[Continued from Part II here]
The Hoysala empire ruled most of Karnataka and parts of present day Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh during a reign which stretched from the late 10th century to the mid 14th century. Wikipedia narrates the origin of the name Hoysala thus:
“Kannada folklore tells a tale of a young man Sala, who saved his Jain guru Sudatta by striking dead a Lion he encountered near the temple of the Goddess Vasantika at Sosevur. The word “strike” literally translates to “hoy” in Hale Kannada (Old Kannada), hence the name “Hoy-sala”. This legend first appeared in the Belur inscription of Vishnuvardhana (1117), but owing to several inconsistencies in the Sala story it remains in the realm of folklore.”
The Hoysala rulers patronized all forms of art and architecture so much so that historical accounts of temples built during their reign run in to the thousands. Unfortunately, only about a 100 or so remain presently, many having given way to destructive raids carried about by invaders under the Sultanate at Delhi. Of the few that remain, the Chennakesava (meaning handsome-Kesava, Kesava is another name for Lord Vishnu) temples at Belur and Somanathapura, the Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu are outstanding examples of the Hoysala style of architecture. This particular style is characterized by an ornate exterior that depicts mythological tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in intricate detail in addition to animals, birds and other mythological figures in various poses. Such level of intricacy is possible due to the use of a material called as Soapstone, these are the same stones that are now used as whiskey stones due to their ability to keep the drink chilled for a longer duration, without any dilution as in the case of ice cubes.
The ride from Chikmagalur to Hassan took almost 2 hours that day and with each passing hour, the stifling heat grew even more uncomfortable inside the Qualis. By the time our driver parked the Qualis under the shade of the compound wall of the Chennakesava temple in the heart of Belur, we were all thirsting for a glass of water. Thankfully, we had some with us but when we stepped outside to cross the road to the temple (you have to leave your footwear outside the temple gates – we chose to leave it in the vehicle), we almost jumped. The culprit was the tarred road that was baking in the mid morning sun.
We didn’t engage a guide for the tour of the temple complex and in my opinion, a guide is highly recommended. However, if you are armed with a book or a podcast, nothing beats exploring the temples and the exquisite carvings on your own.
We were at the mercy of the sun god by this time and were grateful to find a coconut vendor outside the compound. After dancing for a while on the heated road, a quick gulp of some sweet coconut water (the first of many to come that day) we were on our way to the next destination – Halebidu.
We reached the Hoysaleshwara temple compound by around 12.30 pm which is a damned time to walk barefeet on the stone tiles laid out to reach the temple. Thankfully, there was a lawn which we used as an alternate pathway to the temple. The Hoysaleshwara temple – dedicated to the Lord Shiva, although emanating from the same school of architecture as the Chennakesava temple at Belur, seemed to bear even more intricate carvings on its exterior.
We couldn’t have enough of the Hoysaleshwara temple but it was growing late in the afternoon and we still had to have lunch and visit Shravanabelagola before the evening. Parched throats led to some hunting outside the compound, where a lot of vendors were selling their wares. And then we laid our eyes upon it – the biggest coconuts we’d ever seen. For a measly sum of 15 rupees only. God given boon I thought at first and immediately ordered one. There was a kid along with his dad at the same cart and hearty laughter ensued when the little guy could not finish off even half the water inside his coconut.
Bodies cooled and minds entranced, we made our way to the waiting driver and after stopping for an unsatisfying lunch at a local hotel in Hassan, we set off towards our final destination for the trip – the Jain pilgrim town of Shravanabelagola.
[Continued in Part IV here]