Chennakesava temple, Somanathapura, Karnataka marks stone carvings of amazing intricacy

Chennakesava temple at Somanathpura

Chennakesava temple at Somanathpura, KA  outer covered path

The rulers of the Hoysala empire, centuries ago,  made vast contribution to Hinduism and Jainism and records point out they built more than 1500 Hindu and Jain temples in their kingdom that was part of present Karnataka state.  The famous general not only built Vishnu temples, but also Shiva temples. Besides, Somanatha additionally built the Purahara, Narasimhesvara, Murahara, Lakshminarasimha and Yoganarayana temples in Hoysala style in the region. Unfortunately, many of them  except Lakshminarasimha temple  were razed to the ground as a result of battles between the Hindu kingdom and the  Sultanates. Chennakesava  temple built by Gen. Somanatha survived the onslaught, but with damages and it is one of the impressive artistic structure built by him. 
Outer wall carving,Chennakesava temple,

On  the banks of River Cauvery  at Somanathapura, Karnataka, India. lies a beautiful and architecturally rich temple known as   Chennakeshava Temple (Kessava temple) dedicated to God Vishnu. Built in 1258 CE by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala King Narasimha III, the ornate temple is a fine example of   Hoysala architecture. and its rich style. It is  about 38 km from Mysuru city. Sri Somanatha also built the town Somanathapura.

A pillared court yard encloses the temple which has three  symmetrical sanctums, the main temple is on a star-shaped raised platform. What is special about the garbagrihas is the three  are  built in square matrix (89' x 89') aligned along the east–west and north–south axes and they share a common hall (Sabha mandapa) wit many ornate pillar that support  the ceiling. Here, soapstone is widely used and the carvings are done with excellent finish. The main hall opens to each sanctum through a small square shaped puja mandapa.  All of them are dedicated to the three forms of  God Sri Krishna (Vishnu) Keshava (west).  Janardhana (north) and Venugopala (south). The Kesava idol is missing. The attractive features are the ornate ceilings, walls and pillars displaying nicely carved images from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata purana. Outside the walled courtyard stands a stone pillar that once had a Garuda on it.It is missing now. 

pillared mandapa, Chennakesava temple, Karnataka.

Above image. nicely carved and polished pillars and  ceiling of the mandapa. Chennakesava temple, Karnataka  ..............

The main temple is built on a jagati (raised platform , symbolic of worldly platform. It is about 3 feet high, star-shaped with an eastern entrance guarded by sentinels - dvarapala which are damaged. You have to climb the steps to reach the platform. The pillared courtyard /corridor on all sides have selected number of single shrines and linked double shrines and in total the Kesava temple consists of 58 small 1x1 small shrines, 4 small 2x1 linked-double shrines, 2 near entrance,of the main central temple. The raised jagati platform has a circular covered broad prathakshana path and on the wall there are small  stone carved images depicting scenes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana.and Bhagavata Purana, all in a sequential manner. The outer wall of the main temple above the prathakshana platform  has parallel horizontal bands of artwork at different levels depicting elephants, horses with armed riders and interestingly camels in action in a war. They suggest the Hoysala  rulers also used camels in the battle. 

deeply carved ceiling, Chennakesava temple, Karnataka

carved ceiling, Chennakesava temple, Karnataka

Besides, the walls in the hall (sabha) and girbagrihas  also have rows of small carved images of various gods and goddesses, aspects of Vishnu avatars, devas of shakti tradition. The relief works show common life of the people, festivities, playful couples, various musical instruments of the 13th century. The above miniature relief works on stones require lots of patience and such time-consuming, superb job must have been done by  highly skilled talented artisans. The Navaranga roof  consists of 16 squares, nine in the sabha mandapa and the remaining seven in the extension near the eastern entrance. The  fine decorations in all the three sanctums carry religious themes and are beautifully executed. Hoysala architecture marks  unparalleled intricacy and workmanship that will make us awe-stuck. 

Chennakesava temple, Somanathpura,

Above image: .The various bands on the lower part of the outer wall at the main Kesava Temple. A: the platform; B: marching elephants; C: marching horsemen; D: nature scroll; E: friezes of Hindu texts............

The temple seems to have been built during the hey day of the  Hoysala empire. The temple was highly damaged most obviously due to frequent wars and in the 16th century.  Two inscriptions, dated  1497 CE and 1550 CE  confirm the damages and repairs  done to the temple. The Vijyanagara rulers repaired the temple. Later, the repaired portions were damaged and in the 20th century rulers of Mysore during the colonial rule rectified them.,_Somanathapura