Jul 31, 2010
Lush green farms of sugarcane and various vegetables; bullock carts trundling along; sheep, goats, and cows being herded by; three-wheelers laden with fresh produce; women and children waiting at the bus stops— these were the sights that greeted us on our drive to Somnathpur, a hamlet about 45 kms from the royal city of Mysore.
The purpose behind driving to this sleepy little village was to see the Keshava Temple, a remnant of the Hoysala Empire.
From the ticketing booth one cannot view the temple and all you see as you walk towards the entrance or ‘mahadwara’ is the walled courtyard with a manicured lawn in the foreground. A few statues and stone pillars are placed on the lawn as renovation work is in progress.
Tranquility envelops the place and the only sounds are the excited voices of a group of tourists who have just arrived and are getting their entry tickets.
A 30-foot granite pillar is the ‘deepa stambha’ which stands near the entrance.
The first glimpse of the temple took my breath away. It seemed that the structure was made of stacked pieces of stone, somewhat like Lego blocks. But there ends the similarity! All I could think was, “What a lot of intricate sculptures and carvings! What do I look at first??”
The magnificent structure dates back to the 13th century and is considered the best preserved of the major Hoysala temples.
The temple faces east and has three star-shaped sanctuaries dedicated to the deities Keshava, Venugopal, and Janardhana. The idol of Lord Keshava, however, is missing.
The temple stands on a raised platform in the shape of a 16-pointed star. This base has numerous carved elephants who appear to be supporting the edifice.
It boggles the mind to see how every inch of space is elaborately carved with numerous images. Great attention has been paid to each little detail and everything is perfectly proportioned.
The exterior walls have six bands with carvings of elephants, horsemen, floral scrolls, scenes from the epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, mythical creatures, and peacocks. Larger sculptures depicting the various incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and Goddess Lakshmi can also be seen interspersed with the smaller carvings along the outer walls.
As I walked into the temple, I glanced up and was awe-struck at the beautifully carved panels in the ceiling. There are 16 such panels and each one is unique. Special spotlights help illuminate the panels and provide a clear glimpse of the effort that has gone into the crafting of each one.
The idols of Lord Venugopal and Lord Janardhana are made of stone and appear well-preserved. The huge accordion style pillars holding up the temple are yet another example of creative excellence.
I could have spent hours studying and photographing every one of the intricate carvings on this architectural marvel. But a rumbling tummy indicated that I’d already spent the better part of a morning doing precisely this!
As I stepped out into the bright sunshine from the cool, dark interior of the temple, I made up my mind to visit yet again so I could get my fill of it. But I wonder how many visits it will take before, if at all, my awe abates.
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