Temple Architecture of Somanathpura

The Hoysalas ruled over Mysore and neighbouring regions for the period of two and half centuries from 1047 to 1300 A.D. It was under Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (1106-1141 A.D.) that major territorial expansions and more lasting contributions to art and culture were made.+[1] The Hoysalas built several temple structures all over Karnataka, but the temples of Belur, Halebidu and Somanathpura are examples of the architectural marvel of medieval India. The Hoysalas were by birth the Jains and later they were converted to Vaishnavism by Ramanujacharya but believed in the idea of ‘Sarva-dharma samanvaya.’

The temple architectures in the region of Belur, Halebidu and Somanathpura are known as ‘Hoysala Style.’ Hoysala rulers themselves did not construct all the temples, but since that the region was ruled by Hoysalas, the temples are predominantly associated with Hoysala style.[2] There are more than 200 temples of this period, but mainly to Vishnu and Siva.

The Hoysala architects used soap stone (called chloride schist by geologists) which is found abundantly in the Karnataka state. One of the notable features of the Hoysala temples is their star-shaped ground plan and was set on a high platform (jagati), rising to the height of about 2.1 m, providing space for going around the temple as pradakshina-patha.[3] The adhishtana of the temple, on its exterior, provides horizontal bands separated by pattikas, sculptured panels of processions of elephants, lions, horsemen, makaras. The Hoysala temples always had a lamp post in front of the temple, in order help for identification of the place.

Somanathpura is a small town located 35 kilometres away from Mysore city in Mysore district, situated about half a mile from the bank of the river Kaveri. From the inscription on the slab in the entrance porch of the temple, archaeologists have concluded that Soma or Somanath, a high officer under the Hoysala King Narasimha III (A.D. 1254-1291), established the village as Agrahara or rent-free settlements for Brahmins, naming it as Vidyanidhi Prasanna Somanathpura and built the Keshava temple in it in A.D. 1268. This elaborately carved structure was built around 1268 A.D., popularly attributed to Jakanachari,[4] who also built the temple at Belur. It took them more than 58 years building this temple. It was invaded twice by Malik Kafur, slave general of Alauddin Khilji, in 1311 and 1356.

Keshava temple is a trikuta, or three celled structure, opened into common pillared mantapa, the main cell facing east and the other two, which are opposite to each other. The three cells are surmounted by three elegantly carved towers known as shikhara. Each of these shikharas had a circular stupi and a kalasha on top. The Shikharas have Mukula, Stupika, Mahapadma, Vedi, Griva Kosta. These shikharas are attached to the navaranga or middle hall, to which is again attached to the Mukha-mantapa or front hall.

This temple a feature of both Nagara style Shikar as well as Dravida style shikara. Nagara styled shikara is mostly used in the northern part of India, in temples such as Konark, Khajuraho group of temples. While, Dravida style shikara is mostly used in southern part of India, Tanjavore, Madurai, Pattadkal, Badami etc. But, this temple had the feature of both the types of shikaras so this type of shikara is known as vesara style.

The Keshava temple is situated in the middle of the courtyard, about 215 feet by 177 feet, surrounded by an open veranda. It stands on the raised terrace known as Adhisthana, about 3 feet high, which closely follows the contour of the structure and is supported at the angles by figures. Around the Adhisthana, there are free images representing Vishnu and other gods leaning against it. The temple is a nirandara temple as the pradakshina-patha is outside the structure. Pillars inside the temple were made of five pieces of stones, thus it is known as pancha-shila sthamba.

On sides of the dwara, runs around the front hall a jagati[5] or railed parapet, on which, the carving of several mythical characters as well as the incarnations of the Vishnu has been carved out. The number of large images on the outer wall is 194, of which 114 are female.[6] The perimeter of the temple was about 1 kilometre.

On the bhitti[7] there were several panels representing different animals such as Animals such as elephants, symbolising the strength, there are 540 different varieties of carvings of elephants around the temple. In the second panel, there were horses, the third panel had creepers, and then there was a depiction of epics. The gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon represented as Vishnu and incarnations of Vishnu such as Narasimha, Varaha, Hayagriva, Venugopala, and Vamana.

In some of the panels,  Yaksha and Yakshis are depicted with the main deities. There are several panels representing the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. One panel represents the intuitions of sex and also sexual figures representing it as Kamadeva and his consort Rati. There are panels for warriors, dancers and also the musicians. There are names of the artists who carved out the structure below the statues in Kannada, such as Masanatamma, Mallitamma, Bhamayya, Chaudayya, Dasoja, etc…

Since the temple is three celled or trikuta, each cell has a Garba-griha and a sukhanasi or vestibule. The chief cell, opposite to the entrance, once enshrined with the image of Keshava, which no longer persists and it has been replaced by another statue of the same period. The north cell has an image of the god Janardhana and the south cell has an image of the god Venugopala or Krishna playing the flute. The statue of Janardhana had the face of the bull on the body, as it is believed that the sculptor was a Shaivite and he did so to represent Shaivism in a Vaishnava temple.

The garba-griha was always in the dark as the Hindus believed that it is a place for introspection and even literal sense also, womb will always be dark. There were jalandras located in parts of the mantapa for the light to pass through the temple. The main deity was in Garba-griha, sanctum-sanctorum, it was followed by the Antarala and that was followed by the Natya Mantapa, where the dancers worshipped gods and goddesses. There are jaladras on the sides of the Mandapa, which allows the sunlight to enter the temple.

      Ashta Dikpalaka Panel, inside the Navaraga, the bas-relief of the guardians in all eight directions. Each direction has one god, East had Indra on an elephant, South-East Agni, South had Yama, South-West had Nairutya, West had the depiction of Varuna, North-West had Vayu, and North was Kubera, and North-East was Eeshanya.

There are 18 eighteen columns in the Navaranga, but all the pillars are different in some way. Some of the ceilings had a bunch of bananas, and some had inverted lotus. Few of the pillars have a circular shaft, such as Chitrakhanda, Rudrakanta, and Indrakanta styles. And there is bhitti-pada[8] in the corners of the Mandapa.

Dwara of is placed in the front of the temple structure, and there are two miniature shrines at both sides of the entrance. Prakara is covered with the open pillared porch, and there are columns placed in front. Each of them was said to have had a statue of the incarnation of Vishnu, but some of them were destroyed due to invasions in this part of the country by Muslim invaders. The temple at Somanathpura is an architectural marvel; it is one of the finished temple structures in Southern India. Known for their stylistic supremacy, the Hoysala temple is one of the beautifully carved, finished structures.

References:

Hardy. A, (2007) Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation, New Delhi: Abhinav Publications

Subba Reddy. V, Temples of South India, New Delhi: Gyan Publishers

Shettar.S, Somanathpura, Mysore: Abhinava Press

Narasimhachar. R, Architecture and Sculpture in Mysore, Bangalore: Government of Mysore Press

Citations:

[1] Subba Reddy. V, Temples of South India, New Delhi: Gyan Publishers, pp. 142-143

[2] Shettar.S, Somanathpura, Mysore: Abhinava Press, p. 14

[3] Subba Reddy. V, Temples of South India, New Delhi: Gyan Publishers, p. 144

[4] Many Historians feel that Jakanachari was purely imaginary character, the name a corruption of dakshinachari, or ‘sculptor of the southern school.”

[5]Jagati is a raised surface, platform or terrace upon which some Buddhist or Hindu temples are built. This feature is seen in isolated temples such as the temples of Khajuraho.

[6] Narasimhachar. R, Architecture and Sculpture in Mysore, Bangalore: Government of Mysore Press, pp. 1-5

[7] Bhitti means the wall of  the temple

[8] Bhitti-Pada is pilaster, which is when there are pillars inside the supporting of a wall, a part of wall jetting out.