Dec 3, 2022

Megalithic burial chambers of Konnur

The prehistoric site of Konnur was on my list of items for a few years. My efforts to locate it on Google Maps went in vain. The only way to locate it was to inquire with at Konnur. Quite often remotely situated prehistoric monuments are lost mainly due to human interference. So I wasn't sure if I'll be able to locate it all.

September 23, 2022
We arrived at Konnur around 2 PM. There were two items to see here- 1. a Chalukyan temple named Chikaleshwara Gudi and 2. Prehistoric megalithic tombs. We drove through the narrow streets of Konnur asking directions to the temple and parked our car at a junction. As we were inquiring about the temple, a shopkeeper noticed the temple caretaker and hailed him. The caretaker was friendly, he and his son lead me to Chikaleshwara Gudi. After a quick tour of the temple I inquired about the dolmen. Apparently the megalithic tombs are called as Munivasada Guhegalu (caves used by ascetics) or Shantisagar Gufa. The caretaker, Shankar Jiddimani, appointed his son Shivu to take us to the site. The site is situated a couple kilometers from the village. Shivu was familiar with the locale and we reached the site in a few minutes. The site is protected with a fencing wall around it, and has just one entry point. The caretaker of this site, Ravi welcomed us with a respectful smile. The site is L-shaped, the megalithic tombs are situated at the far end, rest of the area is just open ground with a few trees. Within this enclosure are tombs of Jain Munis as well. The little stone shelter in front of the five mantapas is one of the tombs.
I was so happy to be here, looking at another group of megalithic tombs. These are as rough as they can get, like the ones at Aihole, Rajan Kollur, Kutkankeri, and other remote locations. This rough little structure, despite its primitive form, has an artistic look. The sloping faces of the side slabs defines its stylish looks. The inside is dim, the floor is dirt. According to Ravi, the inside is a pit filled with dirt washed in by rainwater. The rocks buried around the tomb may not be there naturally, they have been fixed in a circle around the tomb. This is the first time I'm seeing a stone circle around a megalithic tomb although it is a feature of prehistoric tombs. Lets call this tomb #1.

Moving on to another tomb, let us call this tomb #2. Compared to tomb #1, tomb #2 slightly bigger. There are other differences as well. Their orientation; tomb one facing east and this tomb below is facing south. Also this tomb vertically fixed slab in the front. I think originally it was a pair of vertical slabs, now one of them is missing. Then there is a U-shaped extension to its right. Ravi said that during the recent rains, flowing rainwater deposited dirt in the tomb's chamber. Else we would've seen a square pit inside.

This is the rear view of the tomb. Going by its size, this could have been a tomb of a small child i.e. assuming the body was buried. However, it is possible that bodies were cremated and ashes buried in a tomb, in which case the size of the tomb doesn't matter.

Next to the western edge of the enclosure is this particular tomb. The slabs are granite, also it is larger and construction is slightly different.

The next one is a much larger one. Also it has a large chamber inside, large enough for an adult man to sit inside it. I think the stones piled up next it originally formed a circle around the tomb.

Konnur megalithic site details are available in ASI Dharwad Circle website. I'm quoting the description as it is: At Konnur, near the Gokak Falls, are extensive group of dolmens scattered in the fields. Like those of Aihole over the hill, these have also been enclosed with slabs but unlike them, they all face the south. The sherds of pottery and ash have been found. An interesting architectural element is, in front of their southern entrances, are set up two flat slabs on edge leaving a narrow lane of approach between them. The cells vary in size, but average about four feet square inside, and are proportionately high. Locally these tombs are called as Pandava houses while the Jaina call them as Munivasada Guhegalu.

This particular tomb is the largest of all in this enclosure. However it has been modified in the process of reconditioning it. The slabs forming the lane seem to be in original positions. The chamber inside(see inset) is much larger compared to the previous tomb. An adult of average height could easily step into the pit and sit comfortably.

Since this site has a Jaina connection, this tomb might have been used by Jaina ascetics to do Dhyana in isolation. Ascetics are known to vow silence & fasting for a certain period, so during that period they keep bare minimum contact with others. People serving the ascetics normally bring water, milk and fruits once a day, place them at the entrance and retreat. The stone masonry wall seen on the right is a recently built structure. Ravi said there's a tomb inside it.

This is the inside of the building . The little doorway on the right is the passage to an underground chamber. The chamber is large enough to accommodate 2 or 3 adults. The walls of the chamber are rough-cut slabs like the ones seen earlier. What I feel is this place was (may be still is) for performing Sallekana. Its a vow taken by certain Jaina ascetics who fast until death. Its my guess this room served that purpose. That's just a guess, my guides didn't mention that, they just said that Jain Munis lived here. This little fellow is Ravi's son Basu. A silent, energetic and active kid.

We had seen all the tombs in the enclosure. Ravi mentioned about a few more tombs behind a farmhouse opposite the enclosure entrance. The farmhouse and the adjoining farmland were owned by a Gowda, a village headman. Ravi said its okay to take a look. There were three tombs of which one was large and in good condition. In fact this is the largest seen here. The parallel slabs are akin to outstretched arms, as though the tomb is beckoning those looking at it. This tomb was 4 to 5 feet tall. A person of average height could easily pass through the doorway. Despite the crudeness of the structure, its has a certain quality, sturdy, stable and unshakable.

Fifteen-twenty feet away is another tomb, approximately the same size. This is where it flashed to me that all tombs were facing south except tomb #1.

That's the farmhouse and my guides- Ravi and Shivu. Ravi is pointing towards the sugarcane plantation on the other side of this house where there are a few more tombs, rather ruins of tombs.

This plot was recently tilled by a tractor, walking through this uneven land requires twice the effort. Like I said before these are ruins of what were beautiful structures. There's little doubt that human hands were behind the mutilation. Probably a few years later the ruins would go missing.

This must have been a really big one. The capstone and rear slab are missing. On its front (the other side) is one of the partially buried slabs.

Within the same tilled plot is another set of three tombs, again all have been disturbed, several parts of the tombs are missing.

Of the three, this is the best preserved one. If we assume this as the original form, then this design is different compared to other tombs here.

With that tomb, we were almost done with this site for the day. Time for a group photo. As an exception, I joined the group, all because of our little friend Basu. See how he's holding a corn cob in his little hand, probably that's his lunch or afternoon snack.

Basu and I with the last tomb of the day. When I lifted Basu, I hardly felt this mass, feather light guy.

We thanked our friends for showing us the tombs patiently. We said bye to Ravi & Basu. As we drove towards Konnur - Gokak waterfall road, Shivu pointed towards another tomb in a sugarcane field. That tombs has been converted into a Devi shrine. That shrine is visited by people and rituals are performed regularly. We decided to skip that tomb, may be next time. We dropped off Shivu at the main road and headed towards Dharwad via Gokak waterfall. As I was thinking about these tombs, I felt the tomb building technology gradually evolved into temple building technology. What do you think.

Nov 26, 2022

Chikaleshwar Devastana, Konnur

Chikaleshwara Devastana of Konnur is one of the least known Chalukyan temples. This is a group of temples in one compound, dedicated to Chikadeva, Mahalakshmi, Hanumanta, Mahadeva and Basavanna. The main temple is said to be Chikadeva aka Chikaleshwar was built by during Chalukyan rule in the X or XI Century CE. I learned about this temple from the website of ASI, Dharwad Circle.

September 23, 2022
The agenda for the day was to visit relatives at Yelimunnoli village near Hukkeri, then visit two historic places near Gokak on the way back to Dharwad. The two historic places were Arbhavimata and Konnur. The former is an ancient Lingayath monastery where the mortal remains of Raja Mallasarja Desai of Kittur lie buried. The latter i.e. Konnur is known for Chikaleshwar Devastana and prehistoric megalithic tombs (dolmen). We reached Arbhavimata around 12-30 pm. As we were looking at the impressive buildings of the monastery, we were asked to partake meals (Anna Prasada) along with few other visitors. After lunch we headed towards Konnur which is a short drive away. Just before Konnur is another village called Dhupdal where we stopped for a minute to take snaps of a 112 year old church. Few minutes later we entered Konnur village, a narrow street lead to the village square which is the access point for the temple complex.

At the square, as we asked directions to Chikaleshwara Gudi, we happened to bump into the caretaker Shankar Jiddimani and his son Shivu. I parked the car at the square and followed Shankar by walk. As mentioned before, this temple complex has five shrines, surely all are ancient. However, all shrines have been renovated with modern materials except Chikaleshwara Gudi which is a protected monument. So, here we are looking at the sandstone structure built in the X or XI Century CE.

This east facing temple is a fully enclosed shrine with one entrance and four ventilators on the sides. This is a standard design in Chalukyan architecture.

This is the rear diagonal view. The lines flowing vertically is an indication of the good workmanship of ancient builders.

Quoting the description of this temple from ASI Dharwad Circle website:
The Chikaleshvar or Chikadeva temple, which is in the later Chalukyan style has a garbhagriha, an ardhamandapa and a renovated navaranga. The garbhagriha is star-shaped and has a Kadamba Nagara shikhara with a shukanasa. The navaranga was renovated in 1973. An inscription of Chalukya Someshwar – I, speaks of a grant of land to a temple, whose name is lost and inscription is dated saka 955 (C. 1033 CE).

The sculpted block on the roof is an interesting piece. It is trapezium shaped and elegantly ornate. At the center is an image of Dhyanasta Shiva enclosed in three concentric tiers of different themes. The concentric circles are held gracefully by creepers. This sculpture is akin to a bindi on forehead.

It was nice to see the well maintained temple, both interior and exterior were clean and tidy. The interior is simple but has standard features of a Chalukyan temple.... Navaranga Mantapa, Anthrala with a perforated screen, and a pair of niches flanking the Garbhagudi. The columns of this temple are functional, aesthetically they are plain but elegant.

Diagonal views of the Navaranga.

A closer look at the sanctum. Along with the deity, Shiva Linga is Nandi as well. I think originally Nandi was in the Navaranga, for some reason Nandi has been moved into the sanctum when the temple was reconditioned.

That's it. We head back towards the car with a quick look at Lakshmi Gudi. This temple seems to attract huge crowds hence the arrangements for people to sit in shade.

A closer view of the shrine. The original components have been replaced or modified. The modifications have been done neatly, the whiteness of the shrine gives it a peaceful feel.

Back at the village square, I asked Shankar about the dolmen. Apparently local people call it Shantisagar Gufa. The word "gufa" means cave in Hindi. It seems an ascetic named Shantisagar practiced dhyana there, hence the name. Shankar appointed his son Shivu to take me to the dolmen site which was a couple kilometers from here. I thanked Shankar and left Konnur... very excited to be visiting another prehistoric site.