Little is known about the Nolamba dynasty that ruled for over 300 years from Hemavathi in the present day Andhra Pradesh. The Nolambas were minor rulers who enjoyed the patronage of the powerful Rashtrakutas. They were weakened by the Gangas and eventually, overpowered by the Cholas. Three grand temple complexes are all that remain of this dynasty's glory.
These are the Kalleshwara Temple in Aralaguppe, the Bhoganandishwara Temple in Nandi and the Ramalingeshwara Temple in Avani. The Nolambas were Shaivites and the temples they built were dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Recently, I drove to Avani to visit the Ramalingeshwara Temple. It was a 32 km drive from Kolar. It was a refreshing drive with beautiful scenery, where rocky hills protected emerald green fields.
Avani is a small village with mythological significance. It is said that Sage Valmiki had his ashram in Avani and Sita, after being banished from Ayodhya, spent some time here. It is also believed that she gave birth to her twin sons in a room atop the hill located in the middle of the village. The hill is now popular among those fond of trekking, and the village is inundated with adventure enthusiasts during the weekends.
There are many places across India and in Nepal that are believed to be the location of Valmiki's ashram, and Avani is one among them. Every rock, structure, waterbody or hill in and around this village has a story associated with the Ramayana. It is also believed that Sita was contained in the earth here and thus, the place received the name Avani (meaning earth).
Tales and temples
The Ramalingeshwara Temple complex is at the foot of the hill. A huge gateway sans a tower leads to the temple complex. The early 10th-century temple has many shrines, each housing a linga. The four major shrines are one each for Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. The priest said that these lingas were installed by Rama and his brothers in order to seek forgiveness from Lord Shiva for fighting with Rama's children - Lava and Kusha.
There are other minor shrines, such as those of Anjaneya, Vali and Sugriva. There are lingas scattered across the complex and some in the mantapas. There's a unique mantapa called ganji mantapa, where gruel is served to the devotees. There is another mantapa housing the navagraha (the nine planets) and another one housing a Nandi (the vehicle of Lord Shiva).
The Ramalingeshwara Temple is considered as the main temple. All the rituals are carried out here. There is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Parvathi, attached to this temple. The goddess is known as Sitaparvathi here. The plan of the temple is typical and has a garbhagriha, an antarala and a navaranga. The outer wall is decorated with well-carved sculptures.
The Lakshmanalingeshwara Temple is the most ornate of the three and houses the largest linga. The Cholas and Vijayanagar rulers have added elements to the original Nolamba structure. This temple also has a garbhagriha, an antarala and a navaranga. The navaranga has four well-carved pillars in the centre, depicting dancers and musicians.
These four pillars hold up a ceiling with nine panels carved with Uma-Maheshwara surrounded by the ashtadikpalakas (gods of directions). The Shatrughneshwara Temple is considered as the oldest structure and is similar to the Lakshmaneshwara Temple in terms of the plan but in addition, has an ornate entrance gateway.
The external decorative elements for all shrines include five mouldings ornamented with friezes of elephants, lions, yali (a mythical creature), makara above which are wall props and reliefs of yakshas, and the images of Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha. The tower atop the garbhagriha is reminiscent of the Bhoganandishwara Temple and is a pyramidal structure. This temple complex built over 10 centuries ago inspires awe because of its simple, understated elegance.
Head to Avani for a lesson in history and mythology. Explore the village and listen to the tales. The adventure lovers can always trek to the hill.