10 Notables of Chennakeshava temple at Somanathapura

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!

Countryside bliss to drive along

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.

Garden surrounding the temple
The temple entrance – Maintained by Archeological department of India

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.

The Chennakeshava temple of Smonathapura
Side view of the temple – Star shaped temple plan and the raised platform
Corridor pillar and the symmetry
The courtyard of the temple

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.

Janardhana – protector of people
Chennakeshava – the handsome Vishnu
Venugopala – Krishna playing flute around cows

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.

Banan bud
Blooming lotus – one of the stage
Ceiling of sabha mantapa

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.

The view of Garbhagriha
Lentil with Lakshmi and Yoganarayana
Pillars that support

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.

Combat forces – identical elephants, horses, nature scroll, marching soldiers

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.

Exterior wall carvings
With mythological carvings
Battlefield scenes – Lion and elephant
Kalinga mardhana Krishna

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.

View of garbagrihas
Look how artistic they are !
Mythological idols adorn the walls

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.

Dancing Ganesha
Krishna playing flute
Vishnu seated on Adishesha

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.

The towers – Complex forms of art
The mantapa towers with knotted endings

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.

Inscription dated to 13th century
With this, I completed the 30mins quick tour of the temple and the authorities were already clearing the tourists. I was happy that noticed many details. I wish I had more time to dive deep into the Hoysala age and experience the glorious time. I would come back here again to explore the story each carving and I consoled myself. Started back to ride to Bangalore, with some breaks to witness awesome sunsets and for kadak chais 🙂
Colorful sunsets on the way
The camera that survived 🙂

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!

Me capturing the moments 🙂


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Visiting tips

  • 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.

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  1. Very pleased to see someone even in 21st century era appreciating our ancient history, culture and heritage and nicely put all at one place. 🙂

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