Home Travel A Day Trip To The 13th Century – the Exquisite Chennakesava Temple in Somanathapura

A Day Trip To The 13th Century – the Exquisite Chennakesava Temple in Somanathapura

by Vidya Sury August 24, 2012 19 comments
A day trip to the 13th century Vidya Sury

So where were we? Ah, yes, we just headed off from the Krishna temple towards Somanathapura to see the breathtakingly beautiful Chennakesava temple, built in the 13th century. Kesava is another name for Lord Vishnu. Now grab a coffee (or the beverage of your choice) and sit back for the story of this temple.

The Chennakesava temple in Somanathapura

This temple is protected under The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. Here is the entrance to the temple – bounded by high stone walls. Little would you expect the  sight inside

Somanathapura is a small village on the banks of the river Kaveri and about 130 kilometers from Bangalore. It is best known for the Chennakesava Temple, a grand representation of the Hoysala architecture – built around 1268 A.D. Now, the Hoysala Empire is known for its grandeur as evidenced by the gorgeous temples at Belur and Halebid in Karnataka (Oh, I’ll visit those shortly and produce a full report when I recover from the beauty. )

So anyway – the powerful King Narasimha III (1254-91 A.D.) ruled South India (and whose full name is really a paragraph:  “Sri Vishnuvaradhana, Pratapa Chakravarti, Hoysala Bhujabala, Sri Vira Narasimha, Maharajadhiraja, Raja Paramesvara, Sanivarasiddhi, Giridurgamalla, etc.) at the time when his army commander, Somnath built the Kesava temple. This commander created a village and called it Somnathpur after himself. All this is written on a stone slab in the old Kannada script just inside the entrance of the temple. The symmetry is cool, no?

And here is the temple. Was surprised to see there was quite a crowd there – probably because of the long weekend.

The temple stands on a raised platform and represents a “Universe” and there are scenes on the walls depicting Gods, Goddesses, animals, and lots more. The sculpture is unique and perfectly symmetrical. These are made of soapstone. The guide told us that they were carved on panels and then fitted together – interlocked – just like Lego. The detail in the carvings is stupendous and it takes more, much more than the four hours we spent gazing at the interiors and exteriors of the temple.

The outer walls have star-shaped folds on which the carved soapstone plaques are placed.  There are three sanctum Sanctorum inside the temple with gorgeous idols of Kesava, Janardhana, and Venugopala. The Kesava idol is missing today. See the little elephants holding up the temple? Here’s the temple’s entrance into the sanctums:

Look at the pillars! There were two types. Fantastically lathed and carved. You know, inside the temple it was pitch dark and I simply aimed and clicked. Thanks to the flash – I could actually see these! Nobody’s home in this shrine:

The ceiling was full of these – supposed to represent the insides of a slowly blooming lotus flower. This one is halfway there
We’ll take a tour around the outside of the temple. The darkened space is the entrance and we’re taking a right turn to see the soapstone sculptures. On the left is our guide, who reeled off stories nonstop.
They depict stories from the epics Mahabharata, Ramayana, Dashavatara – and lots of mythological tales
Lots of foreigners visit the temple – to take photographs and videos. The locals are quite blase about the temple.
Sadly Muslim invaders – Muhammad Tughlaq’s army – destroyed most parts of the temple and defaced every idol within. There is no worship at this temple as Hindus do not worship a broken idol.  And believe it or not – there is not a single idol that is not damaged. Still, this 13th-century Keshava Temple in Somnathpur is the best-preserved most complete monument of Hoysala architecture.
I couldn’t possibly not show you a photo of the Goddess Saraswati, right? Hey, She’s my namesake, folks!
Lots of renovation work is going on right now to recreate the original beauty of this temple.
I could go back and gaze at the sculptures all day. I might actually do that. I had a tough time picking photos to post. As it is, I think this may be an overload. What to do? I have more than two hundred to choose from. Sigh. 

I hope you enjoyed these pictures. On Sunday, we will continue our journey – I’ll take you to the third place we visited during this trip – Talakadu. It has an even more interesting story than this one.

Please join me again on Sunday. Happy weekend!

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Elle August 24, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Wow Vidya, you’ve outdone yourself. I love your stories and perfect pictures that go with them. So much to learn and you make it all so easy…I thank you.

Love Elle

Vidya Sury August 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

Thank you, Elle! What a beautiful place it was!

Pattu Raj August 25, 2012 at 3:26 am

Lovely photographs, and descriptions. Thanks Vidya.

Vidya Sury August 25, 2012 at 11:48 am

Thank you, Pattu. Have you visited this place?

Evelyn Lim August 25, 2012 at 4:14 am

You should run a travel blog LOL! You have got many nice pictures and descriptions to go along. I laughed at the part where you said that you have select from 200 pictures. It has often happened to me too!

Thanks for sharing!

Vidya Sury August 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

It is funny, Evelyn – Just yesterday, while posting this, I thought my blog is turning into a travel blog :D. Hey, but what can I do? I share my life here! Thanks for being here!

Unknown Mami August 25, 2012 at 12:54 am

This is absolutely astounding. The detail BLOWS my mind. I’ve never seen anything like it in person.

Vidya Sury August 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

I went crazy clicking photos, too, Claudya. And to think there are more such places we have yet to see near where we live! I think the people who carved that soapstone should be worshiped!

Bill Dorman August 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Cool beans; isn’t it neat being able to enjoy history like that.

Mythological tales? Ancient aliens I’m telling ya; how do you think these thoughts got in people’s minds?……:).

Vidya Sury August 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm

🙂 Sury will love your comment, Bill. And Vidur will argue till the cows come home.

We’re so chockful of stories here – passed through the generations, that people believe it all happened 😀 Wait till I tell you, tomorrow, about the place we visited after this one. That’s a guaranteed guffaw.

Good to see you, always!

Vishnu August 26, 2012 at 4:02 am

Vidya, I’m amazed by the details of the carvings you shared in these photos. While I’ve visited a lot of temples, not sure i’ve seen any with this much detail. Your photos are inspiring me to take a trip back to India to see all these temples, monuments places in person! I like the idea of a travel blog:) too.

Vidya Sury August 26, 2012 at 9:27 am

Hey Vishnu, when you visit Bangalore, I’ll take you to these places 🙂 Deal?

Josh August 26, 2012 at 7:16 am

I loved the pictures of the temple and enjoyed learning more about it. History fascinates me and India is filled with it. One day I shall take a trip there to see what I can and learn a little bit more.

Vidya Sury August 26, 2012 at 9:28 am

Welcome, Josh! I do hope you make that trip. When you do, do let me know! 🙂

My Inner Chick August 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Absolutely Brilliantly Amazingly crafed Temple.

STUNNING. It’s almost as if GOD did it Himself!

How did they do that? Can you imagine how long it took.

I’m in AWE.

Love you more than 9 white tigers in the Minnesota snow….

Vidya Sury August 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I know Kim, I was quite speechless at all that beauty! I think the sculptors were Gods, too. I am surely going back to see it again. I love you more than all the coffee in the world!

Cathy | Treatment Talk August 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Beautiful as always, Vidya. Love the soapstone sculptures. Thanks for sharing!

Vidya Sury August 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Thank you, dearest Cathy!

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