Hoysala Style-part 1
In the middle of the 11th century, the decline of the Chalukya dynasty allowed the growth of local dynasties. They simply had been the Chalukya’s vassals who, up to now, played only a secondary role. After imposing their authorities to vast territories, the Yadavas, Kakatiyas and Hoysalas, promoted the construction of new temples, distinguishing themselves by numerous innovations. The dynasty of the Hoysalas, named such because of the name of their founder called Sala and being renowned for killing a tiger and rescuing his spiritual master, and thus the empire was named Hoysala. This dynasty dominated for over two hundred years in the South of Karnataka.

It was in 1310 that the attacks of Malik Kafur, in the service of the sultan of Delhi, precipitated the fall of the Hoysalas. The dynasty died out in 1346, victim of the muslin offensive.

In order to discover the ancient kingdom of the Hoysalas, it is important to start with Balegamve, situated in the district of Shimoga, thirty kilometers from the village of Hire Kerur. To the south, the most celebrated sites of the Hoysala dynasty. About thirty kilometers from Hassan, in the state of Karnataka, There stands the largest complex of Hoysala temples (Belur complex), built by a Jain king named Vittideva. This king was later converted to Vaishnavism by Ramanuja and took the name of Vishnu-vardana. After defeating the Cholas, he stated the construction of the temple of Ckanna-Keshava in 1117.

The Belur complex is surrounded by a wall with an ornate gantry with panels and sculptures.

This edifice was destroyed by the Muslims in 1327 and was restored in 1397 by the Vijayanagara rulers, who settled the temple with a huge Gopuram. Delimited by a portal ornate with sculptures, the temple’s enclosure shelters a sacred basin nearby where stands the Vishnu-Krishna temple celebrated as Keshava.

The Keshava temple

In Hoysala style the cella or garbha-grihas is composed of five projections (pancha-ratha) served by a common mandapa and each is divided in several serrations, constructed on a star like blue print plan as shown below:

In the past, the square form of the temple was common but in Hoysala style the plan changes to a star. You can see that it is made up of a grid of rotating squares. The resulting outline thus emerges as a star. The pavilion remained a square, but it is now distinguished by circular columns, the shafts of which had been raised and thus gained a number of parallel knife-edges.

In the case of the Keshava temple, the three principal projections of the cella opens through two levels balconies, like veritable processional chariots. The miniature reproductions which ornate the three porticos of the mandapa’s entrance, allows the shape of the shikhara (the superstructure, tower, or spire above the sanctuary and also above the pillared mandapas), is not preserved in this case. This is because at first this edifice was conceived like an open structure, the mandapa then was closed by a series of indented screens; the columns are fashioned around it and are surmounted by consoles with carvings of celestial figures. Inside the mandapa, a large room in the form of a cross is divided in several naves by some splendid sculpted columns with designs and carvings, each different from the other. The ceiling is sumptuous and in the center of the cella stands the statue of Keshava decorated with precious ornaments.

Blueprint of the Channa-Keshava temple.

Situated in the same compound and built by Vishnu-vardana’s queen, the Chenigaraya Temple in a smaller scale reproduces the same structure as the preceding temple.

Situated about 14 km from Belur, Halebid occupies the site of the antique Dvara-samudra, the old house for Sala which was the first capital of the Hoysala kingdom. Built under the reign of Narasimha I (1114-1182), the Hoysalaleshavara Temple was the biggest building in town. Built on the star platform, it is composed of two twin edifices, dedicated to Shiva and Parvati. The two temples are guarded by two opened pavilions, of different sizes, with the deitiy of Nandi decorated with bells.

The temple of Hoyshesleshvara

The mandapas of the two temples are preceded by two transepts with porticos and two rooms are united by a third transversal nave. Each room processes its own cella, preceded by a vestibule and surrounded by three little sanctuaries. Inside five projections for each cella are animated by the movement of the indented carvings. There are some miniature temples flanking the entrance and with imagination with can imagine the form of the temple roof which has been destroyed. The temple basement is especially elaborated with a succession of carvings.

Elephants and lions carvings

The elephants who support the construction, are surmounted by some lions, emblems of the dynasty, symbols of glory and fame. A climbing creeper, symbol of the vital life force, runs around the temple, shelters in its volutes some dancing girls and musicians, members of the procession which accompany officially the festival chariots. Theses carvings are followed by a procession of Makaras, sea creatures (in the frontal part in animal forms of elephant or crocodile or stag, or deer) and in hind part as aquatic animal, in the tail part, as a fish tail or sometimes a peacock tail. On the upper level, the hamsas, (swans), symbolize the perfect union, balance and life of the soul with the divine. Many figures decorated with jewels are standing in niches carved in the stone. Higher the reproductions of shrines and sacred buildings precedes the large ornate cornice.

In the Kannada folkloric tale, we find the story of a young man Sala, who saved his Jain guru Sudatta by striking dead a tiger he encountered near the temple of the Goddess Vasantika at Sosevur. Because of this Jain guru, we find Jain temples in the Hoysala compounds.

Therefore situated not far from this temple of Hoyshesleshvara, the Jain temple of Parshvanatha contrasts by it austerity. It presents some walls which are decorated by simple pillars. Inside the mandapa is divided by some superb black columns, while the cella shelters the colossal statue of Parshva, twenty third tirthankara and propagator of the Jain doctrine.

(Sources: ”L’inde Ancienne” published by Gründ, The Hoysalas of Karnataka by Ashish Nangia and Wikipedia.)