A non-descript path, barely visible to the untrained eye, snakes its way through the overgrown undergrowth of a much-neglected Oil Palm grove. The path drops off down a gentle incline toward the river and there under the branches of an ancient tree lie the ruins of the lost temples of Kabini.
Two walled enclosures situated side by side house one temple each – to the left lies a structure in terminal decline, dwarfed by gnarled trees and vegetation – the Gopalaswamy Temple. To the right and in close proximity, in a high walled enclosure guarded by fierce looking figurines, lies the much plainer looking Padmavati Temple. Two shrines of two distinct faiths that once vied for supremacy lie peacefully next to each other. One can almost feel the underlying tensions that must have existed between the two.
Nothing ignites an archaeologist’s imagination like the prospect of a lost city and right here seemingly in the middle of nowhere and hidden in plain site lie two temples that time seems to have forgotten. An Indiana Jones moment, depending on your choice of vintage, if there ever was.
The Gopalaswamy temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is built in traditional fashion – granite superstructure upon which rests a brick gopuram. Shades of Hampi. A pillared entrance leads onto a long hall, the floor of which has been dug up – treasure hunters perhaps? Carved pillars lead to a dark room the entrance to which is flanked by two figures. On the top of the entrance is an intricately carved image of Lord Vishnu resting on Sheshnaga or Adishesha.
Another small square granite shrine is located at one corner of the enclosure, surrounded by vegetation and made inaccessible by it. As one circles the main temple, one notices the fish emblem, closely associated with Lord Vishnu, carved on the outer walls.
The Padmavati temple, on the other hand, is a much simpler and plainer structure almost in keeping with the comparatively austere nature of Jainism. Once you enter the walled compound, the main shrine is just a few feet away. As one enters the shrine one is greeted by white washed pillars. Much plainer than the Gopalaswamy temple, these pillars lead to a smaller room that houses a chest of drawers with a modern-day sculpture of the Mahavira. An old brass bell hangs forlornly from the ceiling.
It is clearly evident that the temple is used occasionally for prayer, though one could not tell from the outside. The compound is overgrown and the outside of the temple is in a sad state of repair. The inside, on the other hand, is well swept, whitewashed and tidy. One wonders about the identity of the caretakers, for while the area was once a stronghold of Jainism, they are hardly any practitioners left.
Enquiries about the antecedents of both temples and the mystery caretakers draw a blank, the locals seem rather ambivalent towards them. There is surely a story lurking in the undergrowth somewhere perhaps a mystery to be solved or a nugget of history to be unearthed. A job best left to a better man.