I started writing this blog post as Hoysala temples trail around Bangalore. But then am going to keep this as an open post and keep updating about all the Hoysala temples that I pay visit to. Talk about the Hoysala temples and people flock to Belur and Halebidu. But step aside from them and go on a temple trail, you will be surprised at how you are the only audience in most of the temples. Standing on a raised platform, these Hoysala temples are filled with an innumerable number of sculptures made of soapstones. And I love to decode the mythological stories these sculptures depict. It is quite fascinating to see that they all look similar and yet unique. The uniqueness could be in the structure of the temple complex, the story they depict, the presiding deity, or the sculptures on the walls.
The Hoysala empire spanned across Karnataka and hence the state is blessed with their art and architecture. Found in almost all their temples, the emblem of the Hoysala empire talks about history. The emblem depicts Sala slaying a tiger. Hoy means to kill and since Sala kills the Tiger it is said to have got the name Hoysala. He is also said to have founded the Hoysala Empire. That being one theory. The other theory states that in and around Hassan was ruled by the Cholas. And it was King Vishnuvardhan who overthrew Cholas from the region and the Hoysala Empire flourished from then on. Tiger was the emblem of Cholas. And hence the emblem is also believed to represent king Vishnuvardhan's victory over Cholas. Whatever it might be, records do state that these Hoysala temples were built inspired by the grand Chola temples and artisans who worked on the Chola temples were deployed to work on Hoysala temples. The empire in the later stages extended all the way to Tamil Nadu too. Wikipedia talks more about the different kings of the Hoysala empire and their achievements. Am gonna skip the details and talk about the temples.
Hoysala Temple Architecture
Most of them have a common architecture and follow the construction procedures of Hindu temple architecture. The temple sits on a raised platform and the platform usually forms a N numbered star. The temple has one or more main shrines with shikara on top. The walls are filled with horizontal mouldings or bands with carvings on them. And top of them are bigger sculptures. The older Hoysala temples do not follow this pattern. Mostly because older ones are made of stone or granite which is difficult to make intricate carvings on. The later ones of soapstone carry richer work. Another difference you can notice is newer temples will have a back and forth running column along the temple walls. It will give a 3D effect to the temple, as though there are two walls running around. The older ones will not have that.
Some of the commonly used terminologies of Hindu temples to help you identify the structures.
- Garbagriha - Inner sanctum sanctorum which houses the main deity
- Mandapam / Mantap - the pillared hall in front of the sanctum. Back then it was also used as dancing halls or to sing concerts.
- Shikara / Vimana - the structure above the sanctum sanctorum
- Moolavar - primary deity
- Kalasha - the golden conical structures on top of the Vimana
- Gopuram - The towering structure above the temple entrance
- Prakaram / praharam - The courtyard around the temple within the entrance.
- Jagathi - the raised platform on which the temple resides
- Ekakuta, Dvikuta, Trikuta etc - one shrine, two shrines, three shrines - mostly you can identify using the number of shikaras.
- Makaratorana - the elaborate lintel done found connecting to pillars or on doorways. The main lintel placed on entrance of the shrine will usually be done super elaborate and intricately carved.
- Sukanasi - the vestibule that connects the pillared hall with the shrine. Mostly meant for air circulation.
Popular Hoysala Temples of Karnataka
The breeze from the tamarind tree was a solace as I stood in front of the closed door of the temple entrance. The huge wooden door had three locks on it. Perplexed, I saw an elderly man sitting in the front yard of his house who pointed me to a house further down the street. It was the priest's house. The lady of the house without an ounce of doubt handed over the key to the temple. After a tyranny with the heavy door, there it was! A perfectly laid walkway, bright green lawn on either side, a raised platform and on top of it the beautifully carved Hoysala temple. The magnificent temple complex and just me! This is the kind of experience you will face in most of these offbeat temples. I was on a trail looking for lesser-known Hoysala temples and here are a few of them. Am deliberately writing about Belur Halebidu towards the end. Also, most of these places that I have mentioned have both a Vaishnavite and a Shivaite temple, meaning a Vishnu and a Shiva temple. I have marked the best ones from the place.
Lakshminarayana Temple of Hosaholalu is a good example of the finest and elaborate Hoysala architecture. Walking through an ornated lintel into the inner sanctum sanctorum, the ceiling grabbed my attention. One portion of the ceiling depicts a lotus in bloom, another portion depicts Lord Krishna dancing on a snake, while another portion depicts all the nine incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The outer walls are decorated with carvings and sculptures. It has six horizontal fully carved moldings running all around the temple. And if you follow them closely, one half of it depicts Ramayana and the other half of it depicts Mahabharatha. I was lucky to have an authorised guide around and he pointed a few stories from Mahabharatha that I have never heard of. The shikhara aka the tower over the shrine also has sculptures all over it.
Read more about Hosaholalu here - LakshmiNarayanan Temple
Unlike other Hoysala temples. the Chennakesava temple at Aralaguppe stands amidst other houses in a residential layout. There are no lawn or trees, absolutely no pomp. In spite of being a simple temple, it still stands as an epitome of fine Hoysala architecture. Built around 1250AD, the platform on which the temple is built is of 16 pointed star-shaped. It also sports one of the newer styles of Hoysala temple architecture. When you look at the walls of the temple, we can see that the columns appear to be like back and forth. It gives the impression that there are two layers of wall running around and there are sculptures on both. The horizontal moldings here depict elephants, horses, birds, and one section of it is dedicated to depicting the story of Lord Krishna. It is amazing to follow these miniature carvings to interpret the stories.
The Ishvara temple at Arasikere is considered one of the most complex architectures. And it is evident from the very first sight of it. A huge dome-shaped open hall invites you into the temple. Usually, the temple entrance would lead directly into the shrine. However here, it appears like two halls are connected, one is this dome-shaped hall and the other a closed hall which houses the presiding deity. The open mantapa has numerous pillars to support and has slabs all around to facilitate a seating area. This could have been used as a prayer hall or as a dancing hall. The presiding deity is Lord Shiva and right opposite him is a well ornated Nandi statue. The pillars inside this temple are to be noted for the floral designs on them. Usually, the inside pillars of Hoysala temples would be plain lathe-turned pillars with just the grooves but this one had designs on it. The outer walls of the temple are of older architecture. You will not find horizontal moldings and tightly packed sculptures. They are more spaced out and each column is made of multi-pointed star-like structures. The Ishvara temple also has an adjacent additional mantapa filled with pillars and shrines.
The LakshmiNarasimha temple at Haranhalli is huge. It has huge front wooden doors followed by a well maintained garden inside. It is one of the best Hoysala temples I found on the offbeat trail. There are three shrines in this temple, one for Lakshminarasimha, another for Krishna and another for Vishnu. There was no gopuram on the entrance, wonder if that is how it was meant to be or it was not built at all. There are no new additions to the temple structure. The walls of the temple are well ornated with sculptures.
The Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli is a rare Hoysala architecture. Panchalingeshwara means five Shiva Lingas and there are five shrines for the Lord running from north to south. From the entrance, even the tower over these shrines are not visible. It shows a huge wall running along with multiple openings carved in it that serves as a window to let ample light. The shrines are adjacent to each other, connected through a long corridor filled with huge symmetrical pillars. Unfortunately, most of the sculptures are in dilapidated condition. The walls are adorned with a conical structure followed by a sculpture beneath which is of older architecture.
Read more about Govindanahalli here - Panchalingeshwara Temple
Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Nuggehalli is a two-part temple. The Hoysala styled architecture can be seen behind and the newer extension of the open hall can be seen in the front. The temple was abuzz with people dropping in and out, unlike other Hoysala temples that I have been to. As in, it is a functioning temple standing amidst a village. This also sports the newer architecture when it comes to columns on the outer walls. You can see two heaves, one in the back and other in the front. The sculptures are so prominent and you can see many different incarnations and stories pertaining to Lord Vishnu depicted on the wall.
The Bucesvara temple at Koravangala marks the entire village. A lane of houses run opposite the temple and curious kids pop out to see who their new visitor is. The temple stands like a black beauty amidst a well-maintained lawn. Goats were happily munching on them and looked startled at me. The temple entrance looks grand with two elephants sculptures and intricately carved Dwarapalakas guarding the door. There are two shrines facing each other, one is that of Lord Shiva and opposite to is dedicated to the Sun. And hence there are two towers seen over the shrines, one of them with the emblem of Hoysala empire carved on it. Apart from sculptures of Hindu Gods, one can see floral patterns, mythical creatures carved along the columns of outer walls.
Unlike other temples, Chennakesava temple at Somnathpur is well known and a bit abuzz. Mostly because of its proximity to Mysore city. It is relatively new, built in 1268AD and hence you can see it to be more elaborate with a bigger temple complex. Apart from the main temple, there is also a pillared corridor that runs all around the temple and has many small shrines. The horizontal beams here depict scenes from mythology, war scenes, mythical creatures, and so on. What caught my attention were the scenes from everyday village life, a market scene, a lady standing by the door, fruit sellers, traders, it is fun to read the life from yesteryears. This is also the only time where I got to see the depiction of eroticism on the walls.
Brahmeshvara temple of Kikkeri is situated no the banks of a huge lake. I guess name of that lake is Kikkeri. The peacefulness around the temple and the picturesque lake kept me hooked on more. The outside of the temple was pretty simple. The inside of the temple was mind blowing though. The Lingam in the garbagriha is placed on a unique Mandap which is proportionately carved. The pillars of the temple have unique tiny carvings. Observe closely at the pillars to see figurines of God, depicting stories from Mahabharatha carved inside small ringlets with so much precision.
The Chennakeshava temple at Turuvekere was simple. Very simple, small and not maintained too. There is also an adjacent Shiva temple which is a little bigger than this one. But both the temples are maintained by one old priest. And he was occupied at the Vishnu temple that we just saw the Shiva temple from outside and came off. To be frank I enjoyed the agraharam around the temple more than the temple itself.
The common tourist spot on the way to Chikmagalur is the Hoysaleswara temple. It is a Shiva temple and the complex is big. There is no Shikara over the sanctum sanctorum. But there are two different shrines and has huge Nandi statues in front of the shrines. The Nandis are notable carvings. If this is the first Hoysala temple you are visiting then do hire a guide. Belur and Halebidu are close by and most of them do these together. The KSTDC (Karnataka tourism) also runs a trip to these temples.
My Belur and Halebeedu experience with KSTDC tour - Belur Halebidu travelogue
The biggest of all the Hoysala temples is definitely the Chennakeshava temple of Belur. Probably because it is one of the fully constructed temple that is still intact and maintained well. This is also one of the temples where you can spot all the elements of the Hindu temples like gopuram, vimana, flag pole, garba griha, praharam, everything you can see. It is a Vishnu temple and you have other shrines like that for Aandal on the side. A very well functioning temple so obviously crowded all the time. KSTDC runs a trip to Belur as well.
Here is how you can book KSTDC package tour of Belur and Halebeedu - KSTDC package
Most of these Hoysala temples are in villages and friendly people are always around the corner to share history. Also, these temples are offbeat, expect no restaurants to be around these villages. Pack snacks and water if you are planning to be around for long. Especially if you are planning a day trip from Bangalore to Hoysala temples and staying all day out, pack food. The Hoysala temples open early in the morning and close by 10am and open at 4pm. But if you find the temple to be locked do not hesitate to look for the priest/caretaker. Most of the time they would have left behind their phone number on the walls of the temple and you can call them. Or some elders will be always around the temple and they will direct you to their house, it would be just around the corner. Photography is usually prohibited inside the temple, as in inside the sanctum sanctorum. Hire a guide if you are new to Hindu mythology and unable to understand the sculptures. All these are functioning Hindu temples, so please follow the rules and traditions mentioned in the temple. Leave your footwear outside and dress for a religious place.
Hoysala Temple Trail
I have mapped the Hoysala temple trail in the temple. Please zoom in and out and click on the map to find your way towards the temples.