Over the centuries, art lovers from all over the world have marveled at the incredibly detailed carvings covering almost every inch of walls, pillars and even ceilings of Hindu temples. Probably one of the most prolific in this regard were the Hoyasalas of Karnataka, as is evident from the famous temples of Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur.
Rulers of Mysore in the 12th century A.D., the Hoyasalas were feudatories of the ancient Chalukyan Kingdom. They became independent around 1190 A.D. and their rule was marked by a flurry of building activity. Of the temples built during that period, those at Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur are the only surviving ones. While Belur and Halebid suffered from heavy invasions during the fourteenth century, the Somnathpur temple is in near-original condition.
The earliest Hindu temples evolved from the basic Buddhist stupa. These temples, although following that trend, have a distinct style of their own, known as the Hoysala style of architecture. They are usually round, square or rectangular structures with an ornamental entrance and a pillared hall leading to the main shrine. At the top, there is a tower. There is also a passageway to go around the shrine.
The Hoysala-style temple is designed as a mini cosmos. The scenes carved on the surface walls include gods, goddesses, dancing girls, musicians, gurus and all kinds of animals including elephants, lions, cows and monkeys. Some temples incorporate erotic sculptures too.
At the Somnathpur temple, the outer walls are decorated with a series of star-shaped folds. The entire surface is covered with carved plaques of stone. The walls above the plinth are also carved with exquisite figures of gods and goddesses, taken from the Hindu puranas, and meticulously arranged in vertical panels.
The Keshava temple at Somnathpur is said to have been built by a high ranking officer who served under the Hoysala kings in 12th century A.D. The most characteristic feature of this temple is its 16 different ceilings, each depicting a different stage of a blooming plantain. Small and large pieces of finely chiseled stone chips are set in complicated patterns, deftly arranged together. This temple, though more beautiful than those at Belur and Halebid, attracts few Indian tourists, but plenty of foreign visitors, notably the Germans and French.
The region is also known for its beautiful rock formations.
The nearest airport is Mysore - 60 km.
Taxis and buses are available from Mysore (60 km away). It is a one hour drive.
Accomodation is no problem. Rooms are available close to the monuments. A range of hotels is available at Mysore.