Temple Tales from Somnathpur

It took us a while to get into the temple premises. The temple is a protected monument and maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). Tickets for entry to such places now require scanning an ASI QR code. Our phone network happened to be unusually slow causing some unnecessary delay, testing our patience, and sufficiently frustrating us.

As I entered through the doorway after reading the description displayed at the entryway, my jaws literally dropped. The magnificence of the temple caught me off-guard. I knew about this temple but hadn’t expected such stunning architectural brilliance. “How did I never happen to come here before!”, I couldn’t help wondering, having stayed in Bangalore for more than a decade now. This reaction was triggered off just at the very first glance. As we walked around exploring the temple, every corner only left us even more astonished.

Pic 1: The mantapa on entering through the doorway adorned with lathe turned pillars, which happens to be a typical feature of Hoysala architecture.

The 13th century Keshava Temple, also known as Chennakesava Temple, is located in a small town called Somnathpur in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It is at a distance of about 140 Km. from Bangalore and just about 35 Km. away from Mysore. Situated in the banks of River Cauvery, the temple was built by Somanatha, a celebrated army commander of the Hoysala Dynasty. He established the town of Somnathpur, which he named after himself.

The temples built during the rule of the Hoysalas are unique in their intricate sculptures and great story telling. The temples of Belur and Halebidu are said to be the best ambassadors of Hoysala architecture. I haven’t been there yet but have heard a lot about their spectacular grandeur. I had no idea that Somnathpur Temple belonged to the same league and was another masterpiece of Hoysala architecture.

Pic 2: The Western and Southern Shikharas. Notice the star-shaped elevated platform on which stands the temple.

The temple is carved from soapstone and is dedicated to Lord Krishna in the three forms of Keshava, Janardhana, and Venugopala. The main temple is at the center of a courtyard, built on an elevated star-shaped platform which, I learnt is one of the unique aspects of Hoysala temples. Surrounding the courtyard is a pillared corridor that has several chambers all along. Perhaps they would have housed deities at that time, they are empty now.

Pic 3: The pillared corridor that surrounds the courtyard.
Pic 4: The pillared corridor from another angle. Notice the chambers all along.

The temple wall on the exterior has intricate carvings and sculptures depicting stories from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and also Bhagavata Purana. The exquisite attention to detail that has clearly gone into these carvings was mystifying to say the least. The dancing Goddess Lakshmi, the angry Lord Ganesha, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the four headed Lord Brahma, the intricate Mahisashura Mardini – just to name a few. The meticulous carvings also depict battles, folklore, music, dance, and much more. The stories in carvings are in a clockwise direction, thoughtfully designed as it is the same as the direction of a pradakshina or circumambulation.

Pic 5: The fascinating and exquisitely detailed sculptures on the exterior wall.
Pic 6: The magnificence of these sculptures are a delight to the eyes.

After spending a decent amount of time walking around the temple admiring the detailed carvings, we stepped inside. The inside of the temple is just as fascinating. The magnificent ceiling with all the intricate ornate carvings and miniature sculptures is simply amazing. A guide, who was with another group, explained that the ceiling constitutes of 16 finely carved symmetrical squares, some of which are depictions of the Lotus flower at different stages of development. The main idol of Keshava is situated on the sanctum sanctorum while Janardhana and Venugopala  are on either side. According to ASI, the original Keshava idol went missing and has been replaced. The idols of Janardhana and Venugopala are damaged.

The temple is not functional and is not used as a place of worship anymore, the idols being broken and desecrated by invaders of that age and time. It stands as a monument today bearing testimony to the superior craftmanship of the artists and sculptors of the bygone Hoysala era.

Pic 7: The extraordinary craftsmanship is like a poetry unfolding.
Pic 8: One can spend hours examining the details that have gone into these carvings.

I am a nature person and usually get disengaged very easily with things that are lifeless. Museums and places of architectural significance as not quite for me. That explains why I overlooked visiting this place earlier. However, when it comes to such intricate artwork it’s a different story altogether. My mind weaves stories thinking about the artisans, their unparalleled creativity, the lives of people at that time – the royalty, the commoners, their festivals, their triumphs and hardships, and so on and so forth. It’s mind-boggling and fascinating.

Now, I can’t wait to explore the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have long been on my way. Smitten by Somnathpur Keshava Temple, I was curious to know about the other Hoysala temples in the state of Karnataka. I learnt that there are 137 Hoysala temples of significant value in the state. Quite a number that is, isn’t it!

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

32 thoughts on “Temple Tales from Somnathpur”

  1. The Somnathpur temple fascinates me, but I never would have dug out so many facts on the temple as I found in your post 👏
    Halebeedu and Somnathpur are my personal favourites in these three, Belur being a temple of worship is more crowded, but splendid nevertheless.
    Did you visit Talakadu? I liked that too a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most of those facts I have to attribute to the guide who was explaining all the detail to a group and we happened to be on their path a couple of times, overhearing here and there. 😀
      A lot of detail is also provided in the descriptions displayed outside and inside as well.
      We went to Talakadu and Shivana Samudram on the same trip. Unfortunately Talakadu was closed that day due to some local local festival. Police had barricaded the place allowing people to go only to the temple and offer prayers but not to the riverside. So, we gave it a miss. We had no wish to join the crowd during Covid times.


  2. I like the Hoysala temples. At one point we found that the best way to see Halebidu is to stay overnight at the little village, and get into the temple complex as soon as it opens. You get about an hour to yourself before the buses arrive.

    It is interesting to see how often one kingdom would carry off a neighbour’s temple idols as a spoil of victory. I wrote once about the Viajayanagara kingdom looting temple idols from Odisha, and then afterwards the same idols were carried away by the victorious Marathas. The end result is very interesting. When you see idols with different stones and in different styles in the working temples of today you are sure that they were captured in these little wars, and probably many different times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have given me a very good idea. I will try to stay over too, if it works out. It will be a very good way to explore Halebidu without tiring ourselves.
      Thanks for the interesting anecdote about the temple idols.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So beautiful Neel. I can well imagine how nature lovers feel and how at times we miss out on beauty next door 😊💖

    South India has such magnificent temples and there are so many of them.

    Beautiful pics and details 👏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Ashok. 🙂
      South India is truly the best place to explore temples and many of them are hundreds of years old steeped in history and mythology making them simply fascinating.
      You will surely relate to the nature part. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes Neel. I have been to South often and have seen all the hill stations and many temples. But yet so much more to see. India is a big and beautiful country 😊💖

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Neel, for a brilliant introduction to this amazing temple complex. The second-last paragraph is written for me – ditto ditto! I hope the days of yore return soon so that you can get on with your trips and we can get to go on a virtual tour through you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand that completely, Narendra. And people like us can be so one-sided and biased in our likings that we land up missing some interesting places, like I nearly missed this temple.
      But all said and done, it’s nature that makes us happiest!
      Thanks you so much for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Before reading your post, when I saw the picture of a gallery, it reminded me of Hoysala architecture. After reading your post, I knew I was right. To be honest, these stones are not the best for carving, unlike sandstone or marble. It takes a lot of effort to carve these hard stones. The South Indian dynasties have done their best to create such beautiful temples. I have only seen one or two, and none in Karnataka. Someday, perhaps!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That these stones take a lot of effort to carve makes me even more amazed at the craftsmanship of the people of that age. It’s difficult to imagine how they might have created these with all the limited resources (technology-wise) they would have had.
      The next time you come to Bangalore, do plan a visit to these temples. I am certain it’ll be worth it. Hope the pandemic eases out and travels can be easier again.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! What an architectural marvel ! By visiting Somnathpur temple, you once again gave me the nostalgic memories of my visit during my tour to Bangalore & Mysore long time back. I also came to know about this temple only at the last day of my visit in Mysore. Since we already seen most of the tourist places in Mysore, and had few hours left, I accidentally inquired the person at the Holiday home, whether anything left in Mysore to see it in few hours. He suggested this temple and we immediately proceeded to see this beautiful architecture. Your snaps are fantastic and it just brought the temple in front of our eyes. From your article I came to know many amazing details about this temple.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am so glad to know that my post reminded you of your visit to the temple. You would have spent the extra hours very fruitfully at the temple. One can spend a lot of time exploring the intricate sculptures. Thank you so much, Ramasamy Sir for giving this a read.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If I ever get the chance to visit India’s southern part again, this temple is on top of my wishlist thanks to its amazingly intricate reliefs. However, I’m curious about the fact that now you have to scan a QR code before entering. How about visitors who happen to not bring their mobile phones? Although I know nowadays most people never leave their houses without their phones, but when I’m on holiday abroad I usually never turn on my mobile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You must visit this temple next time. It’s just so beautiful. We thought of the same thing. There are still people who still don’t use smart phones. I usually turn off my data too, sometimes I just switch off social media as you may need to check maps and make calls. Hope the rethink on this rule. 🙂

      And, thank you so much for visiting my blog and reading this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Had the opportunity to visit the temple, thanks to @neelstoria on my today’s visit to Mysuru! Must admit, this wonderful 800 years old stone carvings on the walls, pillars are beyond imagination! It’s absolutely amazing how rich our culture is! Thanks to Neel, we could see this awesome piece of architecture !

    Liked by 1 person

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