The pandemic calls for taking road trips to places of interest, not too far from the city I reside in, Bengaluru, and the Avani temple complex, 30 km ahead of Kolar town, fits the bill beautifully. Soaked in antiquity, as the guidebooks would say, the Ramalingeshwara temple complex in the hamlet of Avani, is a good example of Dravidian architectural style and dates back to the 10th century, when the Nolamba dynasty was in power, with Avani as their capital.
The Nolambas were devoted Shaivites, and three impressive temple complexes built by them still stand. All three are dedicated to Lord Shiva and are a display of pomp and glory of past times. These are the Kalleshwara temple in Aralaguppe, the Bhoganandeeshwara temple in Nandi village and the Ramalingeshwara temple in Avani.
Which explains why the walled courtyard here in Avani resembles the Bhoganandeeshwara temple complex at the foot of the Nandi Hills. Inside the Avani compound, there are four shrines named for Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna.
There are separate temples to Vali and Sugriva, Parvathi the consort of Shiva, as well as their son Ganesha, in the compound. The mouldings in the Ramalingeshwara temple have a striking display of the kirtimukha, as well as an exquisitely sculpture of Ganesha.
The Lakshmanalingeshwara temple houses the largest linga in the complex, as well as a small Nandi, and carved on the ceiling is an arresting frieze of Uma-Mahesvara. The pillars in the hall here, as well as in the Shatrugneshwara (believed to be the oldest) and the Bharatalingeshwara shrine, have carvings that have withstood the depredations of time.
Avani, presumably having been a seat of learning, was known as the Gaya of the south. This is where Maharishi Valmiki had his ashram. This is where Sita retreated to, after her trial by fire; where Luv and Kush were born, hence the name of the adjoining hill, which is also known as the Luva-Kusha betta, the Sita betta, the Avani betta. Atop the betta (hill) stands a temple dedicated to both Sita and Parvati. This
is also the place where the Ashwamedha Yagna confrontation and the subsequent battle between Ram and his brothers against his sons took place.
A little distance away lies a large waterbody where herons and egrets stand in the shallows. We find a hero stone in the grassy knoll in the vicinity, and ironically enough, a buffalo grazing near a stone Nandi. Avani is but a short distance away from the fabled Kolar Gold Fields, but from the steady procession of vehicles that make its way to the Ramalingeshwara temples, it’s clear where the real goldmine lies, for the faithful.