My first priority upon arrival at Warangal is to find a decent room. I have taken an early train from Hyderabad. I come out of the railway station and turn left on the main road. There is a good choice of places to stay and I step into one. The manager is polite and shows me a room on the ground floor. The single room comes with hot water and television. The place is clean and airy. The sheets are clean. Windows are large. There is no dampness. At Rs. 170 per night this place is great value for money. I am going to enjoy staying here. In fact, I am going to stay here for a couple of nights.
I wash my clothes, have a bath and rest for a while. It is half past elevan when I arrive at the famous 1000-pillared temple at Hanamkonda. But I am hungry since breakfast was quite early in the day. I walk down further in search of a restaurant. I finally find an Andhra mess on the first floor right opposite Masjid-e-chowk. Back home in Bangalore I have had countless Andhra meals. Today is an opportunity to savour an authentic experience.
I order a thali meal. The cooks are busy but it will take only a few more minutes before the meal is ready. A waiter brings out a clean plate. Serving containers filled with delicacies are placed before me – thick daal, fried okras, curd, mixed vegetables cooked in spicy sauce. A large bowl of hot and spicy sambar is accompanied with a flat dish of chutney. A large bowl of rice is more than enough to fill me up. A papad fried in oil completes the display. I begin this tasty meal. It is one I will remember for long.
Back at the temple, I find that it is tucked away in a little lane. Near the entrance there is a stepped tank, the kind of tank common in temples all over South India. Though there are wide platforms all around the tank on three levels, approach to the water level is through only one end. This makes the design a little eccentric.
The temple itself is a magnificent creation of both art and architecture. It stands on a high plinth in a stellate design. As such it reminds me of Hoysala style temples in Karnataka. An elaborate entrance portico leads up a flight of steps to the main mandapa. Two beautiful pillars stand at the entrance of this portico while half pillars rise up to the roofs on the sides. The outer wall has no great wealth of deities, themes or particular sculptural masterpieces. What it does have are uniform motifs, mouldings and miniature shikaras, all of them sharply sculpted. The stone mouldings are beautifully done from the base to the roof. In classical architecture, each part of these mouldings will have a formal name. I can only say that I am ignorant of the finer details and I like what I see.
On the inside, the temple is still in active use. A priest is busy with the ceremonies. Visitors participate in prayer and offering. An officious security guard keeps a hawk’s eye to make sure no one takes photographs. I am stunned by the details on the pillars of the mandapa. Capitals appear to be lathe-turned. Tassels hang interlaced with festooned beaded strings. Chain motif with its minute links encircle pillars. Kirtimukhas decorate these pillars and also the ceilings. Stone lattice screens flank the antaralas into the sanctums. There are two sanctums in this temple but only one of them is in active use for daily pujas.
I try to make a sketch but the security guard throws his hammer in the works. I argue with him but it is in vain. I leave Hanamkonda in search of the famous fort of Warangal. When it comes to forts, what I really expect are crenellated walls, bastions, gateways, canons and other elements of military architecture. All these probably once existed at Warangal but today nothing much remains. What does survive is the enormous scale of the fort’s defence structures. There are deep dried up moats surrounding high turf covered embankments. These embankments are so widely spread out that it might take days to walk along them. I see a couple of boys flying kites from one of these embankments.
I pass a gateway and some adjacent fort walls, little remains of what must have been a great fort of the Kakatiyas. The Kakatiyas ruled from the 12th to the 14th centuries. In later times, Warangal changed hands to the Bahmani Sultanate, then the rulers of Golconda and finally the Mughals under Aurangazeb.
I follow the road to the main area where the great creations of the Kakatiyas are assembled into an open-air museum. Here are spectacular kirtimukhas that must have once formed one corner of a ceiling. Today a couple of these kirtimukhas are displayed like European tympanums. Dancers in a frieze on a pillar strike many elegant poses. Friezes of elephants, lions and celestial swans lie in broken fragments. Mouldings on pillars seem to be particular to the Kakatiya style of temple art. Lotus medallions catch the sun with their sharp pointed petals. The fact that these remains are displayed in bright light, close to eye-level and in an open landscape, makes each one special. Each one can be studied and admired to the full.
A few mandapas stand in this enclosure, one enshrining a Nandi. Stone latticed screens inset with swans in miniature frame the giant toranas in the distance. These toranas are iconic of Warangal. They are composed of four pillars joined at the top by a horizontal beam whose underside is decorated with seven pendants. Two flamboyant brackets frame the gateways to the two sides. The entire composition is imposing and beautiful at the same time.
I walk and climb the nearby Ekashila Hill. The temple at its top is uninteresting but at least the view from here gives a sense of the fort and its scale. Much of the landscape is wild untended land. I can see ruins spread far and wide but they are not easily accessible. The place could do with better maintenance so that tourists can visit all the historic buildings within.
I visit Sitab Khan’s Mahal, a rather uninteresting bulding that hardly befits it majestic title. Today the ground floor here houses a modest collection of stone sculptures. In one room, there is a heap of stone canon balls.
I could have spent a lot more time here exploring the wider ruins but it is getting dark. The sun is in its final dip on the horizon. In this open landscape, electric poles and wires stand in silhouette against the orange sun. The landscape is so quiet that even the slightest of sounds travel far.