Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 66


Visnu and Consorts on Garuda
Mahabaleshwar (Narayanaswami) Temple

Aug 02, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Western Gangas

'The Western Ganga Dynasty was another of the important ruling dynasties of ancient Karnataka. In power from 350–1000 A.D., the Western Gangas are so named to distinguish them from the Eastern Gangas, who in later centuries ruled over modern Odisha.

The Western Ganga initially ruled from a capital seat at Kolar, later moving to Talakad on the banks of the Kaveri River in modern Mysore district. It is generally understood that the Western Gangas began their rule during a time when multiple native clans asserted their freedom due to the weakening of the Pallava dynasty of South India, a geo-political event sometimes attributed to the southern conquests of Samudragupta.

After the rise of the imperial Chalukya dynasty of Badami, the Gangas accepted Chalukya overlordship and fought for the cause of their overlords against the Pallavas of Kanchipuram. The Chalukyas were replaced by the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta in 753 A.D. as the dominant power in the Deccan. After a century of struggle for autonomy, the Western Gangas finally accepted Rashtrakuta rulership and successfully fought alongside them against their foes, the Chola dynasty of Tanjavur.

In the late 10th Century, north of Tungabhadra River, the Rashtrakutas were replaced by the emerging Western Chalukya Empire and the Chola Dynasty saw renewed power south of the Kaveri. The defeat of the Western Gangas by the Cholas around 1000 A.D. resulted in the end of Ganga influence over the region.

Though territorially a small kingdom, the Western Ganga contribution to polity, culture and literature of the modern south Karnataka region is considered important. The Ganga kings encouraged the fine arts, and under their hand literature in Kannada and Sanskrit flourished. Chavundaraya's writing, the Chavundaraya Purana of 978 A.D., is an important work in Kannada prose. Many classics were written on subjects ranging from religious topics to elephant management.

The Western Ganga kings showed benevolent tolerance to all faiths, but were primarily known for their patronage of Jainism. They sponsored the construction of monuments in places such as Shravanabelagola and Kambadahalli.

Among the Vaishnava temples built by the Western Gangas are the Narayanaswami temples in Nanjangud, Sattur and Hangala, in the modern Mysore district. The Mahabaleshwar (Narayanaswami) Temple at Chamundi Hills is one of the earliest examples of a Vaisnava temple built under Western Ganga patronage. It was built during the Eighth century and later renovated by the Hoysalas.

Mahabaleshwar (Narayanaswami) Temple

Interestingly, the bronze deities in Mahabaleshwar Temple belong to the Chola period. The temple itself is a blend of Hoysala and Ganga architecture. The presiding deity is a linga with Lord Shiva's face on it. There is also a deity of Parvathi, to Shiva's left. Also residing here is an unusual Nataraja and Sivakami, as well as Ganesh and the Sapta Mata (seven mothers).

Outside the temple are images of five Shiva avatars: Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Eeshana, which were installed by Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar.


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