Tucked away in the folds of Karnataka’s villages are several edifices that testify to the glorious period of the Hoysala rulers who held sway here from the 11th to the 14th centuries.
Temple-building reached a feverish pitch between 1163 and 1268 CE. As many as 1,500 or more shrines appeared on the region’s landscape. However, a little over 100 survive today in various states of preserve. While the shrines at Belur, Halibedu and Somanathapura are indelibly imprinted on the tourist map, the others live in their shadows.
The Hoysala temples are known for the intricacy, depth, detail and exquisiteness of sculpture. One of the main characteristics of their architecture is the rhythmic pattern that manifests in all their works and symmetry. The temples are built on star-shaped elevated platforms with circumambulatory path, a profusion of carvings on the outer walls done up in horizontal bands and vertical blocks, on windows, railings & doorways – are features associated with Hoysala structures. Fascinated by their sheer grandeur, I decide to explore few of the little-known edifices of Hassan district – at Arasikere, Haranahalli, Doddagaddavalli and Koravangala. Each monument reveals unique architectural aspects while retaining the Hoysala flavour.
Ishvara Temple, Arasikere
The east-facing Ishvara Temple dedicated to Shiva, built in 1220, boasts unique design and layout within the Hoysala framework. Set amidst grassy verdure, it reveals artistic excellence among the surviving monuments of the era. The delicate sculptures on its outer walls and ceilings of its halls are particularly captivating. Though modest in size, this Ekakuta temple with a single vimana or cella, reveals complex architectural style. A distinguishing feature is the presence of dual mandapas or halls – one closed hall sans windows, and another, open. The prime attraction here is the 16-pointed star-shaped open hall with a domical ceiling. Almost the entire hall is laid with stone benches, another rare design feature of the times. The ceilings are elaborately ornamented with sculptures that has elegantly carved niches with surmounted miniature towers, again a feature uncommon to single-shrine temples of this period.
Temples of Haranhalli
The hamlet of Haranhalli with its two temples is 8 km from Arsikere, one each dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, built around 1235 CE.
The temple for Vishnu is of Trikuta style, having three shrines. Chennakesava, Venugopala and Lakshmi Narasimha form the trio of deities in its sanctums. Similar in structure to the Belur temple, it boasts sculptures crafted by Mallitamma, one of the best-known Hoysala sculptors of the 13th century. The base of its exterior wall comprises five divisions of horizontal bands, each bearing a frieze of carvings that include a long creeper scroll band and separate rows of yakshas and yakshinis, horsemen, makaras and swans. In addition, there is a profusion of larger figurines on the upper segment of the walls, of gods and goddesses associated with Hindu mythology. The speciality of the temple is in the main Bhuvaneshwari or entrance porch, where the ornamented open lotus is surrounded by Vishnu in different forms.
A 200 m walk from the Vishnu temple brings you to the temple of Someswara, similar in design and structure, though less ornate. Round pillars bedeck the closed hall stretching in front of the sanctum of Shiva. Apart from the characteristic Bhuvaneshwari, its closed hall has twelve artistic ceilings in varied geometrical shapes, while its sanctum doorway has a flat lotus ceiling. Though Ekakuta in design, it looks like a Trikuta because of two simple shrine-like structures adjoining Shiva’s sanctum. A closer look at its tower reveals a new kind of articulation below, which is made up of two eaves with elegantly embellished miniature turrets. Its outer walls have sculptures of gods, animals and floral motifs.
Mahalakshmi Temple, Doddagaddavalli The temple, 92 km from Haranahalli, is set amidst coconut plantations, corn and ginger fields with a lake at its rear. Unlike most Hoysala temples dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu as principal deity, Goddess Mahalakshmi predominates at Doddagaddavalli.
One of the earliest Hoysala style temples built in 1114 CE, its architecture differs from edifices built during the later Hoysala period. The four shrines within the complex face the cardinal directions, not hitherto seen in the composition of a Hindu temple. Also, the shrines do not stand on a star-shaped platform. Further, each of the four shrines has a pyramid-shaped tower, only one of which is embellished with characteristic Hoysala patterns. The other three towers are like step pyramids with dented horizontal moldings and a kalash at the top. The Goddess stands tall at three feet and holding aloft in her four hands, the conch, discus, rosary and mace. The doorway sculptures are exquisite in their rendition. The carved goblins or betalas standing guard have been sculpted with finesse while 18 lathe-turned pillars support the ceiling of the main hall inscribing the four shrines. The ceiling portrays the guardian deities of the eight cardinal directions perched with their consorts. The whole outer wall is richly decorated with pilasters in the form of miniature pyramids.
Bucheshwara Temple, Koravangala
Travelling 31 km from Doddagaddavalli, we come upon one of the most beautiful Hoysala temples of Hassan. The Dwikuta or two-shrine Bucheswara Temple honouring Shiva, was built in 1173 by Buchi Raja, a wealthy chieftain of King Ballala II, to celebrate the king’s coronation.
A pair of exquisitely-sculpted elephants bedecked with ornaments, stand stately at its entrance with dwarapalakas standing guard behind them. Though it was originally built on a platform, today it stands barely elevated from ground level. The temple consists of a big hall supported by 32 bell-shaped lathe-turned pillars embellished with fine carvings. Its ceiling is adorned with aesthetically chiseled lotuses.
Hassan and its immortal monuments present stunning testimony to man’s creative ingenuity, the quintessence of ‘Indianness’ touching chords of our heritage and culture.
Text: Chitra Ramaswamy