Ensembles of Hoysalas inscribed on UNESCO world heritage list

Hoysala Temples

Context: During the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, ‘the Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas,’ encompassing three temples located in Karnataka, have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

More about the news:

  • The Hoysala Temples, now mark India’s 42nd UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • In addition to this, Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan, a university town in West Bengal, was also granted world heritage status.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) revealed that India had submitted the nomination dossier for, ‘the Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas to the World Heritage Centre in January 2022,’ and the site had been on UNESCO’s tentative list since 2014.

Hoysala Temples

Hoysala Temples
  • The Hoysala Temples, constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries by the Hoysala kings, are dedicated to deities Shiva and Vishnu.
  • Chennakeshava temple, situated at the heart of Belur (Hassan district) within a traditional settlement surrounded by the remnants of a mud fort and a moat.
  • Hoysaleswara Temple is located on the banks of Dwarasamudra tank in Halebidu (Hassan district), a town featuring numerous protected and unprotected temples, archaeological ruins, and mounds.
  • Keshava Temple stands at the centre of Somanathapura village (Mysore district).

About Belur Chennakeshava Temple Complex: 

Belur Chennakeshava Temple
  • Chennakeshava Temple Complex, is situated along the banks of the Yagachi River. 
  • This remarkable complex is ingeniously designed within a rectangular layout. Encircled by four straight streets, this layout facilitates the traditional ritual circumambulation of the deity, offering devotees an immersive religious experience.
  • In a remarkable display of dedication and craftsmanship, construction of the Chennakeshava Temple commenced in the year 1117 AD.
  • The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, a central deity in Hinduism. It serves as a sacred haven for devotees seeking solace and spiritual connection with the divine.
  • One of the most captivating features of the Chennakeshava Temple is its richly sculptured exterior. These intricate carvings narrate compelling stories from the life of Lord Vishnu, his divine incarnations, and the epic narratives of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • Interestingly, among these depictions, there are also representations of Lord Shiva, showcasing a harmonious coexistence of deities within the Hindu pantheon.
  • Chennakeshava Temple has been a centre of uninterrupted worship since its establishment. It continues to thrive as a vibrant hub of devotion and remains a pilgrimage site for Vaishnavite devotes seeking spiritual fulfillment.

About Hoysaleshwar Temple of Halebid: 

  • Halebid, formerly known as Dorasamudhra, emerged as the capital of the Hoysala empire at the zenith of its power. This transition marked a pivotal moment in the region’s history, and at the heart of Halebid stands the Hoysaleshwara Temple. 
  • Constructed in the year 1121 CE during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleshwara, this temple stands as a testament to the artistic prowess and devotion of the Hoysala dynasty.
  • The Hoysaleshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, a principal deity in Hinduism. It serves as a place of worship and reverence for both locals and pilgrims, drawing them into its sacred embrace.
  • This architectural marvel was made possible through the collective efforts of the affluent citizens and merchants of Dorasamudra. Their patronage and financial support enabled the temple’s construction, exemplifying the community’s deep-rooted faith and commitment to their religious beliefs.
  • What truly sets the Hoysaleshwara Temple apart are the more than 240 exquisite wall sculptures that adorn its outer walls. These intricate carvings narrate captivating stories from Hindu mythology and historical events. 
  • Halebid extends its cultural heritage beyond the Hoysaleshwara Temple. Within the walled complex, one can discover three Jaina basadi (temples) dating back to the Hoysala period. These temples serve as a testament to the religious diversity and harmonious coexistence of different faiths in the region. Additionally, a stepped well adds to the historical significance of the site, reflecting the ingenious engineering achievements of the time.
About Hoysaleshwar Temple of Halebid

About Kesava Temple of Somnathpur: 

  • The Kesava Temple is a veritable masterpiece, boasting a mesmerizing Trikuta architecture. It is dedicated to Lord Krishna in three distinct forms: Janardhana, Keshava, and Venugopala. This trifecta of deities embodies various facets of the divine and provides a multifaceted spiritual experience for visitors.
  • Each intricately carved figure and ornament is a testament to the devotion and craftsmanship of the artisans of that era.

The Hoysala Empire: A Comprehensive Overview: 

The Hoysala Empire, a prominent Kannadiga dynasty originating from the Indian subcontinent, held dominion over a significant part of present-day Karnataka during the span of the 10th to the 14th centuries. This period was marked by remarkable achievements in art, architecture, and religion. In this elaboration, we delve into the various facets of the Hoysala Empire, from its geographic expansion to its cultural contributions.

1. Geographic Expansion

  • The Hoysala Empire was initially established in the landscapes of Malenadu, a region nestled within the Western Ghats.
  • However, the 12th century saw the Hoysalas capitalizing on the internal strife between the Western Chalukya Empire and the Kalachuris of Kalyani.
  • This opportunistic maneuver allowed them to annex territories in present-day Karnataka and the fertile regions north of the Kaveri delta, now part of Tamil Nadu
  • By the 13th century, their dominion extended to encompass most of Karnataka, substantial portions of northwestern Tamil Nadu, and segments of western Andhra Pradesh within the Deccan Plateau.

2. Political History:

  • Initially, the Hoysalas were vassals or feudatories of the Chalukyas of Kalyani.
  • Their capital was situated in Dwarasamudra (Halebeedu). The dynasty’s inception was credited to Sala, and his successors included Vinayaditya and Balalla I.
  • However, the zenith of Hoysala power came under the reign of Vishnuvardhana, also known as Bittideva.
  • Vishnuvardhana’s remarkable military acumen was highlighted by his decisive victory over the Cholas in the Battle of Talakadu, earning him the title “Talkadugonda.”
  • In commemoration of this triumph, he commissioned the construction of the Kirtinarayana Temple in Talakadu and the Chennakesava Temple in Beluru.

3. Religious Patronage:

  • The Hoysalas were renowned patrons of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Jainism. 
  • Vishnuvardhana himself converted to Srivaishnavism under the influence of Sri Ramanujacharya, who settled in Melukote, Karnataka.

4. Literary Contributions:

  • The Hoysala era witnessed a flourishing of literature in both Kannada and Sanskrit.
  • Notable literary works from this period include “Harihara” and “Raghavanka’s Harishchandracharite” in Kannada, as well as “Nemichandra’s Leelavati Prabhanda” in Sanskrit.

Evolution of Hoysala Architecture: From Inception to Flourishing Style: 

  • The Vesara style, from its nascent stage under the patronage of the Badami Chalukyas in the 7th century, it matured during the Western Chalukya era in the 11th century.
  • However, it reached its zenith as an independent and distinct style during the reign of the Hoysalas in the 13th century.

1. The Temple-Centric Hoysalas

  • The Hoysala rulers were renowned for their prolific temple construction. Their architectural style is often described as “temple-centric,” reflecting their deep devotion to Hindu deities such as Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, and various manifestations of the Goddess.

2. Star-Shaped Ground Plans

  • One of the hallmark features of Hoysala architecture is the star-shaped ground plan (known as Stellate plan) employed in many of their temples, although staggered square plans are sometimes observed. 
  • The temples were erected on a raised platform called Jagati, which stood at approximately 1 meter in height.
  • These temples exhibit a symmetrical arrangement of multiple shrines and the walls and staircases of the temple followed a zigzag pattern.

3. Soapstone as the Primary Building Material

  • The Hoysalas favoured soapstone (chloritic schist) as their primary construction material. 
  • This soft stone allowed for exquisite carving and intricate detailing, enabling the creation of the elaborate sculptures and motifs that adorn the temples.

4. Intricate Carvings

  • These intricate sculptures grace nearly every surface of the temples, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, celestial beings, deities, animals, and intricate geometric patterns. 
  • Prominently featured are various forms of Lord Vishnu, especially Chennakesava, and Lord Shiva.

Let us look at some of the distinctive architectural elements: 

  • Makartorana: This feature leads to the mantapa of the temples, adorned with sculpted images of Makara in lintel form overhead.
  • Mantapa: Hoysala temples incorporate both open (outer mantapa) and closed mantapa (inner mantapa), with highly ornate ceilings bearing mythological figures and floral designs.
  • Pillars: Circular pillars in the mantapas of Hoysala temples are a common sight, each featuring four brackets at the top adorned with sculpted figures.
  • Cella (Vimana): Vimanas in Hoysala temples are plain on the inside but profusely elaborated on the outside.
  • Shrine: Hoysala temples are classified based on the number of shrines, such as ekakuta (one shrine) or dvikuta (two shrines).
  • Development of Kalasa: A characteristic feature of Hoysala temple towers is the vase-shaped water pot placed atop.
  • Salabhanjika: These mythical female figures, with stylized feminine attributes, are found in four brackets on top of the pillars and on each side of the makartorana.
  • Kirtimukh: The figure of kirtimukh often embellishes the vimana of certain Hoysala temples.
  • Mythical Presentation: Hoysala art excels in presenting Hindu mythology through sculpted and architectural forms. Scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas intricately adorn temple walls.
  • Erotica: Some temples feature erotic sculptures, influenced by the prevailing Sakta tradition.
  • Influence of Chola and Chalukya Art:
    • For instance, the “Sthambha buttalikas” pillar image in Hoysala art exhibits influences from Chola and Chalukya artistic traditions.
    • A notable example of Chola influence can be seen in the image of Mohini on one of the pillars in the Chennakeshava temple, seamlessly integrated into Hoysala artistry.

Also: Information about UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Hoysala architecture represents a captivating chapter in the history of Indian art and temple construction. Its evolution, from its nascent stages to the mature and distinctive style that emerged under Hoysala rule, showcases a profound commitment to temple-centric design, intricate carvings, and a fusion of artistic influences.


Prelims Previous Year Questions

Q1. With reference to Chausath Yogini Temple situated near Morena, consider the following statements: (2022)

(1) It is a circular temple built during the reign of Kachchhapaghata Dynasty.

(2) It is the only circular temple built in India.

(3) It was meant to promote the Vaishnava cult in the region.

(4) Its design has given rise to a popular belief that it was the inspiration behind the Indian Parliament building.

Which of the statements given above are correct?

(a) 1 and 2

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 4

(d) 2, 3 and 4

Answer: (c)


Q2. Building ‘Kalyana Mandapas’ was a notable feature in the temple construction in the kingdom of:(2019)

(a) Chalukya

(b) Chandela

(c) Rashtrakuta

(d) Vijayanagara

Answer: (d)


Q3. Consider the following dynasties: (2023)

1. Hoysala

2. Gahadavala

3. Kakatiya

4. Yadava

How many of ·the above dynasties established their kingdoms in early eighth century AD?

(a) Only one

(b) Only two

(c) Only three

(d) None

Answer: (d)


Mains Previous Year Questions:

Q1. Safeguarding the Indian Art Heritage is the need of the moment. Discuss. (2018)

Q2. The rock-cut architecture represents one of the most important sources of our knowledge of early Indian art and history. Discuss. (2020)

Q3. Chola architecture represents a high watermark in the evolution of temple architecture. Discuss. (2013)

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