The history of South India is replete with tales of six major dynasties trying to gain supremacy--the Pallavas, Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, Cholas, Pandyas and the Cheras ruled the south of the Vindhyas at various points in time. Over time, dynasties were lost or destroyed, and their history buried in time. But they left behind unparalleled contributions in the field of temple art and architecture which are much admired today. Splattered across South India, architecture found in Mahabalipuram, Madurai, Gangaikondacholapuram, and Hampi, to name a few, draw thousands and thousands of visitors annually.
The ruins in Hampi are probably the most famous of the lot. A lot of travel bucket lists floating around social media put it on their ‘must-visit’ destinations. However, if you’re planning a trip to the Unesco Heritage Site, my recommendation is that you start your explorations a day before. Let me explain.
There exists a place called Lakkundi or Lokkigundi of yore about 94 kilometres to the west of Hampi. Lakkundi flourished at least 200 years before the advent of the Vijayanagara empire. It’s a day trip which you simply must take that will take you down the lanes of the past.
Lakkundi is famous for ancient structures, about 900-odd years old. There are 11 in all but three caught my fancy.
Let’s start at the Brahma Jinalaya Temple. The origin story lies in obscurity with no definitive dates to know when it was actually built. Inscriptions inside state that in 1173 CE a local king called Gunanidhi Keshava (of the western Chalukyan lineage, maybe) donated funds to build this temple. But there’s also another record that states donations were given by a certain lady called Danachintamani Attimbe. The idol inside was that of the much-revered Jain saint Mahaveer. However, in the 12 th century, the villagers wanted to put the idol of Chaturmukh Bharma so today, the torso of the original idol can be seen outside the temple. With the installation of the new idol, the temple was renamed. Today in the inner sanctum you will find idols of Neeminath, the 22 nd Tirthankar, and Brahma. History tells us five such Jain temples were there but only one remains.
The architecture style is definitely from the Hoysala dynasty with well polished and well lathed pillars. When it came to stone selection, the creators preferred soap stone, inline heavy granite and sandstone used during the reign of the Pallavas and Chalukyas.
The Kashiveswara Temple and Suryanarayana Temple side by side also caught the eye. Shiva is the main deity at Kasiveswara but personally, it was a door jamb that I fell in love with. For me, it was a show-stopping moment. A garland of eight layers of fine art in stone on either side of the door, five of which are arranged in a concentric pattern and Gajalakshmi at the centre on a raised lintel—it was a discovery I hold dear.
Alongside is the Suryanarayana Temple, dedicated to Lord Surya or the sun god. Images of seven horses denoting the seven days of the week can be seen all around the temple. The door frame here also has intricate carvings. The stories depicted in the panels are from the Epics mostly. There’s one panel that shows an elephant leading a procession and the locals milling around. Some play the flute, some clang cymbals. Another panel showcases Bheema’s strength while fighting King Bhagadatta. He lifts Supratika (the elephant) by hooking his arm around the trunk and throws it high in the sky. It then falls to the ground in slow motion—just like a modern day flicker book. Another panel that stayed with me was Ravan fighting Indra mounted on an elephant.
While you could of course spend your time walking around other temples and structures, I would suggest walking to Manikeshwara Temple nearby. The path isn’t up to mark but there’s a stepwell adjoining it, which is absolutely stunning.
Lakkundi is a speck on the map but it’s a great way to get introduced to the wonders of Hampi the next day.
Getting there: Gadag is the principal town which lies 12km from Lakkundi where stay and dining options are available. Shivani Inn (+91-8372235277) is a budget stay option. You can drive down from Mumbai too (Mumbai-Kolhapur-Belgaum-Dharwad-Hubli-Gadag).