The Sacred Ensembles Of Hoysalas

UNESCO World Heritage Hoysala Temples in India

Nestled within the heart of Karnataka, India, lies a veritable treasure trove of architectural brilliance that has endured the test of time. The Sacred Ensembles of Hoysalas, comprising three remarkable temples of Belur, Halebid, and Somnathapura in Karnataka, distinguished by their intricate sculptures, remarkable temples, and timeless beauty, have earned esteemed recognition on the global stage.

The Chennakeshava temple in Belur and the Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebid, both located in Hassan district, have held a place on UNESCO's tentative list since 2014. These temples, along with the Keshava temple in Somanathapur, situated in Mysuru district, collectively form what is known as 'The Sacred Ensembles of Hoysalas.' All three of these remarkable temples are under the protective care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Notably, in February 2022, the Indian government officially nominated these three temples as India's entry for 2022-23. This nomination highlights their cultural and historical significance on a global scale.

Recently, the Sacred Ensembles of Hoysalas were inscribed on UNESCO's illustrious World Heritage List. These temples, known as the Hoysala Temples, now stand as India's 42nd UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image CC: Archeological Survey of India

The Hoysala Dynasty: An Artistic Legacy

To truly grasp the significance of the Hoysala sacred ensembles, one must delve into the historical context from which they emerged. The Hoysala dynasty, flourishing from the 10th to the 14th centuries, championed art, culture, and architecture. Their unique architectural style, characterized by star-shaped platforms, intricate sculptures, and soapstone temples, has indelibly marked India's architectural heritage, reflecting their unparalleled creative brilliance. These exquisite Hoysala temples, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, were painstakingly constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries under the patronage of the Hoysala kings.

The three temples include the Chennakeshava temple, the main temple in Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple on the banks of Dwarasamudra tank in Halebidu, and the Keshava Temple at the centre of Somanathapura.

The Chennakesava Temple, Belur

Belur is situated on the banks of the Yagachi River and is renowned for its resplendent architecture. Constructed by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in commemoration of his victory over the Cholas in 1116 AD, this star-shaped temple is a testament to human dedication, taking approximately 103 years to complete. At its entrance, a towering Gopura and a magnificent sculpture of Garuda, Lord Vishnu's divine carrier, stand as symbols of piety. The temple, perched upon a platform, boasts exquisite artwork on its outer walls, adorned with bracket figures narrating the Puranas and Epics with unparalleled precision. The lower frieze features a procession of charging elephants symbolizing courage and horses representing speed. However, the true craftsmanship shines within the temple's sanctum, where a magnificent 3.7-meter-tall black stone image of Lord Vijaya Narayana stands. The prabhavali surrounding this idol showcases the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, meticulously wrought. The doorway, adorned with dwarapalakas, exudes elegance, while the bracket figures of madanikas (celestial nymphs) are painstakingly detailed, even featuring chiselled water droplets. Notably, the Narasimha Pillar is designed to rotate on its base, and the Mohini Pillar stands as a pinnacle of beauty, with a small blank space, perhaps a challenge to future artisans, emphasizing that art is limitless and eternal.

Lord Narasimha in Kerala Mural Masterpiece
Marvel at the intricacy of Narasimha sculptures in Chennakesava Temple, just like our stunning Kerala mural painting of Narasimha.

The Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebidu

This temple follows the Shivaism tradition, dedicated to Lord Shiva. This twin temple, housing Hoysaleswara and Santaleswara Shiva lingas, symbolizing the masculine and feminine aspects, stands as an architectural marvel. Two Nandi shrines outside the temple, each facing their respective Shiva linga, along with a smaller sanctum for the Hindu Sun god Surya, contribute to the temple's grandeur. The temple's square plan, carved from soapstone, boasts remarkable sculptures, intricate reliefs, detailed friezes, and inscriptions in both North Indian and South Indian scripts. It provides a captivating glimpse into life and culture in 12th-century South India.

Image CC: Wikipedia

The Keshava Temple, Somnathpura

This is a Vaishnava Hindu temple on the banks of River Kaveri at Somanathapura, Karnataka, India. The temple was consecrated in 1258 CE by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala King Narasimha III.
This ornate temple exemplifies Hoysala architecture. Enclosed within a courtyard with pillared corridors of small shrines, the central temple rests atop a high star-shaped platform, housing three symmetrical sanctums dedicated to different forms of Vishnu. The temple's outer and inner walls, pillars, and ceilings showcase intricate carvings portraying Hindu theology and extensive friezes depicting the Ramayana in the southern section, Mahabharata in the northern section, and Bhagavata Purana in the western section of the main temple.

Image CC: Wikipedia

These monuments illuminate the stories of the skilled artisans and sculptors who breathed life into these stone wonders. The Hoysala architectural style has etched an indelible mark on Indian temple architecture, influencing subsequent architectural styles and continuing to inspire contemporary architects and artisans.

With UNESCO's prestigious recognition, these architectural marvels beckon travellers, historians, and art enthusiasts to bask in their timeless beauty and historical significance. As we celebrate their inclusion on the World Heritage List, let us also shoulder the responsibility of preserving these treasures, ensuring they endure for future generations to admire and cherish.

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