A marvellous stamp of the Hoysalas

Check out Somanathapura, an architectural hub of temples from the Hoysala period

Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura

Dreaming of a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of Bengaluru, my wife and I planned a day trip to Somanathapura, about 138 km from Bengaluru. It is home to one of the most famous Hoysala temples in Karnataka, Chennakesava Temple, followed closely by the ones in Belur and Halebid. For an amateur, visiting Somanathapura can be an excellent prelude to visiting the rest of the temples of this magnificent empire’s period.

Since Chennakesava Temple is highly popular, we expected to find huge crowds. But we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw. A ticket counter behind which was a vast expanse of green lawns and a pillar somewhat lightened our anxiety of seeing swarms of people. As we walked in, the magnificent gopuram of the temple came into view, and I held my breath for a second because what I had imagined and what I was looking at were totally opposite. One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Chennakesava Temple is a visual treat, especially for photography enthusiasts and history lovers. An avid history lover myself, this temple instilled a unique sense of calmness in me. I attributed it to the fact that there were no people visiting at the time, which allowed me to click away to glory.

Built in 1258 by Somanatha, the general of King Narasimha III, this temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu not just to seek his blessings, but also to put up an exemplary display of the finest architecture of that period. It houses three idols of Lord Vishnu: Venugopala, Kesava and Janardhana. No religious ceremonies are done here, primarily because it was invaded twice by the Mughal dynasty. A major portion of the temple is quite well-preserved except for a few sculptures that have been defaced by invaders.

The temple has been built using soapstone dug from the ground and has a single east-facing entrance. Similar Hoysala architecture can be seen in the temples of Belur and Halebid as well. But unlike in Belur and Halebid, the temple in Somanathapura is constructed on a single raised platform and has three shrines. Hence, it’s called trikutachala (a three-celled structure), and these cells are connected to each other by a vestibule.

The symbol of Hoysala dynasty
The symbol of Hoysala dynasty

The temple is built in a 16-star-shaped perfect symmetrical shape, which is a unique identification of the Hoysala empire, surrounded by a walled courtyard. The outer walls of the temple are adorned with beautiful carvings of various scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Lord Krishna’s childhood as well as incarnations of Varaha, Narasimha, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Brahma and Shiva...

All these can be easily missed for just ‘beautiful architecture’, hence hiring a well-informed guide is a good idea. Inside the temple, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling for its magnificent artwork. The ceiling is dome-shaped and decorated elaborately. These decorations include multi-petalled lotuses, banana bud motifs based on stepped ponds that symbolise eternity. While the idols of Lord Venugopala and Janardhana are intact, Lord Kesava’s idol is missing and has been replaced with another idol bearing a similar resemblance. Most of the idols on the outer walls of the temple have been signed by the sculptors themselves, and it is believed that it took them almost 500 years to complete it.

The day ended with a lot of wonderful photographs of Hoysala architecture and even more beautiful memories that I will cherish for a long, long time.

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A marvellous stamp of the Hoysalas

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