Gadag, a prosperous town of importance in Dharwad district of Karnataka, was known in the ancient days by various names, as Kratuka, Kratupura, Kardugu, Galadugu and Gadagu. It was also known as ‘Maha Agrahara’. One of the inscriptions found in the region mentions that Gadag was a part of Belavola, a country comprising of the fertile tract surrounding Dambal, Gadag and Lakkundi.
The political history of Gadag has been varied. The Rashtrakutas, the later Chalukyas, the Yadavas of Devagiri and the Vijayanagar kings were successive suzerains of this region.
A copper plate grant relating to the time of the Vijayanagara ruler Harihara II (1379 A.D.), mentions that ‘Gadagu Desa’ was in Toragallunadu in Lakkundivarthe and consisted of sixty villages.
The medieval temples of Gadag are beautiful specimens of Chalukyan architecture. Each is unique in its own way. Of the many temples at this place, four are in a good state of preservation and are worth visiting.
The temples of Trikuteshwara and Saraswati are in the same compound. The Trikuteshwara temple is bigger. In reality, it is a double shrine with two separate ‘sanctums’ facing each other. The bigger shrine is on the western side and faces east. To this is attached the smaller closed ‘mandapa’. The bigger ‘mandappa’ is connected with the smaller shrine on the east. In between these ‘mandapas’, there is a narrow passage with doors leading to north and south. The northern exit leads into a smaller attached shrine. This appears to be a later addition. The other exit opens into the courtyard in the south.
In the ‘sanctum’ of the bigger shrine is found a row of three ‘Shiva lingas’ on a common ‘yonipeetha’. This temple derives its name, ‘Trikuteshwara’ (Lord of the three peaks) from these ‘lingas’.
The interior of the temples is rather plain, while the exterior walls are profusely decorated. The visible portion of the larger ‘mandapa’ on the exterior is intricately carved. The decoration consists of scrolls with small perforations in alternate squares and rows. In the niches of the walls are idols, among others, of Bhairava, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Ganapati, Shiva, Narasimha, Mahishamardini, etc.
The ‘vimana’ (spire) of the temple is a later addition in brick and plaster. The ‘Nandi’ on the front is also made by these materials. Successive coats of white wash have almost entirely obliterated the fine tracery upon the doorway of the temple.
The temple of Saraswati on the right side and almost bordering the Trikuteshwara shrine, is built at right angles to the latter. It consists of a ‘sanctum’, an ‘ardhamandapa’ and a ‘mukhamandapa’. Attached to these on the west are two more structures.
The first pillared ‘mandapa’ is noteworthy. Fourteen pillars along the periphery support the ‘mandapa’, while four central pillars carry the weight of the roof and the dome. Four pillars at the entrance, two on either side and four pillars in the centre are richly carved.
As in other temples, there is also a circular stage in the centre of this temple. Above this rises a dome with deep ribs crossing each other from whose intersections hang lotus buds.
The dome is vaulted on the square of the pillars. In the ‘sanctum’ is a life-size idol of Saraswati in black stone, sitting in ‘padmasana’. Unfortunately, it is badly mutilated, all the fore arms being broken. The idol is richly ornamented with sculptured strings of necklaces with pearls and beads. The ears are adorned with ‘kundalas’ (earrings). The arms and ankles are beautified by very intricate carvings. Saraswati has a ‘kiritamakuta’ (crown) with hanging pearl strings gathered in loops. Tassels of hair flow in curls on shoulders on either sides. Her dress is carved as if made in fine embroidery. She has a waistband from which tassels of pearls hang down over the crossed feet.
The pedestal on which Saraswati is seated, is octagonal with sculptured niches in the base. The front projection of the pedestal has a figure of a swan, her mount, engraved in relief. Perhaps, of all the temples in Dharwad district, this little temple of Saraswati takes the first place for delicacy and beauty of detail. The whole temple has been wrought with immense care and elaboration.
Recently, a new idol of Saraswati has been made almost resembling tbe original and the same is installed in the ‘sanctum’ so that regular worship can be done to the deity. Most probably, the original idol maybe preserved as a master piece in the Government museum.
The temple of Someshwara is in the heart of the town. It was in a high state of dilapidation, but is now renovated to some extent. The exterior is very exquisitely carved. The basement is covered with friezes of elephants, tigers and horses.
The Viranarayana temple is near the central market place. This is the biggest temple in the town. It is built of hornblende. The large and lofty ‘gopura’ on the eastern side wall of the ‘prakara’ is of particular interest. Perhaps this can be considered as one of the finest temples built in 1117 A.D. by Vishnuvardhana, the fourth Hoysala king, after embracing Vaishnavism. It is said that this king built four Naryana temples during his reign; Keerti Narayana temple at Talakad, Cheluva Narayana temple at Melukote, Vijaya Narayana temple at Belur and the Vira Narayana temple at Gadag.
The shrine contains a big idol of Veera Narayana. It is carved out of a black stone and is life-like and most beautiful.
The famous Kannada poet, Naranappa of Gadag (popularly known as Kumaravyasa) is said to have composed his great epic Mahabharata sitting in the main hall of this temple, inspired by the main deity in the shrine.
There are more than thirty inscriptions found around Gadag, mostly in the temples of Trikutesheara and Vira Narayana. They range in date from the times of the Rashtrakutas to the times of the Vijayanagar kings. Most of them are in old Kannada script, the language used being Kannada, Sanskrit and a mixture of both in some cases. All of them relate to some kind of grant, either land or money made by various kings, chieftains and prominent persons to the temples in Gadag.
Visitors to Gadag should not miss to see Lakkundi which is only 12 kms. away. This ancient village has about fifty temples of antiquarian interest and was known as the Varanasi of the south. The place is connected by a good road and regular buses operate in the route.
Gadag is now an important centre for cotton trade, printing and publishing work. Perhaps it has the largest number of old printing presses in the state. Situated southeast of Dharwad at a distance of about 42 kms., it is connected by rail and excellent roads from all sides. Government and private buses, and a number of vans operate in these routes from Dharwad and Hubli at frequent intervals. An inspection bungalow, a rest house and several lodgings with modern facilities are available at Gadag town for the convenience of tourists and visitors.