Kopeshwar Temple near Kolhapur in Maharashtra is a masterpiece of Chalukyan temple architecture. It is yet to get the fame like Chola temples of Thanjavur or Chandela temples of Khajuraho. Maybe because it is a single temple in this region with a much smaller Jain temple in the vicinity. Maybe its time has just come now.
Kopeshwar Mahadev Temple in Khidrapur was my prime motivation for this trip to Kolhapur. So, early morning we drove down from Kolhapur to Khidrapur, some 70 Km away, to see this temple in all its glory.
Kopeshwar Temple Khidrapur
Nested between the relatively new houses, the stone door with a lovely doorjamb welcomed us. The first thing I noticed was the shining polish the stones carried. I would soon see many sculptures and pillars inside with even better, shining polish on them. It reminded me of the fine polish I saw at Barabar caves in Bihar.
I stepped in to see the temple shimmering in the morning rays of the sun. I hurriedly stepped into the Swarg Mandap – for this is the most unique architectural feature of this temple. And stood there awestruck by what I saw. No matter how many images or videos you see, there is nothing like standing on the large circular stone disc surrounded by 48 carved pillars with an opening to the sky.
An elderly lady asked me to first go and meet the deity of the temple – Kopeshwar Mahadev. She is probably used to see the tourists get lost in the sculptures and forgetting to meet the deity. I stepped inside the Sabha Mandap through another lovely stone door with a stunning doorjamb. Another set of pillars surrounding another large circular stone welcomed me. I wondered what dance and music this stone would have seen over the ages.
Madanika Sur Sundari
When I could take my eyes off the circular pillars and the stories, they have on them, I saw the single Dwarpala on the right side of Antral Dwar or the door leading to the vestibule. The other space was empty waiting for the Dwarpala Murti to be fixed, or was it there but removed by the thieves? Antral is full of Madanika or Sur Sundari images, the beautiful women who are adorned with all kinds of jewelry and are considered Mangala or auspicious.
The Garbhagriha or the sanctum has two Lingas and there is an interesting legend about it. There are Madanikas on the walls of sanctum as well. This is rare. The same lady pointed us to the meditation cave on the left and it felt like the perfect place to sit and meditate in complete darkness.
It was time to go around the outside walls of the temple. I was lost in the sculptures of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu & Devi punctuated by Madanikas in various poses. I did notice a lovely Krishna Murti. However, it was when our guide Shashank came and explained us the whole temple for more than an hour that each of these sculptures started talking to us, taking us back in time when a Kalyani Chalukyan king would have probably first built it.
History of Kopeshwar Temple at Khidrapur
There are different views on when this temple was exactly built. Sources point to it being first built in 7th CE, probably built by Badami Chalukyas. Other sources place it in 9th CE during the times of Kalyani Chalukyas. While yet other sources put it to 12th CE built by Shilahar Kings, who were earlier the vessels of Chalukyan kings.
My sense is that it is probably a 9th CE temple later enhanced by Shilahars. You do see a lot of incomplete elements in the temple. For example, the incomplete north and south Mukh mandapas, incomplete carvings on pillars with markings for carving. As they say, incomplete structures give you insights into the making of temples. The Shikhar of the temple is also out of sync with the rest of the structure. Temples anyway are on perpetual construction mode.
The temple thankfully has 12 inscriptions, 11 of which are in old Kannada script while one is in Devnagari. However, none of these inscriptions tell us about who built it and when. One of them dating to 1204 by Yadava Kings of Deogiri do mention the renovation of the temple, implying that the temple existed well before 12th CE.
Marks of Aurangzeb’s visit in 1702 CE can be seen all over the broken images of the temple. Most faces and hands are broken, weapons are broken, as are the trunks of elephants that form the platform on whom the temple stands.
The story of Kopeshwar Mahadev
They say in Sanatan Dharma, every story eventually goes back to the story of Sati’s self-immolation at her father Daksha’s Yagya. Kopeshwar Mahadev celebrates a moment of that key episode. After Sati kills herself, Shiva is angry. Vishnu steps in to pacify his anger. It is that moment that this temple freezes in time. Since Shiva is angry he gets the name Kopeshwar. Kopa means anger in Sanskrit. Vishnu is present here as the second linga to pacify Shiva.
Nandi, an integral part of every Shiva temple is missing here. Not without a reason. When this episode happened, Nandi had accompanied Sati to her father’s place. So, he is absent here. Now, the Daksha’s place is in Kankhal in Haridwar, but people in Maharashtra believe it to be in Yadur village a few kilometers across the Krishna river. The Nandi there at the Virbhadra temple, it seems looks towards this temple. I missed visiting this temple, but probably next time.
I wonder if the presence of so many Madanikas, especially in the sanctum is to pacify the Shiva, who is Kopeshwar here.
The Architecture of Kopeshwar Temple Khidrapur
Architecturally, so as per Shilpa Shastra, this is probably the richest temple of Maharashtra.
The stone used in this temple is hard basalt rock, that is found in the Sahyadri range of mountains, the closest point being at 60 km away. So, the stone must have been ported here via Panch Ganga and Krishna rivers. Most of our rivers had good waterways once upon a time.
Let us look at the architecture of this beautiful temple in detail.
The Swarga Mandap – an exquisitely carved structure, with a circular open ceiling is the most unique feature of this temple. I have not seen anything like anywhere in temples across India. To the best of my knowledge, have never even heard of anything like this anywhere.
Swarga Mandap is the first part of the temple that you see once you step in. It is detached from the main temple by a very small margin. The circular structure of Swarga Mandap is supported on 48 pillars, each of which is beautifully carved. Seen from outside, you can see the impression of an inverted lotus on the roof.
There are 12 horizontal spokes coming out on the ceiling, both inside and outside the structure.
The inside edge has 12 deities carved on them. There are 8 deities of 8 directions, collectively called Digpals occupying their respective direction. In addition, there are 4 images of Vishnu, Kartik, Sun, and Shiva. All the deities are riding their respective vehicles with their consorts except Kartik who is believed to be a Brahmachari or single.
Figures are carved in a manner that if you stand in the middle, you will only see the deity riding alone. It is only when you step aside, you will see the consorts sitting behind them. You simply smile at the craft of the architect who designed it & you wonder when, why and how did we lose it all!
The circular stone slab on the floor called Rangshila is exactly the same size as the hole in the ceiling. It roughly measures 14 feet in diameter and is carved out of a single stone. Talk about mathematics in our temple architecture.
Video of Kopeshwar Temple Khidrapur
48 Pillars surrounding the open space in Swarga Mandap are carved in geometric patterns. The polish is to be seen to be believed, almost metallic finish. Of these, 12 pillars surround the Rangshila. At the bottom of these pillars are the different temple architecture designs carved, especially the shikhara styles. A slim strip going around the pillars have different flowers carved on it.
An obvious question that comes to your mind is why would the ceiling be open. A logical answer that I got was that this place was used to perform Yagnas, so an open ceiling was required. Another explanation said it is to be able to see the Sky from inside the temple. Sky, as we know, is one of the five elements that everything is supposed to be made from. The name Swarg Mandap comes from this window to the sky, as it is believed that you see the Swarga or heaven from here.
Open Sky Architecture
I did wonder if the roof is missing because the temple is not yet complete or it fell off at a certain point in time. My curiosity was answered when I saw a well-built channel to take the water out of the mandap. So, it was always meant to be open to the sky.
It was probably also used for cultural performances as you can see a rough seating arrangement at different levels around it. It gives an impression of a mini amphitheater. Does the sky window has an acoustic role, needs to be explored?
Once I soaked in the charms of Swarga Mandapa, I looked towards the temple, standing in the middle of the Rangshila of Swarga Mandap. What amazes you is that the trinity of Sanatan Dharma, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh are all visible in one frame. Shiva is inside the temple as the presiding deity, Brahma can be seen on the left wall of the temple and Vishnu on the right. Interestingly, you only see three of them from this point and no other deity.
The Sabha Mandap is a part of the main temple, slightly detached from Swarga Mandap. The doorjamb is beautiful with a Saraswati Murti on top and Purna Kalash on both sides. Lower panels on both sides of the door have 10 Dwarpalas, 5 on each side. Figures are well ornamented and adorned. They look beautiful even when their Gadas have been broken. At the bottom is a panel of mythical animals called Vyals.
The lattices windows with flowers carved at intersections is a signature element of Chalukyan architecture. An incomplete Chandrashila is carved in front of the door.
Inside the Sabha Mandap, the geometry of Swarga mandapa is repeated except the ceiling is covered here. 60 pillars are arranged in 3 layers, a square in the middle and the third layer embedded in the walls. The four corner pillars bigger than the rest of the pillars.
Each pillar has Kirtimukh carved on it, each in a different style with different motifs. Some of the motifs include Peacocks, Crocodiles, Dancers, Vahanas like Garuda, deities like Vishnu, Shiva, Sadhus, Fruits, and Flowers. Polish on black basalt stone shines like a mirror.
In some of the pillars, we admired the miniature version of sculptures where no single detail was missing. A small carving of Vishnu and Lakshmi has all the jewelry properly carved with all the iconographic details that help you identify the deity.
There are two Jataka or Panchatantra tales that can be seen carved on the pillars. One is that of a Monkey and a Crocodile, another is that of the talkative tortoise. There is a depiction of Vasant Ritu or the spring season. There are mirror images of dancers and animals. A Ramayana panel showcases Hanuman with Ram & Lakshman. Carvings of some of the pillars are in an incomplete stage.
A circular Rangshila again takes the center stage here. The performances here would have been like a Pooja offered to the deity inside the Garbhgriha.
In one corner is the image of Saptamatrika on a stand-alone stone. A Bhairava Murti in one of the niches looks like a later addition.
The masterpiece of Sabha Mandap is the Dwarpala outside the Antral or vestibule. It is heavily embellished and the jewelry designs can still be seen in the markets of Kolhapur. The crown has a row of Mund-Mala or the garland of skulls. The jewelry is brilliant and the finish so fine.
Antral or Vestibule
Square Antral or vestibule again has some lovely carved figures and a place to see the temple doorjamb. On the right wall of the vestibule is a longish inscription in old Kannada.
Garbhghriha or Sanctum
We crossed a finely carved Chandrashila with conch shells and crocodiles carvings to enter the Garbhgriha. On top of Doorjamb is Lakshmi. There is a depiction of life around the door and the auspicious figures like Purna Kumbha, Makar & Mayur or Pots, Crocodile and Peacocks.
A unique feature of the Grabhgriha of this temple is that you find the Madanika figures all around the walls of the sanctum. Unfortunately, most of them been broken.
The two Lingas depicting Shiva and Vishnu are at the base level. A pujari regularly worships them.
Kopeshwar & Dhopeshwar Lingas
As I said earlier, the Garbh Griha has two Lingas – one representing the Shiva as Kopeshwar. The second one represents Vishnu as Dhopeshwar, as the pacifier of Shiva. Since this temple celebrates that moment, both Shiva and Vishnu are present in Linga form here.
We witnessed a unique Shringar of the Kopeshwar Shivalinga here with Dahi-Bhaat or Rice and Curd. As you know this is a cooling combination, so this is applied to the deity every day during the summer months from Maha Shivratri till Ashadh Shukla Panchami. This is called Bhukti Puja in Kannada and Dahi Bhat Puja in Marathi.
I have never seen such a beautiful Abhishek in any temple. Pujari spent 4 hours in the morning creating a Shiva figure on the linga, a Nandi and a Ganesha figure around it with Dahi Bhaat. This is done every day for these two months. If you want to see the complete Shringar, visit during these two months and be there around noon time.
It was also heartening to see the kids from nearby school visiting the temple before going to the school next door in their white and pink check uniform.
Mahashivratri is the biggest festival celebrated at Kopeshwar Mahadev Temple. Every Monday, a procession of the Utsav Murti takes place in the temple.
Outside Walls of the Temple
Walls of the temple are as unique as the temple.
At the eye level is a panel with 92 elephants that goes around the temple, giving you a feeling that these elephants are carrying the temple on their backs. This is unique to this temple. Each of the 92 elephants is carved differently. Each elephant has different jewelry and has different deities riding them.
Unfortunately, most have their trunks broken by the invaders. Some that have survived show you a glimpse of how beautiful they would have looked holding fruits like Mangoes and Sugarcanes. You can see this elephant panel replicated at the Akshardham Temple in Delhi.
On all three sides of the temples are images of Shiva Parvati with images of Brahma and Vishnu on either side. All of them are carved in a very different way, there is no repetition. The gargoyle in the shape of a crocodile is beautiful. Its water falls into a unique star-shaped tank.
Deities on Outer Walls
The four corners of the Sabha Mandap have major deities carved on them. Deities like Brahma, Vishnu, Ganapati, Krishna as Murlidhara, Shiva, Devi, Bhairav, Bali, Vaman, Chandra, Surya, Ardhnarishwara, Madan, Rati, Saraswati, Ganga, Mahishasurmardini, Nataraja can be seen in various poses.
There are scenes from Mahabharata with Bhim & Draupadi & Ramayana with Hanuman seen with Ram and Sita holding the ring. Most deities are riding the elephants except Shiva and Parvati who are always on their Nandi.
There is a broken Murti of the second Dwarpala near the left or southern door of the Sabha Mandap. The door on this side shows 7 out of 10 Dwarpalas are women.
Close to it is the inscription in Sanskrit in Devnagari Script that tells about the renovation of the temple by Snghan Dev of Yadavas in 1214 CE. The inscription has sun and moon on the top. A Shivalinga is being worshipped by a Purohit below them along with a cow and a sword. Conch shell on the left is the royal emblem of Yadavas who trace their descent from the Vishnu Avatar of Krishna.
On both the southern and northern doors of the Sabha mandap, you can see the incomplete structures that were planned but were never completed. Can we complete them in 21st CE? Yes, provided we had the skills to carve the stone so beautifully.
Madanikas are exquisite at this Khidrapur Temple.
Some of the ones I can recall are:
- Mridangvadini – or the one who is playing Mridanga, also known as Mardala.
- Vishkanya – with a snake on her feet & hands
- Shuk Sarika – One with Parrot
- Patralekha – one writing the letter. There are three sculptures here showing the beginning, middle and end of letter writing in this temple.
- Marichika – the one holding a bow in her hands
- Madanika with a Monkey pulling her garment
- Chamravahini – the one who holds the Chamar or Whisk in her hand
- Nartaki – dancers in different poses
- Veenavadini – one holding the Veena
- Shalbhanjika – the one holding the branch of a tree
- Bhujang Trasita – the one who is scared to see a snake
- Kanduk Kreeda Magan – the ones lost in playing with the ball
- Playing Holi with a Pichkari in hand
If you look intently you will see almost all fashion trends from across the ages depicted here. Part curls, part straight hair, nail art, shorts, high heels, different hairstyles, accessories, jewelry designs, belts, mirror work, adornments – everything can be found on these Madanika sculptures.
The sculptures in the inside folds of the temple walls that have managed to escape the sun and rain, shine as if they have been polished yesterday. You have to imagine how the temple would have looked when all the images shined the same way.
Somewhere among Madanikas, you see a couple of foreigners with their distinct beards, probably Arabians and Chinese. I wonder if these two are always found in our sculptures to show the trade with both the east and west.
When you stand on one side of the temple and look at the structure as a whole, you would notice a stark mismatch in the architecture of Shikhara or the superstructure and the rest of the temple. It was probably added later, probably in a hurry to complete the incomplete temple.
After going in and out of the temple many times, trying to capture whatever I can with my cameras and my eyes, it was time to say Goodbye. Not before, this temple entered my list of Must See Temples in India.