Before we talk about the architecture, we will talk a little bit about the dynasty. The Hoysala Empire was a prominent South Indian Kannadiga empire that ruled most of the modern day state of Karnataka between the 10th and the 14th centuries. The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu. By the 13th century, they governed most of present-day Karnataka, minor parts of Tamil Nadu and parts of western Andhra Pradesh in Deccan India. The most notable rulers of the dynasty were Vishnuvardhana (1108-1152) and Veera Ballala II (1173 – 1220) in whose rule the kingdom flourished greatly in terms of art. The are became part of the Vijayanagara empire after the death of the last king, Veera Ballala III (1292-1343). We know about the dynasty and the administration from many inscriptions that are there in the temples in this part of Karnataka.
The Hoysala era was an important period in the development of art, architecture, and religion in South India. The empire is remembered today primarily for its temple architecture. Over a hundred surviving temples are scattered across Karnataka, including the well known Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura. The Hoysala rulers also patronised the fine arts, encouraging literature to flourish in Kannada and Sanskrit.
Kannada folklore tells of a young man Sala, who saved his Jain guru Sudatta by striking dead a tiger 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 killing of the tiger by Sala has become the royal emblem of the kingdom as you see in this picture. 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. Now we will talk about the architecture in general.
The area in and around the districts of Hassan and Mandya are the only places where you can find this style of temple construction in the state of Karnataka. Study of the Hoysala architectural style has revealed a negligible Indo-Aryan influence while the impact of Southern Indian style is more distinct. The vigorous temple building activity of the Hoysala Empire was due to the social, cultural and political events of the period. The growing military prowess of the Hoysala kings desired to surpass their Western Chalukya overlords in artistic achievement. Temples built prior to Hoysala independence in the mid-12th century reflect significant Western Chalukya influences, while later temples retain some salient features but have additional inventive decoration and ornamentation, features unique to Hoysala artisans.
The Hoysalas usually dedicated their temples to Lord Shiva or to Lord Vishnu (two of the major Hindu gods), but they occasionally chose a different deity. While King Vishnuvardhana and his descendants were Vaishnava by faith, records show that the Hoysalas maintained religious harmony by building as many temples dedicated to Shiva as they did to Vishnu. Most of these temples have secular features with broad themes depicted in their sculptures. The Kesava temple at Somanathapura is different in that its ornamentation is strictly Vaishnava.
A Hindu temple is a place of contact between the gods or deities and man. The focus of a temple is the centre or sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha) where the image of the deity resides, so temple architecture is designed to move the devotee from outside to the garbhagriha through ambulatory passageways for circumambulation and halls or chambers (mantapas) that become increasingly sacred as the deity is approached. Most Hoysala temples have a plain covered entrance porch supported by lathe turned (circular or bell-shaped) pillars which were sometimes further carved with deep fluting and moulded with decorative motifs. The temples may be built upon a platform raised by about a metre called a "jagati". Such temples will have an additional set of steps leading to an open mantapa (open hall) with parapet walls. A good example of this style is the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura. The jagati which is in unity with the rest of the temple follows a star-shaped design and the walls of the temple follow a zig-zag pattern, a Hoysala innovation.
The mantapa is the hall where groups of people gather during prayers. The entrance to the mantapa normally has a highly ornate overhead lintel called a makaratorana (makara is an imaginary beast and torana is an overhead decoration) as you see in this picture. The open mantapa which serves the purpose of an outer hall (outer mantapa) is a regular feature in larger Hoysala temples leading to an inner small closed mantapa and the shrine(s).
The vimana, also called the cella, contains the garbhagriha (Sanctum Santorum) wherein resides the image of the presiding deity. The vimana is often topped by a tower which is quite different on the outside than on the inside. Inside, the vimana is plain and square, whereas outside it is profusely decorated and can be either stellate ("star-shaped") or shaped as a staggered square, or feature a combination of these designs, giving it many projections and recesses that seem to multiply as the light falls on it.
Hoysala artists are famous for their sculptural detail, be it in the depiction of the Hindu epics, yallis , deities, kirthimukha (gargoyles), eroticism or aspects of daily life. Their workmanship shows an attention paid to precise detail. Every aspect down to a fingernail or toenail is perfected. Salabhanjika, a common form of Hoysala sculpture, is an old Indian tradition going back to Buddhist sculpture. Sala is the sala tree and bhanjika is the chaste maiden. In the Hoysala idiom, madanika figures are decorative objects put at an angle on the outer walls of the temple near the roof so that worshipers circumambulating the temple can view them. They served the function of bracket figures to pillars inside the mantapa. These madanika were sculpted as seemingly engaged in artistic activities such as music (holding musical instruments) and dance.Kirthimukhas (demon faces) adorn the towers of vimanas in some temples. Sometimes the artists left behind their signatures on the sculptures they created.
The sthamba buttalikas are 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 you see here is of mohini on one of the pillars in the mantapa (closed hall) of the Chennakeshava temple and is a fine example of Chola art.
We had a nice glimpse of the Hoysala art and architecture and this will take the further posts forward in our understanding. As for the blog, i will continue with exploring the Hassan District in further posts.