Exploring Hoysala Architecture in Karnataka

Hoysala dynasty was known for its intricate architecture and amazing workmanship. The temples literally leave you jaw dropping and you will end up spending hours in admiring its beauty.

As you all know we recently shifted to Mysuru from United States of America. When I lived there, I had this some sense of realization or maybe some kind bad feeling that I had visited so many places in India as well but I haven’t clicked as much photos or even admired the centuries old temples. Later, when I was digging my archival for at least a pic of Mysuru palace, I did not have it with me! Same with Nariman Point of Mumbai. It was my most favorite place and obviously in the complete span of 15 years I did not have a single pic of this amazing place.

We decided that this time in India, we should click more pictures and videos. So after visiting some n number of times to Chanakeshava Temple in Somanathpura, we decided to re visit the place. Not only we took ample time to admire and observe each and everything. This time our perspectives had changed and more aware of the Hoysala architecture and history.

We visited three different temples belong to Hoysala Architecture. These all three were day trips from Mysuru and easily doable.

How to Reach and What to Eat?

Somanathapura —

While driving from Mysuru, we took the deviation at Bannur. It roughly took us one hour to reach by car. You also have buses at least connecting to the most nearest town. From there you can hire a Tuk-tuk or a rickshaw. Roads are mostly single lane and they are in good driving condition. When we traveled to this temple(January 2018 last week), roads were further being repaired.

Random stop on the way to Bannur

We did not really eat anything here. It is not a very big town, so please get basic food if you are not accustomed to local Indian food.

Public toilet is available outside the temple. Just ask for direction in the nearby shops and they will guide you.

Temple timings are from morning 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. The temple is east facing, hence if you want some great pictures then please go as early as possible.

Belur and Halebidu —

Belur Temple complex

Belur temple or Chennakeshava temple was built in 1117 C.E . and took 103 years to finish. We drove towards Hassan and Chikamagalur. There are few boards too for directions so you will not get confused. We visited Belur temple complex first and then drove to  hoysaleshwara temple in Halebidu.

Halebidu was earlier known as “DwaraSamudra”. It was twice attacked by the Delhi Sulthan, and this place was left deserted. Once the centre of the Hoysala Kingdom, now came to known as Halebidu or  “Haalada Beedu’ which means as ‘destroyed place’.

On the way to Hassan, we came across this beautiful sunflower fields. This means, I had to get the customary Bollywood inspired – Yash Chopra style pic. Yash Chopra is one the renowned directors of Bollywood who revolutionized romance on screen. We are so crazy about Bollywood our love for it is known everywhere in the world.

Above temple visits were done on a different days. Car parking is available in both places and they will cost you approximately less than a 1$ or ~50Rs. It is difficult to get international cuisines here but you do get plenty of local food – Malnad style which is spicy. If you are not used to eating local food, be prepared to get your own food.

The Hoysala History:

Throughout the reign of the Hoysala’s in South India, they built many temples across Karnataka dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. They also built a few temples dedicated Jain religion as well. Their style of architecture was a mix of North India and South India styles. The temples would have many pillars usually shaped by lathe and carved by artists for years together. Here we have compiled some interesting facts about the Hoysala Architecture.

Interesting facts to know:

  1.  The pillars never constructed using any cement or any kind of binding element. They used interlocking system for the whole temple.
  2. Few pillars are having 3D carvings. These temples were constructed some 700 years ago without the help of any advanced technology.
  3. The temples at Belur and Halebidu are UNESCO sites now and UNESCO officials could not estimate the value of these temples.
  4. The Hoysala temples were always constructed in star shape as the old belief goes as ‘ A star would never get an eclipse’.
  5. All the temples built during Hoysala dynasty have scriptures written in Hale-Kannada(Old Kannada language) in the stones and they have preserved by the Archaeological department of India. The inscriptions are engraved on to a huge slab of stone with all the details of construction of the temples and also few other important details.

    Inscriptions in Hale Kannada in the temple premises.
  6. The ceiling of the temples will depict a different story and each square will have some information to pass on. In those days, when there were no technology for connecting people or educating them, the temples played a major role in educating people though sculptures and scriptures.
  7. The design patterns on the outside of the temple in Hoysala architecture will always depict elephants, horses, floral scrolls, Hoysala symbol( a mythical imaginary animal called Makara). It is imagined to have the mouth of Crocodile, trunk of an elephant, tail of a peacock, body of a boar.

    Splendid carving and sculptures all around the temple.
  8. Each animal carved is totally different from the other; for eg. there are around 1000 elephants carved and each elephant were carved to be in  1000 different positions. They are never in same position.
  9. Ramayana and Mahabharata stories is depicted throughout the outer walls in their carvings.  You will also find the sculptures of the deities in different forms and poses.
  10. The lathe turned pillars and 16 different types of ceiling are a characteristic of the Hoysala architecture.
  11. As the Mughals have attacked the Hoysala dynasty few times, they made sure to break the sculptures and tried to destroy our heritage.
    These border designs too have been destroyed


    If you observe the above idols are damaged during the attack.

Pillar Architecture:

In the three temples belonging to Hoysala Architecture, what we observed was few pillars were similar in design and some would remain unfinished. Below are some of the pillars present in Belur and Halebidu. Few pillars near the Sanctum sanctorum have 3D carvings on them and these literally make your jaws drop! There was no technology present at that time, they used lathe to carve some of the designs and the rest of it was done by artisans who dedicated themselves to this job for years together.

The temple at Somanathpura took nearly 68 years to complete. The artisans were extremely dedicated and their craftsmanship is visible through their sculptures. All the pillars are constructed using soapstone because they are soft initially and easier to carve. As time passes by eventually exposing it to air, wind and rain, they become harder and harder and get the color which is slightly darker than the inside of the temples.

Some of the pillars shown below are just few of the many pillars present there. We were awestruck with it’s beauty!

Interlocking system is used to attach the pillars to the ceilings and rest of the construction too. There is no other agent such as cement as we use in today’s times. Engineering at its best isn’t it?
The artisans in those times made use of Lathe to get the shining round shape for the pillars.



Decorated Pillars carved by the artisans and also with the help of lathe. Some pillars have 3D sculptures too.

Ceiling Decoration

The ceiling were also important as any other part of the temple in terms of carvings and design. Temple at Somanathapura is divided into 16 parts of the ceiling. They depicts the flowering sequence of the Lotus in each of the square. These temples were attacked many times and almost all the time they broke the idols and sculptures.

Ceiling decoration

As per Hindu culture and traditions, broken idols are never worshiped. This the reason why the temple at Somanthpura don’t have any active temple activities now. The main deities are damaged and hence this temple is more like a musuem.

The ceilings depict different stories in Belur and Halebidu temples. You can see the amazing work below however our pictures do not make justice to any of it.

Destroyed sculptures

Important tips to know —

  • In India, in all of the temples, we remove shoes before we enter. There will be shops who keep your shoes safely for hardly few cents.
  • There are no hard and fast rules for the dress code, but usually, it is always good to cover your knees and shoulder. Do remember that its a place of worship for few people. Be kind!
  • In case you have worn something you are doubtful for as per the dress code, you can  always cover your self up using a shawl. Keep a shawl/ stole handy during traveling India. It helps all the time.
  • In some of the temples(inside the temple where the main deity will be), there will be a ” No photography allowed” boards. Outside you can always click as my pics you want.
  • Outside the temples, there will be beggars who might pester you for donations, it is entirely your call if you would want to donate or not.
  • Worshipers will rotate around the main temple in clockwise direction, this is our way of worshiping God.

Other places to visit nearby Somanathapura

  • Talakaddu – While you admire the beauty of Somanathapura, you can immerse yourself in history at the famous Talakaddu. Just remember this place has like 5 temples and they are covered in sand.
  • Srirangapatna – Its a nearby town and again here you will get to see Tipu Sultan’s palace, a river bed and few temples.
  • Mysuru – If you have visited Srirangaptna then how can you miss Mysuru. You are always welcome in this amazing city.

Other places to visit nearby Belur-Halebidu Temples

  • Chikamagalur – Give a visit to the coffee estates in Chikamagalur. It’s one the scenic places of Karnataka.
  • Mulyangiri / Kemmangundi treks – There are many peaks too if you love to do some hiking.
  • Shravanabelagola – The huge Jain statue is here and also many temples of Jain religion. Every once in 12 years, they also do the ‘Mahamastaabhisheka’. Its a huge festival for the Jain followers but many other people also do come here to witness this.

What to take as souvenirs?

Outside the halebidu temples, you will find locals selling soapstone miniatures of the temples or famous spots of India.We got a cute little mortar and pestle for our kitchen for less than 2$ or 150Rs. Mortar and pestle is one the important kitchen devices in India. We mainly use it for crushing or grinding our spices.

Thank you for visiting! If you have any questions / suggestions / feedback you can comment below or send me an email. I would love to hear back from you. Good Bye until we meet again.

Have a nice day!

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