Built by the Kakatiya rulers around the 13th century CE, this temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, has a marked influence of Hoysala architecture and yet has been given a unique personality by its chief architect cum sculptor, after whom the temple is named.
Shefali Vaidya is a writer, photographer, newspaper columnist and mum to triplets, who loves to travel.
A chance glance at my nephew’s history textbook introduced me to the gorgeous Ramappa temple in Telangana. The temple was built during the reign of the Kakatiya dynasty that ruled from Warangal, a city located 80 km away from Hyderabad. I was determined to visit the Ramappa temple on my trip to my cousin’s place in Hyderabad.
It was early April, but the scorching Telangana summer had already started. My children and I started at eight in the morning from Hyderabad. By the time we reached Warangal, the heat was already unbearable. Ramappa temple is located in a small village called Palampet about 77 km away from Warangal. The road from Warangal to Palampet was a typical single-lane road passing through nondescript villages with mud houses and wide open fields.
What I found shocking was the extent of evangelization that has taken place in Telangana in recent years. Almost every village seemed to have a spanking new Church or two of the evangelical sects. The graveyards that greeted you as you entered the villages had traditional Hindu memorials and bright white-washed graves with huge crosses on them. There were advertisements of English medium schools with names like St. Teresa’s, St. Jude’s and St. John’s, every few kilometres. Most of these schools seemed to be running in ugly concrete blocks, often with a small church attached to them.
As we drove towards Palampet, the setting became more and more rural. There was no sign of the temple in sight. The heat was stifling by now, and we had been driving for over five hours since we started from Hyderabad. And then I got the magical first glance of the Ramappa temple, rising like a vision in sunset hues, over a canopy of green trees.
Ramappa temple is also known as Ramalingeshwara temple. It was built by an architect Ramappa Sthapati, who was specially invited from Karnataka by a general of the Kakatiyas, Rechelara Rudradeva. It took Ramappa almost 40 years to build this temple and bears striking similarities to the Hoysala temples of Karnataka, in its plan as well as the execution.
As we parked the car and started to walk towards the temple, we got to see the temple in its spectacular setting. Standing tall on a platform almost 8 feet tall, it is built out of red sandstone, a stone not commonly found in the area. The temple is housed in a large enclosure surrounded by the original stone wall that stands largely intact. As we entered the complex, we found a small temple to our left dedicated to Lord Shiva. In front of this subsidiary temple, there is a separate structure that houses a large inscription written in classical Telugu script. The inscription says that the temple was consecrated in the year 1213 during the reign of the Kakatiya king, Ganapati Deva.
We hired a guide as the temple sculptures looked exquisite and I needed someone to explain to me the science behind them. Ramakrishna introduced himself as a tourism department approved guide. For the next couple of hours, Ramakrishna showed us around this exquisite temple. Like the Hoysala temples, Ramappa temple too is built on a star-shaped platform, but unlike the over-ornamented, exuberantly carved outer walls of the Hoysala temples, Ramappa temple is spare in its beauty.
As this is a Shiva temple, it has a large Nandi Mandapam located in front of the temple in a separate building. The roof of this Nandi Mandapam is no longer there, but the Nandi Vigraha itself is a sight to behold! Carved out of a single black basalt block, the Nandi sits majestically, his head turned slightly towards one side. The anatomical details and proportions of the Nandi are perfect. The main temple has a base with a row of aesthetically carved elephants running all around it. According to the guide, there are more than 500 elephants that circumambulating the temple and each one is different from the other. Elephants signify strength and stability as per Hindu symbolism.
Like the Hoysala temples of Karnataka, Ramappa temple also has bracket figures of celestial maidens carved out of a single stone slab, mounted just under the roof, adorning each of the pillars supporting the temple structure. There are twelve such figures known as Madanikas or Sur-Sundaris. Each one is uniquely beautiful and no two look the same. Many of these Madanikas follow Hoysala themes, like Tribhanga Sundari (a madanika standing in a posture that is bent in three angles), Shaalbhanjika (a woman standing under a tree), Darpanasundari (a woman holding a mirror) and another Madanika troubled by a monkey who is pulling at her clothes.
At the same time Madanikas of Ramappa temple differ from the Hoysala Madanikas in several aspects. For one thing, while the main temple is built out of red sand-stone, the Madanika figures are carved out of single slabs of black volcanic basalt. According to our guide, these stone slabs were quarried near Warangal and brought here on bullock carts. Secondly, the Madanikas adorning the Ramappa temple are life-size and thirdly, the Madanikas have a different physique from the established canons of classical Indian sculpture in that they are not the short ‘moon breasted, swan-waisted and elephant-hipped’ Madanikas of classical Indian architecture. They are tall, lean and lithe and are adorned with very few ornaments. I asked the guide the reason behind this, he said, ’they are modelled after the local women of the region, who were always tall and lissome’. The ornamentation and attire of the Madanikas of the Ramappa temple has an austere beauty rarely seen in classical Indian sculpture.
As we entered the temple, we were struck by the serene beauty of the temple. There is a large Nrityamandapam in front of the Garbhagriha that is supported by 4 large stone pillars. Each pillar is intricately carved. The pillars flank a large circular stone slab polished to perfection.
’That is the Nrityashila’, said our guide, ’the stage where musicians and dancers used to perform as a service to Lord Shiva’.
The doorframe of the Garbhagriha of the Ramappa temple has intricately carved figures displaying classical dance mudras. Our guide told us that noted Dance Guru, Nataraja Ramakrishnan revived an extinct classical dance form called Perini Shivtandavam after studying these figures. On the right side of the door frame leading to the Garbhagriha, there is an intricately carved panel of Gopis. The right-most figure is holding a tree, on top of which Krishna is shown playing the flute. The tree is hollow and carved with such scientific precision that it emits different musical notes when lightly hit by the finger at different places. The entire group of figures including Krishna is carved out of a single slab, and yet, only the tree trunk is hollow! The Garbhagriha of this living temple houses a large stone lingam. As we prayed to Lord Shiva, we could not help but wonder at the artistic beauty as well as the scientific precision of the temple.
Ramappa temple is said to be the only temple in India to be named after the sculptor and not the King/General who commissioned it. It is a fitting tribute to a man whose art has survived largely intact for over 1,800 years!
How to Go
Ramappa temple is located in Palampet village, about 150 km from Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana. There is no direct public transport. Hiring your own vehicle is the best option. There is good bus service between Hyderabad and Warangal though.
Where to Stay and What to Eat
You can stay either at Hyderabad or at Warangal. Do not forget to try the local Telangana vegetarian thali.
What to Buy
Telangana is famous for its hand-woven textiles.