The modern interest in the Hoysalas is due to their patronage of art and architecture rather than their military conquests.
The brisk temple building throughout the kingdom was accomplished, despite constant threats from the Pandyas to the south and the Seunas Yadavas to the north Their architectural style, an offshoot of the western Chalukya style, shows distinct Dravidian influences. The Hoysala Architecture Style is described as KARNATA DRAVIDA as distinguished from the traditional, with many unique features.
A feature of Hoysala Temple Architecture, is its attention to exquisite detail and skilled craftsmanship. The tower over the temple shrine (vimana) is delicately finished with intricate carvings, showing attention to the ornate and elaborately detailed rather than to a tower form and height. The “stellate” design of the base of the shrine with its rhythmic projections and recesses is carried through the tower in an orderly succession of “decorated tiers”.
Hoysala Temple Sculpture replicates this emphasis on feminine beauty, grace and physique. The Hoysala artists achieved this with the use of “soapstone” (chloritic schist), a soft stone, as base building and sculpture material.
Other standard features in a Hoysala Temple are the large domed-roofs over the towers, which is also the largest sculptural piece called the HELMET or AMALAKA and whose shape usually follows that of the shrine (square or star-shape), the KALASA (decorative pot at the apex of the dome) and the Hoysala Crest (emblem of a Hoysala warrior stabbing a lion) over the SUKHANASI (the nose).
The CHENNAKESAVA TEMPLE at Belur and the HOYSALESWARA TEMPLE at Halebidu are the best known, because of the beauty of their sculptures, the Hoysals art finds more complete expression in the smaller and lesser known temples. The outer walls of all these temples contain an intricate array of stone sculptures and horizontal “friezes” (decorative mouldings) that depict the Hindu Epics. These depictions are generally “clockwise” in the traditional direction of circumambulation (pradakshina). The Temple at Halebidu has been described as an outstanding example of Hindu architecture and an important milestone in Indian architecture. The Temples of Belur and Halebidu are a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
THE CHENNAKESAVA TEMPLE at Belur
The main attraction here is the Chennakesava Temple Complex, which contains the Chennakesava Temple (dedicated to Chennakesava, meaning “Handsome Vishnu” ) as the centre-piece, surrounded by the KAPPE CHENNIGRAYA TEMPLE, built by Shantala Devi, Queen of King Vishnuvardhana. There are two more shrines here that are still in use by devotes and there is a PUSHKARNI or STEPPED WELL to the right side of the main entrance. The Dravida style RAYAGOPURAM, at the entrance which was a later addition by the Vijayanagar kings, who considered this deity as one of their KULADEVATA or FAMILY GOD. The Temple was built by Vishnuvardhana in commemoration of his victory over the Cholas at Talakad in 1117 CE. Legend has it that it took 103 years to complete and Vishnuvardhana’s grandson —– Veera Bllala –2 completed the task. The façade of the Temple is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes, episodes from the Indian Mythological Epics and sensuous dancers (SHILABALIKAS). Inside the Temple are a number of ornate pillars. DARPANA SUNDARI (Lady with the mirror), carved on the wall of the Belur Temple is one of the major attractions in the complex.
THE HOYSALESWARA TEMPLE at Halebidu
The Temple complex comprises 2 Hindu Temples and 2 Jain Basadi In front of these temples there is a large lake. The 2 Nandi images, on the sides of the Hoysaleswara Temple, are “monoliths” ; soapstone (chloritic schist) was used for the construction of these temples. There is an Archaeological Museum in the Temple complex. The HOYSALESWARA TEMPLE, dating back to 1121 CE, is astounding for its wealth of sculptural details. The walls of the Temple are covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu Mythology, animals, birds and shilabalikas. (dancing figures). Yet, no two sculptures, of the Temple, are the same. This magnificent temple, guarded by a Nandi Bull, was never completed, despite 86 years of labour. The Jain Basadi, nearby, are equally rich in sculptured details.
THE SOMANATHAPURA TEMPLE
Situated in the unobtrusive village of Sommanathapur, 35km from Mysuru, the exquisitely carved “star-shaped” temple with “triple towers” is a perfect example of Hoysala Architecture. The friezes, on its outer walls, with their intricately carved rows of caparisoned elephants, charging horsemen and mythological birds and beasts will leave you spellbound. Beautifully sculptured images of gods and goddesses and scenes from the Epics, as well as the remarkable ornate ceilings in the pillared hall will take your breath away.
THE BRAHMESHVARA TEMPLE – Kikkeri in Mandya District
The design of the Temple is “unique”. The interior of the Temple has been widened beyond its base, by making the outer walls bulge out in a “convex shape”. This is a EKAKUTA (single shrine) construction. There is a 4ft tall image of Shiva in one of the niches of the NAVARANGA (hall). The MADANIKA figures (also called SALABHNJIKA, refers to the sculpture of a woman, displaying stylized feminine features) carved on the capital of the pillars of the hall, are works of fine art. The VIMANA (shrine that contains the cella) has a well executed, highly decorative and intact tower (SHIKHARA). The vestibule ( called ANTARALA) which connects the cella to the hall has a SUKHANASI (called “nose’ ) which is actually a low protrusion of the tower over the shrine that is built over the vestibule. The large wall images of deities and their attendants are placed below the decorative towers (the AEDICULAS) on PILASTERS. Below these images is the base of the wall which comprises five different horizontal mouldings, one of which is a row of blocks.
About 100 Temples have survive in present-day Karnataka State, mostly in the Malnad (hill) districts, the native home of the Hoysala Kings. As popular tourist destinations in Karnataka, Hoysala Temples offer an opportunity for pilgrims and students of architecture to examine medieval Hindu Architecture in the KARNATA DRAVIDA tradition.