Hoysala temple pillars and their relation to design style, Karnataka

Hoysala territory, S. India. agranjosh.com

The rulers of the Hoysala Dynasty, effectively  governed the kingdom of what is now constituting  a big part of Karnataka, S. India  between 10 th to 14th centuries AD with  Halebidu as the capital in the later period (Previous capital was Belur). Apart from their good reign and administration that gave importance to the welfare of the people, military conquests,  the rulers  kept the region religiously and culturally rich, building artistically  fascinating temples that are known for their distinctive architecture, a repository of sculptural splendor. The three  well-known Temples the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura, Chennakesava Temple at Belur and Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu bear testimony to their innovative   and imaginative artistic expressions in stones that gave birth to a new type of temple architecture called  Hoysala architecture,  native to the state of  Karnataka. A UNESCO recognized site, the temples attract lots of tourists from India and abroad. The temples are heaven for architects and research scholars. Historians point out the rulers were more known for their patronage of arts and temple architecture than for military warfare and conquests. The temples were built in the midst of threats from enemies from other regions.
The Hoysala  architectural is unique and distinctive, almost on the model of   the Western Chalukya style It  has elements of  Dravidian style, native to Tamil Desam, but independent of its  original  temple design with distinguished traditional native style. Hoysala influence  peaked in the 13th century, when it dominated the Southern Deccan Plateau region.

Not confined to one style of design,  its innovative design features include  a careful blend of Bhumija style of Central India, the Nagara traditions of norther, eastern  and western India, and part of Dravida  style  favored by the Kalyani Chalukyas. The design  features of Hoysala are owe-inspiring,  meticulously chiseled stone carvings and sculptures on the temple exterior, star-shaped raised  platform with  detailed reliefs works,  showcasing  mythological episodes or  narratives, and lathe-turned pillars. 

Structurally Hoysala temple may appear similar but they differ from others on account of different types of embellishment - a complex profusion of sculptures  and striking motif designs, highlighting the workmanship of richly skilled stone carvers of past era. This  burst of sculptural profusion is not noticeable in other south Indian temples.  

Somnathpur   Kesava temple, KA Hoysala pillardreamstime.com

This post is focused mainly on the mandapas and the unique ornate pillars  of Hoysala  style. 

The following facts may be worth mentioning:

01.The pillars are not tall and rectangular  as in the Dravida style, but are ornate and rich in details particularly at the capital.

02. The pillars are not meant to bear heavy overlying loads and heavy ceiling.

03. The lathe-turned pillars appear to be well polished and made of metamorphic rock, especially soapstone which is soft unlike  granite or basalt. Intricate carvings are possible in this kind of soft  rock,  

04. The pillars made of soapstone supporting mandapas (halls) have limitations and are not good for long one halls which require wide span between pillars. The stone is a type of talc-schist metamorphic rock (also known as steatite or soaprock. It is  composed primarily of talc, with varying amount of micas, chlorite, amphiboles, carbonates.

Soapstone/ a variety of Talk. traditionaloven.com

05.  Soap stone rock is not fit for tall structures as the load-bearing capacity is not good enough to sustain weight. 

06. The space between pillars supporting the beams on which ceiling rests is deliberately narrow in Hoysala  style. 

07. One can hardly see large life-size  sculptures hewn into the Hoysala pillars and   if  they are found they may be slightly detached from the walls. 

Chennakesava temple Hoysala carved emblem, KA yatrikaone.com

As for design, the temple is built in  such a way that it allows devotees to access the inner sanctuary / sanctum or garbhagriha  where the main deity is enshrined. They  enter from outside to the center through ambulatory passageways /  Prathakshna path (circumambulation) and halls or chambers (mantapas). As the paths are close to the main deity, they are sacred and sanctified.  

Sanctum.  Hoysaleswara Templei.Halebidu.pinimg.com
rare square pillars Hazara Rama temple, Hampi reamstime.com

  Unlike temples of Tamil Nadu or elsewhere where  the shrines are independent located on the closeed or open prakara, in Hoysala temples they  are merged into a single unit  and  are easily approachable.

The entrance to the temple is through a plain covered porch supported by circular lathe turned shinning  pillars. Some are further carved with deep fluting and moulded with decorative motifs to enhance the look. . 

 Chennakesava temple, entrance (south) karnatakatravelogue.blogspot.com

Above image: South side entrance to the shrine with small shrines on both sides. Friezes on the walls galore: There are tiers of tiny  sculptures from bottom onward on the outer wall. The carvings include crreepers, ornamental frieze, dancers in small niches rows of elephants, lion faces, Also include are  female sculptures in between the pillars, and themes  from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.Image credit -Karnatakatravelogue.blogspot.com
Jagati, Belur temple, KA dreamstime.com

The  "jagati"(a meter tall raised platform from the ground, connecting with other parts) serves as a pradakshna path around the sanctum and  normally star shaped  design allows the walls to follow contours of the a sort of zig zag pattern; such a provision is not available around the temple. 

In temple with no Jagati,  the inner mandapa can be entered from the ground level though  steps  with elephant balustrades (parapets)on either side, Example: the Bucesvara temple in Korvangla, Hassan district, KA  

Bucesvara temple,KA.   Elephant balustrades, wikipedia

The open mandapa inside is accessed trough a flight of steps on the Jagati (example of this style is the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura

 In temples with two shrines (dvikuta), the vimanas you may find the the shrines  either next to each other or on opposite sides. If there are many shrines, each one is in the corner with a common hall.  Example: The Lakshmidevi temple at Doddagaddavalli

lathe-turned pillars Veeranarayana temple, Belavadi KA wikipedia.

The mantapa  is a part of the temple  where where people gather during prayer time  and it has  ornate overhead lintel called a makara torana (makara is an imaginary beast and torana is an overhead decoration)
Veera Narayana temple, Belavadi outer hall.collectingmoments.in

 Above image: Hoysala temple, Karnataka.  note the small lathe-turned  circular pillars set on the square platform.....

The open mandapa (characterized by shining lathe-turned pillars; (example Temple at Amruthapura)  is actually an outer portion  through which the inner small closed mandapa and the sanctum are accessed.  It is normally spacious with many bays created by pillars that support the ceiling.  Yet another feature is the designated seating areas  with  stone seats, parapet wall forming the back rest.   The staggered-square shape of the open mantapa is  a distinct Hoysala feature of the temples, not found in other temples of South India.

Chennakesava temple karnatakatravelogue.blogspot.com

staggered square plan mantapa, Kedareshvara Temple, Balligav, wikipedia

Above images: Hoysala temple of small size. Karnataka. Note the hanging eaves or stone shade all around the  structure and the tall ornamental Jagati rich in relief motif and  intricate carvings of exceptional beauty. Top image: Chennakesava temple, KA. The platform with pradakshina patha has  a flight of steps on east, north and south flanked by a small tower on either side. Note the rich y ornamented  eaveson the inner ceiling, pillars and the platform. ............................. 

Fluted pillar, Chenna Kesava temple, Belur

Chenna Kesava temple, Belur. beontheroad.com

Yet another striking feature of the halls is the smallest open mandapa with 13 bays and half pillars built on the parapet wall supporting the outer end of the roof with an overhanging shade. This design provides good lighting inside and prevents the rain water from entering the hall all around. To make the mandapa  attractive the ceiling has deeply curved ornate designs of different patterns. Decorations include floral designs and mythological themes.

Small Hoysala temple, overhanging eaves and Jagati. 4.bp.blogspot.com
Ornate ceiling, Belavadi temple, KA i.pinimg.com

 Small temples have closed mantapas with walls raising up to the ceiling. The closed mantapa with decorations  inside and out, may have four pillars dividing the hall into nine bays, each  having richly decorated ceiling. Commonly such closed mandapa is larger than the vestibule or foyer which may have a tower  called sukanasi - a sort of projection upon which rest the Hoysala Emblem normally found at the door way. Examples:Belur and Halebidu. The foyer connects all the shrines through the mandapa.

Chennakesava temple Hoysala carved emblem, KA yatrikaone.com

Tall Jagati supporting navaranga mantapa. Chenna Kesava temple,  nditales.com

Hoysaleswara Temple.Halebidu
Keshava Temple Somnathpur, KA

Hoysaleswara Templei.Halebidu i.pinimg.co

Above images: Hoysla temples of Karnataka, Lattice windows or jali on the outer wall to let the sunrays in and keep the interior comfortable by allowing air circulation from out side. Circular pillars are short, resting on square base. ....

In order to have air circulation and lighting jali or lattice window is  set on the outer walls at certain places and it is  a typical feature of Hoysala,  A closed mandapa is accessible through a porch supported by two small pillars on the parapet walls with decorative features. 

Madanika bracket at Belur en.wikipedia.org

The lathe-turned circular  pillars of outer and inner halls (mandapas) have four homogenous brackets upon which  rest sculptured  images of salabhanjikas and madanikas (sculpture of a woman, displaying stylish feminine features). This feature is a common one  in  Chalukya-Hoysala temples.   The ornamented pillars  are not homogenous and don't look alike unlike Dravidian temple pillars. In the case of western Chalukya the circular pillars at top are plain but the base is ornamental.