Temple sculptures

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The 12th century Halebidu temple is a photographer’s delight with it intricate and beautiful sculptures, recounts PRAKESH SUBBARAO

panel of gods


It was 5.45am and a bit cold when I arrived at Halebidu with my daughter Apoorva. The sun was just breaking through the horizon, and I was excited to explore and photograph the famous sculptures of Halebidu and Belur. Halebidu is 16 kms from Hasan and approximately 200 kms from Bangalore by road.

As the sun started to cast its golden rays on the temple, the effect was surreal. The 12th century sculptures started to come to life with a warm glow, as I started to click away. I began at the eastfacing façade, shooting with the camera in my hand as I was informed that tripods/monopods should not be used as they may damage the floor. I also had no flash, so I bumped up the ISO, trusting the sensor of my camera.
When I visited same location to photograph it for the first time about 20 years ago, it was with my mentor who knew the history of the temples as well as the best shooting angles and composition. I still remembered the beauty of the sculptures and imagined the hard work that must have gone into producing such life from stone with ancient implements. Halebidu temple was constructed during the Hoysala times, and was dedicated to Harshavardhan and his wife Shantala by the famous architect Jakanacharya. The temple and sculptures are carved in soapstone and date back to 1121. All the panels depict Hindu gods in various forms. There are various sculptures of shilabalikas or dancing figures, which have been re-produced on canvas many times.

The postures of the shilabalikas on stone are great subjects to be captured on canvas or camera. The temple was never completed because of an attack from the north by Malik Kafur, a Mughal king. His army destroyed the beautiful sculptures by disfiguring the idols. While I focus on the panels to capture the intricate details on the stone, my mind is shocked to see the damage caused by religious intolerance! The Nandi bull carved out of monolithic stone was never completed due to repeated plunder. The beauty of Shiva, Arjuna, the depiction of the Mahabharata battlefield, different avatars of Vishnu and Ganesha are beautiful beyond words! As the sun rose, different panels lit up, displaying the weather-beaten stone sculptures as it has been doing for centuries.

Here and there a shaft of light penetrated the shadows and brought life to a panel. I enjoyed solitude in the company of those silent sculptures and figures; this is history you can touch and feel. By 8.30am the sunlight was too harsh for photography, and it was time to pack up and head for a cuppa at a nearby café. I left with a feeling of not having captured the full beauty of Halebid which was imprinted in my mind. We then drove towards Belur, which carries the same signature of sculpting, to get more photographs.

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