A small town in the North Kannada district, situated at a distance of about twenty two kilometers towards the south east of Shirsi, Banavasi (ಬನವಾಸಿ) is one of the most ancient and famous towns of Karnataka. This is place of historical, mythological and architectural significance. A reference to this town and the nature surrounding it is found in the works of poets such as Pampa and Chamarasa.
The word Banavasi is etymologically derived from the word ‘Vanavasa’ (stay in a forest) Mythological references reveal that two demons living in the forests adjoining this town were killed by Lord Vishnu and Madhu the elder of the two was responsible the building of Madhukeshvara temple. As usual, Pandavas are alleged to have spent a part of their exile in Banavasi.
Banavasi has been noticed and documented by historians right from the beginnings of the Christian era. Buddhist lore has it that Rakshitha one of the emissaries sent by emperor Ashoka visited Banavasi. Buddhist missionaries used to frequent this place periodically.
Banavasi was ruled by a number of dynasties strating from Shathavahanas. Later it was the capital city of Mayuravarma the founding monarch of the Kadamaba dynasty, between the fourth and the sixth centuries. After that the mantle was passed on to the Chalukya kings both of the Badami and Kalyani lineage. By the end of the twelfth century Banavasi was subjected to repeated attacks by Hoysalas, Sevunas and Kalachuryas. Subsequently Banavasi Mandala became a part of the Vijayanagar empire. The kings of Bilagi and Svadi dyanasties have contributed handsomely to the erection and maintenance of the temples of Banavasi.
A breif survey of the sculptural and architectural glories of Banavasi has to begin with the Madhukeshvara temple situated at the centre of the fort. Actually it is a conglomeration of various architectural styles. The original Shivalinga was installed earlier than the eighth century. The inner sanctorum and the “Sukanasi” have taken after the Chalukya model of Pattadakal. The mantap in front of the sukanasi and the pillars there in have adopted the style of Kalyani Chalukyas. The roof of the temple is flat at the centre and tapers down a slope in all sides. Harihara-1, a king of Vijayanagara seems to have resurrected the Mantap much later. Small temples of Sadashiva and Parvathi are present within the boundaries of Madhukeshwar temple and they belong to the fifteenth century. An exquisite lot of idols and a huge chariot presented by the kings of Sode dyanasty have become additional attractions.
This small village contains many shrines of Jains as well as Veerashaivas. A Jain basadi with a statue of Chandraprabha the eighth tirthankara was built during the 10-12th centuries. The temples of Allamaprabhu (Prabhudeva) and Basaveshvara and five Veerashaiva monasteries have added a new dimension to Banavasi. This small village whose natural beauty was nostalgically documented by Pampa the first major poet of Kannada holds an important place in the cultural map of Karnataka.
3. Narasimha Murthy, A.V. (et.al) : Banavasi Excavations, D.A.M. Mysore, 1997.