India

News in Frames: A cavernous palimpsest


Exploring the Chandravalli cave complex in Chitradurga district of Karnataka is not for the faint-hearted. Its pitch-dark interiors are accessible only through a narrow entrance and visible only with the help of a powerful torch. A local guide takes small groups of tourists inside this unique structure, about three km from the more popular Chitradurga fort.

The complex is also known as the Ankali Math, named after a saint from Ankalagi in Belagavi district who is believed to have come and settled here. He and his followers found the cave, surrounded by huge boulders and with a pond nearby, an ideal place for meditation and to run a Gurukul, local people say.

The cave has many chambers such as a puja place with a shivlinga , a drawing room, a bedroom, and a water outlet that connects to a tank inside. Some of the chambers are so dark that those who are new to the complex risk getting lost if they are not in the company of a guide.

Excavations around this site surrounded by three hills have revealed coins, painted bowls, and earthen pots dating back to various dynasties such as the Hoysala, the Satavahana and the Vijayanagara. There is also a rock inscription of Mayurasharma, the founder of the first Kannada dynasty — the Kadamba dynasty — dating back to AD 450. The region had connections with Rome and China, as some coins found here reveal. Some of the walls are adorned with paintings done in organic paint.

The guides say it is only their personal initiative that has kept the area relatively clean and free of illegal activities. However, they complain that they are dependent on whatever income they get from tourists who visit mostly on weekends.

Though the surrounding areas are recognised by the Archaeological Survey of India, this cave complex is maintained by the Murugharajendra Math. However, with the math facing trouble with the arrest of its senior head in a criminal case, the maintenance of caves seems to have suffered, says Amaresh who visits the area quite often.

Some attention by archaeological departments or any State authority would go a long way in keeping this important monument intact.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

In and Out: An elderly woman comes out of the only entry and exit in the Chandravalli cave complex.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Let there be light: Niches hewn into the walls to hold lamps inside the cave.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Basking in grandeur: Visitors spend time outside the Chandravalli cave complex in Chitradurga district of Karnataka.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Deep meditation: A prayer room with a shivling seen inside the cave.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Down the rabbit hole: Narrow stairs leading down to different rooms on either side of the cave, making breathing difficult as one progresses.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Seat of glory: A high chair meant for a ruler or chieftain is carved into the rock, and paintings made of organic colours adorn the walls.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Through time: Elements with a relatively modern style of architecture, added later, seen in certain areas of the cave complex.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Window to the world: A structure similar to a watch tower has been made with bricks between the rocks of the cave complex.

Photo:
K. Bhagya Prakash

Sizing it up: A visitor tries to navigate the huge rocks above the cave complex.



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