Temple of Goddess Mahalakshmi was first constructed in Kolhapur in Chalukya period (550 A. D. to 660 A. D.) This is evident from the style of the idol’s sculpture. Also, some historians state that Goddess Mahalakshmi in the form of an idol was consecrated in Kolhapur temple during the reign of King Manglesh from the Chlukya Dynasty.
However, the ancient temple was destroyed by an earthquake that took place in 8th century A.D. Yet several ruins of the first structure are found today in various part of the current temple. The ancient petite idol is found in a small structure next to the stairs, between Goddess Mahalakshmi and Goddess Mahasaraswati’s sancta sanctorum. On the other side of the same stairs is a sculpture of a boar carrying Goddess Earth on its tusk. The boar represents one of the avatara of Lord Vishnu. Besides, a boar was also the emblem of Chalukya Kings of Badami. Right behind the sculpture of boar is an inscription depicting a bull, Shivalinga and a sword.
To the right of the stairs that lead from the “Ganapati Mandap” to the courtyard on the side of Goddess Mahasaraswati’s Sanctum lay some more remains of the ancient temple. These masterpieces of art include a part of the spire with the sun disc having 12 zodiac signs. An intricately carved panel of ‘Jain Tirthankars’15 is placed above this spire. On the left side of the stairs is a sculpture of moon and a standing eagle with its hands joined together.
In the superstructure of the temple, on the first storey, lies a Ganapati idol with stone carving behind it that carries a Kirtimukh (face of glory depicted by a ferocious lion) in the centre. This symbol of the ferocious lion is representative of the Chalukya era. Similarly a sculpture of Vyala16 (a composite mythical leonine beast with horns) is found near the staircase leading to the superstructure.
Some more remains of the ancient epoch lie elsewhere. To cite a few, on the either side of the Mahadwar (main entrance), are two sculptures, one of a majestic bull in seated position and the other of a ram. Below the five Deepmalas (lamp pillars) is located a Nagsheela, (Snake sculpture) with five hoods. Also in the same place are found Shivalingas facing the North. All the aforementioned sculptures seem to be the relics of the earlier temple. Some sculptures of Vyala, Kirtimukh as well as nymphs and other ladies are found in the Town Hall Museum in Kolhapur. A survey of these sculptures proves that the former structure of the temple was inspired by the Badami (Bijapur) style of temples and was built in the Chalukya era in and around the place where today stands the sanctum of Goddess Mahasaraswati.
The temple of Goddess Mahalakshmi in Kolhapur was constructed and embellished over several centuries. Thereby the architecture styles of the respective era come to the fore. The innermost part was reconstructed by Shilahara King Jatig I which was later expanded by King Gandaraditya of the same dynasty and much later by King Singhan of Yadava Dynasty. Their reigns spanned from 9th to 13th century. From 13th to 15th century additions of structures like Deepmala (lamp pillars). Nagarkhana (drum-chamber) etc., were done. The outermost protruding part was constructed in wood in the Maratha Period.
The temple measures 350 feet from East to West and 225 feet from North to South. The height of the temple up to the superstructure is 35 feet and the main spire is 45 feet tall. The total area of the temple measures 27,000 Sq. feet.
The popular belief today is that all ancient temples are of Hemadpanti style. In fact Hemadri Yadav was the Prime Minister of Ramchandradev of the Yadava Dynasty. Therefore the style of temples constructed in his time is popularly known as Hemandpanti. However, Mahalakshmi temple of Kolhapur is an exemplary specimen of the Vesar style of architecture in Maharashtra. Vesar style is a confluence of Nagar and Dravidian style. Usually such temples have a complex with several small shrines around the main one.
The base of such temples built in Vesar style is star shaped usually called Tarakapeeth (taraka means star and peeth means base) and the contours are angular. Normally there are 24 to 32 angles to the star shaped structure. Also there are a few sculptures of elephants at various corners and entrances of this temple at the base.