Somanathapura (sOmanAthapura) (ಸೋಮನಾಥಪುರ) is one of the three important landmarks of Hoysala architecture and sculpture, the other two being ‘bElUr’ and ‘haLEbIDu’. This is a small village in T. Narasipura talluk of Mysore district at a distance of about 40 kilometers from Mysore city. This was known earlier as VidyAnidhi Prasanna Somanathapura. This village is renowned for the Keshava temple built during the regime of MummaDi Narasimha BallALa by Somanatha one of his military generals. Of course he must have received munificent grants from the king. This is perhaps the best surviving examples of a Trikuta temple containing three sanctum sancta, with three icons installed there in and three separate towers. (shikhara). Prasanna Keshava, Janardana and Venugopala are the icons in the Keshava temple. Among these icons, that of Keshava is now absent and the other two have survived. This is a classic example of Vaishnava Trikuta temple. It is a tribute to the religious tolerance of Somanatha who must have been a Shaiva that he built Vaishnavaite temples. There are an EkakuTa temple known as ‘monDashAle guDi’ (Lakshminarasimha or Bhava Narasingeshvara) and a pancakUTa temple called Panchalingeshvara temple‘(shivAlaya’) in Somanthapura. Somanathapura is the last of the series of classic temples built during the Hoysala regime and it is deemed to be the best in terms of sculptural elegance.

The Keshava temple is built on a rectangular piece of land measuring 218 feet by 117 feet and the temple complex is facing east. Along the inner wall of the compound there are sixty four mantapas. (ManTapa) Each one of these mantaps is a small temple with a small door and a separate tower. Most of them have an icon inside more often than not an incarnation of Vishnu. These doors have intricate carvings. These icons are approximately four feet tall. Some 48 soap stone pillars, which are cylindrical in shape, adorn the inner lining of the compound.

The temple stands in an open court yard. The part of the temple which contains the ‘Navaranga’ and ‘Mukhsmantapa’ stands on a rectangular platform and the sanctum sancta is star shaped. The outer walls of platform are carved with the statues of elephants, Gods, and servants. (ParicAraka)

The outer walls of the temple itself are decorated all along in three different phases. The lower most phase consists of bass relifs in seven tiers and these layers contain the statues of elephants, horses, creepers, episodes from epics, yALi/makara and finally swans. Each of these layers is about seven inches tall. The elephants and horses are particularly well carved and there is a lot of variety in their making and in the details that are depicted. The stories that adorn the fourth row among these reliefs contain episodes that are selected from epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Bhagavata. One interesting feature is that many of these carvings are not related to wars. Remaining layers consisting of creepers, swans etc are relatively uninspiring. The central part of the outer wall is divided in to two parts. The lower of these two parts have some ninety statues of Vishnu accompanied by his paramours and servants. These are very interesting for students of iconography. Narasimha, Varaha, Hayagreeva, Indra, Manmatha and Surya are some of them. Many of these statues are inscribed with the names of their sculptors like mallitamma, bAlayya, lOhita and masaNitamma. The upper part contains many small towers, keerthimukhas and half pillars. (Ardhastambha) If one starts from the left side of the main entrance and goes round the temple, he notices many gods other than Vishnu. However, the statues of Shiva are conspicuous by their absence.

This temple has three towers built in the Vesara style. They are of medium height and they too are star shaped with sixteen apexes, just as their foundation. Almost every inch of these towers is full of very interesting and miniature carvings of creepers, aquatic animals, postures of dances and music etc. About twelve Yakshas that are carved on the central tower are unique to the Keshava temple and they are aestheticaly pleasing. Some of them are playing on a musical instrument and some more depict various dancing postures. There one Yaksha who is writing some thing on a ‘grantha’ with a stylus. An inverted lotus is constructed on the top of the tower. The temple is also known for many erotic sculptures on the outer walls.

The inner yard is rectangular and it contains a mukhamantapa and a sabhamantapa. The hall is divided in to smaller enclosures by pillars. These pillars are rectangular at the base and assumes various shapes such as a bell, cylinder etc. These pillars are extremely well polished. Some of the ‘Bhuvaneshvari’ structures in the Navaranga are exquisite and they can match any such sculpture in Belur.

The sancta contain the statues of Janrdana (6 feet) and Venugopala (4½feet) as mentioned earlier. Venugopla is surrounded by cattle and Gopikaas in various postures. The statue of tAnDava gaNapati is among the most attractive features of Somantahapura.

Panchalingeashvara temple is situated at a distance of about 250 meters from the Keshava temple. This is a panchakuta temple with five sancta constructed in a single line. They contain Shiva lingas called bijjaLeshvara, pergaDEshvara, dEvalEshvara, bayiralEShvara and sOmanAtheshvara. These temples are built of black granite and all of them are independent but for a corridor that links them.

Many important inscriptions are found in Somanathapura and its surroundings.


Further Readings and Links:

1.      Masterpieces of Hoysala Art: Belur, Halebeedu and Somanathapura, Sachindra Kumar Maiti, 1990, Delhi.

2.      Keshava Temple at Somanathapura, 1940, T. Dayanand Patel, Delhi.

3.      History of the Somanthapura by D.V. Devaraj, 1994, Mysore.

4.      Somanathapura by S. Settar, 2008, Abhinava, Bangalore .

5.      Hoysala Temples , Volumes 1 and 2. S. Settar, 1991, Bangalore


7. (Photo Gallery of Somanathapura)

8. (Wall Panel)


2. (Janradana)

3. (Bhuvaneshvari)


4. (A photo album)


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