Photo blog Splendour in Stone Somanathapura

The Chennakesava Temple at Somanathapura ( Known as good looking Keshava ) located at Somanathapura is one of the best examples of Hoysala architecture. The temple was built by Somanatha, a Dandanayaka or commander in 1268 C.E. under Hoysala king Narasimha III when the Hoysala Empire was the major power in South India. The temple is housed inside an impressive high walled enclosure and the entrance to the complex is through a porch with tall lathe-turned pillars.

Photo blog Splendour in Stone Somanathapura
View of Somanathapura Temple from the entrance

        oh ! Visitor, bow with folded hands before you enter this place, it's not a sculpture, its a temple, a web of art "... How true is that ?.

So wrote the Jannapeeta awardee Kannada great poet Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa popularly known as Kuvempu after being impressed by the carvings of the temple.

One is impressed with the View of the Somanathapura temple from the porch of the monument.

The temple at Somanathapura took 58 years to build with 500 sculptors ceaselessly working on it. A true artwork, the sculptures here come alive in the stones of Somanathapura.  The stone figurines converse with the onlooker, be it intricately carved temple ceilings, the pillars, or the artistically sculpted star-shaped Trikuta style temple of Somanathapura.  Somanathapura, as the name suggests, is not a Shiva temple; it is a famous Hoysala styled Keshava temple.

A bit of history

Somnathpur temple was vandalised during Muslim attacks in the Hoysala kingdoms. The first attack was by Malik Kafur, Alauddin Khilji’s general in 1311, and in 1326 Muhammad Bin Tughlaq destroyed the remaining structures.  Some parts of the temples were restored by Vijayanagara Kings and later by Wodeyars of Mysuru.

The temple was constructed in 1268 AD by the dandanayaka a commander of the Hoysala army, Somanatha, under the Hoysala king Narasimha III.  The temple boasts of three idols – Keshava, Krishna, and Janardhana, and is one of 112 fascinating temples constructed by Hoysalas in Karnataka.  The temple is made of soapstone, a stone ideal to work with and, was sculpted by various sculptors, the most famous among them being Mallithamma, who is said to have sculpted a majority of the carvings found in the temple.  

Somanathapura is a Trikuta style star-shaped temple and has been built on an elevated platform( Jagati ). The original idol of Keshava was demolished by Mughal invaders, and since then the temple has stopped daily puja,  hosting religious ceremonies and functions. The temple has an image of Keshava brought in by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). This is flanked by Krishna and Janardhana on its left and right respectively. The intricately carved door of the temple was also restored in 1958 by the department and is now a protected monument.

At the entrance of the temple, has idols of Dwarapalikas - Known as Jaya and Vijaya. Here lies a stone slab with details about the temple, its festivals, and grants donated from 1269 to 1550 AD inhale (old) Kannada inscriptions. Inside the temple. The circular pillars in the hall is an important aspect of Hoysala architecture with Geometrical shapes and Various forms of Nature.  

The temple has a square-shaped navaranga (congregation hall) which served as a dance floor to the devadasis of yesteryear. At the right, there is a statue of Janardhana with four shoulders. If you observe closely, you will find that his chest styled in the form of a cow’s face.

                        The temple is built on a raised platform known as Jagati.On each corner is an idol elephant decorated with beads and ornaments.

The Pradakshina Path around the gopura, Jagati the raised platform on which the visitors can take a walk to behold the artistic wonders. The courtyard is surrounded by a  mandapa with pillars having artistic carvings.

                                                                                                     Rama Chasing Maricha the deer

                                                                                                                        Musicians 

Lord Vishnu is among the most important Gods of Hinduism. Together with Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, Vishnu forms the principal trinity of all Hindu gods his many forms, Vishnu is regarded as the preserver and protector. Hinduism teaches that when humanity is threatened by chaos or evil, Vishnu will descend into the world in one of his incarnations to restore righteousness. The incarnations that Vishnu takes are called avatars. collectively, the avatars of Vishnu are called dasavatara 

On learning that his own son Prahlada was spiritually inclined towards Lord Vishnu, Demon Hiranyakashyapu makes several attempts to dissuade him. He tried to poison his son, get him trampled by elephants, and made various attempts to eliminate him. But Prahlada survived even the deadliest of attacks. So as a final resort, Hiranyakashipu reached out to his sister Holika who was granted a boon that could save her from fire. He made Prahlada sit on her lap as she occupied a pyre that was meant to be burnt. Prahlada survived even after being set on fire but Holika was reduced to ashes despite the boon. 

This mythical (Parijata) tree rose of the milk ocean and Indra planted it in his garden. “Its bark was gold, and it was embellished with young sprouting leaves of copper color, and fruit stalks bearing numerous clusters of fragrant fruits.”

 It is related that once Narada brought a flower of this tree to Dwaraka and presented it to his friend Krishna. He waited to see to which of his wives Krishna gave the flower. The flower was given to Rukmini, and Narada went straight to Satyabhama and made a show of sorrow. On her inquiring why he was not in good cheer, the sage told Satyabhama, that he had presented Krishna with a flower of the Parijata tree thinking that she was her favorite wife and he would present it to her but was grieved to find that Krishna had given it to Rukmini.

 Satyabhama’s jealousy was aroused and she asked Narada what could be done to spite Rukmini. The sage advised her to ask Krishna to bring the Parijata tree itself from heaven and plant it near her house. After giving this advice, he went back to the celestial region and told Indra to guard the Parijata tree carefully as thieves were about.

Satyabhama repaired to the anger-chamber, (ancient Hindu kings who had more than one wife had room or house, called anger-chamber, set apart for a dissatisfied queen to occupy and demand redress of her grievances) and when Krishna came to her she reviled him for cheating her.

“You pretend that I am your favorite wife, but treat me as Rukmini’s handmaid she said, and asked him what made him present the Parijata flower to Rukmini. Krishna admitted his guilt and asked her what he could do in expiation. She wanted possession of the tree. Krishna immediately proceeded to Amaravati, Capital City of Indra’s Empire. Krishna stole into Indra’s grove and started uprooting the tree. The king of the gods came upon the scene and caught the thief red-handed but seeing who his despoiler was, he allowed him, after some show of resentment, to take the tree to Dwaraka, Capital city of Krishna’s empire.

It is fabled that, after Krishna’s death, Dwaraka was submerged in the ocean and the Parijata tree was taken back to heaven.

Source: EPICs, MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF INDIA by P Thomas

Images of Various gods - front LHS Kamadeva, Garuda, Veena Vadini Saraswati, Mahisha Mardini, Vishnu in Meditation Adimurti on the serpent and Dhanvantri

                                                                                                                     Lakshmi Narayana 

                                                                                                                  Conclusion 

This Hoysala temple at Somanathapura is no doubt a splendour in stone. Unfortunately, this temple is no longer used as a place of worship because the idols here have been broken Binna and not suitable for worship and the temple was disfigured by the invaders of the Muslim Sultanate. But the beautiful temple still retains its charms visitors and reminds visitors of the magnificent artistic and engineering achievements of the bygone era.

How to get there?

Somanathapura is a small village in T Narsipura taluk of Karnataka about 140 kilometers away from Bangalore and it takes around three to four hours to get there. If you are going by car, drive along the Mysore road up to Mandya. Turn off at the Bannur road, and drive for another seven kilometers to reach Somanathapura. If you are driving on Kanakapura road, you need to take the deviation to Bannur road at Malavalli.

If you plan to travel by bus, you can board one towards Mysore and then catch another to T Narasipura which is around 14 kilometers from Somanathapura. From here, there are ample buses, hitch a ride by an auto that will take you to the temple. Alternatively, you can board a bus to Mandya, and then catch a KSRTC bus towards Bannur, and from there reach Somanathapura.

Food and Accommodation

Tourists en route to Mysore, take diversion visit  Talakadu, Bluff - Gaganchukki, and Barchukki waterfalls visit this place only during the weekend. There are no good hotels at Somanathapura. You can look for hotels on Bangalore-Mysore highway or at T Narasipura or Mysore.

Additional Information

  • Hire an ASI guide to get detailed information about the temple history, Mythology, and its intricate carvings. You require a minimum of 2 -3 hours to get an insight into this place.

  • Better carry your own food and water, as there are very few restaurants near the temple.

  • You could combine the temple visit with a trip to Talakadu and Shivanasamudra waterfalls. The twin waterfalls look Magnificent when crest gates are open of the dam.