With amazing views of Shivanasamudra, I was already thrilled with this weekend drive 🙂 The sun was high and my energy to explore more was high too! It was 3:30 pm when I was munching lunch at Mayura hotel. Though it was time for us to get back riding to Bangalore, I know my mind was crazy! Talakad (30km, 40mins) and Somanathapura (43km, 1hour) are nearby places to explore. The farther the ride, the more awesome it is! The navigation was on to Somanathapura! An hour of countryside bliss ride was worth it!
Brief on Somanathapura
Somanathapura is a small village on the banks of river Cauvery. The village is renowned for its Chennakeshava temple, one of the masterpieces of Hoysala architecture. One would presume Somanatha (which is a name of Lord Shiva) would be the main deity here, however, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. And the village is named after Somanatha, a subordinate ruler of Hoysalas granted the land to build temples around.
It was almost 5 pm when we reached the temple, so I just had 30mins to look around the vast heritage site. Absolutely, It’s a short duration for an architecture buff like me, so I took a quick tour and the notable ones are as below.
1. Symbols of Hoysala architecture at Somanathapura
My first introduction to Hoysala architecture is at Belur Chennakeshava temple. Hoysalas are very known for their stellate (star) shaped temple plan. The main temple in the centre is on a high star-shaped platform with three symmetrical sanctums (garbha-griha). All Hoysala temples are built on the raised platform called jagati to symbolise worldly platform and serves as the circumambulation passage. The temple is enclosed in a courtyard with a pillared corridor of small shrines.
2. Chief deities of Somanathapura – forms of Krishna
The temple houses three sanctums dedicated to Chennakesava (handsome Krishna), Janardhana (protector of people) and Venugopala (Krishna playing the flute around cows). All three shrines are intricately carved with miniature details and are a visual treat. Though the temple exhibit iconic Vaishnavism but the deities are no longer worshipped as they are damaged by the foreign invasions.
3. Ceilings of Somanathapura temple
The temple ceilings are interesting in Somanathapura. Around 16 complex unique carvings on ceilings exhibit the excellence of craftsmanship. The carvings comprised as lotus petals blooming stages, banana bud, stepped pond and endless knots. The symmetry and the minute details carved around centuries ago with such precision surprised me.
4. Lintels & Pillars of Somanathapura temple
Right above various entrances of the temple is impressive ornate lentils, which represented the forms of Vishnu. The below lintel shows a seated Lakshmi and the canopy shows a Yoganarayana doing yoga. The mantapa hall is supported by lathe turned pillars. The corner pillars have common life themes like the disc, bell, pot etc.
5. The combat forces as the borders of Somanathapura temple
The lower portion of the walls had many rows of intricate carvings of combat forces such as elephants, horses, camels, lions, soldiers marching in the clockwise direction. An interesting fact about these carvings is that no two identicals can be found here which means each of them is unique. I noticed each of them had their own natural expression and a story of their own. Above the horses, the bands is a scroll of nature which shows flowers, fruits, peacocks and wildlife.
6. Mantapa wall carvings of Somanathapura temple
Above the combat forces is the mythology band. Here I noticed the carvings related to dancers, musicians, and various scenes depicting the stories from Indian mythology. If we closely notice, we can find the legends and spiritual stories related to Ramayana, Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata.
7. Garbagriha exteriors of Somanathapura temple
Around the 3 grabagriha towers, we can notice various sculptures which are intricate. The angle of view is a feast to eyes and forms of symmetrical angular projections with various sculptures related to the Hindu gods in various avatars.
8. Mythological shrines of Somanathapura temple
There are about 90 sculptures showing mostly Vishnu with Lakshmi, as well as Shakti, Shiva, Brahma, Saraswati, Indra, Indrani, Kama, Rati, and others. Most of these are also partially defaced such as broken noses, chopped limbs, chopped out stone jewellery and show other forms of damage. Some are therefore difficult to identify.
9. Vimana / Towers of Somanathapura temple
The large wall images on the three identical tower superstructures each have an arch (torana) to frame the image. The western side has simple flat or geometric arches, while the northern and southern sides have intricately carved nature themes, such as hanging fruits, flowers and flower-laden creepers. The tower itself combines intricate artwork, in a plan that alternates rotating squares with star-shaped 16 petalled lotuses. As the tower rises, interim shikaras are capped with kalashas.
10. Inscription of Somanathapura temple
Right to the entrance, an inscription dated to 1497 CE found which is scripted in Halagannada (old Kannada). The inscriptions confirm that the temple was operational about the mid 13th century. It also describes the golden rule of Hoysalas and their achievements.
The Last Note
One of the finest architecture of Hoysalas can be found at Somanathapura (others are at Belur & Halebidu). They speak of history, the culture, the people and eras of prominent rulers. These intricate sculptures surprise me about how skilled our sculptors were in the 13th century. Indulge yourself and listen to the stories of these age-old art forms. It’s a matter of pride that we are able to able to witness them just a few km from where we live. Somanathapura must be definitely on your bucket list to time travel to centuries ago, just 150kms from the city!
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Read other travelogues nearby Bengaluru:
- Siddara betta – Trekking the Hill of Saints
- Makalidurga trek – Hiking the hill fort
- Vani Vilasa Sagara – Beautiful reservoir and an Engineering marvel
- SRS hills / Sri Revanna Siddeshwara hills – Ride to the Holy Hills
- Shivanasamudra in monsoon
- Cost of the trip – Rs.500 to 1000 per head. It was a bike ride, full tank petrol and food were the only major costs.
- How to reach Somanathapura – Marking 150kms from the Bangalore and 40kms from Mysore, the best way is to drive own vehicle or take the buses.
- Timings of Somanathapura – 8:30 am to 5:30 pm
- Entry fees to Somanathapura – Rs.25 for Indians and Rs. 300 for foreigners entry fees.
- Best time to visit Somanathapura – Any time of the year. Choose Monsoons, when combined with Shivanasamudra. From mid-June to September just drive here.
- Where to stay – Mysore, Mandya or Bangalore.
- Where to eat – Few stalls selling snacks and fruits can be found at the falls. Get your own food!
- Nearby places – Shivanasamudra, Talakadu, Ranganathittu, Srirangapattana etc.
- Guides are available for your assistance to know more about the Hoysala architecture. Please opt for guides to understand the essence of the architecture.