Sri Vidyashankara Temple – an architectural marvel

Beyond the horizon

By Pradeep Kumar

The ancient shrine of Sri Vidyashankara at Sringeri, built in 1338 A.D., is a unique monument built entirely with stone combining both Hoysala (Chalukya) and Dravidian architectural styles. The structure stands on a high plinth and commands a magnificent view from the hills and their slopes all round.

To the student of Hindu iconography, this temple is a veritable store house of sculpture. The meditation of Vidya Shankara Linga in the sanctum and other surtis will lead to divine realization.

Vidyatirtha Rathotsava is celebrated on a grand scale during kartika shukla paksha. The festival spans for seven days from tritiya to navami. On the saptami day His Holiness performs special puja. Also the aradhana of Sri Vidya Shankara is performed on shasti, saptami and ashtami. This temple is under the care of Archaeological Survey of India owing to its architectural marvel.

The beautiful temple situated on the banks of the Bhadra River is nestled in the laps of the Western Ghats. Located at a distance of 92-km from Chikmagalur town in Karnataka, the beautiful temple has been listed as one of the major attractions. The primary highlight of the temple is Mahadwara (entrance), which has great historical significance.

Devotees throng to the religious place to offer their prayers, as it is one of the Pancha Kshetras and thus regarded to be one of the sacred sites. There is also a holy pond located inside the temple premises, which is considered to fulfill the wishes of the devotees. Coming to the architectural style, the temple comprises of a Hoysala style architecture, and bears the sculptures from the varied mythologies.

History: The Sringeri Matha’s continued lineage is traceable through various records. Two of the most famous pontiffs of this matha are Vidya Shankara or Vidyathirtha and his disciple Vidyaranya.

Vidyaranya is a legendary figure in the history of South India, Karnataka in particular. His period saw the beginning of Muslim incursions into the south. Vidyaranya was instrumental in helping the brothers Harihara and Bukka set up the Vijayanagara Empire, which served as a fortress for defending Hindu traditions and temples against the tidal wave of Muslim invaders from the North.

Vidyaranya it is believed influenced the brothers Harihara and Bukka to have a temple constructed over the Samadhi of his Guru, Vidyathirtha. This temple is known as Vidyashankara Temple.

Architecture: It is more or less a rectangle with apisidal east-west ends. On the western side is the garbhagriha, with Vidya Ganapati on one side and Durga on the other side of the entrance. On the other three sides of the garbhagriha are shrines of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara with their consorts. In the eastern half of the structure is a mandapa with 12 pillars, huge monoliths carrying large figures and heavy projection of corbels on top. These 12 pillars are marked by the 12 signs of the zodiac in their regular order. They are constructed in such an ingenious way that the rays of the sun fall on each pillar in the chronological order of the 12 months of Hindu calendar.

Each column is topped by a Yali with a rolling stone ball in its mouth. The central ceiling is an exquisite piece of workmanship with lotus and pecking parrots. The 12 zodiac pillars are popularly known as Rashistambhas. The zodiac symbols imprinted on the pillars have been derived from several astronomical concepts and theory on the movement of the sun.

The vimana over the garbhagriha rises magnificiently with sikhara, mahapadama and stupi. The rest of the roof is made up of sloping channelled slab. The basement is elaborately sculpted with animals, puranic stories, Siva, Vishnu, Dasavatara, Kali, Shanmukha and so on. From the caves of the corners of the central hall chains of stone rings hang which is a common feature of the Vijayanagar period.

Built around the Samadhi of Vidyathirtha, this is a beautiful and interesting temple which bears a slight resemblance to an old Chariot. It combines the general features of Dravidian style with Vijayanagara style. Standing on a richly sculpted plinth, this temple has six doorways. Twelve pillars surrounding the mandapa with figures of 12 signs of the zodiac.

Inside the temple, on the floor, a circle is drawn with lines corresponding to the shadows cast by each pillar. There are five shrines here. The main shrine has a Shiva Linga over the Samadhi of Sri Vidyashankara and it is known as Vidya Shankara Linga. The other shrines are for Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga. The Garbhagraha is topped by a majestic square vimana.

This temple also houses a broken sandalwood idol of Sharadamba, believed to have been installed in Sharadamba temple by Adi Shankara himself. This idol, it is believed, was damaged during the Muslim invasion, and Sri Vidyaranya had the current Gold statue of Sharadamba installed in its place. (Wikipedai)

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