• banavasi temple

Banavasi Temple | not even lonely planet knows this one

Just because it isn’t in Lonely Planet doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing!

Just a two hour ride from Gokarna, Banavasi Temple in Madhukeshava is the oldest temple in Karnataka and absolutely worth the journey on the twisted hilly roads. It’s possible this is the oldest thing I’ve seen, but it really is hard to remember! These are even older than the caves at Badami and temples at Aihole and Pattadakal.

banavasi temple

banavasi temple

banavasi temple

banavasi templeLocated on the Varada River, this temple complex was initial built in the 4th century by the Hoysala, although one guide said one small part was even from the 2nd century.

As the 5 Kingdoms took over each other more was added to the temples. You can see while walking through what’s been added over time by looking at the different details. In the old sections, the pillars are square and plain, and in the new they are circular, reflective, and detailed.

banavasi templeWhile there, pujas went on and it was nice to take part in the big afternoon one they do daily. After, there was a meal.

The meals were introduced at temples because people were driving from all over and had nowhere to eat. It’s similar to the way food is served at the Golden Temple in Amritsar: on the floor, eating with your hands proper South Indian style. Food is 10 rupees but they accept donations.banavasi templewhile touring the temple, we also covered our shoulders

A lot of things clicked while here about Hinduism while the guides told stories.

This temple is interesting in that Nandi who usually looks only at Shiva, has one eye on Shiva and one on Shiva’s wife, Parvati.

I’ve mentioned before that all the God’s have a “vehicle” and Shiva’s is the bull. Yama, the god of death rides a water buffalo! This temple is dedicated to Shiva, but even when temples in India are mostly for one God, they have statues of others as well.

There are massive linga sculptures all around- which in case you don’t know is Shiva’s “genitals” as the guide put it. It shows he came from himself and was the creator of life.

banavasi templeThe most interesting story we were told is why Ganesh only has one husk. He was writing the second Hindu epic, Mahabharata, and was told he couldn’t take any breaks. The stone he was using to write broke, so knowing he couldn’t take a break, he used his own husk- ouch- which is why he’s missing one now.

banavasi templeI loved seeing the Vishnu sculpture with the 10 reincarnations around him. Krishna was a reincarnation of Vishnu which I learned early on in my goMowgli tour but still think is so interesting. It’s also cool how the reincarnations over time mimic evolution: fish, frog, boar, and eventually human, something I saw at another temple in Karnatka. Vishnu’s vehicle is an eagle.

I especially loved the carvings of Hanuman eating peanuts and sugar cane. I hadn’t realized before this that he is the son of the God of wind!

There’s a huge monolithic alter and a massive chariot outside that is still used at festival. There’s also a connection between here and Varanasi with half of a Ganesh statue here and half in Varanasi on the Ganges.

Banavasi Temple

Practical Information:

  • This isn’t in the guidebooks, so there aren’t going to be a lot of options getting here. It’s well off the beaten path. I traveled with goMowgli. Nearest rail is Haveri and Hubli is nearest airport.
  • You can take photos inside the complex, but not in the old temple.
  • On the goMowgli tour if you wanted to hop off here, there isn’t much to do except visit the Gudi bird sanctuary, but a basic clean homestay called Vanavasika is available.


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About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Emily March 25, 2015 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    Looks beautiful! There are so many temples and not enough time :)

  2. travelFREAK March 25, 2015 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Looks fantastic! Perfect for travelers who want to explore the unexplored India.

  3. Justine March 26, 2015 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I love exploring old temples! This place looks amazing. Great find :)

  4. Niranjan March 27, 2015 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    Looks lovely. Nice article.

  5. christine wilhelm March 28, 2015 at 3:55 am - Reply

    Another Ganesha (Ganapati) story ( Amar Chitra Katha shortened): Ganesha and the Moon
    Once on his birthday, Ganesha was invited to the abode of the moon for a feast. Modaks(*sweet dumpling filled with coconut and raw sugar cane) were specially made for him due to they were his favorite sweet. He ate ALL of them so fast he felt uncomfortable. He left the party and went outside to ride his mouse to get some fresh air.
    It was a beautiful night. The moon shone so brightly, it was almost like day! Suddenly a cobra moved in front of his mouse, startling both mouse and his rider. Ganesha took a terrible tumble, splitting his stomach wide open and all the modaks he had eaten fell out! The cobra quickly apologized for frightening his mouse, but the Moon seeing the fall, burst out laughing.
    Ganesha was very angry at the Moon. But he first had to put his modaks back. He then used the snake to tie his stomach up. The Moon just couldn’t stop laughing.

    Suddenly, Ganesha broke off a piece of his tusk and hurled it, furiously….slashing the Moons luminous face. Ganesha commanded: “O foolish Moon! Your unblemished appearance has made you vain! I command you to vanish from the Universe!”

    The Moon vanished and there was chaos in Heaven and Earth. Nobody could see anything it was so dark. The Moon was really sorry for humiliating Ganesha and came to him with other gods to apologise and ask him to take back his curse that plunged the world in darkness.
    The ever-forgiving Ganesha thought for a while, then replied: “You were wrong to laugh at my discomfort. I cannot take back my curse but I can soften it. From now on , you will not glow brightly every night. You will wax and wane from one bright fortnight to one dark fortnight alternately. You will be seen as a full Moon, in all your splendor, only once a month, alternately growing smaller and larger. Also, you will be invisible for one night, every month.” The Moon bowed and went back to his place in the sky with everlasting dents in his face.
    This is why we see Ganesha with a cobra around his scarred waist holding a broken tusk in his right hand. When the sage Vyasa was asked by Brahma, the Creator, to dictate the story of the Mahabharata to Ganesha, he replied: “I shall do as you wish. But my pen must not stop while I am writing. So you must dictate without pause or hesitation. I can only write on this condition.” So using the tusk to write is true too.
    I adore Hindu mythology. Can you imagine being a small child and your mother reciting to you these fabulous stories?????

    • Rachel Jones March 30, 2015 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      I would have loved to hear these stories growing up. thanks for sharing !

  6. christine wilhelm March 28, 2015 at 4:56 am - Reply

    Lord Vishnu’s mode of transportation is half bird-half lion, Garuda. He rests on the coils of the serpent Sesha.

  7. Jessica Wray March 28, 2015 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Awesome! Ifeel like it’s so hard to find stuff that isn’t already written about online or by the big guide books. I guess India would sure be the place to find some true off the beaten path gems :)

    • Rachel Jones March 30, 2015 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      Yeah, there are a lot of places here that just aren’t visited at all- but they’re very difficult to see because they’re so rural

  8. Rajendra April 21, 2015 at 8:51 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    I read your blog, its very informative and beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

    In your blog I found a mistake. Vishu’s vehicle is Garuda( Eagle) and not Snake.

  9. Jagadish June 2, 2015 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    not sure why the guide told you that shiva linga represents the god’s genitals – that’s totally wrong as per the holy books!
    The round form is due to a curse by bhrigu rishi on shiva that shiva should never be worshipped in his real form, but only as stone.

    “Shiva Linga” has many other meanings attached to it, but definitely phallus is not one of them.

    • Rachel Jones June 2, 2015 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      It’s a highly debatable topic, that’s true. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingam but many still consider it to represent phallus, as my indian friends have told me and as our guides shared. But, everyone believes different things which is okay.

  10. shubham June 16, 2015 at 1:04 am - Reply

    U dint seen half ganpati?

  11. Arjun Ray August 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this fantastic blog. We in India might not be aware of these off beat locations. Also your interpretation of the Shiva linga as informed by your guide is true to certain extent. Its not the genitals but the union of Lord Shiva and Parvari (his wife). Though it might be impossible to describe in couple of sentences. And yes Lord Vishnu’s vahan is Garuda (the eagle). I think snake is the vahan for Lord Shani. Keep it up. God Bless.

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