Kaidala, home of a master craftsman
My tryst with the Hoysala Dynasty started innocuously when I went on a weekend getaway to Hassan over a decade ago. I had just taken a sabbatical from my 15-year-old corporate career in media and this seemed like a perfect break. I was staying in a coffee plantation which was hardly ten km from Belur town. On a dusty afternoon, I stepped out of the estate with a bit of reluctance and went to the Chennakesava temple in Belur. I had been to Belur and Halebeedu many times and this time we added a few lesser-known temples in Belavadi and Nuggehalli to our itinerary. And then, before I knew it I had been fascinated with the Hoysala sculptures, especially the master craftsmen like Amarashilpi Jakanachari and their stories.
Three months later, my cousin and I returned to the Hoysala country after some intensive research and we went on to explore the entire Malenadu region. Our trail across three days took us into 30 temples, inside remote hamlets as we drove through mud roads. We even went to Angadi where the Hoysala story first began. Several villagers were surprised to meet two girls wandering around and wondered if we were students. As the trip opened many doors to us, we also opened a few doors ourselves –some to the temples that were lying uncared and untouched. While the ASI and other state bodies had renovated a few select temples, a lot were lying in a beautiful but ruined state. The temples were architecture marvels, the sculptures were sheer poetry. It was in this trail that I had first heard of Amarashilpi Jakanachari, the master sculptor, who had carved the beautiful Chennakesava sculpture in Belur among other carvings. And to know more about him, I went to Kaidala, a nondescript village that was the last stop in this trail.
We were in Tumkur when a milestone pointed Kaidala. Located near Gulur and hardly 9 km from Tumkur, this simple village could have passed off as just another hamlet had it not been the birthplace of this legendary artist, Jakkanacharya. Originally known as Kreedanagari or Kreedapura, Kaidala was under the Hoysala reign, probably under Nripa Haya, and ruled by a chieftain called Baachideva.
A Chennakesava temple along with a Gangadareshwara shrine built in the 12th century stood in silence here and was completely cut off from the tourist circuit. The walls enclosed the temple complex like a fort and a few mandapams were scattered. The caretakers included a few old men and women along with a priest who sat outside the temple. The courtyard lay in an absolute state of neglect and some of the Hoysala sculptures were even faded.
The temple lacked the magnificence of the Belur Chennakesava temple but the six feet idol dedicated to the deity was almost identical to the one carved in Belur. Sculpted by Amarashilpi Jakanachari, the deity was flanked by Sridevi and Bhoodevi.
Another tall sculpture with folded hands holding a dagger stood there and possibly represented the master sculptor himself or the local chieftain. The outer wall had a small image of a couple, who the priest said could be the parents of Jakanachari
This is where we heard the story of Amarashilpi Jakanachari. The master craftsman left Kaidala and travelled far and wide and became a sculptor. Many Hoysala temples carry his signature as well, as the sculptors of the era left their mark on their masterpieces. As he immersed himself in art, he was not aware that his wife had borne him a son. Dankachari grew up without seeing his father and became a sculptor as well. The son soon followed his father’s footsteps and landed in Belur when the Chennakesava temple was being built. Although he was not aware that his father was the sculptor, he pointed out a flaw in one the idols. Amarashilpi Jakanachari refused to accept that there could be a blemish and proclaimed that he would cut off his hand if a defect was found.
The priest told us that a test was conducted and the statue, covered with sandal paste was found to have dried up everywhere except in the navel area where a cavity filled with sand and water was found. A live frog was living inside the cavity. Hence the idol was called ‘Kappe Channigaraya’ (Kappe means frog in Kannada) Jakanachari immediately cut off his right hand and he later realized that the young sculptor was none other than his own son. The son was extremely aggrieved and prayed for a miracle.
The story does not end here as folklore usually has happy endings. It is said that Amarashilpi Jakanachari got a vision from Lord Chennakesava asking him to return to Kaidala and build a temple there. Both father and son sculpted the idol together in the temple. Apparently, his right hand was restored as soon as the temple was built. The name was changed to Kaidala after the incident and a stone inscription here mentions the name as “ Kayadala.”
However, a few historians say that the term Jakkanachari or Jakanacharya was a title attributed to any master craftsman of the era and this could be a myth. Nevertheless, the Hoysalas had several eminent sculptors like Mallittama who had left their signatures behind on the Hoysala sculptures, and perhaps Amarashilpi Jakanachari was one of them as well.
As I walked around the temple, I felt a bit sad at the state of neglect. Two hero stones were placed near the main entrance of the temple. The Gangadeshwara temple also had two stone inscriptions that said that the temples were built in 1150 AD by a chieftain called Gule Bachi .
The temples may not be resonating in grandeur like the famous Belur – Halebeedu shrines but it is home to one of the most prolific but forgotten craftsman. We owe it to him and other sculptors as they had crafted some of the most magnificent monuments today. The only tribute that we can pay is to probably visit the place and respect his craftsmanship by renovating the temples and save them from crumbling and being forgotten. It’s not very often a village is immortalised by a sculptor. The story of many Jakanacharyas live in these Hoysala sculptures.