Nagavi: A forgotten university of Rashtrakuta times

Nagavi Agrahara near Chittapur in Kalaburagi district, which once housed an important place of learning, lies in a state of neglect

Updated - August 18, 2023 06:08 pm IST

Published - August 18, 2023 09:00 am IST - Kalaburagi

A ancient structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

A ancient structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

An hour’s drive from Kalaburagi city via Nandur, Bhankur, Ravoor, and Chittapur -- with tur-dal fields and limestone quarries on either side of the poorly-maintained road and massive cement factories visible at a distance -- take you to the historical town of Nagavi. It is located about 50 km from the district headquarters Kalaburagi, and 580 km from State capital Bengaluru.

As you move a few kilometres south of Chittapur, you reach a well-conserved 1000-year-old Nagavi Yellamma temple. Nagavi Yellamma is said to be the family deity of Rashtrakutas who ruled the large areas of the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and 10th centuries. Manyakheta (today’s Malkhed town), the capital of the Rashtrakuta Empire, is around 12 km from the temple. The mixed architectural style of the temple suggests its structural transformation over centuries in the hands of successive dynasties – Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas of Kalyana and Bahmani Sultanate.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

Nagavi Agrahara

About 200 meters walk from the Yellamma temple to further south takes you to the gateway to the ruined town of ancient Nagavi. Stepping inside, you will find a number of damaged structures such as temples, step-wells, raised platforms, houses, and other structures – all built with locally available limestone blocks – scattered everywhere across the large area surrounded by the vast tracts of agricultural fields.

Based on inscriptions and historical records, researchers have concluded that it was an Agrahara, a settlement of Brahmins who were then called Mahajan. The evidence suggests that Nagavi, which was also called Nagavapi and Nagavavi in ancient times, had, at a point, provided shelter to 400 Mahajan families. An inscription describes the Nagavi Agrahara as “the Brahmaloka of four hundred Brahmins mastered in four Vedas; head of the mother earth; and the Tilak of Kuntala Desha”.

 A temple at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

A temple at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

‘Takshashila of South’

Nagavi is often termed “Takshashila of the South” by researchers because of the intense educational activities said to have been carried out there. As per the inscriptions found in the area and historical records, the ancient town housed a famous Ghatikasthana of the time. Ghatikasthana, which means the place of learning, had the status of today’s university.

The Nagavi Ghatikasthana, which was established during the early rule of Rashtrakutas, gained prominence during the reigns of Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna-III (929-970) and the Kalyana Chalukya ruler Someshvara-I (1042-1068), attracting hundreds of students from across the subcontinent. Some of the researchers compare Nagavi Ghatikasthana with Kanchi Ghatikasthana, which was at its peak of fame between the 6th and 8th centuries.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

Though there is no exact estimate of the size of the Nagavi Ghatikasthana, it is roughly estimated that over 200 students at a time were studying a range of subjects including Vedas, Shastras, and the works of Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara. It is said that Vastu Shastra, Agastya Samhita, and Bhrigu Samhita works were also taught here. The ruined structures and the inscriptions give enough evidence for the presence of a number of houses for teachers and hostels for students in the fortified Nagavi Agrahara.

The 60-pillar temple at Nagavi in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

The 60-pillar temple at Nagavi in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

While there is no clarity about the exact spot of Ghatikasthana within the Nagavi Agrahara, some point to the 60-pillar temple. Presently, three Lingas – representing Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara – are worshipped together in the structure. It is said that it is the only place where Brahma Linga is worshipped. Built with heavy limestone blocks, the roof is supported by 60 stone pillars spread throughout the central hall. There is a square-shaped pit at the centre of the hall and exactly above it is the opening of the roof for sunlight.

Kids using one of the ancient wells in Nagavi for swimming.

Kids using one of the ancient wells in Nagavi for swimming. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

Indications of a big library

The inscriptions suggest the presence of a good library at the Nagavi Ghatikasthana which attracted students and scholars from neighbouring states as well. The library had Bhandaraka (librarian), who was also a scholar, and his assistants to look after the daily affairs. The library had developed a system of copying valuable original works and giving them to scholars in need for their reference. It had many copy-makers for the purpose.

The inscriptions record a number of endowments of lands given by the contemporary rulers for the maintenance of Ghatikasthana, libraries, temples, Agrahara, and the households in it. Though Nagavi was under the rule of Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta, it received grants and donations from other kings subsequently as well, including Chalukyas of Kalyana and the Haihaya king Shivarasa. When Someshwara-I, the king of Chalukyas of Kalyana, had camped in Kalagi, his military general Kalidasayya gave a land grant to Nagavi Agrahara. It is said that he and his son Madhavarasa built the Lakshmeshwara Temple and Madhusudhana Temple at Nagavi Ghatikasthana and gave land grants in Alur and Ravoor villages for their maintenance.

There are a number of wells in and around the Nagavi Agrahara. Some of them are buried in the ruins and thorny bushes while a few of them are still used by the local people. “It is in this well that many people in Chittapur town and other surrounding settlements learnt swimming,” a local resident told The Hindu.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

A picture of neglect

With the Archaeological Survey of India and the local administrations being conspicuous by their absence here, it is hard to get to the structures given the dense and impregnable Jali (Prosopis Juliflora), lantana, and other thorny shrubs that have engulfed this place.

Most of the structures, some of which are over 1000 years old, have already collapsed and the remaining buildings are on the verge of destruction. Two damaged structures standing side-by-side, and apparently counting their days, will especially draw your attention. One of them has two inscriptions lying on the ground in the heap of fallen stone slabs and pillars.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district.

A structure at historical Nagavi Agrahara in Chittapur Taluk of Kalaburagi district. | Photo Credit: KUMAR BURADIKATTI

“After firmly standing for centuries, many structures have collapsed owing to the rains, winds, and other natural causes over the years. However, there are some structures that were destroyed by people who dug the floors for treasures that they believe were hidden beneath the historic structures,” a villager said.

The floor and the premises of one of the abandoned temples outside the fortified area was completely filled with the dung of sheep and goats. The livestock, while grazing, take shelter inside the temple during the rains. The adjacent structure, which is said to be a dance school during ancient times, appears to have been renovated with Indo-Islamic architecture. Behind the temple is a beautiful well which was full of water. The trees and bushes that completely cover the water-filled well have Baya Weaver nests hanging from their branches. Nagavi is charms a visitor who dares find his/her way through the bushes despite its state of neglect.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.