Summers in the backwaters of Hidkal Dam in the backwaters of Belagavi district can hold many surprises. As the waters recede, the Temple of Vitthal emerges after being underwater for a year. This year, the delayed monsoons have allowed visitors and villagers to keep the temple in view longer.
In 1977, when the construction of the dam was completed, the villages of Hidkal and Honnur were completely submerged. Homes and fields, schools and temples were all submerged and eventually disintegrated. The temple of Vitthal has remained intact despite 45 years of immersion.
At the height of summer, the temple becomes accessible. In 2020, when the lake was almost dry, you could drive up to the temple entrance. This year, the temple could only be seen from a distance of 50 meters because deep waters still surround it. Seen from a height, one can clearly see the interiors of the temple.
The wide facade of the temple, built in black stone, is typical of the Hemadpanti style of architecture which was famous in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Located at the confluence of three regions – Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, the district of Belagavi had a strategic geopolitical advantage at that time. Several Maratha kings stopped at Belagavi and its adjoining forts en route to the Land of Gomantak (Goa). Belagavi district has more than 21 small and large forts. That of the city of Belagavi is the largest in terms of area.
The facade is flanked by sculpted figurines of Dwarpalas. The inner courtyard has a smaller temple with columns and arches. The sanctum sanctorum is located in an area surmounted by a pointed gopura. The tall structures of the outer wall are damaged due to the ravages of time and being submerged in water for years.
When the dam was being built and the submergence of the temple was inevitable, a similar temple was commissioned in the village of Honnur which recalls the old structure. It has similar carvings on the facade and the inner sanctum.
The deity inside the sanctum sanctorum is that of Lord Vitthal and Rukmini, his consort. The wide and spacious courtyard has arched walkways which now house several rooms. In the original structure, these vaulted areas would have been used to tether animals such as cows, horses, and ceremonial elephants, typical of many southern Indian temples.
In the distance, you can see the dilapidated fort of Honnur and even further, you can clearly see the main gates of the Hidkal dam. It is believed that the fort of Honnur was built as a stopover during long military conquests for refueling and for the storage of food grains for the army.
The current state of the fort is deplorable even if one can trace with chalk the ramparts, the bastion with flag pole and the wide laterite stone walls, easily accessible in this area. The fort also has some deep wells that would have provided water to those who lived there.
You can easily go up the fort from the village of Honnur and have a panoramic view of the entire stretch of the Hidkal dam and its backwaters. It is a sight to behold, especially to witness the vast blue expanse of water and the green fields of sugar cane and paddy beyond.
Although the ancient temple had a modern replica, one can only wonder if the original stone temple can still be saved from damage by repositioning it, one stone at a time. Either way, the chance to see what was once a popular temple is rare and not to be missed.