Here mythology comes alive

Here mythology comes alive

Join Chitra Ramaswamy as she meanders her way through a quaint little town housing a classic example of Hoysala architecture.

The Hoysala temples that dot the landscape of Karnataka do not cease to amaze a visitor. History records that the Hoysala rulers, voracious temple builders, constructed around 1,500 shrines in 958 centres during their reign between the 11th and 14th centuries. Perhaps, only a hundred of them survive today.

Whatever propelled their creative urge,  they have left behind for posterity, a distinct style of architecture that leaves art connoisseurs entranced.

Temple tales

The Mallikarjuna Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the hamlet of Basaralu in Mandya district stands testimony to the architectural acumen of the artisans of those times. Heading towards ‘sugar town’, Mandya, we weave our way through scenic pastoral roads and come to Basaralu, a nondescript village near Nagamangala, 65 km from Mysore and 125 km from Bangalore.

Though small - sized in comparison to several other Hoysala edifices, the temple built in 1234 CE during the reign of Vira Narasimha II, it shares most of the features associated with the Hoysala dynasty.

The distinctive style of ornamentation in Hoysala temples which evolved for the most part from the Chalukyan period emphasised certain features. They are all evident at the Mallikarjuna Temple at Basaralu –— the star-shaped raised platform upon which the temple itself stands, the even-numbered sides for the sanctum with projecting eaves that run around the temple, the horizontal friezes arranged in tiers with a plethora of thematic carvings most delicately and intricately chiseled.

All of them are sculpted in soapstone of chlorite schist, a material most amenable in the hands of artisans.

It is widely held that Harihara Dhannayaka, a commander under Narasimha II, built the temple for Shiva in the name of his own father Mallikarjuna and also had a tank Gujjave Kere constructed in memory of his mother Guhhavve at Basaralu which was his birth place. The east-facing temple bears resemblance to the Bucheshwara Temple at Koravangala in the Hassan district.

Lavish sculptures

A pair of well sculpted elephants that must have certainly seen better days greets us at the entrance.

In the ardha mantap is a carved ceiling that bears the figures of the ashtadikpalas guarding the eight quarter directions of the world. Eight figurines of the deities Indra, Agni, Yama, Varuna, Nirutti, Vayu, Ishana and Kubera stand in all grandeur upon their respective perches, namely, airavatha, mesha, mahisha, makara, ashwa, mriga, vrishabha and nara.

The temple follows the trikuta or three-shrined architectural pattern though only the central shrine has a tower over it. This makes it look like ekakuta (single shrine). The mantap that connects the three shrines is a unique blend of an open and closed hall. Shining lathe-turned pillars in the centre of the navaranga and lotus-embellished ceilings complete the aesthetics of the interiors.

A magnificent Dravidian style tower stands on the main sanctum sanctorum, which houses a Balahari Shivalinga and beautiful lotus on its ceiling.

The central shrine is flanked by two shrines that house the idols of Surya, the Sun God and a 4.5 feet tall naga-nagini or serpent. A young priest at the temple informs us that this shrine originally housed an idol of Vishnu.

A profusion of sculptures define the exterior walls of the temple and also the tower over the central shrine and the sukhanasi or vestibule. The dome of the tower holds aloft the kalasa or ornamental water pot, a feature of Shiva temples built by the Hoysalas. The signature Hoysala emblem of the warrior stabbing a lion rests majestically on the tower’s crest.

Two eaves run around the temple. It is immediately evident that the image on the friezes match the artistry of frescoes seen in the most popular Hoysala structures – the Chenna Kesava Temple at Belur and the Hoysaleswara Shrine at Halibedu.
At the lowest level of the temple structure, six horizontal bands run its length, each tier containing themed panels of animal and floral motifs. Elephants form the lowest layer, symbolising their strength and might, holding aloft the entire edifice. Riders perched on horses form the next band and above these are sculpted panels depicting the Hoysala emblem, episodes from the puranas, crocodiles and swans.

In the main wall above the base, mythology comes alive in the intricately sculpted images of gods, apsaras, devas and demons. The idols of sixteen - handed Shiva dancing on Andhakasura’s head, Ravana lifting Mount Kailasa, Arjuna taking aim at the fish, Samudra manthan or churning of the ocean, Ugranarasimha killing the demon Hiranyakashipu, Krishna as Kalinga Nardhana and several other carvings portraying episodes from the puranas and the epics are eye - catchy.

As an ASI-protected monument and as an active shrine where pooja is performed every day, the temple at Basaralu is well maintained. However, like several other Hoysala structures located in the interior villages of Karnataka, it is little known even among the locals and wears a forlorn look for the most part.

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