A 10th century Kannada poet, Adikavi Pampa said, “It is a virtue to be born in Banavasi as a human.” Banavasi is the oldest town in Karnataka. With a history that dates back to the 4th century AD, this sleepy town has seen history being made. It has been witness to the rise and fall of ruling dynasties. It has seen the British Raj and the Freedom Struggle. If these hills could talk, they would really have a lot to say.
Set amidst the hills of the Western Ghats, Banavasi is blessed with natural beauty. The city is located about 25 km from Sirsi. In the monsoons, the area comes alive with lush green fields, countless waterfalls, and turbulent rivers.
Quick Facts about Banavasi
- Closest town – Haveri
- Main tourist site: The Madhukeshwara Temple
- Best time to visit: September to January
History of Banavasi
According to the earliest recorded history of Banavasi, this town was the capital of the Kadamba rulers in 375 AD. It retained its position as the capital city for over 2 centuries. Copper coins from the 5th century AD with Kannada inscriptions on them have been recovered from the area.
These bear the insignia of the Kadamba King Krishnavarma II. Over the years as ruling dynasties came and went, Banavasi was known by many names; Konkanapura, Vanavasika, Nandanavana, Jayanthipura etc. The Madhukeshwara Temple in the city was built in the 9th century AD. This is one of the most famous tourist sites of Banavasi.
Greco-Roman writer Ptolemy mentions a historical town that is believed to be Banavasi in his writings. This city has been mentioned in poems by Kalidasa and Chamarasa. It has also been mentioned in the writings of Huen Tsang, a Chinese traveler-monk
The Madhukeshwara Temple
A pair of stone elephants stands at the gates to welcome visitors to this temple. The Madhukeshwara Temple is probably the most iconic symbol of Banavasi. This is a temple dedicated to Vishnu that dates back to the Kadamba dynasty. As ruling dynasties changed, the temple underwent a number of changes and renovations.
The temple features a very simple structure with minimal wall ornamentation. Under the Chalukyan rulers, a Sankalpa mandapa was added to the temple structure. Similarly, the Hoysala period saw the addition of a Nritya mandapa.
Unlike the rest of the temple, this mandapa has exquisite carvings on the ceiling and pillars. The temple gets its name from the honeyed hue of the Shiva Lingam contained inside it. A monolithic statue of the Nandi Bull can also be seen in the temple’s Mahamantapa.
Not far from the temple is a small botanical park known as Pampavana. It is known to be home to a number of medicinal plants and trees. The garden is known to be the place where Adikavi Pampa penned his poems. In fact, it derives its name from him. According to local folk tales, the garden also served as inspiration for Kalidasa’s ‘Meghaduta’.
Every year in December, the locals celebrate a 3-day festival to commemorate the city’s history. This is marked by a cultural extravaganza that includes folk dance performances, classical music performances, dance troupes, art exhibitions etc.
During these three days, the city comes alive with rangoli painters, potters, sculptors, carpenters and artists of all kinds. The Yakshagana performances during this festival are quite renowned. Classical folk art Yakshagana masks are also sold here and make great souvenirs.
Sightseeing in and Around Banavasi
Just about 5km from Banavasi is the ruins of another town, Gudnapur. The ruins of this town stand on an elevated bund. During the monsoons, the fields around it are flooded. An inscription in these ruins speaks of the rise of the Kadamba dynasty and describes a palace, temple, dancing halls and harem that once stood here. When these ruins were excavated, a large number of precious gemstones and jewellery was also found.
The Madhukedareshvara Temple Museum
43km from Banavasi lies a tranquil village by the name of Balligavi. The village is best known for the Madhukedareshvara Temple. This temple design has been influenced by both the Hoysala and Chalukya style of architecture. It was built in soapstone and can be dated back to the 11th century.
Today, a museum is housed on the temple premises. On display are the Hoysala crest, sati memorials and a four-headed Brahma. It is believed that the village was once home to over 50 temples. These temples were dedicated not only to Hindu deities but to the Jain Tirthankaras and Buddha as well.
This is the other well-known temple in Balligavi. The temple shows a lot more wear and tear as compared to the Madhukedareshvara. Parts of the temple have crumbled with time but what remains is enough to understand the artistic brilliance of Balligavi. The remains of the temple sit on a platform that has scenes from the Panchatantra carved into them interspersed with a number of erotic figures.
This is unlike any other Hoysala temple. One of the notable portions of the temple is a stone mesh window. This features intricately carved dancing figures in creeper scrolls. An elaborate sculpture of Gajasura being killed by Shiva can also be seen on the lintel of the doorway to the sanctum.
How to Reach Banavasi
The nearest airport is Mangalore at a distance of 253 km from Banavasi. Flights from all parts of India land here. You may choose to take a bus or hire a taxi to Banavasi from here.
Shimoga is the nearest railway station at a distance of 112km from the city. Buses ply regularly or one may hire a taxi.
Banavasi is well connected to the surrounding cities and towns by road. KSRTC runs several buses between Bangalore and Banavasi. Several private buses also ply to Banavasi from neighboring towns and cities.