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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

On the Hoysala Temple Trail

The Hoysala temple trail was something I’d been wanting to do, ever since I chanced upon a picture of one of the Hoysala temples online. I didn’t know there were such stunning temples so close to me. Though it reflects my ignorance about the Indian architectural prowess, and I felt quite embarrassed thinking about the same, I realised the only way to turn this around, and gift my ignorant mind with a taste of art & culture, was to actually make the trip to indulge in the beauty of the Hoysala temples.

The Hoysala architecture was developed under the rule of the Hoysala empire between the 11th & 14th centuries in Karnataka, India.

Most Hoysala temples follow a similar architectural style, and once you have seen a couple, it will be easy to identify a temple of that period. Karnataka has around 300 Hoysala temples, of different sizes and importance, but the Chennakesava temple in Belur, Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu, & Chennakesava temple in Somanathapura, are the most magnificent.

1. Chennakesava temple, Belur

Also known as the Keshava or Vijayanarayana temple was built in the 12th century, commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana. It took 103 years to finish this beautiful temple!

Chennakeshava is a form of the Hindu God Vishnu.

The temple is magnificent with intricate cravings on soapstone depicting secular life at the time, scenes from the holy texts of Ramayana & Mahabharata, dancing deities, musicians, & tradesmen from around the world.

Chennakesava temple in Belur is located 35km from the town of Hassan, around which there are few other notable Hoysala temples. Bangalore is 221km from the temple.

Like most temples of Hoysala architecture, Chennakesava temple is built on a platform (called a jagati) designed to be circumambulatory in purpose.

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Chennakesava temple, Belur

2. Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu

This 12th century temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is located in Halebidu, the former capital of the Hoysala empire. It is 30km from Hassan, and 210 km from Bangalore. King Vishnuvardhana commissioned this temple on the banks of a large manmade lake. It has two Nandi shrines outside, and they face a Shivalinga inside the temple.

This temple too is built in soapstone, as it is soft to carve, and hardens over time. Similar to most Hoysala temples, it is built on a jagati allowing for circumambulation, and its intricate carvings depict secular life in 12th century Karnataka.

The friezes, sculptures, & inscriptions, are largely well preserved, and are breathtaking to say the least! Most of the carvings depict stories from Hindu texts- if you hire a guide from outside the temple, he will be able to explain the carvings in detail. They are government certified guides, and are quite knowledgeable about the architecture of the temple, and the stories behind it. For an immersive experience of the temple, I highly recommend hiring a guide.

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Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebidu

3. Chennakeshava temple, Somnathpur

Somanatapura to Hassan is 137km, and 134km from Bangalore, but only 38km from Mysuru.

This is the first ever Hoysala temple that I visited, and this is where I fell in love with Hoysala architecture. I was awestruck and rendered speechless, and spent a lot of time wandering through the temple admiring the intricate carvings.

When I visited this temple, all I knew was that it was an old & beautiful temple, and nothing more. But after I left, I spent hours reading up on Hoysala architecture, and the rest of the Hoysala temples in Karnataka.

It only takes one Hoysala temple to fall in love, and the rest is just feeding my addiction!

The Chennakeshava temple is also referred to as the Kesava temple. It has three symmetrical sanctums, each of which is dedicated to a form of Vishnu- Keshava, Janardhana, & Venugopala.

Similar to other Hoysala temples, this temple too is built on a jagati, and has intricate carvings depicting tales from the Ramayana & Mahabharata.

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Chennakeshava temple, Somanathapura

4. Lakshmi Narasimha Temple

This is a temple also dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and was built in 1235 AD by King Vira Someshwara.

It is just 35km from Hassan. It too, like other Hoysala temples is built on a jagati, and boasts of intricate carvings on its walls & ceilings.

5. Lakshmi Devi Temple, Doddagaddavalli

One of the oldest Hoysala temples, it was built in 1114 AD by King Vishnuvardhana. It is 16km from Hassan.

It has some noticeable differences from temples typical of Hoysala architecture- the most significant being that it is not built on a Jagati. It has 4 symmetrical shrines & towers (called chatuskuta).

Inside, similar to to other Hoysala temples, it has beautiful lathe turned pillars, and an intricately carved roof.

The most important feature of the Lakshmi Devi temple is the sculpture of Lakshmi. She is depicted standing, when in most temples and scriptures she is depicted in a seated position. It is a 3 ft tall sculpture, with four hands holding a conch (shanka), discus (chakra), rosary (japmala), & mace (gada).

The other shrines pay homage to Goddess Kali, Lord Vishnu, & Bhoothanatha Linga ( the symbol of Lord Vishnu).

Let me know your thoughts on the Hoysala temple trail in the comments below. Have you been to any of these temples?


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