Lush green sugarcane fields dotted with the odd sugar factory surround you on the 60 odd kilometres from Kolhapur to Khidrapur. A small town on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border, Khidrapur is best known for its magnificent Koppeshvara temple. The Koppeshvara temple dates back nearly a thousand years to between the 11th and 12th centuries CE, and is built in the Shilahara style.
Legend has it that the temple was built to placate Shiva’s rage (kop) after his consort Sati immolated herself, giving the temple the name Koppeshvara. Inscriptions found carved in the temple though appear to mention a village called Koppam, thus logically making Koppeshvara the local deity. Further enhancing the prestige accorded to this temple is its auspicious location. It is situated at the confluence of the rivers Krishnaveni and Kuweni. The Krishnaveni river, which flows from east to west, bends unusually towards the east at this point, thus making it even more auspicious according to the shastras.
The first thing to strike you as you approach the temple is its stunning plinth base. Standing on this intricately carved base are 92 carved elephants, roughly a metre high each. The plinth and the elephants together form the base for the entire temple. These majestic creatures are shown shouldering the burden of the superstructure and also serving as mounts to various gods who are seated on their backs. Each elephant is separated from the next with a carved figure of a surasundari, each beauty standing on her own plinth. Some consider Koppeshvara as a miniature replica of the plinth of the world famous Kailasa at Ellora in Aurangabad district.
As your eye moves upwards from the base, it is hard not to be amazed by the intricacy of the pillars. Supported by the pillars, the main portion of the external wall is also carved. Certain pilasters protrude, while others recede, giving the temple wall a stunning star-shaped appearance. Every part of the interior is filled with alternating carved figures of women and gods and goddesses. Each one of them is shown standing on a separate pedestal below its feet and a small canopy above the head specially tailored for it. There are small figures of minor deities at the foot of these pilasters as well as at the top of the celestial figures, all in separate decorated frames
Most eye-catching of all though are the carved figures of the surasundaris or celestial beauties like Mardala, Patralekhika, Chandravali, Rati, Torana, Ketakibharana, Nartaki, Chamara, Padmagandha, Putravallabha, Karpuramanjari, and above all Marichika. This lone figure of the surasundari, is unparalleled in Maharashtra.
On the south plinth of the mandapa Rati and Madana (the god of love) are strikingly presented. The artist taking advantage of the corner of the plinth has depicted Madana with a bow of ikshudanda (sugarcane) in his left hand and arrow in the right, to one side of the corner, and Rati facing him on the other side with both her hands suggesting fear. She appears to move away from him in order to get rid of him.
On the mandovara of the temple a monkey is shown dallying with a beautiful young woman. Here the glamorous surasundari and the fickle monkey are very effectively represented. She is youthful, standing in an attractive pose with her right hand raised to drive the monkey away. She is shown gracefully turning back, her curvaceous figure being carved to its full advantage. The suggestion of movement and pulsating life conveyed by the gestures of her hands and the body’s posture is appealing. There are many more such beautiful surasundaris on the mandovara. These celestial beauties add to the aesthetic appeal of the temple building. They are role models of physical perfection and portray the many faces of beauty. On three sides of the mandovara amidst these surasundaris are three bhadras equipped with all the required features of a temple.
Apart from the enticing figures of surasundaris there are a considerable number of images of gods and goddesses on the exterior of the temple.
The Garbhagriha (sanctum) is square with three unusual smaller chambers, the entrances of which are flanked by female doorkeepers. The Shivalinga with shalunka, the warimarga of which faces the north as per the shastric requirement, is known as Koppeshvara.
Koppeshvara is worth visiting not only for its aesthetic aspects but also for the well-integrated imagery of its sculptural scheme. The architect has achieved a balance between the southern and the northern side of the structure by pairing two opposite or complementary deities such as Ganesha and Saraswati – both related to learning; or Brahma flanked by Savitri and Gayatri and Vishnu with Lakshmi and Bhudevi on two sides of the hall, both facing the east honouring the main deity Shiva in the centre, i.e. in the sanctum. Further, the selection of two scenes – one from the Ramayana and the other from the Mahabharata indicate the artist’s depth of knowledge and the symbolic importance of the temple. The former depicts Hanuman handing over the ring of Rama to Sita, suggesting a very important event from the epic and the latter depicts Draupadi with her disheveled braid reminding Bhima of his vow to destroy Duhshasana’s thigh, giving the epic a devastating turn.
And so, the multi-dimensional temple of Koppeshvara is more than a beautiful sacred structure, encapsulating, as it does a richly layered religious and cultural experience. Art, architecture and spirituality converge to create a full-bodied living experience. The next time you drive through Kolhapur, take a short detour and see the wonders of Koppeshvara for yourself.
[Article Courtesy – Dr. G B Deglurkar – MU Vol 2 Issue 2 (2013) | Images: Dr Manjiri Bhalerao]