Are you looking for a spiritual and thrilling getaway? Karnataka would just be the right option for you. The innumerable Hoysala temples make for a perfect excursion for a couple of days.
Talk about the Hoysala Temples, and people think of Belur and Halebidu. But Karnataka has so much more to offer. Mounted on a raised platform, these Hoysala Temples are filled with innumerable sculptures made of soapstones all around Karnataka.
I began this post with the thought to write about Bangalore's Hoysalas temples and then thought of updating all the Hoysala temples I have paid a visit to.
2022 has brought more good news to us heritage lovers. India on Jan 31, 2022 has nominated the Hoysala temples of Belur, Halebidu and Somnathapura to be considered as World Heritage sites. This is much awaited love to be shown to this splendid architecture. While Belur, Halebidu and Somanathapura are prominent temples, the other older Hoysala temples are nothing less either.
In this series of most beautiful temples in Karnataka, I would decode the mythological stories these sculptures depict. It is quite fascinating to see that they all look similar and yet unique! Their uniqueness could be in the temple complex's structure, the story they depict, the presiding deity, or the sculptures on the walls. Let us explore these temples of Karnataka.
But first, a brief history!
The Hoysala empire spans across Karnataka, and hence the State is blessed with its art and architecture in every nook and corner.
The emblem of the Hoysalas is interesting to note. The emblem depicts King Sala slaying a tiger( Hoy means to kill and hence the name―Hoysalas ). He is also said to have founded the Hoysala Empire. But this is only one theory.
The other theory states that initially, Hassan was ruled by the Cholas. Later on, King Vishnuvardhan overthrew Cholas from the region and thus began the Hoysala Empire. Tiger was the emblem of Cholas. 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 the same artisans who worked on the Chola temples were deployed to work on Hoysala temples. The empire in the later stages extended to Tamil Nadu as well.
Wikipedia speaks volumes of each King and their achievements, so I will skip that information and stick to the Temples alone.
Hoysala Temples Architecture
Most of the Hoysala Temples 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 an N-numbered star.
The temple has one or more main shrines with a Shikara on top. The walls are filled with horizontal mouldings with carvings on them. They are adorned with bigger sculptures on the top.
The older Hoysala temples do not follow this pattern. Mostly because older ones are made of stone or granite, which makes it difficult to carve. The later ones of soapstone carry richer and finer work.
You can also notice that the newer temples will have a back and forth running column along the temple walls. It gives a 3D effect to the temple, which adds to the beauty of the temple.
Some of the commonly used terminologies of Hindu temples are―
- Garbhagriha - The 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 conduct concerts.
- Shikara / Vimana - the structure above the sanctum sanctorum
- Moolavar - the 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 found connecting to pillars or on doorways. The main lintel placed on the shrine's entrance 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 pleasant solace as I stood in front of the temple entrance's closed door.
There was a huge wooden door with three locks on it. Perplexed, I saw an elderly man sitting in his house's front yard who pointed me to a house further down the street. It was the priest's house. The lady of the house handed me the key to the temple at once.
I unlocked the door and ―Voila! There it was. A perfectly laid walkway with 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. I am deliberately writing about Belur Halebidu towards the end. Most of these places I have mentioned have a Vaishnavite and a Shivaite temple, meaning a Vishnu and a Shiva temple.
Hosaholalu -One of the Finest Hoysala Temples
The Lakshminarayana Temple of Hosaholalu is a perfect example of the finest and elaborate Hoysala architecture. Walking through an ornate lintel into the inner sanctum sanctorum, I could feel its aura.
The ceiling grabbed my attention. One portion of the ceiling depicts a lotus in bloom, while another portion depicts Lord Krishna dancing on a snake. Yet another portion depicts all the nine incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
The outer walls are decorated with more carvings and sculptures. There are six horizontal, fully carved mouldings running all around the temple. You will notice that one half of it depicts Ramayana and the other half of it depicts Mahabharata!
I was lucky to have an official guide with me who keenly narrated a few stories from Mahabharata that I have never heard of.
Read more about Hosaholalu here - LakshmiNarayanan Temple
Built around 1250 AD, the Chennakesava temple at Aralaguppe stands amidst other houses in a residential layout. There are no lawns or trees or any pomp or show. Despite being a simple temple, it still stands as the epitome of one of the finest Hoysala architecture!
The platform on which the temple is built has 16 pointed star-shaped. It also sports one of the newer styles of Hoysala temple architecture. When you look at the temple walls, you can see that the columns appear to be back and forth. It gives the impression that there are two layers of wall running around, and there are sculptures on both.
Here, the horizontal moldings depict elephants, horses, birds, and one section dedicated to depicting Lord Krishna's story. It is incredible to follow these miniature carvings to interpret the stories.
Arasikere - One the Complex Hoysala Temples
The Ishvara temple at Arasikere is considered one of the most complex architectures of the Hoysalas. 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, it appears like two halls are connected; one is this dome-shaped hall and the other a closed hall that 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 vehicle― Nandi statue.
The pillars inside this temple are a work of great wonder with beautiful floral designs on them. Usually, Hoysala temples' inside pillars would be plain lathe-turned pillars with simple grooves, but this one had careful designs on it.
The outer walls of the temple are of older architecture. You will not find horizontal mouldings 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 additional adjacent Mantapa filled with pillars and shrines.
The Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Haranhalli is enormous which speaks of the grandeur of the Hoysala Kingdom.
It has substantial front wooden doors, which lead into a well-maintained garden inside which makes it one of the best Hoysala temples. There are three shrines in this temple, one for Lakshminarasimha, another for Krishna, and another for Vishnu.
There was no Gopuram at the entrance. I wonder if that is how it was meant to be, or it was not built at all in the first place. There have been no new additions to the temple structure. The walls of the temple are well ornate with detailed sculptures.
The Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli is a rare Hoysala temple in Karnataka with spectacular architecture.
Panchalingeshwara means five Shiva Lingas, and thus there are five shrines lined up from north to south. From the entrance, even the tower over these shrines is not visible. It shows a huge wall running along with multiple openings carved in it that serves as a small window to let ample light in.
The shrines are adjacent to each other, connected through a long corridor housing huge symmetrical pillars. Unfortunately, most of the sculptures are now 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 Hoysala Temple comprising two parts. The anciently 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. It is a popular functioning temple, standing amidst a village.
You can see two heaves, one in the back and the other in the front. The sculptures are so prominent, and one can see many different incarnations and stories about Lord Vishnu depicted on the wall.
The Bucesvara temple at Koravangala is a star attraction of the entire village. A lane of houses runs opposite the temple, and curious kids pop out to see who their new visitor is!
The temple stands like a black beauty in the middle of a well-maintained lawn. At one end, goats were happily grazing and were gazing at me with a startled look. The temple entrance looks great, with two elephant sculptures and intricately carved Dwarapalakas (doorkeepers) guarding the door.
There are two shrines facing each other, one is that of Lord Shiva, and the other is dedicated to the Sun. Hence, two towers are seen over the shrines, one of them with the Hoysala empire's emblem carved on it.
Apart from sculptures of Hindu Gods, one can see floral patterns, mythical creatures carved along the columns of outer walls.
Unlike the other obscure temples, the Chennakesava temple at Somnathpur is very well known and bustling with many activities. Mostly because of its proximity to Mysore city. It is relatively new, built-in 1268 AD, 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 is decked up, 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 on the banks of a huge lake. I guess the name of that lake is Kikkeri.
The calmness and serenity around the temple and the picturesque lake kept me hooked onto it. The outside of the temple was very simple and basic. However, the inside of the temple was magnificent. The Lingam in the Garbhagriha 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.
Veera Narayana Temple - Belavadi
Just 20km away from Halebeedu and en route Chikmagalore lies the beautiful Veera Narayana temple at Belavadi. Right from the entrance, this temple has something unique apart from other Hoysala temples. The closed mantapa at the entrance. The lavish spread out of the temple. The mandapa with 108 pillars, the ample space to sit and take the breeze, the pleasant, smiling, elaborately carved deities, there is so much to love about this temple. The Vishu here is seen holding a gadhai (mace) in one hand and veera mudra position in other hand, hence gets the name as Veera Narayana. The Narayana here is found after killing Shankasura demon with his conch, hence he is not holding his regular shankh or chakra. It is an architectural wonder too. Do you know how? Read here to know more about the temple and for more pictures - Click here
The Chennakeshava temple at Turuvekere was simple, small, and very well-maintained. There is also a Shiva temple adjacent to it which is a little bigger than this one.
One old priest maintains both these temples. To be frank, I enjoyed the Agraharam around the temple more than the temple itself.
The most common tourist spot on the way to Chikmagalur is the Hoysaleswara temple. It is a Shiva temple and has a huge premise. 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 have notable carvings on them.
If this is the first Hoysala temple you are visiting, then hire an official guide to gain better knowledge. Belur and Halebidu are close by, and you can cover 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 the Chennakeshava temple of Belur. It is probably because it is one of the fully constructed temples that are 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 Garbagriha, Praharam.
It is a Vishnu temple, and you have other shrines like that of Aandal on the side. It is a very well-known temple, so it is rightly 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 their history with you. These temples are offbeat, so do not expect restaurants to be around these villages. Pack snacks to munch on and water if you are planning to be around for long.
The Hoysala temples open early in the morning and close by 10:00 am, and open at 4:00 pm. If you happen to find the temple locked, do not hesitate to look about for the priest/caretaker. Most of the time, they would have left behind their phone number on the temple walls, and you can call them.
Some elders will always be around the temple, and they will direct you to their house.! A little humility goes a long way.
Photography is usually prohibited inside the temple, as is also the case inside the sanctum sanctorum. Leave your footwear outside and dress up decently for such a religious place. Please follow the rules and traditions mentioned in the temple.
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.