Mandya’s Hoysala legacy: Hidden gems that beckon history buffs’ attention

Tourism Department and the Mandya district administration can promote the lesser-known Hoysala monuments by installing signboard about them in places where tourist footfall is high

Updated - June 23, 2023 05:10 pm IST

Published - June 22, 2023 05:43 pm IST - MYSURU

The 12th-century Saumyakeshava temple at Nagamangala in Mandya district built in granite and soapstone is a Hoysala monument which was renovated by successive rulers and also displays Vijayanagar and post-Vijayanagar features.

The 12th-century Saumyakeshava temple at Nagamangala in Mandya district built in granite and soapstone is a Hoysala monument which was renovated by successive rulers and also displays Vijayanagar and post-Vijayanagar features. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

For weekend travellers with a passion for history and archaeology, Mandya district is an excellent place for an immersive experience. But the temples in this largely agrarian region, belonging to the period of the Hoysalas, have failed to grab as much attention as they deserve.

Perhaps proximity to Mysuru, a popular tourist destination, has robbed the sheen off Mandya. However, it has more monuments of national importance and hence protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, compared to Mysuru district.

There are as many as 20 ASI-protected monuments in Mandya against a mere seven such monuments in Mysuru. When both the State-protected and the Centre-protected monuments are considered, Mandya has 50 such monuments of national and State importance against 39 in Mysuru district.

Yet, tourism is underdeveloped in Mandya, except for Srirangapatana, given it is conveniently perched on the Mysuru-Bengaluru highway, making it easily accessible. There is also the religious site of Melukote which is also popular for film shooting.

The need to bring the lesser-known monuments to public light is not from a mere tourism perspective alone but to showcase a slice of history and heritage which has been obscured from a majority of the people due to lack of information and distance.

The Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli in Mandya district is a Hoysala gem which is off the tourists grid.

The Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli in Mandya district is a Hoysala gem which is off the tourists grid. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

Panchalingeshwara temple

The architecturally significant Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli in K.R. Pet taluk of Mandya district is a case in point. The region has a hoary past, and its antiquity has been documented by historians who point out that Govindanahalli was a part of Gangawadi under the Gangas of Talakad, and later it came under the Cholas.

It was annexed by the Hoysalas, who ruled the greater part of Karnataka during the 12th and the 13th century CE and during whose period there was a burst of temple construction activities while the sculptors and the architects achieved near-perfection in their artistic endeavour.

The 13th century Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu near K.R. Pet in Mandya district.

The 13th century Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu near K.R. Pet in Mandya district. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

Pattern of architecture

According to Prof. N.S. Rangaraju, former Dean of the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore, most of the temples constructed during the Hoysala period follow the ekakuta, dvikuta or trikuta pattern — temples with a single, double or three garbhagrihas or sanctum sanctorum.

But there are only two examples of Panchakuta shrines or temples, with five shrines constructed by the Hoysalas. One is near the famous Keshava temple at Somanathapur in T. Narsipur taluk of Mysuru district. It was in ruins until recently, and the restoration work was taken up by the State Archaeological Department about four years ago and is nearing completion.

‘’The second Panchakuta temple that has survived to this date is the Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahall and is important historically,’’ said Prof. Rangaraju who has done his doctorate on the Hoysalas.

Regarding its architectural importance, Prof. Rangaraju said the Govindanahalli temple is a fine example of the Hoysala style, with five sanctums containing five shivalingas.

‘’Each shrine is connected to a long pillared hall, and there are two porched doorways supported by lathe-turned pillars opposite the second and the third Garbhagriha. At the doorways are two dwarapalas guarding the sanctum, and the signature of the famous sculptor of the Hoysala period Mallithamma is clearly visible even today,” said Prof. Rangaraju. The ASI has dated the temple to around 1237-1238 CE on stylistic grounds.

Lead sculptor

Mallithamma’s name appears in many other temples of the Hoysala period, including at Somanathapur, and hence it has been construed that he was one of the leading sculptors and architects of the time and was in great demand as he went from place to place to embellish the temples with his magical touch.

‘’Originally, this was a Chatushkuta or temple with four shrines in a straight line. But a fifth shrine was added later, and this is evident in the slight architectural difference when one compares the extreme right shrine with the other four,’’ according to Prof. Rangaraju.

Govindanahalli is about 20 km from K.R. Pet and is off the main highway to Channarayapatana and 5 km from Kikkeri on the Mysuru-Channarayapatana route. One has to navigate along narrow but asphalted village roads flanked by agricultural fields to reach the temple. But given its remote location and lack of connectivity the temple has not been much explored.

Lakshminarayana temple.

Lakshminarayana temple. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

Lakshminarayana temple

Another temple of significance is the Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu which is about 2 km off K.R. Pet town and easily accessible. ‘’This is a fine specimen of Hoysala style known for ornate embellishment with sculptures and carvings that is evident both in the temple interiors and the outer walls,’’ pointed out Prof. Rangaraju.

The temple, assigned to the 13th century CE, is built on a high platform with stellate corners with elephant sculptures that is typical of most Hoysala temples. And the wall panels have remarkable sculptures of Panduranga, Govardhanadhari or Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhana mountain, Dhanavantri, and Dakshinamurthi, to name a few.

But for the diehard history and architecture buffs who know its existence, the temple does not draw tourists. However, being a live temple where the deity is offered regular puja accompanied by religious rites, it does draw the local population in large numbers, and there is scope for promoting it among the tourists.

The sculptures that embellish the outer wall panel of the 13th century Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu near K.R. Pet in Mandya district.

The sculptures that embellish the outer wall panel of the 13th century Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu near K.R. Pet in Mandya district. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

The outer wall panel of the 13th-century Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu near K.R. Pet is embellished with sculptures and carvings with the stamp of Hoysala workmanship.

The outer wall panel of the 13th-century Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu near K.R. Pet is embellished with sculptures and carvings with the stamp of Hoysala workmanship. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

Brahmeshwara temple

About 16 km from K.R. Pet is the small town of Kikkeri, which one has to reach before taking a deviation off the main road to reach Govindanahalli. At Kikkeri itself, there is a 12th-century Brahmeshwara temple belonging to the Hoysala period and constructed during the regime of Narasimha I with all the salient features attributable to the Hoysala architecture. But like the other two, this also is off the tourist grid.

‘’There is potential to promote the three historical temples as there are in close proximity to one another and almost in a straight line. Besides, Kikkeri is on the route to the celebrated site of Shravanabelagola when approached from Mysuru. But the potential is yet to be harnessed,’’ said Prof. Rangaraju.

Other temples in Mandya which are historically important but are far-flung include the Mallikarjuna temple at Basaralu, again, a 13th-century temple belonging to the period of Hoysala ruler Vira Narasimha II and attributed to Harihara Dandanayaka, a commander in the king’s army.

The Saumyakeshava temple.

The Saumyakeshava temple. | Photo Credit: R. KRISHNA KUMAR

Saumyakeshava temple

For tourists visiting Melukote, it is the Yoga Narasimhaswamy temple atop the Yadugiri Hill and the Cheluvanarayanaswamy temple in the town below where the exploration ends apart from the Kalyani or the stepped water tank. But if one only proceeds about 28 km ahead towards Nagamangala, there is another Hoysala gem in the Saumyakeshava temple. Dated to the 12th century CE and renovated by successive dynasties, it has both Vijayanagar and post-Vijayanagar features, according to historians.

The Tourism Department and the Mandya district administration can promote the lesser-known Hoysala monuments by installing signboards giving cross-references to important monuments in the district in places where tourist footfalls are high.

‘’Information boards with details of the monuments, their historicity, location, distance etc., can be provided at Srirangapatana, Mysuru, Melukote etc. This will help nudge tourists to explore some of these places,” said K.S. Nagapathi, a tourism expert who has authored a few books on the subject.

What can be done

A one-time installation of an information board providing a cross-reference to other monuments and destinations does not require any running cost to maintain and was one of the appeals made by registered guides to the government but to no avail, according to Devaraj, a licensed guide at Somanathapur in Mysuru district.

Promoting these little-known places of interest along with the Mallikarjuna temple at Basaralu, Kashi Vishweshwara, and Ananta Padmnabha temple at Hosa Budanuru and other similar historically important monuments holds the key to expanding the tourism potential of the region besides bringing them to public light. But stakeholders also believe that as the popularity of these monuments grows, so should the efforts to conserve the architectural marvels, most of which are nearly 1000 years old.

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