Temples of Mavinkere and the Hoysala Temples in Malnad Region, Karnataka ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

A 5 am departure from Bangalore and we were on our way to the Hassan District of Karnataka on the National Highway 75. It was seat of the Hoysala Empire which at its peak ruled large parts of south India from Belur as its early capital and Halebidu as its later capital during the period 1000 – 1334 CE. It has 8 taluks with their headquarters in Hassan, Arsikere, Chennarayanapatna, Belur, Holenarsipura, Sakleshpur, Alur and Arkalgud. This break was a pilgrimage just before the husband’s birthday! Previously, I have shared the trip to Gorur and the temples located there, which also falls in the same geographical area.

Around 7.45 am, we stopped for a quick breakfast at Yediyur at the Paakshaala restaurant. The order consisted of Neer Dosai that comes with chutney, a vegetable saagu, and a sweet mix of coconut and jaggery that was quite interesting and delicious. In addition, our collective order also consisted of crisp vadas and rava idlis and we washed it down with some coffee and lemon tea.

Neer Dosai

Sri Lakshmi Venkataramanaswamy temple: Thereafter we were on our way to Mavinkere to the see two temples that are located here. A drive of another hour and we were at the Sri Lakshmi Venkataramanaswamy temple. The temple was under renovation and hence we could have the darshan of only the Utsava Murthy of the Lord. Otherwise, the main idol is about 3 feet high in the form of Chathurbhuja (4 hands) with the right lower hand holding a lotus with a stalk. Goddess Padmavathi will in all probability have a separate shrine when the renovation is done.

Gopuram of Sri Lakshmi Venkataramanaswamy Temple, Mavinakere

Sthambam in front of the Venkataramanswamy temple

Mavinakere Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple: A short drive brings you to the Mavinakere Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple. It is popularly known as Bettada Ranganathaswami Temple, as it is atop a hillock. It is unique in that the temple is within a cave and a swayambhu or self-manifested figure of Sri Ranganatha as well as Lord Hanuman was found here. It is said the Guru Ramanujacharya – one who gave us the Vishishtha Advaita philosophy rested here and sought the darshan of Sri Ranganathaswamy here.

According to local lore, Mavinakere was the residence of Palegar Lakshmana Nayaka and a ruined fort belonging to the Palegar (or Polygar as the English called them) is situated here. The Palegars were local administrators. When Lakshmana Nayak ruled this region, (most probably 17th -18th century), he noticed that one of his cows was emptying its milk on top of the Mavinakere hill. Intrigued, he followed the cow and found the swayambhu figure of Lord Ranganatha. Earlier, one would need to climb the hillock by a flight of steps, but now a road has been constructed all the way up to the shrine and you can drive up. Worship here is done in the Vaikhanasa tradition, that was established by the Sage Vaikhanasa.

The front facade ; within which is the cave temple

The view of the Hassan district from the hillock is quite breath-taking and lovely.

1 hour

We had set out also to visit and re-visit the Hoysala style of temple architecture, which was at it’s peak in the 13th century AD after visiting these Sri Vaishnava temples. The Hoysalas were a dynasty of Hindu kings, who ruled Karnataka in the 12th and 13th century AD.

The Hoysalas usually dedicated their temples to Shiva or Vishnu, but they occasionally built some temples dedicated to the Jain faith as well. Adam Hardy, in his book ‘Temple Architecture of India’ calls it as part of the Karnata Dravida tradition, that is distinct from the Tamil style. More than a 100 Hoysala temples survive today. While Halebid and Belur are the most well known, there are other smaller and more modest temples that are worth visiting.

Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebidu: Our next stop was supposed to be the town of Belavadi, but as we followed the google maps, we realised that the breathtaking Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebid was on the way. Though we have visited this temple along with the Belur Temple, it seemed criminal not to stop and make another visit. And stop – we did.

The Hoysaleshwara Temple, that is simply referred to as the Halebidu Temple (originally called Dwarasamudra) is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Helebidu, litterally means ‘old city’. The temple was built under the guidance and reign of King Vishnuvardhan (you can read more about him in my piece on Tondanur). Though this temple is a Shiva temple, there are brilliant carvings that depict facets of Vaishnavism as well as Jainism. Inside the structure, are two shrines which have Shiva Lingas dedicated to Hoysaleswara and Santaleswara Shiva which represent the masculine and feminine nature of Lord Shiva- named after King Vishnuvardhana Hoysala and his Queen Shantala Devi. Hence, the temple is a ‘dvikuta’ temple – or one with two shrines. It has two Nandi shrines outside, and each face the respective Shiva linga inside.

This temple has no gopurams and the entire temple is carved out of soapstone. Halebid was plundered twice by Muslim rulers of the Delhi Sultanate, and you can see the damage, though most pieces are largely intact. Most Hoysala temples have a plain covered entrance porch supported by circular or bell-shaped pillars which were sometimes further carved with deep fluting and carvings with decorative motifs- and you can find it here at Hoysaleshwara too.

The wikipedia page gives a lot of details and you could go through that. I share some pictures here.

 Note the intricate reliefs, detailed friezes as well the iconography 

Ugra Narasimha

The symmetry, intricate carving, the pillars, the small windows for aeration are simply breathtaking

A carving of Bhuvaraha saving Bhoo Devi by killing Hiranyaksha – the demon

Intricate carving on the ceiling

The massive lathe turned soapstone pillars are typical of Hoysala architectural style

The shrines of Kedareshwara, and Jain Basadis are close by and you could visit them too. The Belur Chennakeshava Temple is 30 minutes from Halebidu.

15 minutes

Veeranarayanaswamy, Belavadi: From Halebidu, a short drive of just 10 kilometres, brought us to the quaint town of Belavadi to visit the Veeranarayana Temple. It is a ‘complete’ temple, according to Hoysala architectural rules.

We entered the temple complex, through a smaller hall that is separated by a path and open area. The surrounding area is quite well maintained with landscaping.

The entrance to the complex

This Vaishnava temple, which dates back to 1206, is a ‘trikuta’ or a three-shrined temple with an unusual plan. Usually in a trikuta, the three shrines share a common hall, but in this temple, the two lateral shrines are attached to lateral sides of a large hall. This indicates that it was first made as a ‘Ekakuta’ shrine with the Veeranarayanaswamy idol, with two small halls. The temple is in trikuta style (three vimanas) with Sri Veera Narayana in the center facing east, Sri Venugopala facing north and Sri Yoganarasimha facing south. The shrines of Lord Krishna and Lord Yoganarasimha were added later on.

The priest Shri Prashant Bharadwaj tells us that this temple is over 800 years old and there are written records that his family of archakas have been conducting the worship since 400 years, for over 11 generations in the Vaikhanasa tradition. From the central sanctum sanctorum, we see that there are seven doors placed in a precise line that you could see the exterior of the entrance. Quite an amazing engineering marvel. Every year on March 23rd, on the equinox, the early morning sunlight comes through the main entrance and crosses the seven doors. However, the flag-post makes sure that the sunray doesn’t fall on the face. Instead, it falls on the finger nails of the Veeranarayanaswamy idol, and the nails glisten like the nails of a tiger in the sun. The total length of the temple is about 270 feet.

The temple, like all Hoysala temples is made from soapstone. The central shrine (older shrine) has an 8 feet tall image of Narayana with four hands and is considered one of the best examples of Hoysala art. The image of Veeranarayanswamy is beautifully chisseled on saligrama stone as also the other two vigrahams. The idol stands on a padmasana (lotus seat) and there is elaborate ornamentation. This chaturbujha idol of Sri.Veeranarayana who stands with four hands, holds the Pashankusha in his right hand, Gadha in his left hand. The other two hand are in position where in the last finger, ring finger and middle finger are half closed, the index finger is half closed, but held up above the rest, the thumb is also half folded, in the left hand you can find a small weapon or ‘ayudham’. The prabhavali is well decorated with Dashavathara as the theme and one can easily identify all the incarnations very easily. The makara in the prabhavali is also well decorated. On the sides of the Lord are Sridevi and Bhudevi. On top are also carvings of the dasha avatars.

The southern shrine has an 8 feet tall image of Venugopala (the god Krishna playing a flute) including a Garuda pedestal. He stands under the Kalpavriksha tree (tree of life). On the sides are the Sanakadik rishi brothers (Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana, Sanatkumara) . And the Lord is flanked by Rukmini and Satyabhama.

The northern shrine has a 7 feet tall image of Yoganarasimha, sitting in a yoga posture. After killing the demon Hiranyakashipu, Lord Narasimha was in great anger. To calm himself down, he sits in the yogic posture ‘yogapattasana’- by folding the arms and legs and place a meditation band held by the loose fingers. This is what is represented in this shrine.

All around on the walls are decorative carvings, which include the various forms of Lord Vishnu, especially the ‘Chatur Vimshati Vishnu’.  The Chaturvimshati Vyuhas symbolise 24 forms of Lord Vishnu that personify and embody 24 elements of the phenomenal world. Decorative sculptures such as kirtimukhas (gargoyles) are used to make the shrine (vimana) towers ornate.

The Veeranarayana temple is a nationally protected monument of India, managed by the Archaeological Survey of India Bengaluru Circle.

10 minutes, 8 kilometres

Javagal Lakshmi Narasimha Temple: An 8 kilometre short drive from Belavadi brought us to Javagal, which has another Hoysala temple dedicated to Lord Lakshmi Narasimha. It is a sleepy village with hardly any visitors. The priest Narayanswamy had done his puja and left for the day, as it was already 1 pm. However, since his house was close to the temple, we requested him to open the doors, which he very kindly did and patiently explained the facets about the temple.

A Garuda sthambam faces the temple in the front with the typical Vaishnava symbols of Shankha, Chakra, Namam and Garuda.

This is followed by the ranga mantapa; and the typical lathe pillars that characterize Hoysala architecture are found here too.

The temple plan is square, similar to other Hoysala temples. It is a trikuta (three shrined) temple, one where only the middle shrine has a superstructure (tower or a shikhatra) and a sukhanasi (nose or tower over the vestibule). The three equal size shrines are all square in plan and are connected by a common closed hall (mantapa), unlike the variation found in Belavadi.

This beautiful temple was built around 1250 AD under the Hoysala King Vira Someshwara (1235 – 1263), the 9th king of the dynasty. Howeever, the foundation stone and inscription of the Lakshminarasimha temple of Javagal is missing and cannot therefore be directly dated.

The temple complex is enclosed by a high walled compound, which was constructed later during the Vijayanagara period. The temple stands on a platform (jagati), another common feature of many Hoysala temples. The two figures of Jaya and Vijaya, the celestial dwarapalakas or guards greet you at the entrance. The temple plan is simple and is based on the standard Hoysala design. It is a trikuta temple, though only the middle shrine has a superstructure (tower or shikhara) and a sukhanasi (nose or tower over the vestibule). The three equal size shrines are all square in plan and are connected by a common mantapa (closed hall). 

As mentioned the temple is a trikuta or with 3 shrines. The central shrine that faces the east houses Lord Vishnu in his form called Sridhara. Lord Venugopala resides in the southern shrine and Lord Lakshminarasimha in northern shrine. Venugopala is in his ‘balaavastha’ or childhood and hence does not have a crown. However, like the temple in Belavadi. he is under the Kalpavriksha tree. The tree is carved with gaps and serrations, and hence when abhishekam is performed the water , the water percolates till his feet. Though the Lakshmi Narasimha resides in the lateral cella/ chamber, He is considered as the presiding deity here.
A Lakshmi shrine, Mukhamandapa & a Gopura were added later.

While circumambulating, you notice the base of the temple has six rectangular bases of equal length. The bottommost layer (6th layer) has elephants, 5th layer has horses, the 4th has leaf like carvings, the 3rd has carvings from Indian mythology, the 2nd layer has ‘makaras’ or aquatic animals, the first layer has ‘hansas’ or swans.

Like the temple at Belavadi, all around on the walls are decorative carvings, which include the various forms of Lord Vishnu, especially the ‘Chatur Vimshati Vishnu’.  The Chaturvimshati Vyuhas symbolise 24 forms of Lord Vishnu that personify and embody 24 elements of the phenomenal world. You can see them in the layer above the six base layers. This temple focuses on the intricate ornamentation rather than size of architecture.

Vishnu and Lakshmi – part of the the Chaturvimshati Vishnu idols

Many of the sculptures have been sculpted by the sculptor Mallitama. Ruvari Malithamma was a famous ‘Viswakarma’ architect and sculptor in the 12th century who made many important contributions to temples built by the Hoysala empire. His contribution enriched the idiom of Hoysala architecture. His sculptures were usually signed in shorthand as Malli or simply Ma. From inscriptions and signatures left behind by him on the master pieces he created, it is known that he built the Kesava temple at Somanathapura and worked on forty other monuments, including the Amruteshwara temple at Amruthapura in Chikkamagaluru district. Ruvari Malithamma specialised in ornamentation, and his works spanned a whopping six decades. 

Natya Ganapati sculpture, Javagal

43 minutes; 33 kilometres

Ishwara Temple, Arsikere (Chandramouleshwara): It was nearly 1.45 pm when we left Javagal. It was time for lunch, but we didn’t find any place suitable, so we continued on our journey to visit the Chandramouleshwara temple at Arsikere. The shrine was locked, however, a temple official was present to open it for us.

The Ishwara Temple is another Hoysala gem of the 13th century, constructed in the typical Hoysala architectural style. This temple faces the east and is also made of soap-stone like other Hoysala temples. It is dedicated to Shiva is an Ekakuta temple (one shrine) with two mantapas- one open and one closed. The temple has a shikhara or tower with a decorated water pot or kalasha on the top.

The 16-point star-shaped mantapa (hall) is really ornate and has a stellate shrine with distinct corners. This open mandapa is supported on 21 pillars, of which 8 decorated ones are towards the middle, while the outer 13 pillars have a pair of elephants near their base.

Conclusion: This concluded what we had set out to see for the day. Revisiting Halebidu was the icing on cake. We stopped at Tiptur for a late lunch at the Kalpataru Grand which was quite satisfactory.

However, I have a rant. The roads are in bad shape, not smooth from place to place and is in dire need of re-asphalting. The temple structures are perhaps one of the most beautiful structures in the world, the architecture is unparalleled. However, maintenance is scant. The towns have sprung up so unscientifically around these gems and there seems to be no value for heritage. Only the temple at Belavadi came up to some expectations as far as maintenance is concerned. It is a pity that for most temples, the salary for priests are a pittance. Revenue should be ploughed back into the temple for maintaining these marvels of heritage; facilities for visitor like good toilets need to be constructed as they come from distances to visit the temples. A hygienic food court can be added. All this will aid job creation for the local people too. Having travelled to 30 countries, I have found that each nation takes immense pride in their heritage and have developed tourism around it. Just what is stopping us?

I hope you enjoyed the read. Do click on the star button below- if you did. Which temple impressed you the most? Let me know! Do subscribe to blog with your email, or push the follow button!

2 thoughts on “Temples of Mavinkere and the Hoysala Temples in Malnad Region, Karnataka ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

  1. Loved your post on the Hoyasala temples, having just got back from a trip to Chidambaram, was mentally comparing and contrasting with the elaborate details you’ve thoughtfully provided. As always your attention to the details is what makes your blog so special for me.. Thank you for sharing your experiences..


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