Hoysala Temples


BY: SUN STAFF - 27.2 2020

Lord Vamanadeva, Halebid

A serial presentation of Vaisnava temples built by the Hoysala empire.

Among the most beautiful examples of Vaisnava art in India are the deities, sculptures and temple carvings of the Hoysala empire. Lavishly ornamented and carved with precision by the hands of highly skilled artisans, obviously imbued with a mood of bhakti, there are countless images of Sri Krsna, Lord Visnu, Dasavatar, and pastime scenes of the Lord's countless incarnations and lilas.

The Hoysala empire ruled what is today the state of Karnataka, from the 10th to 14th Centuries. Their capital city was initially located at Belur, but was later moved to Halebidu. They came from Malnad, Karnataka, an elevated range in the Western Ghats. In the 12th Century, taking advantage of the internecine warfare ongoing between their predecessor rulers, the Western Chalukyas and Kalachuri kingdoms, the Hoysalas annexed areas of present day Karnataka, including the fertile region north of the Kaveri River delta, in what is today the state of Tamil Nadu. By the 13th century, the Hoysala empire governed most of present-day Karnataka, some parts of Tamil Nadu, and areas of western Andhra Pradesh.

Saumya Kesava Temple, Nagamangala
Closed mantapa facing the sanctum

There is some controversy about the origin of the Hoysalas. Like the Seunas, the Hoysalas claim their descent from the Yadu Lunar Dynasty, and call themselves Yadavas. Conventional titles like 'Yadavanarayana, Yadavakutambrad-yumani and Dvaravatipura-varadhisvara are common to both the Seunas and the Hoysalas.

The distinctive artistic style of Hoysala sculpture is evident in both Belur and Halebid, and very similar motif adorns both tirthas. There are more than a hundred surviving temples scattered across the one-time realm of the Hoysala empire, and we will visit a few of them over the course of this series.

In Karnataka, among the most famous pilgrimage sites today are the Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura. We will particularly focus on the abodes of Sri Krsna, Lord Nrsimhadeva, Visnu and Narayana, in Their many glorious Forms. We begin with Sri Krsna in His Saumya Kesava manifestation.

Saumya Kesava at Nagamangala


Saumya Kesava Temple, Nagamangala

The Saumya Kesava Temple is in Nagamangala village of Mandya District, a few minutes from Belur Cross, Karnataka. Built in 1170 A.D., Saumya Kesava is a large and splendid temple. Set on a raised stellate parapet, the three-celled (trikutachala) temple is the abode of Saumya Kesava, who is six feet in height. (Sri Krsna's name, Saumya means 'serene'.) The presiding Deity, Saumya Kesava resides in the sanctum with Rukmini and Satyabhama. To His left are Sri Sri Laksmi-Narasimha, and on the other side is Venugopala with Gopis.

Venugopala with Rukmini and Satyabhama

As described in Mahabharata, while Sri Krsna was planning the start of the Kurukshetra war he was concerned about the Naga-astra of Karna, which could be deployed to kill Arjuna. In order to neutralize the deadly weapon, Krsna controlled all the nagas of this world using His shanka (conch). Respective of this pastime, the Deity of Sri Saumya Kesava is holding the conch in His upper right hand (rarely seen, like dakshinavarti-shanka) and chakra in His upper left hand, padma (lotus) in His lower right hand, and gada (mace) in lower left.

Adisesha sitting in Mandala-akara

Another rare aspect of Saumya Kesava, not seen anywhere else in the world, is that Adisesha is sitting in Mandala-akara, on the ceiling of Bhuvaneshwari mantapa. Adisesha sits atop a large shanka at center, and is coiled around 108 smaller shankas.

Naga shrine (10 eyes are salagrams)


There is a separate shrine for Paravasudeva with Sri, Bhu and Neela Devis, and there's another shrine for the Nagas.

Paravasudeva with Sri, Bhu and Neela Devis

The central hall of the temple is very ornate, having twelve beautifully carved columns and carved ceilings. There are many shrines in the temple, including one outside the sanctum for the goddess Saumya-nayaki. Outside, there is a Garuda-stambha in front of the temple that towers fifty-five feet, and is considered one of the finest sculptured columns in Karnataka.

Sri Sri Laksmi-Narasimha