Kakatiya Dynasty – An Architectural Sojourn

“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” ~ UNESCO

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The stellate form of Sri Erakeswara temple, Pillalamari village, Kakatiya dynasty

As I sat down to read the books and various journals that I had bookmarked in order to write on my recent heritage run in Telangana, I would sometimes pause to wonder on the fact that when I had started my journey, how ill prepared I was to meet the grandeur of the Kakatiyan temples, with almost no idea about the dynasty that had built them. While north Indian temples have always figured in my travel itineraries, and many a time I have stood in awe at some of their exquisite craftsmanship, I was still unprepared for the sculptural magnificence of the innumerable temples that dot the southern parts of India. It was my first foray into South Indian temple architecture, technically termed as Dravidian temple architecture, and the beauty and splendour of it is indescribable.

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The most magnificent jewel in the Kakatiyan crown of temple architecture is the Rameshwara temple within the Ramappa temple complex, in Palampet. The beauty of this temple is mesmerising; like a beautiful verse carved in stone, frozen for posterity.

A look at our history will show that architecture and sculpture were two distinctive forms of art, and developed as such from the ancient times. The two became intertwined during the Buddhist era; and as Buddhism declined, in the southern parts of India the intertwining continued, as beautiful figures were sculpted on temple walls during the Pallava and Chalukyan period, a practice later adopted by the Chalukyan vassals: the Kakatiyans. As the Kakatiyas declared their independence and slowly turned into a dominant ruling dynasty of the Andhradesa,  their architecture and sculpture, which evolved simultaneously over the three centuries of their rule, merged seamlessly into each other. This is evident in their various temples, which are filled with exquisite figures covering each pillar, wall, door panel, door jamb, lintel, and ceiling.

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Beautiful sculptures fill the door jambs and pillars of Kakatiyan temples

Who were the Kakatiyas? A rather complex history

There are no clear records of how the Kakatiyas got their name or their caste, and few theories make the rounds. From two stone inscriptions it is learnt that the Kakatiyas got their name from a place called Kakatipura, which is a place where the Cholas once ruled, and where the temples of Ekavira devi and Kakati devi or Kakatamma (Chamunda of the saptamatrikas) stand. It is also believed that the Kakatiyas worshipped the Kakati devi, from whom the family name may have been derived. Some epigraphical evidences suggest that the Kakatiyas belonged to some Ratta (Rashtrakuta) clan,  hence they were Sudras (Chaturdhakulajas), with claims to Kshatriya-hood based on their warrior like activities.

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Devi Chamunda or Kakati devi (Kakatamma) from whom the Kakatiya dynasty was likely to have derived its name, 13th century, Kolunapaka

Trying to decipher the Kakatiyan lineage:

870-895 CE – Gundaya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal

895-940 CE ~ Ereya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal

The Mangallu inscription in 956 CE  shows  Kakatiyan Gundyana fighting under the Eastern Chalukya king; hence likely their vassal (noticeably the inscription doesn’t place the prefix Rashtrakuta before Gundyana’s name showing the disconnect with the clan)

973 CE ~ Collapse of Rashtrakutas

996-1052 CE ~ Beta I installed as king of Annumakonda or Hanamkonda by Erana and his wife Kamaseni (Beta I’s sister)

1052-1076 CE ~ Prola I rules as Kalyani or Western Chalukyan vassal under king Trilokyamalla Someswara. The latter gave the official ruling rights of Hanumakonda to Prola I (which was already bestowed upon him by his aunt Kamaseni), after Prola  fought a successful battle against the Cholas.

1076-1110 CE ~ Beta II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal of king Tribhuvanamalla Vikramditya

1110-1158 CE ~ Prola II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal

1158 CE ~ As the Western Chalukyas fall from power, Rudradeva  or Prataparudra I declares his independence, and becomes the first independent ruler of the Kakatiyan dynasty. He rules as the first king of the Kakatiya dynasty until 1195 CE. 

1195-1198 CE ~ Mahadeva rules. He dies in a war in 1198 CE and his young son Ganapatideva is imprisoned. Later Jaitugi of the Yadavas set him free, and Ganapatideva comes under loyal guardianship of his faithful vassal Recherla Rudra.

1199 -1262 CE Ganapatideva rules. In 1262 he hands over his throne to his daughter Rudrammadevi. In 1269 Ganapatideva dies.

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The painting represents the court of Rani Rudramma of the Kakatiya dynasty meeting Marco Polo, who was representing the Mongol king Kublai Khan (13th century CE). Marco Polo is shown accompanied by Chinese and Mongol representatives, and they are carrying gifts of silk and Chinese pottery. 
Here the Rani and her throne has been painted based on the image of Indrani in Ellora, while the two huge gold makaras are based on the two makaras seen on top of Yamuna in Ellora. The queen’s crown shows the Nataraja carved in emerald, which depicts her as a Shaivite. Marco Polo‘s clothes have been painted based on old paintings of Venice people, and the Chinese and Mongol dresses are based on old paintings of those places. The court has been based on pictures by Fergusson of Warangal temples and of Chakukyan temples.
Painter is Prabhat Mohan Bandyopadhya (1904-1987).

In 1289  Rudrammadevi dies in a battle along with her loyal Senani Mallikarjuna Nayakudu.

In 1289 Prataparudra II starts his rule. He was Rudrammadevi’s grandson (daughter’s son), brought up by the queen herself and trained as her successor.

In 1323 CE after a fifth time invasion of Kakatiya kingdom by Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the capital of the Kakatiyas, Warangal finally falls. Prataprudra II was taken a prisoner, and while being taken to Delhi he commits suicide by drowning in the Narmada river.

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Remains inside the Warangal fort. Standing prominently is a Kirti thorana of the Kakatiyas. The fort was completely destroyed by Mohammed bin Tughlaq’s army in 1323 CE.

In 1323 CE Kakatiya rule comes to an end. 

As the loyal vassals of the Kakatiyas, the Nayakas, snatch power back from Delhi and take over. Prataprudra II’s brother Annamdeo moves to Bastar with his army and carves a kingdom there, which is held by his  successors until 1947.

All five Islamic invasions faced by the Kakatiya kingdom took place during King Prataprudra II’s rule. The deadliest attack was launched during the second attack by Alauddin Khilji’s army under Malik Kafur in 1309, when different Kakatiyan cities, including Hanamkonda, were brutally destroyed by Khilji’s army. It was during this attack that Prataprudra II offered the Koh-i-noor diamond to Khilji in exchange for peace.

Remains of temple parts inside the 1000 pillared temple complex in Hanamkonda. The temple complex was started by Rudradeva (1163 CE), and later completed by Ganapatideva (1213 CE), and it is believed that Rudrammadevi came here everyday from the Warangal Fort to pray. Parts of this temple and the entire city faced massive destruction under Malik Kafur’s army (1309 CE).  

Did the Kakatiyas rule well?

The Kakatiyas emerged as the most powerful rulers during 12th -13th CE,  in the entire Telugu land. Their rule ushered in many new bearings in politics and administration, agriculture (especially in terms of irrigation), religion, literature, architecture, and arts. While it is believed that originally they might have been Digambar Jains, their temples predominantly show their Shaivite beliefs. The many conquests and good maintenance of their vast empire by the Kakatiyas; while encouraging growth of arts, literature, and temple architecture; and simultaneously defending their kingdom from constant onslaughts of invading armies, place them foremost amongst the ruling dynasties of modern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They united the Andhradesa and bought all the telugu speaking people under a single umbrella thus establishing a unique identity of the telugu people and its language.

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Many such large tanks for facilitating irrigation were built under royal patronage during the Kakatiyan era

During their three centuries rule, the Kakatiyas focused on developing the three Ts : Town, Temple, and Tank. Keeping the basic monarchical form, the Kakatiyas gave great importance to decentralisation of authority by distributing power horizontally to their subordinates (thus creating central, provincial, and local levels of administration). Owing to their continued policy of developing widespread tank irrigation, the kingdom at this time saw unprecedented economic prosperity. This led to large-scale trade activities, and development of many new trade guilds. Motupalli at that time was a well known sea port of the Kakatiyas. Marco Polo, the famous traveller visited the Kakatiya kingdom during the rule Rudramma devi, via Motupalli, and in his travel diary praised the prosperity of this kingdom.

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Owing to the relentless focus of the Kakatiyas on building innumerable tanks for irrigation purposes, the arid region turned fertile and remains so even to this day. Extensive farmlands stretch across to the horizon that are green and yellow with the growing crop-heads of paddy, cotton, lentils, maize, and sugarcane

Most of the temple and tank construction projects took place during Ganapatideva’s rule, while his successors Rudrammadevi and Prataprudra II spent their lifetimes fighting invasions. Innumerable majestic temples were built under the supervision of Ganapatideva and his loyal general Recherla Rudra, which included the well known Ghanpur temples and tank, Ramappa temples and tank, Laknavaram tank, and Pakhal tank, amongst many others. The Kakatiyan temples predominantly are dedicated to Shiva, and follow the Ekakuta, Trikuta, or Panchakuta plan. The sculptural art of this time gives us an idea of the socio-religious atmosphere of that era. A favourite  theme in  temple sculptures of this time were stories from various epics, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Gita, and the Puranas. The artisans would take inspiration from these texts and transfer their imaginations onto stone sculptures on temple walls and panels, making it easily available for the viewing and understanding by the common people. The Andhradesa society during the Kakatiya era also saw some religious movements associated with Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.

From an overall perspective, the Kakatiya rulers provided their citizens with stability, security, and economic prosperity; while ushering in art and architectural growth, and literary development, which was unique and unheard of previously. The cultural roots sown by the Kakatiyas can still be seen and felt in the innumerable tanks and temples built by them that still dot the area.

The Nameswara temple in Pillalamarri village

During the rule of Ganapatideva, many tanks were constructed using the irrigation bund system,  large forested areas were brought under cultivation, and many Shiva temples were constructed. The first tank was likely to have been constructed in village Pillalamari by Namireddy. He also constructed the Nameswara temple in Pillalamari in 1202 CE. The temple has a stone prakara and a tall dhwaja stambha in front. The temple has a large mandapa which is entered by 6 steps. The door to mandapa has dancers sculpted on the door jambs and six dwarasakhas, each intricately carved, while the lintel holds a gajalakshmi. There is  a garbhagriha, antarala, and a square mandapa with a circular dance-mandapa at the centre (nritya mandapa). The temple has a small shikhara with later modifications. The mandapa has a kakshasana, with aasanapatta and mattavaarana, running all around it on the inside. The roof has a jutting out cornice, with tiny shikharas raised at the end on the inside of it. The door jambs to the antarala also have exquisite dancers carved on them, and there are chowrie bearers, yalis, eight handed Shiva, dancers, Brahma, and Ganesha to complete the line on the antrala door panels. The mandapa pillars are square with circular discs, and each pillar is a marvel with intricate carvings of dancers and musicians.

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The temple wall with the jutting out cornice, and thick cross beams for supporting the mandapa roof. The tiny temple shikharas are seen at the edge of the cornice on the inside, which were likely built for supporting the cornice. The main shikhara is short with many small turrets, and the bull in front of the shikhara is likely to be a later addition.
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The door to the mandapa. Dancers are seen on the door jamb and lower panel part, while the lintel has a gaja lakshmi
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The kakhshasana; and square mandapa pillars with discs that are intricately carved with dancers and musicians. The dhwaja stambh is seen outside.
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ceiling patterns
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Door to antarala. Dancers, yalis, among others, adorn the shakhas and panels. The Shiva lingam can be seen inside the garbhagriha, and it is one and half feet in height and and breadth.
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Two dancers in large square panel and two below. it is said there are 32 dancers in total in the nritya mandapa. There are two apsaras on the cross capitals of each pillar. Along with the other figures, is is said there are altogether 100 figures sculpted in the temple.

At night it is believed that here in this temple (as in Rudreswara temple too) when the world falls asleep, Lord Shiva on the antarala door panel lifts his feet, and all the dancers come alive, along with the apsaras, and the drummers. Then the heavenly dance starts and goes on until day break. 

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Pillar panel depicting dancers and drummers
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Pillar on kakhshasana supporting the ceiling and cornice of the mandapa. Square pillars with discs, and cross capital. Animal motif and floral patterns visible on panels
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An inscription pillar kept in the courtyard
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Beside the main temple is a smaller trikuta temple with less ornamentation. It is also a Shiva temple with a beautifully ornamented nandi in front. There is  a third smaller (double celled) Shiva temple at the back with various sculptures of Kakatamma, Kumara, etc kept inside the mandapa (shown in the slideshow below)

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Sri Erakeswara temple in Pillalamarri village

Pillalamarri village was once the fief of Recherla Rudra’s  family, a powerful vassal under the Kakatiyas. This temple also has a dhwaja stambh in front, and stone steps lead up to the mandapa. The main deity here is Lord Shiva. As per an inscription plate, Sri Erakeshwara temple was built in the year 1208 CE under King Ganapatideva’s rule by Recharla Rudra in memory of his wife Erasanamma. Another inscription mentions the rule of Rudradeva (1195 CE) and both are seen in this temple. The pillars are similar to that of Nameswara, with square blocks and circular discs, and have dancers and musicians sculpted on them.

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In this temple the mandapa is partly broken (the broken pillars are still standing) and large dancers on the temple pillars all gone with just their stubs remaining, reminding us of those grim days when Malik Kafur’s army attacked the Kakatiyan empire during Prataprudra’s reign. 

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The temple has a stellate form and stands on a high platform. The temple pillars show floral motifs, elephants, and beautiful pushpalata mandalas that are often depicted for protection or beneficence.  

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The temple walls and a part of the shikhara. The shikhara has little turrets (urushringas) attached to it. The cornice, like the Nameswara, shows tiny hanging little temple shikharas.
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The nritya mandapa. The yellow circles marked on pillars are the places where the dancers once stood. The base stubs just remain now.

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slideshow —–> Pillar sculptures in Erakeswara temple.

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slideshow —–> Door to the antarala: a female figure holding a child and dancers are carved on door jambs, while the pilasters show the dwarashakhas with dancers, floral motifs holding tiny human figures carved inside vines. The lower panel of the doorway also has female figures, likely to be dancers.  The deity inside the garbhagriha is a Shiva lingam.

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Gaja lakshmi on the lintel of the mandapa entrance

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figures on a stone panel above the mandapa door

Kakatiyan temples : Thy name is beauty

In terms of architecture, the Kakatiyas followed their former masters, the Chalukyas, in form, but managed to create a distinctive feature of their own by bringing in more indigenous forms of art, such as paintings (Cheriyal paintings) that once adorned the temple walls and still survives in various manifestations. The artisans used granite, basalt, and sandstone that were locally available, while lime and bricks were used for making superstructures. Black granite and basalt were used for making pillars, lintels, jambs, ornamental motifs and figures. One must not forget that these were hard rock and not particularly easy to carve. The perfection of the edges and shapes of the lathe turned pillars especially those that adorn the Natya Mandapa speak eloquently of the skill of the artisans and the technology that was developed by them.

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The various Kakatiyan temples show a gradual evolution of their unique style

Kakatiyan sculptures, from what remain, show a focus on kirtimukhas, dancers, Anna pakshi

A broken panel from a temple jaali of the Kakatiyas, with their distinctive Anna pakshi motif. Anna pakshi is a mythical white bird that resides in Devalok and is the symbol of purity and honesty. It has the ability to separate milk from water when given mixed together. It is a popular symbol down South especially in Andhra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

Kakatiyan temple architecture show high levels of sophistication, and one can see the gradual evolution of their style starting from basic temples having a simple mandapa, antarala, and garbhagriha, with pillars lacking sculptures; to the complex trikuta and stellate form of the Thousand-pillared temple; and finally reaching its climax in the exquisitely carved Rudresvara/Ramappa temple.

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be reached at monidipadey@rocketmail.com and at monigatha

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