Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Somanathpur – (8)

Hoysala - Somanathpur (6)


The above photograph  shows  one of the most interesting sculptures of Chennakesava temple, Somanathpur. Instead of the conventional usage of the ‘Cob’ as a whole in one of the hands, the sculptor used his own imagination and shown it in a bowl in which the maize corn were filled to its full capacity, in such a way that some of the corn should appear and visible always and placed it in the left hand of the divine male sculpture. This sculpture once again serves as a good example to indicate that the sculptors of Hoysala period had been given ample freedom by their masters to imagine and portray things differently, but at the same time taking care not to contradict or spoiling the original ideas behind the symbols and established conventions.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Somanathpur – (7)

Hoysala – Somanathpur (5)

In South Indian Temple architecturethe, the ‘Cob’ is one of the strikingly specific things that can be  identified with Hoysala style of temple architecture. Sculptors during the Hoysala period started using the ‘Cob’ as a symbol to denote abundance of food, strength and fertility.  In the beginning, fully grown ‘Cob’  with ripe corn on it, was shown in the hands of women sculptures of Chennakesava temple at Beluru.  At Hoysalesvara temple, Halebid, Cob was shown in one of the hands of Lord Siva. Here in Somanathpur, Cobs were extensively used and shown in the sculptures of male and females alike and in both left and right hands as well. The frequency and the ease with which the Cob was used in the sculptures of Chennakesava temple at Somanathpur, suggests that by the time of the construction of this temple, the convention of usage of  ‘Cob’ as a symbol in temple architecture to denote abundance of food, strength and fertility had been fairly accepted and established.

The above photograph shows the ‘cob’ in the hands of male and female sculptures, the male holding it in his left hand and the female holding it in her right hand. Another female sculpture with the  ‘cob’ in her left hand can also be seen in the centre.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Somanathpur (6)

Hoysala - Somanathpur (4)

The relief sculpture on the outer walls of the Chennakesava temple at Somanathpur is, as well- known by now, predominently Vaishnavan.  One of  the relief sculptures that might not fail to attract the attention of the beholder is the sculpture of Lord Vishnu in one of his ‘avatars’ (incarnations) viz., Varaaha avatara (the incarnation in the form of divine ‘boar’).  As per Hindu mythology,  it was during this phase that Lord Vishnu saved ‘Prithvi’ (the planet Earth) by bringing it out from the depths of the all pervasive cosmic waters. 

The above photograph shows Lord Vishnu in Varaha avatara.  One thing thatI noticed in the above sculpture is, the sculptor had taken some thoughtful liberties and sculpted the form quite uncommonly (and as opposed to what is seen commonly) in two ways.  They are (1) the saved earth ‘Prithvi’ is shown in ‘oval’ shape and not round (as comonly shown in drawings and sculpted forms, even to this day); and (2) the saved earth ‘Prithvi’ is shown securely placed in the hands of the Lord, and not shown precariously placed and balanced in between the two extended teeth, tusks, of the ‘Varaha’. To my mind, it appears that the sculptors in the Hoysala period were given ample liberties to imagine and experiment with forms of Hindu gods and goddesses, which some of them had infact practiced and dared to depitct the mythological forms of gods and goddesses occassionally differently. 


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Somanathpur – (5)

Hoysala – Somanathpur (3)

The construction of Chennakesava temple at Somnathpur was complted during the reign of the 10th king of the Hoysala dynasty, Narasimha III, in the year 1268 AD. He was in power till the year 1291 AD. All put together, there are four temples dedicated to the Lord Chennakesava viz., the Chennakesava temple at Belur, built during the reign of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana (1117 AD), the Chennakesava temple at Mosale built during the reign of the Hoysala king Veera Ballala II (1200 AD), the Chennakesava temple at Aralaguppe built during the reign of the Hoysala king Vira Someshwara (1250 AD), and the last in the timeline, the Chennakesava temple at Somanathapura.

The above photograph shows one of the star-shaped ‘vimanas’ (towers) that appear on the ‘grabha-grihas’ (sanctum-sanctorum) of the Chennakesava temple at Somanathpur.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Somanathpur – (4)

Hoysala – Somanathpur (2)

Amongst the chain of famous temples, built under the patronage of the Hoysala kings in the Malnad region of present day Karnataka state (India),  the Chennakesava temple at Somanathpur is said to be the last. It’s construction was completed in the year 1268 AD. Relief sculpture on the outer walls of the temple here are predominently Vaishnavan. The temple is of the ‘trikuta’ type, which means it has three ‘garbha grihas’ (Sanctum Sanctorum) above which the thee ‘vimanas’ (domes) are built. All the important aspects of Hoysala architecture appear here in the sculpted images of gods, goddesses, the connected decorations and ornamentation on the outer walls of Chennakesava temple at Somanathpur.

In the above photograph, we can see the plan of construction followed by the Hoysala sculptors, which latter came to be known as the Hoysala-style of temple architecture- the star-shaped ‘jagati’ and above it the progression of layered construction (here in six layers), which normally runs up to approximately one third of the height of the temple.

Hoysala sculpture & architecture – Somanathpur (1)

on way to Somanathpur - nature 1

On way to Somnathpur, from Mandya or Srirangapattna via Bannur, it is everywhere mother earth and green, green and green…nature in her finest form.

One need not do anything extraordinary to capture the beauty than holding the camera and click, pointing in any direction. It is all pervasive, the camera lense just cannot afford to escape it.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (11)

halebidu - image (11)

In addition to sculpting of the images of gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon, one more practice that was fondly followed by the Hoysala sculptors was that of sculpting some well-known and interesting instances from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata purana.Lord Sri Krishna in Kaliya mardana posture,  Ksheerasaagara madhana, churning of the Milky ocean by Sura and Asura groups standing on either side and using the Manthara parvat (Hill Mandhara) and Vasuki (the celestial serpent), Sri Krishna in the posture of keeping aloft the Gokula Hill on the edge of his little finger as  herds of cattle and villegers stand under it looking in utter devotion and awe – these are some of such instances which find sculpted on the outer walls of temples built during Hoysala period.

The above photograph shows Arjuna, the second amongst the Pandavas, aiming at the Matsya (a fish, in fact a fish continuously moving round with the help of a mechanical device, a yantra, and hence it came to be known as matsya yantra) above looking its reflection in the tub of water placed below, an instance from the epic Vyasa Mahabharatam, after the  successful attempt of which he wins Draupadi, the daughter of the king of Drupada, latter came to be known as Panchali, the wife of all the five Pandavas, the sons of the by-then deceased King Pandu .

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (9)

halebidu - image (9)

Goddess Parvati and Paramesvara, Lord Vishnu and Lord Paramesvara.

A closer look at the sculptures of Lord Vishnu and Lord Paramesvara reveal two uncommon things. One –   in the sculpture of Lord Vishnu, both Sankha (the conch) and Chakra (the hand-held wheel, the symbol for Sudarshan chakra) are shown on the same side i.e., in the left side hands of Lord Vishnu. Two – Lord Paramesvara is shown as holding a ‘cob’ (with amply grown maize corn on it)  in one of his hands on left side.

Conventionally and customarily in Indian iconography, Sankha (the conch), which is a symbol for peace and wellbeing  and the Chakra (the replica of Sudarshan chakra), which is a symbol for punishing the wicked and wrong-doer, are shown either side of Lord Vishnu, as a balancing act of both these things performed by Him judiciously. By showing both these symbols, elements on one side, the same side, the sculptor had consciously deviated from the convention and practice being followed and taken a lot of liberties to carve the  sculpture as he visualised and wished.  And he was allowed to do so without much resentment.  Had it not been so,  the sculpture wouldn’t have been there at all on the wall of Hoysalesvara temple, Halebidu.

‘Cob’ was one of the few things the Hoysala sculptor used to indicate abundance of ‘food and fertility’ and because of this reason it was shown in the hands of females and female deities and not male deities. But here it is shown in the one of the left side hands of Lord Siva. I see only one reason for this. That is, Lord Siva is also popularly known as ‘Ardha-narishvara‘, which means half Siva and half Parvati  and in this form he is often shown Siva as right side half of his body  and Parvati as left side half of his body. Though the sculpture in question is not in the form of ‘Ardha-narishvara‘, the sculptor had imagined Lord Siva in that form while sculpting and rightly placed the ‘cob’ in one of the left side hands of Lord Siva.

These are but two examples to show that the sculptors of Hoysala period had been allowed and enjoyed much freedom in thinking, visualizing and putting into practice some really new ideas into their sculptures.

These are my observations and interpretations, which may or may not be correct.