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Marvels of Hoysala art

Gouri Satya, Jan 19, 2016, 0:06 IST
intricate A war scene carved on the wall of Hoysaleshwara Temple in Halebid.  PHoto by author
The elaborate carvings that adorn the walls of Hoysala temples reflect the wealth of knowledge the artisans of the period possessed. The sculptures on the walls depict many of the 64 traditional arts that were practised during the time. A keen observer can find carvings that showcase a wide range of weapons, animals, ornaments, floral designs, musical instruments and men and women engaged in dance, music and warfare. These designs, that include situations from mythological stories, throw light on the imagination and creativity of the artists of the Hoysala regime. Thus, the temples of Belur, Halebid, Somanathapura and Hosaholalu stand as the finest examples of Hoysala art and architecture.

Stones and stories
The marvellous conceptualisation of the sculptures indicate that artists must have had a deep knowledge of many arts, besides expertise in temple construction. The intricate carvings on the walls of these structures make visitors look in awe at the Hoysala workmanship. While planning temples and towns, builders of the past adopted the concept of Srichakra. It represents the dynamic principle of Shiva and Shakti, the two fundamental principles, the merger of which leads to enlightenment. It is on this principle of positive and negative forces that the entire universe is said to have emerged. Science too acknowledges these two principles. Architects of the past recognised this fundamental principle of evolution and gave it a structural form in the shape of a temple. One can find the application of these principles in Hoysala temples too.

In the famous Chennakeshava Temple in Belur in Hassan district, one can observe sculptures and carvings displayed on stone — the women of divine grace dancing and singing, playing on musical instruments, idols of Shilabalikas with different hairstyles, dresses and ornaments. The sculptures also include animals like elephants, lions and horses and episodes from mythological stories. The pillars inside the temple are also ornate. The temple is also known for the darpana sundari (woman with a mirror) sculpture. Emotions are displayed in scenes such as the response of a woman when a monkey tries to pull her saree, another woman frightened by the sight of a scorpion on her clothing.

On the walls of Somanathapura Temple in Mysuru district, epic poetry rolls out on stone narrating mythological stories in a serial manner around each tower. In those small pieces of sculptural flow, there are scenes of Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Bhagavata. Lord Krishna killing demons in various forms, men and women fighting against demonic animals and birds, wrestling and war scenes are also depicted in these carvings. On the pillars and domes are displayed Srichakra-based diagrams and sacred symbols, besides carvings of lotus (Padma) and sacred pots (Kalashas). One can see romantic and erotic figures too on the walls of these temples. The figures are depicted in an order and each carries a specific meaning.

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