Keshava Temple: One of the Last Vestiges of Hoysala Glory

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.

Chandana Nayak - Archives:

by Chandana Nayak Shenoy
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Comment on this article

  • adshenoy, mangloor

    Tue, Aug 03 2010

    One of the great treasres of our great nation. Indeed we have failed to treasure them, many others which are in ruins- both Hindu and Islamic.
    Great architecture and one can not dream off to carve in todays times.

  • juliana, udupi

    Tue, Aug 03 2010

    Magnificent work still remaining in tact after so many years. Really appreciable. That is why foreign tourists come to our country.

  • Felix F., India/Ksa

    Mon, Aug 02 2010

    Hi Shashi,

    Thank you for your kind gesture to reply to my comments, with necessary information. Though I do not know the meaning of the words, you have mentioned like vimana/ brahma abhisheka etc, I will use the net to understand more about them. Thank you again

  • Ashwin, Singapore

    Mon, Aug 02 2010

    Mr VNayak,
    Well, until Shankaracharya, Buddha was not considered as 9th avatara of Vishnu. It was the genius of Shankaracharya who incorporated the Buddha as 9th avatar of Vishnu so that both faiths could co-exist. Enter a Hindu temple, you will find Budha's statue. So your interpretation of history can be argued. For your information, no temples were distroyed until 1000AD. When the Lodhi's, Ghasnavi's and Mughal's arrived, they destroyed all the temples mostly in India. The density of temples older than 100yrs in North India is far less compared to South India as South India was mostly shielded from the likes of Aurangzeb etc.

  • Shashi Shetty, Udupi

    Mon, Aug 02 2010

    Hi Felix, Belur Chenna Keshava temple is still good for prayers but, Helbeedu is ruins and there are no prayers. In hindu religion we cannot pray a delapidated temple whose vimana is broken unless it is restored and brahma abhisheka is done. Hope I am right. Please correct me if I am wrong guys. However, these temples are magnificient piece of sculputure.

  • Lawrence D'Mello, Karkala/Syd

    Sun, Aug 01 2010

    Lovely article and good photographs too.

  • VNayak, Mangalore/Switzerland

    Sun, Aug 01 2010

    I read that Mr.Ashwin Pai from Singapore says that the reconversion of Budhists into Hindu's in India by Shankaracharya etc was peaceful.It was everything else but peaceful. Thousands of Budhists temples were destroyed and all but one of the thousands of Ashoka's pillars with his edicts on was left in tact. Well, you should try to learn from the historical facts too.


    Sun, Aug 01 2010

    While your writeup along with the photos is commendable, a small writeup of the Hoysala empire itself would have even carried more weight.

  • mark, muscat, mangalore

    Sun, Aug 01 2010

    Keshava Temple: One of the Last Vestiges of Hoysala Glory

    by Chandana Nayak Shenoy
    thank you!!! great job, for your article! Really great wonders of those STONE speaks. BEAUTIFUL!!!!

  • B.P.Pai, BLR/Kuwait

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    Good and enlightening article. could u please give us more details like how to reach? Transport available from nearest big town, accommodation available etc. I had been to Chenna Keshava Temple at Belur recently. This temple is looks like a marvel in line with Belur temple

  • Ashwin Pai, Singapore

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    Mr. Shhnawaz,
    I like the way you put things. Here is a bit history and current affairs to enlighten you. The indian sub-continent was a Budhist majority state from the period of Ashoka(around 275BC) up until 750AD. And then, Adi Shankaracharya restored vedenta phylosophy through debate with Budhist scholars and defeating them through philosophy. Interestingly not a single of blood was shed, unlike what happened under the Moghals.

    Secondly, to say, Budhist countries outside of India are peaceful is absolute foolishness. Did you forget the carnage in hindus in Sri Lanka few months back which was an act of Budhist majority. Please read about the brutal history of Budhist states such as Thailand and Cambodia. Finally, the bushist Japan is the worst contributor to second world war.

    I think get your history correct before pointing your fingers to vedic religion of India which has been very peaceful from majority perspective.

  • shahnawaz kukkikatte, dubai/udupi

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    dear Chandana Nayak,  thank u very much for your informative article about Hoysala dynasty. I know Vishnuvardhana and shantaladevi, the couple rulers of Hoysala were famous and who embraced and patronised Jainism as state religion and buit the famous Shakuladevi temple in Belur/Halebeedu which is in present Hassan district of Karnataka. Could you please tell me despite royal patronage, why jainism could not survive for long in karnataka. The only remains of jainism one can find is in karkala, moodabidiri and shravanabelagola. Though jainism is like Buddihsim is a religion of peace and non violence, it totally disappeared from its cradle land and flourished outside India. I still fail to understand what has made these two major religions to disappear from India. I hope you would be very sincere and honest in your reply.

  • Melvin Mendonca, Tallur -sharjah

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    very nice, informative article eagar to Know more abour Hoysala culture.... thank you keep wriing.......


    Sat, Jul 31 2010


  • Bulsam, Mangalore

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    It is a fabulous architectural marvels. They have carved such a fine tune structures on one of the hardest stones in the region as if shaping a soft wax. Excellent piece with years of hard work to reach into such perfection.

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    Chandana Nayak Shenoy

    While appreciating,your efforts to tell us about the Hoysala Glory, which all Indians should be proud to know, it would have been good, if you could have given some additiional info on this temple.

    For the people in geneal A Temple means, prayer house of Hindus, with stone carvings, and as you said they are mostly-intricate carvings of architectural marvel.

    You mentioned, they are dedicated to the deities Keshava, Venugopal, and Janardhana. And this belongs to Hoysala Glory.

    Instead of just explaining about the architiectural side, you would have made us more knowledgeable, by throwing some light on the spiritual side of this temple. Meaning how does this temple relate to the Hindus of today, are prayers conduted there, and do hindus view these dieties as God.Or is this temple just a piece of History. Thank you.

  • Vasant Raj, Udupi/Abudhabiv

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    What a beautiful temple,try to send more photos of this, please.

  • siddarth, mangalore

    Sat, Jul 31 2010

    wow nice article  ...thank you so much

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