The Hoysala temple trail

Ever since the pandemic restricted movement in our lives in early 2020, we have been desperately seeking options to unwind in the usual way that we knew: be with nature and the wild or spend time with heritage structures, soaking in the romance of historical reminiscences. This was not easy, considering that the world around us and our own lives had been so thoroughly disrupted. The attempts at distracting ourselves with exotic cooking, stints of self learning, binge watching and reading (all these through the various stages of lock-downs) could not take away the pain and the gloom associated with lives cut short, loss of livelihood of many, prospects of a stalled economy, uncertainties about almost everything and the fear of the future. The pressure on the mind has been enormous (and without any inkling of what awaited us in 2021).

It was then that we started to find means of freeing up our minds, take long drives out of the city, in any direction, quite often without a plan, and come across some breathtaking sights that for some reason we never imagined had existed. This set us thinking and we started consciously looking out for places of interest in the vicinity of Bangalore and were astounded by what we learnt. The sheer number of visual marvels and the trail of remnants of time that dot this land is mind boggling. We are still in the process of discovering more of these places for ourselves, reading through accounts of other day travelers, and every such trip reinforcing the natural and historical splendour that this geography has to offer.

Have a look at our experience with some the beautiful monuments and locales around Bangalore. Most of these places are in the range of 100-250 km from the capital city, as you drive out on the national and state highways. I begin with what we call our Hoysala temple trail, a treasure trove of architectural gems in the nearby districts of Tumkur, Hassan, Mandya and Mysore.

The Hoysala temple architecture is most popularly represented by the three famous monuments located in Belur, Halebeedu and Somnathpur. However, many smaller temples of that era, some unfinished and some less celebrated, are scattered across south central Karnataka.

The series of temple images that follow are from different locations in Hassan, Mandya and Tumkur districts, all reachable by road from Bangalore and easily covered in day trips. You could combine a few locations in a single trip, but this belt is a pleasure to drive around, so one would not mind going back to these places over many weekends.

Hulikere and Halebeedu

Step-wells had been an integral part of community living in ancient India and their remnants are seen in different parts of the country and span across different eras. This particular step-well (referred to as “Pushkarani” ) in Hulikere is tucked away in the corner of a small  village in Hassan district.  Hulikere is the name of the large lake bordering the village and the much celebrated Hoysaleshwara temple of Halebeedu.

In probably less than a kilometer from the great Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebeedu, a Jain Basadi and the Kedareshwara temple remain remarkably hidden from the tourist’s gaze. Both are protected monuments and splendidly sculptured. One does come across many Jain monuments in the region amidst the Hoysala temples, all built around the same period. The influence one has over the other is often evident in the architecture and sculptures that adorn them.

Most temples of the Hoysala era are characterized by a polygonal or stellate plinth that extend beyond the core structure. The more famous ones have this, but many that we came across had been built on rectangular plinths. The influence of the preceding Chalukya and the succeeding Vijayanagara reigns is evident in the variations in the sculptures and the architecture. Another architectural characteristic of Hoyasala temples, particularly the bigger ones are the lathed pillars. These are pillars with with profiled circular cross-sections that are very noticeable and a testimony to the capabilities of the architects and designers of that era.

Off the beaten track

Marvels unfolded as we took to the lesser known temple trails around Hassan. Most of these places are easily located in Google Maps, within 20-40 kms from Hassan, occasionally requiring you to make a judgement about the right turn or the correctness in the way a name is spelled. Though the places mentioned here are not very difficult to locate, occasional re-routing will make your discoveries more interesting.

Some additional info on the Hoysala architecture: based on the number of shrines, the Hoysala temples are ekakuta, dvikuta, trikuta, chatushkuta and panchakuta. The last two are rare and the chatushkuta Lakshmi Devi temple in Doddagaddavalli enchants with its shrines dedicated to Kali, Lakshmi, Vishnu and Shiva (Boothanatha linga).

Many of these temples are located well inside present day villages or towns and are often obscure. While some do get impacted by the proximity to human settlement, most are well taken care of by the local inhabitants. Often the caretaker of the temple structure or its priest is a close neighbour.

The vimana or the part of the temple housing the shrine, would have a tower on top of it in most cases. Sometimes the tower on the vimana would be missing, often as a result of destruction, cave-ins or sometimes left unfinished. The missing towers on some shrines of multi-shrine temples may give the feeling of a lack of symmetry when looking from far.  A closer inspection makes the reason clear.

As you pick the names of the locations from the captions, look them up in Google Maps for the directions. For those in East or North Bangalore, the drive will be down Tumkur road followed by a turn to the left at Neelamangala on to the Bangalore-Mangalore Highway (NH75). Do not shy away from taking day trips to these locations from Bangalore.  The drives are worth taking on distances of 200 km or more one way, the roads excellent and plenty of scenic locales to stop by and enjoy the food and beverages that you can bring along. There are number of eateries along NH75 to stop by and pick some food up from, in case you want to avoid closed spaces for your snacks and meal breaks.

Important – while it is a great idea to enjoy your food in the open in the middle of nature, please do not leave any waste, plastic or paper behind. It upset me no end that some of the beautiful locations we stopped by were strewn with plastic bottles, paper plates and beer cans. Please remember to carry your trash bag to bring back all the food, paper and plastic wastes that you would have generated.

3 thoughts on “The Hoysala temple trail

  1. Will look forward to your trysts in the jungles. By the way are guides available in the temples mentioned. How does the term pushkarini arise?

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    1. Many of these temples are practically unmanned, with probably a lone guard cum caretaker. If it is a live temple, as in with a regularly worshipped deity, you will find someone to show you around, though cannot be strictly called a guide. The more famous ones, like the Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebeedu, the Chennakesave temple in Belur and the Keshava temple in Somnathpur have official guides.
      Literally meaning a lotus pool, “Pushkarini” is used generally to refer to any pond or pool. Derived from Sanskrit it finds itself both in north Indian and south Indian languages.

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