February 15, 2010

A 13th century Hoysala architectural marvel - Somnathpur Keshava Temple, Near Mysore, India

Somnathpur is a small village located at a distance of around 35 kms from Mysore, the heritage city of Karnataka state of South India. The Keshava temple in Somnathpur is incredibly beautiful due to its architecturally marvelous structure belonging to the 13th century CE.


Hoysala dynasty was one of the strongest dynasties in South India similar to that of Pandya and Chola dynasties. After the collapse of Ganga dynasty, Hoysala dynasty was founded in 1006 CE and the Hoysalas ruled the regions belonging to today's Karnataka state for about 350 years. The earlier Hoysala kings were Jains. The Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana embraced Vaishnavism due to Ramanuja, the great Vaishnavite reformer. The later kings of Hoysala even embraced Shaivism. The Hoysala architecture is very popular in Karnataka state. You can find the best examples of Hoysala architecture in famous places such as Belur and Halebid. Somnathpur Keshava temple is another finest example for Hoysala architecture, even though it is not as popular as the other two sites.


Somnathpur is a small village located near Mysore. Even though you find buses to this place from Mysore, it is advisable to travel by taxi or car from Mysore. The only attraction in Somnathpur village is Keshava temple. The army general of the Hoysala king Narasimha III (1254 - 1291 CE) named Somnath founded this village on the banks of the river Cauvery. Hence, the village got the name Somnathpur. Somnath, after getting permission and resources from the king, built the temple of Keshava based on Hoysala architecture in 1268 CE. This is an interesting thing to know that the temple was built not by a king, but by a general. Another interesting factor of this temple is that all the sculptors have put their signs on their work. Due to this, we come to know even the names of the sculptors such as Mallitamma, Ballayya, Chaudayya, etc.

Keshava temple of Somnathpur is unique in design and perfect in symmetry. The temple is enclosed in a walled courtyard that has a gate and a porch. The temple is built on an elevated star shaped platform. The sides of the raised platform are decorated with rich carvings, portraying rows of cavalry, elephants and scenes from the epics and Puranas. The rows above have sculptures of Gods mainly Vishnu in various forms. There are three shrines inside the temple. The temple has three intricately carved pinnacles and a common Navranga. The northern shrine has the idol of Lord Janardhana and the southern shrine has the idol of Lord Venugopala. The main hall has beautifully carved pillars and ceiling panels. The middle shrine is dedicated to Lord Keshava. Keshava, Janardhana and Venugopala are all different forms and names of Lord Krishna.

The temple was attacked by Muslim rulers in the past and hence a lot of idols in the temples are in broken form. Even the three main idols Keshava, Venugopala, and Janardhana were broken. The idol of Keshava was missing, and hence a replica idol has been placed nowadays instead of the original idol. As the idols of the deities were broken, there is no religious pooja or prayer happens today in this temple. It is under the control of archaeological department of India.

The intricacy found in the architecture is something, which is difficult to describe in words. The temple has a lot of idols mostly related to Vaishnavism or different forms of Vishnu. The dancing Saraswati and the dancing Lakshmi are rare idols. Matsya - the fish incarnation of Vishnu - is found with fish face, which is a rare form. There are some carvings representing Kama Sutra. Even though you can find innumerable carvings of cavalry and elephants, each and every carving/idol is unique. Nowhere, you can find two similar figures. The figures of mythological animal, the Hans bird feeding its baby, Narasimha killing demon and Indra on elephant are some of the marvellous examples of architecture found in the temple surroundings.

The windows look star shaped from outside and square shaped from inside. The roofs have fine carvings and the roof of each shrine is different from that of other. The pillars inside the temple represent the unique style of Hoysala architecture. The three main idols inside the shrines are extremely beautiful. Overall, it is very difficult to express in words the beauty of this marvel. Go, visit this place and experience yourself.

Happy travelling.

Fast Facts:

Site Name: Keshava Temple
Site Type: Architecture, Temple, Hoysola architecuture, ancient temple
Location: 35 kms from Mysore at Somnathpur, Karnataka state, India
Highlight: A 13th century architectural marvel from Hoysala
Nearest Railway Station: Mysore
Nearest Airport: Bangalore (around 170 kms)
Local Transport: Easily reachable from Mysore; It is better to travel by car or taxi rather than depending on public transport
Hotel: It is best to stay at Mysore (35 kms from here)
Restaurants: Good restaurants are available only at Mysore


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