Volume 64 Number 1, September 2012
Kanara, A Land Apart: The Artistic Heritage of Coastal Karnataka
|Specifications:||124 pages, 136 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||305 x 241 mm|
This book is dedicated to the unique architectural and artistic heritage of Kanara or Kannada, the well watered, densely forested Arabian Sea coastal strip of Karnataka, comprising the present-day districts of Dakshina and Uttara Kannada. Celebrated as one of India’s principal sources of rice and pepper, Kanara benefited through the centuries from lucrative interregional and international trade. In consequence, the region has been inhabited by wealthy and remarkably diverse communities, many of which have acted as patrons of architecture and art. This is reflected in the broad range of surviving sacred monuments and ritual objects, from ancient Buddhist relics and Jain and Hindu temples filled with stone and metal sculptures, to mosques and churches. Many of these places of worship are built in a characteristic indigenous idiom, with steeply angled tiled roofs supported on timber frameworks to deflect the heavy rainfall. The same is also true of village mansions and the mathas associated with Hindu and Jain institutions. Kanara is also home to distinctive local religious practices, most notably the cult of bhutas, or folk spirits. The bhuta rites that still take place in Kanara have resulted in a series of wooden figures and metal masks of striking appearance. To these manifestations of vernacular culture must be added the Yakshagana, Kanara’s celebrated living theatre, even though this is not covered in the present volume.
In spite of the unique value of these diverse and vibrant traditions, Kanara’s extraordinary heritage remains virtually unknown outside Karnataka. The present volume aims at correcting this oversight. The region’s splendid shrines and temples, mosques and churches, mansions and mathas, along with sculptures and art objects are brought to light here through contributions by art historians and scholars, along with stunning photographs by Clare Arni.
George Michell, guest editor of this volume, is an architectural historian who has investigated numerous sites in southern India. Among the previous volumes that he has edited for Marg are Temple Towns of Tamil Nadu (1993), Eternal Kaveri (1999), New Light on Hampi (2001) and Banaras: The City Revealed (2005) and as a co-author The Great Temple at Thanjavur: One Thousand Years, 1010-2010 (2010).
Julia A.B. Hegewald
John Henry Rice
Bhatkal’s Ramayana Panels
Crispin Branfoot and Anna L. Dallapiccola
Pius Fidelis Pinto
Mansions and Mathas
Wooden Bhuta Figures
Metal Bhuta Masks
Subhashini Aryan and B.N. Aryan
This book is dedicated to the unique architectural and artistic heritage of Kanara, the well watered, densely forested Arabian Sea coastal strip of Karnataka, comprising the present-day districts of Dakshina and Uttara Kannada. Celebrated as one of India’s principal sources of rice and pepper, Kanara benefited through the centuries from lucrative interregional and international trade. In consequence, the region has been inhabited by wealthy and remarkably diverse communities, many of which have acted as patrons of architecture and art. This is reflected in the broad range of surviving sacred monuments and ritual objects, from ancient Buddhist relics and Jain and Hindu temples filled with stone and metal sculptures, to mosques and churches. Kanara is also home to distinctive local religious practices, most notably the cult of bhutas, or folk spirits. The bhuta rites that still take place have resulted in a series of wooden figures and metal masks of striking appearance. In spite of these diverse and vibrant traditions, Kanara’s extraordinary heritage remains virtually unknown outside Karnataka. The present volume aims at correcting this oversight. The region’s splendid shrines and temples, mosques and churches, mansions and mathas, along with sculptures and art objects are brought to light here.
Among the most impressive monuments of Kanara are the Jain temples known locally as bastis, dating mostly from the 15th–17th centuries. According to local tradition, the Jain religion reached southern India during the Mauryan period in the 3rd century BCE. In Karnataka, Jainism flourished from about the 5th century ce onwards, and the religion appears to have become popular in the Kanara region from at least the 10th century. Through the influence of competing faiths in the region, Jainism lost considerable authority in Karnataka from the early 12th century onwards. However, in Kanara, which came under the rule of the Vijayanagara emperors in the middle of the 14th century, Jainism experienced a renaissance, with large temple-building campaigns sponsored by influential Jain families who acted as local rulers. In addition to such royal figures, Jain Bastis were financed by influential Jain pontiffs, merchant guilds and wealthy lay individuals. This article looks at bastis in the Mudabidri area including Chandranatha Basti, the Hiriyangadi complex and Chaturmukha Basti, and in North Kanara which includes Parshvanatha Basti, Panchakuta Basti and Jattappa Nayakana Chandranatheshvara Basti.
Climate and available materials were the two most fundamental influences on Kanara’s traditional architecture. The builders of its Hindu temples were also directed by programmatic considerations, informed by the requirements of ritual practice. Despite this coastal zone’s relative isolation from the interior, the architects and patrons of its temples were certainly well aware of their participation in the broader religious and architectural traditions of southern India. Nonetheless, regional techniques of construction largely dictated by climate and materials caused their temples to remain extraordinarily local in style. Kanara experienced periodic architectural intrusions, its builders selectively adopted and habilitated upland techniques and forms, and a certain degree of architectural dialogue was maintained with neighbouring coastal zones. Even so, its relatively conservative building practices ensured that its Hindu temples remained unique. However, frequent and recent renewals of the temples limit our fullest understanding of their historical development. Even very recently, key monuments have been entirely transformed. Paradoxically, it is precisely the monuments most important to Kanara’s continuing religious life about which, art historically, we know the least, for it is these vibrant institutions that are most likely to be renovated. Reinforced concrete is the newest material of choice, and pan-Indian styles threaten to homogenize varied regional expressions. As the pace of architectural change reaches previously unimaginable speeds, we struggle to document such swift, irreversible transformations.
The richly decorated Khetapai Narayana temple at the coastal port of Bhatkal is notable both for its distinctive regional architecture, with a steeply pitched stone roof and stone screens around the sides in direct imitation of wooden prototypes, and for the detailed and lively sculpture that ornaments it. As a rule, Kanara temples have only minimal architectural sculpture and so the extensive series of Ramayana reliefs on the Khetapai Narayana temple are particularly striking. This chapter discusses the construction of this temple at the height of Kanara’s economic prosperity in the mid-16th century, and relates the sculptural programme not only to the increasing prevalence of Ramayana imagery in southern India from the 12th century on but also the importance of the Epic at the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire itself.
Kanara’s Muslim communities and their material culture are poorly documented and often sidelined in larger narratives of South Asian Islam. Often ephemeral and little valued, the Islamic buildings of the region are mainly recovered through literary sources rather than through surviving monuments although Mangalore preserves one architectural jewel, the Zaynat Bakhsh Masjid. This monument is unparalleled in all of southern India for the richness of its wood carving. This article discusses Kanara’s Muslim communities and their material culture as they are known from surviving documents, inscriptions and travelogues before presenting the Zaynat Bakhsh Masjid and Mangalore’s idgah in more detail.
It was only after the arrival of the Portuguese that Christianity was introduced to Kanara. The first converts were local people influenced by the Franciscan missionaries who had sailed to India in the company of Pedro Alvares Cabral, a Portuguese explorer who landed on the Kanara coast in 1500. Under the rule of Vijayanagara, Krishnadevaraya granted commercial concessions to the Portuguese along with complete freedom to worship. However, successive rulers were not as accommodative, which resulted in skirmishes between the crown and the local converts. But with the arrival of the British and subsequently the missions, Konkani Christians were altogether liberated and became part and parcel of the British colonial establishment. General education and religious instruction received a boost with the building of schools and churches, transforming the landscape of Kanara. This article traces the history of Christianity in Kanara through its ups and downs, and the region’s Christian material culture in the form of churches and cathedrals – specifically the magnificent Rosario Cathedral, Milagres Church and St Aloysius College chapel.
There are three major landholding communities in Kanara: the Bants, the Jains and the brahmins. The Bants are believed to be the original inhabitants of Kanara as they speak Tulu. They follow the Hindu faith and are among the most prominent and wealthy members of Kanara society. The Jains are another ancient community of Kanara; Jainism has thrived in the region for more than 1,000 years, and the community is wealthy. Though fewer in number, the brahmins of Kanara also own large areas of agricultural land and have considerable wealth. Members of these three prosperous communities were mainly responsible for the distinctive mansions and mathas of the region. This chapter is a study of the architectural styles of Bant mansions and mathas in Kanara.
The bhuta cult of Kanara is a pre-Hindu belief system but has become linked in a variety of ways with mainstream Hinduism. The bhuta cults of Kanara fall into three comparatively distinct categories. First, bhutas can be spirits of totemic origin. Second, bhutas are deities of the Hindu pantheon. Third, bhutas can be apotheosized human beings. The cult is not confined to any particular bhuta, of which there are supposed to be more than 300; nor is there a rigid hierarchy. Bhuta rituals incorporate theatre, dance and music, as well as sculptures in bronze and wood. In these ceremonies the metal mask of the bhuta being worshipped is given pride of place and is a continuing craft tradition. There are temples in Kanara that teem with wooden bhuta figures and sculptures, for instance the bhuta temple dedicated to Nandikeshvara, Lord of the Bull in Mekkekattu. But strangely these majestic sculptures, some of them towering more than 6 metres high, do not seem to play any role at all in ceremonies. There is a growing alienation between bhuta worship and bhuta carvings, even among the artisans that execute the figures. A return to a holistic approach to bhuta carving is the need of the hour to restore these sculptures to their former dignity, sustaining them by belief rather than by resigned tolerance.
The bhuta masks venerated as deities by the natives of Tulunadu in South Kanara and some parts of Kerala are based on a vibrant tradition of rituals and dances performed by the Tuluvas. The tradition harks back to hoary antiquity. In fact, it is as old as the Tuluva community that evolved its own cultural patterns over the centuries. The masks are based on oral traditions that have been handed down from one generation to another and have survived into the present century. The first to document and place on record these bhuta masks were the Christian missionaries who found the physiognomical features dreadful and thought they represented demons or devils. Hence the term ‘bhuta’ (ghost) that came to be used for them. However, the masks represent neither devils nor demons. They are those of deities whose different hierarchies have been clearly mentioned in the types of bhuta masks. This article focuses on the typology and iconographic features of metal bhuta masks which are a mainstay in the cult’s rituals.