This obscure village in Karnataka holds some clues to the origins of the Hoysala dynasty

Every journey has a beginning; a milestone, a map or a moment that inspires you to travel. When I started on the quest of traversing across rustic Karnataka to look for lesser known Hoysala temples, little did I know that I would stumble upon an obscure village that may have some clues to the origins of the dynasty. I am not referring to Angadi where myth and history converge, where legends say that Sala slayed the tiger and founded the dynasty at the behest of his guru or where historians claim that the oldest ever Hoysala monuments were built. I learnt about Angadi or Soseyur much later in my travels, but my trail of 30 or more Hoysala temples started with this picturesque village called Marale.

I drove from Belur towards Chikmagalur, often referred to as the town of the younger daughter. My destination was however Marale, located at a distance of 10 km from Hiremagalur, the town of the older daughter and which was home to one of the earliest twin temples of the Hoysala dynasty.

The village was virtually empty. The fields were harvested. The lake beds were dry. I was looking for two ancient temples built adjacent to each other. A lone lady tending her flock of cattle told me to go down a small path that took me into a vast open space. Surrounded by coconut trees and hidden behind them were two petite temples — one dedicated to Shiva and the other to Vishnu. Adorned with a single tower each, the Ekakuta temples were called Keshava and Siddeshwara.

A priest had just visited them and had left the lamps burning. The bright yellow flowers stood out in comparison to the dark idols. Two beautiful carved elephants with lotuses in their hands greeted the visitor at the entrance of the Keshava temple. The ceiling and the outer walls were carved with floral motifs and sculptures, although they were not as ornate as the other temples. A stone carving of Ganesha stood at the Siddeshwara temple. The guardians who protect the various directions, the Ashtadikpalakas were carved as well.

It was absolutely silent but for the birds. As I looked around, a twelve feet stone inscription stood amidst the temples, but the information was lost on me. I spent some time sitting besides the temples, hoping a priest would come by to throw some light on it, but only a few cattle grazed around. I finally walked up to the village but no one seemed to have any thoughts on the inscription. Marale seemed to be another quaint village with a piece of antiquity lost in the wilderness.

I continued my journey and later spent some time researching on the Hoysalas. And that is when I came to know that Marale had an interesting tryst with the origin of the dynasty. An inscription here did throw some light on the history of the Hoysalas who were referred to as Male chiefs or “chieftains of the hills” and were considered vassals of the Chalukya kings. Although the temples were built at a much later date during the era of Vishnuvardhan who had built the Belur temple, the village was once the home of the early chieftains and the name “Poysala” for the first name is recorded in history here.

An inscription here says that Poysala Maruga, grandson of the chieftain Arakalla fought a war against his contemporaries. The year is mentioned around 940-950 AD. Although historians are still divided over the findings, the origins of the dynasty are still mired in myths and legends and clues from inscriptions. Meanwhile, an ancient beautiful twin temple, probably the first such built by the Hoysalas lie lost in the woods at an obscure village called Marale.