Musical pillars, floating bricks adorn 800-year-old Ramappa temple
Hyderabad: If one had to feature a list of modern engineering marvels around the world, then the Palm Islands and Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Channel Tunnel between England and France, and closer home, the Statue of Unity in Gujarat, would figure on the list. But, imagine constructing such architectural marvels with the most basic tools, such as a knife, chisel, hammer, jaggery and tree bark, and using an elephant as your crane.
That, in a nutshell, is how the stunning Kakatiya Rudreswara Temple, popularly known as the Ramappa temple, was sculpted way back in the 13th century. It’s no wonder that the 800-year-old monument in Telangana has now been inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the 39th in India.
According to Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), a monument gets recognised as a heritage site when it has an “outstanding universal value and represents a masterpiece of human creative genius.” The temple is located in Palampet village in Mulugu district, which is about 230 kms away from Hyderabad. Even its builder, Recherla Rudrayya, acknowledged it and had a warning inscribed on the temple itself for his foes. “I can be an enemy to anyone. But, not this temple. Do not destroy it,” it said.
Views on some unique features
Sand-box technology: This is one of the key reasons why the temple got the heritage tag. A general of Kakatiya dynasty, Recharla Senapati Rudrayya had commissioned the temple and famous sculptor Ramappa was its chief architect. It took 40 years (1173 to 1213 AD) for Ramappa to complete the construction. The temple stands majestically on a six-foot-high, star-shaped platform which was constructed using sandstone, granite, dolerite, and lime. “The technology involved filling a pit with a mixture of sand-lime, jaggery (for binding) as foundations before the stronger structures were constructed on ‘sandboxes’ to absorb the waves of the earthquake as the site is located under a seismic zone of the Godavari belt. Elephants were used as cranes to construct the ‘shikara’ roof of the temple,” said Prof M Panduranga Rao of the Kakatiya Heritage Trust who played a stellar role in coordinating with the Unesco to get the heritage tag for the temple.
Floating bricks: “The bricks used in the construction of the temple shikhara or gopuram weighs 0.85 to 0.9 gms/cc which is lower than the density of water (1 gm/cc). It is made of clay mixed with acacia wood, chaff and myrobalan (a fruit), making it sponge-like, thus being able to float on water,” Rao said.
Pillars reflect light onto sanctorum: “The presiding deity in the temple is Lord Shiva. In a significant architectural feat, daylight is reflected by the four granite pillars in the sanctorum which is diverted towards the inner sanctum, keeping it illuminated the whole day,” explained BV Papa Rao, a retired IAS officer, who along with the professor floated the heritage trust.
Musical pillars: A pillar has the sculpture of Lord Krishna. He can be seen sitting on a tree playing his flute denoting the mythological tale of Gopika Vastrapaharanam. Saptaswaras (Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa) can be heard by tapping the sculpture of the lord.
Warding off the evil eye: A portion of the main pillar inside the sanctorum is a little flawed. The carvings are misplaced. In fact, the portion also has a slight dent to it. Sculptor Ramappa intentionally left the space blank to ward off the evil eye, according to locals.
13 needle holes: There is a fine carving on one of the pillars which is shaped like a bangle. It has 13 holes which, according to legend, indicate Lord Shiva’s Trayodashi (13 in Sanskrit). “According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva defeated demons on Trayodashi to save other sages. The 13 thin-threaded holes between the stone pillars reflect the richness of the architecture of Kakatiya kings. Only a small thread or a needle can pass through the holes of the sculpture. It is unclear as to how there were specific tools in the 13th century to carve this out,” said Papa Rao.
Optical illusion: There is one carving where there are three dancers in the middle but there are only four legs. If you close the body of the middle dancer, you can see two girls dancing. But when you close the bodies of the girls on either side, the middle legs become the legs of the dancer in between.
Thank you, elephants!: “There are 526 elephants (adding up to 13, the significance of which is explained above), carved on the outer walls of the temple. The startling fact is that each elephant is chipped differently. This was done to acknowledge the contribution of elephants in building the temple and transporting the granite stone. Also, the elephants face clockwise, indicating the ritual of Hindus walking in that direction around a shrine,” said Prof Panduranga Rao.
Egyptian and Persian carvings: The figurines carved in sandstone all around the temple feature Persian men, Egyptian Pharaohs, among others, pointing to the trade relations the Kakatiyas had with these countries during the 13th century. There are also some sculptures of Jains and Buddhists.
Mandakinis: There are 12 black stone statues of mandakinis (dancing figures) perched atop pillars of the temple. Each figure has a distinct feature with the one named, Ragini, wearing high heels. “The work is so intricate that on one mandakini, there is a shadow of a necklace worn by her which looks natural but is actually carved out. Irrespective of the angle of the sun, we can see the shade on her body,” explained Papa Rao.
Kakatiya emblem: “You can also find carvings and statues of elephants and lions on the walls and pillars here. The foot is shaped like an elephant trunk, in the middle is a human shoulder and the top is a lion’s face. That is called Gaja Kesari which is the Kakatiya dynasty’s emblem. It is symbolic of their valour,” Papa Rao said.
The temple is built with three different coloured stones (red, white and brown), with the colours merged on a single stone.