Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (11)

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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 (10)

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 The above photograph is a  closer view of the ‘layered’ construction from below (Jagati)  to upwards, the imagination, decoration and ornamentation in the sculpted work of Hoyasalesvara temple, Halebidu.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (9)

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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.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (8)

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 Layered construction from ‘Jagati‘ to upwards upto half of the height of the temple, from there holed wall construction for facilitating proper ventilation inside the temple, on it the extended roof, under the roof the placement of the Bracket figures (popularly known as ‘Madanika‘ figures) – this is the general plan normally followed by the Hoysalan sculptor and architect during the construction of the temples. On the exterior of the temple walls, the relief sculpture stared from the point Where the holed wall ceased and continued round the temple till the other end or the point where again the holed wall started.

Jagati, especially the star-shaped Jagati, had been prominently been put into use by the Hoysala architect and sculptor.  Two things come to my mind when I think of Jagati:

a) In normal day to day living too, if a person whom we highly respected, visits our house, we naturally offer him a seat, ‘asana‘, we regard the best in our house. We do not venture to sit at level with him even on an inferior quality of seat, instead we prefer to sit at his feet on floor. Jagati is, therefore, a seat, an abode to place the God inside and hence needed to be above our breastlevel or may be even above our head level.

b) The word ‘Jagati‘ literally means ‘a world’.  This meaning of the word indicates that whatever is inside the pricincts of ‘Jagati‘, is a different world, a pious world away from the normal world where you will be given an opportunity to face the God, the Almighty.The star shape might have been given to ‘Jagati‘ consciously to indicate that the world it contained needed to be regarded as ‘celestial’.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (7)

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It has always been celebration of dance again and again and again, on the exterior of walls of Hoysalesvara temple, Halebidu.

Here it is in priase of Lord Vishnu, in total surrender before him, singing praises to please him and showing devotion and respect in the form of art, dancing,  they most liked and revered, seeking protection from him.  The sculpture with the decoration and ornamentation mostly remained intact, except at one or two places, and showed the expertise of the sculptors of Hoysala period.

The above photograph shows Lord Vishnu in standing posture, in his glorious form with the symbols Sankha (the conch), Chakra (the hand-held wheel), Lotus bud and Gada (the mace) with female attendants on either side with hand-held fans in their hands, one in her right hand and the other in her left hand .  To the right of Lord Vishnu, the drummer playing and dancing as well, the sculpture is totally intact with all the ornamentation.  To the left of Lord Vishnu, the dancer perfoming in total reverence, accompanied by two drummers either side and to the left of the dancer an instrumentalist playing on the instrument, might be a stringed one. All put together, this turned out to be a very heartening, grand and picturesque scene, that can be vividly seen in temples built in Hoysala style of architecture in India.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (6)

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On the exterior of the walls of Hoysalesvara temple, Halebidu, it is mostly dance, dance and dance.  Dance appears to have been the form the sculptors liked the most and revelled in showing the forms of gods and goddesses in sculpture. Lord Siva, Parvati, Bhairava, Bhairavi and Ganapathi have mostly been shown in dancing form. It has always been the celebration of dance.

The above photograph shows the exqusitely carved image of goddess Parvati, It can be seen that in one of her hands she is shown holding the ‘cob’ with fully grown (maize) corn on it, one of the symbols the Hoysala sculptor had brought into extensive use in their sculpture while sculpting images of goddesses. In the opinion of the experts, in the hands of a female the ‘cob’, with fully grown (maize) corn on it, suggested fertility and wealth.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (5)

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Goddess Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Siva, wherever appeared on the exterior of the wall of Hoysalesvara  Temple, Halebidu, in the form of Sakti carried with her all the symbols associated with Lord Siva, viz., Trisul (the Trident), Damaru (the hand-held drum), the bowl and the Danda (the punishing stick) with the skull on it, etc.

The above photograph shows Goddess Parvati, in the form of Sakti, in dancing posture, carrying in her hands the symbols commonly associated wth Lord Siva, including the Danda with the skull on it. The sculpture, though damaged, still retained the glory and grandeur associated with the Hoysala sculpture. On to the left of Goddess Parvati, the sculpture of Darpana sundari (a pretty woman looking into the mirror) , a trade mark sculpture of Hoysala period, can also be seen. It appears that every sculptor of the Hoysala period liked to sculpt and mastered the art of sculpting the image of Darpana  Sundari in different postures with an eloquent ease, since the images of Darpana Sundari  appear on the exterior wall of Hoysalesvara Temple at more than one place in between the images of gods and goddess.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (4)


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Siva, Sankara, Mahadeva, Rudra, Nilakantha, Trinetra – all these are different names of Lord Siva.  It is said that in Upanishads Lord Siva has more often been referred to as ‘Rudra’.  He is believed to be the reason behind the Shrishti (the creation), Sthithi (the well-being and balance) and Laya (the underlying rythm in the existence and movement of time) of this world.

A preliminary knowledge about the basic aspects of Indian Iconography would help in understanding the deities sculpted in temples better.  In Indian iconography, deities have their own particular ‘mudra’, which means the position of hands and fingers; ‘asana’, which means position of legs and feet; ‘chinha’. which means symbol; ‘vasana’ which means dress; and ‘abharana’ which means ornaments worn.

More often than not, deities appear in ‘dhyana’ (assuring protection) and ‘varada’ (assuring or granting boons) mudras and postures known as ‘padmasana’ which means Lotus posture and ‘yogasana’ means meditative posture.  The icons of all deities normally carry a partirular symbol or ‘vahana’.

Saiva or Sakta images will have ‘damaru’ (hand held drum), ‘trisul’ (the Trident), ‘pasa’ (a noose), ‘ankusa’ (a goad), ‘bana’ (arrow) ‘khadga’ (a sword), ‘danda’ (a punishing stick), ‘aksha mala’ (a string of Rudraksha) etc., as their symbols.  Generally, Lord Siva is sculpted as having four arms, and holding a long Trident and Damaru. However, in Hoysalesvara temple Halebidu, Lord Siva is sculpted as having ten arms and in each hand holding a thing particular to Saiva or Sakta images mentioned above.

One more thing that can be prominently noticed is, on top of the ‘danda’ (the punishing stick) that is held by the Saiva and Sakta sculptures in Hoysalesvara Temple, Halebidu, there always appeared a skull, from the eye hole of which a snake was shown as passing through. As per ‘puranas’ the skull that adorned the ‘danda’ held by Lord Siva and Parvati, was that of ‘Vishvakseana’, the doorkeeper of Lord Vishnu’s abode in Vaikumtham, whom Lord Siva beheads in an angry mood for not allowing him to enter ‘Vaikumtham’.

The above photograph shows Lord Siva in his ever majestic and magic posture ‘nataraja’.  The ‘danda’ held by him in one of his hands bears the ‘skull’ on top of it.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (3)

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Historians and experts say that Halebidu (then Dorasamudra, the capital of Hoysala kigdom) came into existence around the middle years of 11th century AD and its existence has a link with the construction of the tank, on the bank of which the Hoysalesvara/Kedaresvara temple complex was built about seventy or eighty years latter.

It is said that the outer wall relief sculpture schema is a lot different in Hoysalesvara temple  and even stands out as unique within the Hoysala school of temple architecture. The outer wall relief sculpture of Hoysalesvara temple appears boradly divided into three layers or sections and the lower section itself contains eight regular rows of relief sculpture of a variety of animals, i.e., elephants, horses, lions, crocodiles etc., and of birds. Above this is the layeror section which is dedicated to exhibiting the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses with an amazingly acurate features decorated with an astounding quantity and quality of ornamentation.

The above photograph shows ‘Parama Shiva’ in dancing posture. I don’t think it would be possible to imagine a more accurate picture of ‘Parama Shiva’ in dancing posture than this one even in a drawing expertly done on paper.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Halebidu (2)

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Halebidu, which literally means ‘a ruined city’, had its glorious past when it was known as ‘Dorasamudra’ or ‘Dwarasamudra’, the capital of Hoysala kingdom in 12th Century AD.  As regards to the meaning of the word, I also heard someone say or read somewhere that the word in fact means ‘old abode’.

The Halebidu temple complex comprises of two Hindu temples, Hoysaleswara temple and Kedareswara temple.  Opposite the temple complex there is a big lake.  I think, it would be more appropriate if it is put in this way – the temple complex is situated on the banks of a big lake, which was dug and constructed presumably for drinking water purposes many years prior to the construction of the temple complex.

In 14th century AD, the temple complex was invaded twice and was damaged.  The result is that we see most of the relief sculptures on the walls of the temples mutiliated, i.e., mostly hands, legs and toes broken etc. However, the two sculptures that the invaders could not do or did not do any damage are the monolithic ‘Nandi’ sculptures facing Hoysalesvara temple. 

They still appear to look on in their regal serenity and splendor, unperturbed.