The state of Karnataka has always been identified by its princely temples.
The Hoysalas deserve most of the credit for that.
With their undulating love for architecture and skilled artisans in their pocket, they shaped the landscape of our state beautifully.
The twin temples at Nuggehalli, a small hamlet in Channarayapatna taluk of Hassan district, each one dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, bear testimony to the artistic prowess of the Hoysala artisans.
Pieces of history
Nuggehalli, known as Vijaya Somanathapura in earlier times, was founded in 1246 by Bommanna Dandanayaka, a commander in the Hoysala kingdom under King Vira Someshwara.
Chieftains of Nuggehalli belonged to the Pudur dynasty and their genealogy dates back to Thirumalya, the son-in-law of Praudha Deva Raya of Vijayanagar.
It is also believed that close to Nuggehalli, a Chola king built the Jayagondeshwara Temple to which King Vishnuvardhan made generous grants.
It is also held that Nuggehalli was known as Nuggupalli or Nuppalli, a name given by its Iyengar settlers.
Inscriptions point to Nuggehalli as having been a flourishing town in which the Lakshmi Narasimha and Sadasiva Temples were built in 1246 and 1249 CE.
The temples, both of them fairly well preserved, boast similar, yet different architectural styles.
The Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, richly ornamented with exquisite carvings is of the trikuta kind, with three towers, each one rising atop a shrine dedicated to three forms of Vishnu.
The central sanctum sanctorum is dedicated to Lord Krishna as Keshava.
It is flanked on the northern and southern sides by shrines of Lakshmi Narasimha and Krishna as Venugopala, playing the flute.
From the outside though, the temple looks like ekakuta or single-shrined edifice because the two shrines on the sides are simply extensions of the wall of the mantapa and were actually later additions.
Soapstone, the choice of material used by the Hoysala artisans in all their monuments, has been used to good effect to create poetry on its walls through the plethora of figures and figurines that adorn its exterior.
The shrines, built on a platform, are located around a central closed mantapa with nine bays.
Two pairs of lathe turned pillars that converge to form a dome shape hold aloft the mantapa.
As in most Hoysala structures, the exterior embellishments are the most striking features.
In typical style, the outer walls are divided into horizontal tiers and in keeping with the architectural style of the later Hoysala period, eaves run all round the temple below the superstructure of the vimana or tower.
Animal motifs, particularly of swans, crocodiles and elephants, repeatedly occur in the lowermost set of six horizontal friezes.
Above these are 120 large life-like images portraying episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The pantheon of Hindu deities, especially Vishnu in various forms and incarnations, and tales associated with Krishna, come alive in different segments of the walls.
Idols of Surya the Sun god, Ganesha, Kartik, Mahishasuramardhini and saptamatrikas, also bedeck the temple walls.
These icons in the panels adorning the temple walls are largely attributed to the sculptors Baichoja and Mallitamma.
Interspersed between the upper and lower eaves, there are decorative towers in miniature forms.
The Sadasiva Temple is a single-shrine or ekakuta structure that amalgamates the Nagara and Dravidian architectural styles with the Hoysala scheme.
The Temple has a remarkable stellate moolaprasada having an original super structure and stands wholly on a platform in conformity with the outline of the edifice including the moolaprasada.
Rising above the garbagriha or sanctum containing a large linga, is an exquisite tower, characteristic of the Nagara style.
A stately Nandi, carved in all finery sits smug before the linga.
However, upon close observation, it is at once palpable that the tower above the moolaprasada is slightly disproportionate.
The Temple comprises a sanctum sanctorum, a sukhanasi or vestibule and a navaranga or antarala – the space connecting the sanctum and the outer hall with porches and a separate hall for the Nandi – the Nandi mantapa.
The trademark Hoysala profusion of sculptures on the exterior walls is conspicuous by its absence.
Another unique feature here is the life-size idol of Goddess Parvati in standing position. Statues of the navagrahas with their unusual faces, is another rare feature.
Pierced stone lattice work can also be seen in a couple of chambers. This again follows the Hoysala style of architecture and filters the light coming in.
Though the temples have few visitors, both temples are active with daily and special pujas performed on festive occasions.