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An architectural legacy

Feb 25, 2014 : 21:03 IST

Set in stone

 Lakshmi Narayana Temple. Photo by the author
The Hoysalas have always been known for their taste in architecture. Join Venkatraman S as he traverses a place rich in history...

Nestled inside our villages and towns are some of the best remains of our brilliant history and its magnificent temples with their own intricate architecture. Probably among all the rulers who ruled different parts of South India, the Hoysalas have a very niche area, as what they constructed during their reign has been a testament to their glory and showcases their artistic and cultural superiority.

History of the town


A few kilometres away from the town of Krishnarajapete is the small village of Hosaholalu. Known as ‘Hosa Horalu’ in the past, the name of the town is believed to be a result of the gems and precious stones that were found buried under the ground. In this tiny village, lies a beautiful temple built by King Vira Someshwara around 1250 AD.

The temple with the main deity as Lakshmi Narayanaswamy follows the tri-koota or trikutachala style of architecture and faces east, resting on a raised pedestal, a characteristic of many of the Hoysala temples. After having visited Somanathapura, I believed that tri-koota meant that there are supposed to be 3 gopurams along with 3 sanctum-sanctorums(garbha-grihas). But I was corrected here and was told that trikoota essentially refers to the latter.

Hoysalas ruled from 11th to 14th century AD and constructed this temple during the zenith of their reign. The local legend also states that during some excavation in the bazaar area, an ‘oralu’ (vessel made of stone, used for beating and splitting grains) was found and hence this place came to be known as ‘horalu’. Also, it is believed that a sprawling town used to exist in this region, with majestic forts. Remains of a mahadwaram(main gate) still exists around the north-eastern side of the temple.

As one enters via the small lane that ends in the temple, one cannot but get confused as the facade does not look like that of the Hoysala architecture. But as they say ‘do not judge a book by its cover’, a corollary to it can be coined as ‘do not judge a temple by its facade’. The front portion of the temple seems to be cut off or rather built in a distinct Vijayanagara style.

The intricate work is missing, and this I was told, was to ward off any raiders from harming the temple. Also, it is not known whether the later rulers changed the front part of the temple for any particular reason, as the frontal portion dates to only 17th century AD.

Royal feel

Beautiful pillars shining in the tube-light welcome me as I enter the temple. Venugopalaswamy is on the left, Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy on the right and Lakshmi Narayana is in the middle garbha-griha.

All the three idols have been established here by Ramanujacharya. The main deity here originally was Nambi Narayana but in 1953 Goddess Lakshmi was placed and from then on, the main deity has been known as Lakshmi Narayana. The present idol of Venugopalaswamy in the sanctum on the left is not the original one and is supposed to have been brought in the recent past after the original was removed from its place.

The lintels above the doors on each of these sanctums carry a smaller replica of the idol inside it, and one can see a marked difference between the sculpture on the lintel outside the garbhagriha of Venugopala swamy and the actual idol installed inside. Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy is seen with Bhakta Prahlada.

Intricate structures

The Navaranga, which used to be a nrithya-mantapa(dance hall), is in the middle of the temple connecting each of the three sanctums. Flanked by four lathed pillars in a classic Hoysala style, the navaranga has many intricate details. Beautiful apsaras flank the pillars – one is seen admiring herself by looking at the mirror while another is seen holding a messenger parrot.

One can also spot majestic lions with one paw in the air and the other on an elephant below them, proving their might. You will most likely miss a monkey sitting and drinking out of a coconut. This is on a pillar in the navaranga, the one on the right near the Lakshminarayana sanctum, and is supposed to be the ‘kshetra palakar’, someone who takes care of a holy place or temple. In Kannada, this is referred to as ‘hebbettu anjaneya’ and is supposed to signify that even a monkey knows the importance of a coconut.

Only the pillars in the navaranga have the horizontal designs in the forms of rings whereas the other pillars inside the temple have vertical edges. There is a particular arithmetic progression as you can see pillars with 16, 32 and 64 vertical edges. One can also see ‘Sala’ in different postures – in one, he is fighting with one lion whereas in others, he is seen with two lions with different kind of weapons.

The sculptors have also left a small piece of rock without any designs for the later generations to show their craftsmanship. The ceiling is probably something that can be best appreciated by the eyes only. There are nine different designs inside the temple ceiling forming a grid of 3x3 with the one above the navaranga being the biggest.

It is believed that the ‘bhuvaneshwari’ – a structure jutting out in the form of a banana flower from the ceiling was meant to act like a ventilator and can be screwed out despite being made of solid stone. Each of the bhuvaneshwaris are unique.

If the interior of the temple was not enough to impress you already, the exteriors will just blow your mind away. As you step down from the main temple and come to its side, you can enjoy the beautiful intricate designs, which enthrall you all the way till you exit from the other side.

There are five strips of running frieze around the three sides of the temple. The bottom-most frieze carries elephants and the strip above that is that of horses with men on them. The horsemen look like cavalry and a few of the horses have decorations in the form of a more elaborate seat, and these probably denote the commanders of their regiments.

A running creeper or a form of floral embroidery forms the strip above it. The one above the floral frieze is probably the most interesting strip as it carries scenes from the Ramayana for 60% of the length of the frieze and scenes from the Mahabharata continue the rest.

The scenes are in chronological order and can be understood best when circumambulating the temple in the usual clockwise direction. Above them is a series of a imaginary animal called Makara-Shardula. Makara-Shardula, a variant of leogriff, is a mythological animal having a pig’s body, lion’s legs, elephant’s eyes, crocodile’s face and the posterior of a peacock. The strip above it carries a beautiful hamsa or anna-pakshi (swan).

The panel, almost 2 - 2.5 feet wide, above the running friezes carries the images of many gods and goddesses. The panel consists of interesting images of Natya Saraswati, Darpana Sundari, Visha Kanya, a standing Narasimha Swamy(known as Prasanna Narasimha) etc. The imagination skills of the sculptors who carved these out from stone needs to be appreciated as one looks at this panel of deities who are in perfect proportion and are highly detailed. The classic Hoysala emblem is carved on the left side of the gopuram.

Made of soapstone, the pillars in the navaranga still have their sheen on whereas the exteriors have seen the travails of time and people. One can also spot bleak traces of the gold and red paints in some of the sculptures on the exterior wall.

The left - most part of the exterior of temple probably has some of the best preserved parts with interesting images like Bheeshma during Uttarayana and Dakshninayana and a lion showing its might along with Vishnu’s Dasavatharam.

My belief in the artistic achievement of the Hoysalas was reaffirmed after visiting this beautiful temple. This temple along with many others found in the region, presents to us the tremendous knowledge of the temple designs along with their artistic finesse during the reign of the Hoysalas.

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