I am a sucker for travel destinations. Given a chance, I could pack a backpack and travel round the world with pleasure. Even when I go on my annual sojourn to India where my primary destination is Hyderabad, I cajole my family into discovering the glories of Andhra Pradesh or some other destination in India. In the past we have visited places like Araku valley, Hampi and Vijayanagar ruins, Warangal Fort, and the lovely Ramappa temple. This year was no different. My father had a bunch of travel brochures lined up for me—old and new. We debated about where to go. Dad suggested Lepakshi and Kuchipudi since he felt that my daughter, a dance enthusiast, would like it. My brother had recently heard about Belum caves about 100 km from Kurnool. On the way to Kurnool, we decided to see the Alampur temples built during the Chalukya period in the 7th century A.D.
We hired a Toyota Qualis, a seven-seater van, but nine of us including the driver managed to get on board. In India space expands to include the people available and off we went at 7 a.m. in the morning on a bright Saturday. While Hyderabad was a cool 75°F (the monsoons had just set in the first week of August), we noticed that the climate turned drier and hotter as we drove on. By the time we reached Alampur, a distance of 200 km from Hyderabad, it was noon and it had hit 102°F and we were hot, thirsty, and famished. It was hard to find a decent restaurant in the towns that we passed by. There were a fair number of dhabas on the highway, but the hygiene! We stuck to the curd rice with mom’s best avakkai pickles that we had packed for the road. We parked our van at the first group of temples at Alampur.
The Alampur temples are in a cluster of nine temples and are considered to be a gateway to Sreesailam, the well known and more famous of the temples in Andhra Pradesh where the revered Jyotirlinga Shivastalam sits. Sadly we did not have enough information or a guide to take us through, so we wandered around reading the little information that we found at the temple entrance. We found out that Alampur is known as the Dakhina Kashi or the Dakshin Kailasam. The rivers Tungabhadra and the Krishna are in confluence near Alampur, but unfortunately both were dry for want of rainfall.
All the nine temples referred to as the Navabhramma temples were built by the Badami Chalukyas who ruled for about the 200 years from the sixth century onwards. The Alampur site preserves archeological remains in the form of temples exhibiting a hybrid style of architecture. While most temples in south India are characterized by the gopuram style, as we walked through the courtyard of the Alampur temples we noticed a striking resemblance to the temples of Orissa. However the carvings of the pillars are identical to the cave temples of Western India and therein lies the difference. The shrines are in a square pattern and have a passage for pradakshina around them.
All the temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva. The sculptures are primitive compared to the later day temples. The southern, eastern, and northern gateways are Siddhavattam, Tripurantakam, and Umamaheswaram. A Suryanarayana Temple and a Narasimha temple are also in the complex. The Navabhramma temples are Taraka Bhramma, Swarga Bhramma, Padma Bhramma, Bala Bhramma, Garuda Bhramma, Kumara Bhramma, Arka Bhramma, Vira Bhramma and the Vishwa Bhramma. These temples are all enclosed in a courtyard on the left bank of the river Tungabhadra.
The Bala Bhramma, which dates back to the year 702 CE, is the main shrine of worship as per the inscriptions seen here. The Taraka Bhramma temple is partly in ruins, and it has no image in the sanctum. It bears Telugu inscriptions from the 6th-7th century CE. The Swarga Bhramma temple with an imposing tower is considered to be among the finest in Alampur, and is an excellent specimen of Chalukyan architecture and sculpture. It contains several sculptures in bas-relief, and it dates back to the end of the eighth century.
The Padma Bhramma temple, also partly in ruins, contains a Shivalingam. The Viswa Bhramma temple is among the most artistic of the Nava Bhramma temples. The sculpture depicts scenes from the epics.
Also in the enclosed courtyard is the Suryanarayana temple dating back to the 9th century. This temple has bas-reliefs representing the incarnations of Vishnu. There is also a Narasimha temple with inscriptions from the period of Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayanagar Empire.
According to historical records, Alampur retained its importance as a major religious center all through its history. The protective walls and gateways in the town and the 11th century Papanasi group of temples (which have been dismantled and re-erected about four kilometers to the southeast) stand testimony to that. It is evident that early temple building was experimental in nature, as the temples have no distinct form of architecture and the innovative trend reflects the mingling of new forms and ideals.
While it thrilled us to witness and capture the glory of the Andhra rulers in the past, we found that the place needed restoration work and was sadly mismanaged. The museum was closed and the place was swarming with beggars. Noticing that we were the only tourists, they hounded and pursued us with vengeance until we parted with some money. The tourism department should improve the infrastructure of the approach roads that could attract more tourists.
That being said, the temples are definitely an archeologist’s delight and worth a visit. From Alampur we moved on to travel to Kurnool and get ready to see the Belum caves next. But that is another story!