Growth of art and architecture: Hoyasalas

Growth of art and architecture: Hoyasalas

  • The Hoysala era (1026 CE – 1343 CE) was marked by illustrious achievements in art and architecture.

Temple architecture:

  • A later, major phase of temple architecture in the Deccan is associated with the Hoysala dynasty which ruled over southern Karnataka from its capital at Dwarasamudra (modern Halebid).
  • It was continuation of several patterns of temple architecture which developed under the Chalukyas of Kalyani.
    • The Karnata Dravidian tradition developed in the 7th century under the patronage of Badami Chalukya got matured under Western Chalukya (Kalyani Chalukya) in the 11th century.
    • The Chalukya style got perfection as an independent style under Hoysala rule in the 13th century.
  • Remains of temples of this period are found at Halebid, Belur, and Somnathpur.


  • Shrines:
    • The Hoysala temples generally bears one or more shrines. The temples are classified as
      • ekakuta (one shrine),
      • dvikuta (two shrines),
      • Trikuta (3 garbhagrihas)  etc.
    • The shrine of the Hoysala temples are generally seen in stellate shaped though sometimes staggered square plan is visible.
  • Garbha griha:
    • A cuboid cell, the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) houses a centrally placed murti (enshrined icon) on a pitha (pedestal).
  • Shikhara:
    • The shikhara (superstructure), rises over the garbha griha and together with the sanctum they form the vimana (or mulaprasada) of a temple.
    • They are not very high.
    • Some represents hybrid of Nagara and Dravida style and some pyramidal.
  • Amalaka:
    • A ribbed stone, amalaka, is placed atop the shikhara with a kalash at its finial.
  • Antarala:
    • An intermediate antarala (vestibule) joins the garbha griha to an expansive pillared mandapa (porch) in front, chiefly facing east (or north).
  • Mandap:
    • Hoysala temples have features of both open (outer mantapa) and closed mantapa (innner mantapa).
    • The ceilings of the mantapa are highly ornate bearing mythological figures and floral design
  • Pillars:
    • The mantapas of Hoysala temples have circular pillars. Each pillar bear four brackets in the top with sculpted figures.
  • Gopuram:
    • The temple may be approached via entrances with gigantic gopurams (ornate entrance towers) towering over each doorway.
  • Minor shrines:
    • In the prakaram (temple courtyard) several minor shrines and outbuildings often abound.
  • Vimanas:
    • The vimanas are either stellate, semi–stellate or orthogonal in plan.
    • Vimana in Hoysala temples are plain inside while outside is profusely elaborated.
  • Unique feature is horizontality which is visible in lines mouldings etc.
  • Large scale use of moulding is a unique feature which are visible in walls and pillars.
    • Base of pillars and the capital of pillars both are characterised by beautiful mouldings.
    • 800px-Wall_sculptures_and_molding_frieze_in_relief_in_the_Chennakeshava_temple_at_Somanathapura
      Outer wall panel with six horizontal mouldings at Somanathapura
  • The intricately carved banded plinths, a distinguishing characteristic of the Hoysala temples, comprise a series of horizontal courses that run as rectangular strips with narrow recesses between them.
  • The temples themselves are sometimes built on a raised platform or jagati (which is used for the purpose of pradakshinapatha (circumambulation)) leaving a broad flat surface all around the temple. 
  • These are noted for their extremely fine, delicate, and detailed carvings executed on smooth chlorite schist on walls and ceilings.
  • An abundance of figure sculpture covers almost all the Hoysala temples.
    • Soapstone, which allows fine detailing and clarity, also helped in this predilection.
      • This is a return to a more extensive iconographic representation of episodes from popular epics compared to later Western Chalukyan architecture.
      • Use of the special kind of the stone is unique feature of Hoyasala temple architecture.
        • It’s greenish or blackish chloritic schist popularly called the cleaning soap-stone.
        • It is a pleasant grained stone, became effortlessly quarried and normal into sculptures however with the exposure to solar it have become very hard.
        • This stone had in lots throughout southern districts of Karnataka and for this reason the Hoysalas had no problem in finding sufficient stone of this kind for their temples.
        • Very hardly ever their temples are constructed of granite additionally. For example the Hoysala temples at Tonnur are built of granite.
        • But, the Hoysala temples constructed in the Tamilnadu vicinity used granite.
          • Possibly the Hoysalas hired local craftsmen and artists within the Tamil region who were gifted in the carving of granite due to the Chola segment of temple building hobby.
          • Secondly the granite became available in masses in that vicinity.
    • The pictures from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas are very vigorously decorated in the walls of the Hoysala temples. At the entrance, various scenes are depicted from the Hindu mythology in sequential manner in clockwise direction.
    • Besides mythical presentation, the walls of Hoysala temples are decorated with live panels of musicians, dancers, animals etc.
  • Salabhanjika:
    • It is a mythical women figure with stylized feminine characters who stands near a tree or grasping a branch of a tree.
    • It is the peculiar feature of Hoysala sculpture whose origin trace back its origin from the Buddhist sculpture.
    • Sometimes, they are portrayed engaging in artistic activities like music, dance etc.
    • These sculpted figures are seen in each four bracket that places in the top of pillars of Hoysala temples. Besides this, each side of the entrance is heavily sculpted with figures of salabhanjika.
  • Jalandhras:
    • Another important salient function of the Hoysala temples is having pierced stone monitors or home windows, also called jalandhras. Such home windows are seen in the early Chalukyan temple at Ladkhan in Aihole.
    • The principle goal of those home windows is to allow enough air and light into the indoors of the temple.
    • As the Hoysala sculptors had an ingenuity to make the whole lot ornamental, they made even the jalandhras ornamental and sculptural in nature.
  • 800px-Wall_Decoration_at_Kesava_Temple_in_Somanathapura_retouched
    Pierced stone window screens at Somanathapura
  • In some temples of Hoysala dynasty erotic sculptures are seen swayed by sakta tradition prevailing that time.
Hoysala temple at Somanathapura

Hoysaleshvara temple:

  • The most imposing shrine at Halebid is the 12th century Hoysaleshvara temple.
  • It was principally constructed under the patronage of wealthy local merchants and aristocrats
  • This consists of two separate shrines (dvikuta) with a cruciform plan, resting on cruciform-shaped (star shaped) plinths.
    • The two shrines are almost identical to each other and are joined together with a covered passage.
    • Built of grey soap-stone, best suited for fine carving, each of the shrines has star shaped vimanas with projections on three sides.
      • 471px-Roofarchitecture_som
        Star shaped Vimana at Somanathapura
    • The inner arms connect the two shrines.
  • There are four entrances to the twin temple with miniature vimanas flanking them on either side. Two adjunct shrines, one for Nandi (bull) and another for Surya (sun) are also built on the same jagati.
  • Both of shrines are preceded by a Nandi pavilion, containing profusely ornamented but sympathetically and realistically carved sculptures of Nandi bulls.
  • The shikharas of the two temples are missing.
  • The mandapa ceilings and the pillars in the hall are intricately carved.
    • The entire base is covered with running lengths of carved friezes of tigers, elephants, horses, birds and celestial beings-each frieze more beautiful than the other.
    • The ceilings, interior and exterior walls of the temple have beautiful sculptures carved on them.
    • The exquisite friezes on temple walls eloquently render stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana.

hoyasaleshwara temple


Chenna Keshava temple at Belur:

  • The Keshava temple at Belur consists of a complex of shrines in a large courtyard.
    • This is an ekakuta, i.e., a temple with one shrine.
  • The main shrine was built in the early 12th century by Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala Dynasty to commemorate a victory won over the Cholas at Talkad.
  • It is dedicated to the deity Chenna Kesava.
    • Inside the sanctum sanctorum is 2 meter high idol of Chenna Kesava.
  • The temple stands in a spacious courtyard surrounded by a covered passage and compound with a gopura entrance.
    • Later, other small temples were built in the courtyard around the main temple.
  • The whole complex stands on a wide, raised star-shaped terrace with space enough for circumambulation.
    • The star-shaped base has elephants in different poses adorning it.
    • The pillared mandapa is cruciform in plan and rests on a plinth of the same shape.
  •  It has an east–west orientation set on a jagati.
  • The intricate carvings on the outer and inner walls, pillars, screens, and bracket figures are remarkable for their finesse.
    • The basement of the vimana is profusely carved with narrative friezes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavat Purana.
    • The walls are covered with sculptures of miniature shrines, animated female figures and animals.
    • The main entrances have a flight of steps from the courtyard and are flanked by two small vimanas. The ceiling and the pillars inside are elegantly carved.
    • The superstructure on the main vimana is lost.
  • The shikhara of the shrine is no longer extant.


Keshava temple at Somnathpur:

  • The 13th century Keshava temple at Somnathpur represents the high point of temple architecture and sculpture of the Hoysala period.
  • The temple’s plan is more complex than that of earlier ones.
  • It is a triple shrine, with the three shrines consisting of star-shaped projections on three sides, the shape of the plinth following the intricate outline of the shrine.
  • The shikhara is of moderate height, and stands stylistically midway between the Nagara and Dravida temple towers.
  • The walls and ceilings of the temple are richly carved in the manner of other Hoysala temples, including, however, a number of erotic themes.
  • The three images housed in the three shrines are
    • Keshava (the main image),
    • Krishna as Venugopala (playing the flute), and
    • Janardhana Vishnu.


Kedareshwara temple of Halebidu

  • This Shaiva trikuta (temple with three shrines) temple is located near Hoysaleshwara. It was built under the patronage of King Veer Ballala II and Queen Ketala Devi.
  • Designed following a stellate plan, the central shrine is connected to the other two laterally positioned shrines by a common mandapa.
  • The sculptural details illustrate beautifully executed Bhairava, Vishnu as Bharadwaj and Kaliyadamana among others.


Kalyani Tank, Hulikere

  • In the suburb of Halebidu, present day Hulikere, this splendidly decorated tank was built for a Shaiva temple during the reign of emperor Narasimha I (1152 CE – 1173 CE).
  • Ironically, no trace of the temple could be found today, but this tank still survives. This stepped pond is adorned with 27 miniature shrines, some even carrying a superstructure atop.


Jain Temples in Bastihalli

  • Further south from Kedareshwara, in Bastihalli, lies a group of three Jain temples.
  • These temples are dedicated to Jain tirthankars Adinath, Parsvanath and Shantinatha.
  • Each temple enshrines an image of the respective tirthankar in their garbha griha.
  • Parsvanath Basti was built in 1133 CE by King Vishnuvardhan to celebrate the birth of his son, Narasimha I.
    • Aligned along the north-south axis, all of these structures faithfully follow the general architectural pattern of the Hoysalas.
    • bastihalli
  • Of these, the Adinath Basti, built in the late 12th century CE, is the smallest in size.
    • It carries a beautifully decorated image of Saraswati inside its vestibule.


  • Hoysala artists have won fame for their sculptural detail, whether in the depiction of the Hindu epics, Yali (mythical creature), deities, Kirthimukha (Gargoyle), eroticism or aspects of daily life.
  • Their medium, the soft soapstone, enabled a virtuoso carving style.
  • Their workmanship shows an attention paid to precise detail. Every aspect down to a fingernail or toenail has been created perfectly.
  • Salabhanjika is a common form of Hoysala sculpture.
    • 396px-Belur_madanika (1)
      Shilabaalika on pillar bracket in Chennakeshava Temple at Belur
  • Kirthimukhas (demon faces) adorn the towers of vimana in some temples.
  • Sometimes the artists left behind their signature on the sculpture they created.
  • The sthamba buttalikas refer to pillar images that show traces of Chola art in the Chalukyan touches.
    • Some of the artists working for the Hoysalas may have been from Chola country, a result of the expansion of the empire into Tamil speaking regions of Southern India.
    • The image of mohini on one of the pillars in the mantapa (closed hall) of the Chennakeshava temple represents a fine example of Chola art.
    • 396px-Belur_sthambha-buttalika
      Sthamba buttalika, Chola influence in Hoysala art at Belur
  • Wall panels present general life themes such as the act of reining horses, the type of stirrup used, the depiction of dancers, musicians, instrumentalists, rows of animals such as lions and elephants.
  • The Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu presents perhaps the best depiction the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in temple art.
  • The Hoysala artist handled erotica with discretion.
    • They avoided exhibitionism, carving erotic themes into recesses and niches, generally miniature in form making them inconspicuous.
    • Those erotic representations associate with the Shakta practice.
  • The temple doorway displays heavily engraved ornamentation called Makaratorana (makara or imaginary beast) and each side of the doorway exhibits sculptured Salabanjika (maidens).
  • Apart from those sculptures, entire sequences from the Hindu epics (commonly the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) have been sculptured in a clockwise direction starting at the main entrance.
  • Depictions from mythology commonly appear such as
    • the epic hero Arjuna shooting fish,
    • the elephant-headed God Ganesha,
    • the Sun God Surya,
    • the weather and war god Indra, and
    • Brahma with Sarasvati.
  • Also Durga frequently appear in the temples, with several arms holding weapons, in the act of killing a water buffalo (a demon in a buffalo’s form) and Harihara (a fusion Shiva and Vishnu) holding a conch, wheel and trident.


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