Remembering Yazdani’s tribute to Ramappa Temple, a World Heritage site

Moses Tulasi

The temples of Palampet are perhaps the brightest stars in the medieval Deccan galaxy”- Ghulam Yazdani, Memoirs of the Archaeological Commission of India, Vol 6 – The Temples of Palampet.

Eastern view of Ramappa temple, photo by Arvind Pakide

Although the Telanganites were a bit taken aback, it is not surprising that UNESCO chose the temple of Ramappa as a “world heritage site” even as the monuments of Qutb Shahi and the remains of the fort of Warangal have been awaiting tremendous recognition since 2010. The Palampet temple conglomerate of which the Ramappa Temple is a part has long attracted the attention of archaeologists and historians if we look back past the period of general apathy towards the Telangana legacy by the government of Andhra Pradesh.

Rediscovered by A. Claude Campbell and Henry Cousens in the period 1895-1900 AD, it was not until Dr Ghulam Yazdani, director of the archeology department under the administration of Mir Osman Ali Khan, took upon himself that the Palampet temples were brought back from obscurity into the then Hyderabad State Heritage Roadmap. Campbell and Cousens both observed that the Ramappa Temple was a cut above the temple comparable to 1000 pillars in Hanamkonda of the same period, in terms of artistry and skill. Yazdani explains the architectural magnificence of the temples that call them the brightest stars in the medieval Deccan galaxy.

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His use of the “star” analogy was not thoughtless, as can be seen both literally and figuratively. The main shrine platform is a majestic star-shaped unit elevated 6 feet from the ground. Even the aerial view of the main shrine resembles that of a distant star. Philip Wagoner, a contemporary Deccan historian observes that Yazdani in his adulation points out that it is the the most complete Kakatiya temple complex and has the best-preserved monuments of the time.

Aerial view of the main shrine by Philip Wagoner reproduced from the original by Ghulam Yazdani

While the bulk of Yazdani’s career has been devoted to the conservation and documentation of monuments in Bidar and Ajanta and Ellora Caves, it is evident that he insisted that Palampet did not also did not fall off his radar. He is the author of a special issue in the “Memoirs of the Archaeological Commission of India»Series devoted to the Temples of Palampet. He has also edited a voluminous and comprehensive 11-part book “Early Deccan history(Thanks to the relentless push of Nawab Ali Yawar Jung) where he uses the Palampet temples as a pivot, a reference for navigating through the Kakatiya era (1163-1323 AD) the fine arts – architecture, sculpture, music and dance etc.

In its details he finds the the architecture of the building as high and grandiose. the
high plinth (10 feet), high pillars (15 feet), spacious hall (41 feet x 41 feet),
the heavy beams and ceiling tiles, and the majestic Sikhara, all bear
witness to the great aspiration and breadth of the builder’s vision, the builder by
whose name the temple is known rather than the deity within, who in itself, a
scarcity. Special attention is given to the pillars inside the temples which are so
exquisitely carved, there is simply no match anywhere in northern India or the south
Architecture of Indian temples.

Unfavorable location?

Yazdani observes that the reason the Palampet temples remained in darkness was because of their unfavorable location, being far from the beaten track, far from cityscapes. It is perhaps worth noting here that Henry Cousens in his report in 1900 A.D. in a dirty and unfortunately neglected condition. A photo of the temple taken by Lala Deen Dayal in 1885 AD testifies to the encroachment and overgrowth around the ruins. He called for immediate action to seal off the temple by reserving certain surrounding areas as a buffer zone, a factor that would be found much later as a criterion for UNESCO. It seems that this report contributed to the creation of a “Department of Archeology” in 1914 and to the resumption of conservation work on heritage structures as a virtue of modern civilization.

Temple of 1000 pillars, Hanamkonda. Photo by Deen Dayal, 1885 AD

Ironically, being “off the beaten track” may have worked in Palampet’s favor in the long run as it prevented vandalism and encroachment, but not without its share of incidents. Yazdani recounts one such incident where district officials removed two of the statues of female dancers, a major attraction of the temple, which are of life size, worked in highly polished black basalt and cut with great precision and accuracy. They wanted to decorate their homes with the statues but the state intervened in time to prevent this act of vandalism.

Sculptures of dancers, Ramappa temple. Photos of Surendra Kumar

Growing up in Warangal in the 1990s, I remember Ramappa and Pakhal were the two favorite school picnic destinations, both located around 37 miles from the city. We, the students, were fortunate enough to witness the floating brick show that was presented at the time. These lightweight spongy bricks were used in the gopuram i.e. the temple spire deliberately avoid using stone to reduce the weight on the building. I remember sharing thoughts with my classmates about the otherworldly aspect of Ramappa Temple and the fear of entering it as it looked like an alien spaceship ready to take off at any moment, in peculiar with its star-shaped multi-layered platform that looked like parking equipment and its chajja with finely carved cornices as flight wings.

Yazdani also emphasizes the great lakes of Ramappa, Pakhal and Lakhnaram of Warangal subah call them magnificent reservoirs with their titanic dikes and gates. In his offer of homage to the irrigation techniques of the Kakatiya era, he felt that these reservoirs provided lessons from even modern engineers. The Lakhnaram Reservoir, now a budding tourist destination, is the largest water reservoir in the Nizam Dominions.

Nandi pavilion, Ramappa temple, photo of Aravind Pakide

The irrigation department of the time used to camp on the premises of the temple complex when it needed to undertake repairs to the lake dike and, in the process, also carried out conservation work on the structures of the temple. Yazdani recounts such an effort in the 1920s on the temple at the eastern end of the dike that kept the crumbling structure from completely collapsing.

The subsidiary shrines and temples weren’t overlooked either, as Yazdani viewed the entire conglomerate as a mini-galaxy in its own right. Its documentation gives a substantial description of the making and composition of the subsidiary shrines and temples as well as its details of the main temple.

Moses Tulasi is a Hyderabad-based documentary maker who writes occasionally on history and culture.

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