Man’s relationship with the cosmos, the seen and the unseen ( no matter what we choose to call it ) has always been marked by an overwhelming urge to seek oneness with this force, to have it respond to us in our lifetime and to merge with it in the hereafter. This inspired the creation of obvious physical manifestations – sacred spaces. ” Man, since the beginning of time, has always sensed the presence of the invisible – and has since used the most materialistic elements, like stone and earth, steel and concrete, to express the invisible…” – Charles Correa, A Place in the Sun.But just as `nirvana – moksha ‘ was accessed through a series of spiritual stages, so also in the built realm the approach to the invisible unfolded gradually.
Like everything else, there are mixed accounts for the Someshwara Temple in Ulsoor. While some reports say it was built by the Hoysalas and others, by Kempegowda, most seem to concur that it was probably built during the Chola period with the compound and Gopuram added to by Kempegowda II (a feudal chieftain during the Vijaynagar period). Though it is primarily a Shiva Temple, it also houses other deities – Kamakshiamma, Arunachaleswara, Bhimeswara, Nanjundeswara and the Panchalingeswara. But establishing the credentials of the Someshwara Kovil is not the subject of our conversation. The focus here is on a search for the invisible through the material.
The traditional Dravidian Temple plan could be designed in five basic shapes – square (caturasra), rectangular (ayatasra), elliptical (vrittaya ), circular (vritta ) and octagonal (astasra ). The plans were usually influenced by the nature of the consecrated deity ( sitting, standing, lying down etc ).
They were built in a pyramid shape with ascending steps like tiers tapering all the way up to the top. (also a metaphorical ascent towards heaven). Each tier was covered with intricate carving that contained hierarchies such as sacred animals, dancers /musicians, warriors, kings and deities or religious symbols, inscriptions and stories. But the first approach to the divine was through the entry point – the huge `Gopurams‘, or gate towers that were built into the walls of the quadrangular enclosures (Prakaarams) surrounding the temple.
Small temples would have had one Gopuram, but larger temples could have had more as the temples grew in size and stature.
The next step was through the `Mantapam’ or porch, which was a covered structure preceding the main section. Often, there were a succession of these – the Mukha-mandapa, ‘Maha-mandapa and Ardha-mandapa ( like at the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur).
The Cholas, Pallavas, Hoysalas et al, also had their own distinctive detailing for the traditional kudus (arches in the cornice), kapotas ( cornices) and the podigai (corbels or capitols ). There would also have been elaborate `karnakutis’ (miniature shrines at the corners) and ‘shalas’ (a small niche like shrine at the centre). The pillars would have had `Yali’s’ and the fierce Kirtimukhas would sit on a lintel, guarding the Garba Griha.
The Someshwara Temple in Ulsoor, is also known for the massive Dhwaja Sthamba ( pillar) in front of the temple and the Ashwatha (Banyan) katte inside.
Eventually, after passing through all these layers, our feet would have lead us to the actual shrine, the `Vimana’ with its `Shikara’ (cupola or dome). The Vimana had a square base (plan) and was surmounted by a pyramidal, tiered and decorated roof of one or more stories or `talas‘ (Ektala, Dvitala, Tritala).It was meant to protect the auric energy of the deity and keep it unsullied in the `sanctum sanctorum’ or the womb chamber– the Garbha Griha/Gudi.This housed the central deity ( Shiva in this case ) or his symbols ( the Shivalingam). Which ever of them it was, you were now face to face with Shiva. If your heart trembles a little, no matter. He is a potent force to reckon with.
” Shiva opposes the creation of Brahma : Vishnu sustains the creation of Brahma.Though apparent antagonists, both Shiva and Vishnu consider the ultimate goal to be Moksha.The difference is that Shiva seeks Moksha by withdrawing from the paradigm, while Vishnu seeks Moksha by staying within the paradigm…Vishnu’s way is exoteric, while Shiva’s way is esoteric. Vishnu helps us to establish perfection in life so that we have a sense of harmony, rhythm and order. Shiva makes it possible for us to challenge the paradigm, withdraw from it, understand it, control it and eventually, discover our true identities beyond it…
…Shiva is described as the destroyer because his withdrawal from samsara is destructive… his asceticism has two forms. The Vedic and the Tantric. In the former he withdraws from society, and in the latter he questions every norm of society. In the former he is the solitary ascetic, in the latter he is the dangerous iconoclast feared by conventional society.” – Devdutt Pattnaik, Indian mythology.
Indeed Shiva’s force is not to be taken lightly. He is the ash smeared, matted haired, Rudra, Mahadeva, Shankara, Ardhanarishwara, Nataraja. He is the other half of Shakti, creating a state of absolute being through a union of Consciousness and Bliss. No bow your head and hold forth your offering.
Heading back out of the inner sanctum, you would see colonnaded halls or Choultry’s around the temple precincts. These were multi-purpose spaces. Nearby, there would also have been a ` Kalyani’, or temple tank which provided water for the priests and residents of the `choultries’.
A few years ago, a 1200 year old Kalyani was unearthed on the Someshwara temple precincts. Almost 42 feet deep, with a whopping 4.5 crores having being allegedly allocated for its renewal, like other `Kalyani’s across Bangalore, it lay buried till it was brought back up to the light. Centuries ago, life and routines would have revolved around it – water being drawn, lamps being set afloat on auspicious occasions, possessions and bodies being washed, ablutions being performed, people milling around. It could be made beautiful again with careful, sensitive restoration. It could be intelligently and judiciously shared with people, thus re-affirming its original purpose – being a sacred community space. But right now, it stands fenced in and littered, desolate and empty.
In 1117 CE, the Cholas were defeated by the Hoysala king, Veeraballala II In Talakkad. Veeraballala passed through Bangalore ( as it was back then ) around 1120 CE (no, I am not going to repeat the done to death, unverified boiled beans story here) and very soon, the sun set over the Chola Empire and its influences on Bangalore.
Amongst all the dynasties of the Deccan, the mighty Cholas are my favourites. They were not just conquerors and administrators but also a Dravidian culture that possessed heightened artistic sensitivity. The original Chola Bronzes and sculptures were fluid, sensuous works of art with amazing adherence to lifelike detail, form, balance and proportion. Looking closely at the most famous one of all, Nataraja, the Divine Cosmic Dancer, it is almost possible to see him breathe. To hear the dreaded drum slowly start to beat out a rhythm of life and death as he begins to dance the world into cosmic cycles of creation, preservation and destruction.
” I lost you out of ignorant attachment to my body. Then I wasted my time searching high and low. Finally I found you within, O Shiva, then we united in Bliss. Only though the grace and compassion of Siddhanath could this have happened.” sings Lalleshwari, the 14th century, Shaivite mystic from Kashmir.
* If you have more information or any corrections to be made regarding information, do comment here. The Kovil is in between Car Street and Bazaar Street.