There was an audible gasp from my companions as they stepped into the small space before the innermost sanctum. They were facing the garbhagudi of the Chaya Someswara temple in Panagal and witnessing its wondrous Chaya. I hurried up the steps and into the temple to join them. And then I stood in awe as I saw the incredible shadow.

Built in the 13th century by Pratap Rudra, the last Kakaitya ruler, the Chaya Someswara temple is famed for its amazing chaya or shadow phenomenon which has given the temple its prefix. This phenomenon is considered a rare feature in India’s temple architecture. All through the day, the shadow of a pillar falls on the shivalingam i.e. the presiding deity Someswara. It is a constant and unmoving presence on the wall behind the Shivalingam — irrespective of the time of the day and position of the sun.

The Shivalingam is fronted by a small rangamandapam with four pillars embellished with stunningly beautiful intricate carvings. A broken Nandi as well as the platform on which it once rested both lie on the floor beside this mandapam. The temple is a trikutalayam (three-shrine complex) with a shrine to Shiva-Parvathi on the right while facing the garbhagudi is the Surya or Sun God shrine.

The shadow has mystified people for centuries. Sculptor and archaeologist E. Sivanagireddy offers an explanation: “Chaya Someswara temple is an engineering marvel from the Kakatiyas. The sthapatis i.e. temple builders/sculptors arranged the two pillars in the ardhamandapa and the curtain walls on either side of the Surya shrine in such a way that sunlight intersects both the pillars and results in a shadow from dawn to dusk.”

Outside this complex are two more shrines with broken figures of Nandi, etc. As much as this splendid temple arouses awe, it also causes anguish with its dilapidated state. It is a pity that such a precious piece of our heritage is lying in such a sad state of neglect.

The 12th-century Pachchala Someswara temple built by Kunduru Cholas is nearby. It has a pillared hall at the end of which is a Nandi facing the presiding deity Pachchala Someswara in the form of a shivalingam. The four pillars surrounding the Nandi are decorated with intricate carvings depicting scenes from the epics and Puranas like Ksheerasagaramadhanam and Kurmaavataram.

Alongside is an unusual sight. The Navagrahas (nine planets) are not installed all together as is the convention. Shani stands alone in a separate pedestal while the other eight are placed together in another one. Fragments from temple panels lie on the temple grounds.

Adjoining the temple is the Panagal Archaeological Museum with a rich collection of around 640 art objects and antiquities. Several are displayed in its open-air gallery while most items are located inside its building. There are no details available about the museum collection by way of booklets/brochures which is a pity.

You can round up your visit to the richly historical Panagal with a visit to the centuries-old Venkateswara temple built by the Kakatiyas.