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The Hoysala saga

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Lost glory?The ruins of a Hoysala temple
Lost glory?The ruins of a Hoysala temple

The tale of a dynasty that left behind some magnificent temples

“Hoy Sala” (Strike! Sala) said guru Sudatta Muni to his student Sala, who was in an armed combat with a tiger. The beast had attacked them when they were immersed in rituals at the Vasantha Parameshwari temple in a village called Sasakapura or Sosevur. The student struck the animal in one blow, immortalising himself and his victim. The guru was so pleased that he asked Sala to establish the Hoysala dynasty with Sosevur as capital. This popular folklore is depicted in every Hoysala temple as a sculpture, and it was also the emblem of the dynasty.

Symbol of victory

Historians, however, attribute the sculpture to the victory of the Hoysalas over the Cholas. The incident, nevertheless is believed to have happened at Sosevur, which is today identified as Angadi, a small hamlet in Chikmagalur. The temple of the Goddess lies there, with the ruins of more temples and basadis (Jain temples). The curiosity to see the humble beginnings of a dynasty took us to Angadi one morning.

As we went on the Hoysala trail, driving down the eons of history, we realised that we were trying to relive a journey that began a thousand years ago.

The Hoysalas were not born kings, but they ruled for 300 years. They were tribal chiefs from Malnad, in Karnataka. The kings who shaped the dynasties were Vishnuvardhana and Veera Ballalla, who became independent from the Chalukyas.

They are remembered today for their patronage to arts, as a baffling 1,500 temples were built, out of which only 100 survive today.

Wonderful architecture

The temples at Belur and Halebid, the capital cities of the dynasty, are famous tourist destinations today. Our trail took us to 25 villages, including Angadi, the original capital of the empire, where it all began.

Angadi in Kannada means shop, but we only found coffee plantations and open fields. We finally found some people and asked them the route to the devasthanam. A couple of hands pointed uphill, and we travelled through a coffee plantation. A Hoysala inscription stood beneath a tree.

We followed the mud road that led us to the Vasantha Parameshwari temple.

The temple was renovated and a tall structure supported by sculpted pillars stood close by. The priest reaffirmed that this was the original temple where Sala had killed the tiger. The priest guided us and we followed the road below until we reached a dead end.

We saw a few basadis with some sculptures. We went down and climbed another path, where the ruins of the three temples awaited us — the Chennakesava, Patalarudreshwara and Mallikarjuna temples.

The structures were being laid by the ASI workers, who had just begun restoring them.

As the sun’s rays touched the idols, we realised that we had just walked in on an extraordinary moment.

LAKSHMI SHARATH

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