The origin of the Hoysalas is a matter of much interesting speculation and controversy. Like their distinguished contemporaries, the Seunas, the Hoysalas too claim their descent from Yadu (Lunar Dynasty) and call themselves the Yadavas. The conventional titles like, "Yadavanarayana", "Yadavakutambrad-yumani" and "Dvaravatipura-varadhisvara" are common to both the Seunas and the Hoysalas. These details are compiled from internet and by various sources by the Blogger over the years.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kesava Temple (1268 A.D), Somanathapura, Tirumakudlu-Narasipura Taluk, Mysore District.

A typical tourist spot visited by locals and international tourists alike, Somanathapura is a small village, situated about 40 kms from Mysore on the banks of Cauvery. It’s a symbol of our glorious past. In fact, the Department of Tourism welcomes you to Somanathapura with a note to enjoy the glory of Hoysala architecture and beauty of the frescoes. This is rather intriguing as the belief goes that there are no paintings done in the fresco technique in India, making us wonder whether they could be murals. However, there is no scope to get more insights about it here, as the State library, which usually throws light on such matters, remains closed during most part of the day!

One cannot help but be amazed at the grandeur on seeing the magnificent Kesava temple here. It is a magnificent structure that has survived the onslaught of medieval and modern vandalism ever since it was built in 1268 AD by Somadandanayaka, a general during the reign of Nara-simha III. Known for its prosperity during the heydays, the town was named after the same general. Somanathapura is the last of the ornate agrahara settlements of the Hoysalas.

Like all Hoysala temples, the Kesava temple is also a treat to the eye, which the artisans of subsequent dynasties could not, probably, better any further. The Hoysala art is a translation of the artist’s expression of gay abandonment, enhanced by the ingenuity of the Hoysala Chalukyan artists. It is said that even the great Cholas could not get their artists to produce works with the same effervescence.

The affluence of the age is testified by the people and activities portrayed in the sculptures. Members of the royal family riding in richly-decorated chariots, soldiers and commoners commuting in horse, elephant, and camel-drawn vehicles, gods and goddesses entertained by dancers and musicians, hunters armed with bows and arrows heading towards the forest along with dogs are all portrayed through the sculptures.

Also seen on this lithic canvas are palaces of kings and houses of noblemen protected by armed guards, besides jewellery (intricately-carved necklaces, pendants, waistbands, and rings) and hairstyles sported by dancers during olden days. The paintings depict the epics of Ramayana, Bhagavata, and Mahabharata.

The legends appear on the outer walls of the triple-shrined temple. It is built on a stellate jagathi, typical of Hoysala architecture. The jagathi also serves as a path for the devotees to take a pradakshina of the deities installed in the sanctum. At the entrance guarding the sanctum are the dwarapalakas. Though the original image of Kesava is missing in the main shrine, it is compensated by two other charming deities - Janardhana and Venugopala - in the sub shrines, but unfortunately with broken limbs. Judging by the workmanship, it can be assumed that the Kesava image must have been a marvel. Fortunately, the Kesava deity can be seen on the inscription stone at the entrance porch along with two other sub-deities.

The sub shrines are connected to one another by navaranga, a pillared hall. Each pillar is a specimen of outstanding workmanship and artistry.

Equally interesting are the ceilings supported by these pillars, each with a distinctiveness of its own representing multi-petalled lotus, banana bud motifs based on stepped ponds, and ananta knots symbolising eternity.

One need not go too far to find out the artists of these great works as they have documented their works of art by inscribing their names, the guilds they belonged, the place from where they hailed and above all the titles they bore.

Carving in Ceiling

A careful look at the details reveals the diverse background of these artists. Apart from the sculptors, there were silversmiths, goldsmiths, ivory-carvers, cooks, carpenters, wood carvers, soldiers and others who also contributed their bit to the temple. This also speaks about the demand for artists to work on massive temple projects in the past. Many of these artists could even hardly spell their names correctly, which is evident from the conspicuous errors. The inscriptions are helpful in tracing these artists to various geographical regions. Pallavachari, Chola-vachari, and other names ending with ‘Chari’ are believed to have migrated from the Tamil country, while Mallithamma, Masanith-amma, Chameya, Rameya, Chau-deya, Nanjeya and others are said to have been localites.

As per the Mysore Archaeological Reports, Mallithama’s name appears in 40 places and mostly to do with the ornamentation of the temple. It appears he had no rivals in the art. He scribbled his name to the shortened variant of Malli or a simple Ma. It is reported that he participated in most of the major Hoysala projects of the 13th century.

Being well versed in the iconography of Vaishnavite structures, he is believed to have been a favourite amongst the wealthy Vaishnavite patrons. Hence he was given a call by Somadandanayaka to build a magnificent temple at Somanathapura. He used to select some portions to himself and allocate the rest to his associates. In Somanathapura, his work can be distinctly found on the northern tower.

It is quite unfortunate that the place is used for shooting films and other purposes, with scant regard for the safety and sanctity of the structure.


  1. Nice article with well supported pics. Thanks, Anand.

  2. Well researched articles on Hoysala architecture Manoj, i am sure your articles will serve as a guide for students as well as tourists. Do visit my blog

  3. Excellent Photographs and well documented. Thanks for documenting our rich heritage.

  4. Hi ,

    please add one more temple to this list.
    which was build by cholas and one of the old temples

    Mudigere Narashima swamy temple

    This is on the state high way which connects tiptur and hassan

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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