Belgaum Railway station is 95 kilometres away.
From Bangalore, one can catch buses to Dharwad or Belgaum and then change transport to Saundatti. The direct journey from Bangalore to Saundatti covers a distance of 470 kilometres on the NH48. Hubbali is one of the main stops on the road.
A charming heritage town, Saundatti is one of the cultural centres of Northern Karnataka. A visit here will immerse you in the diversity of the state. The temples and the fort have seen generations come and go and their legacy defines this region. Catch up with history and enjoy the spiritual vibes of this storied land by the Malaprabha.