Somanathpur Temples

Sri Chenna Kesava temple, in Somanathapur, was built in 1268 CE by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a general of Hoysala monarch, Narasimha III (1254-91).  Built in soapstone, this magnificent temple is regarded as one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture.  Somanathapur gets its name from the temple's builder. Like all ASI maintained temples, an immaculately-manicured lawn greets the visitors.  Diagonally across is the dwaja sthambam.

Like most Hindu temples, it is surrounded by high walls.  The porch is supported by lathe-turned pillars, another Hoysala specialty.  Over the entrance is a statue of Kesava.  The temple stands on a raised platform, at the centre of a spacious square.  The Trikutachala ( three-towered) structure has three sanctums, housing the images of Janardhana, Kesava and Venugopala.  Three vimanams tower over the sanctums.  Held aloft by bell-shaped, lathe-turned pillars is the ornamental ceiling.  The platform is a riot of highly-ornamented friezes of elephants, scrolls, epics and puranic themes.  The Ramayana dominates the southern side, while Krishna Leela is etched on the rear.  At the north are scenes from the Bhagavatam.  The presence of the upper eaves (projected roof overhang) running round the shrine, between the towers and the lintel level, reveals the later Hoysala style.  A metre below are the lower eaves, and below these are over 200 panels of deities and their attendants, along with perforated window screens.  Like in Belur and Halebidu, here too the sculptors have inscribed their names at the base of the pedestals.  The platform has sufficient space for devotees to circumambulate the shrine.  Inscriptions dating from 1269 to 1550 can e found at the mandapam at the mahadwara (main entrance) and on the beams of the navaranga hall.

Past the innocuous front porch and the mandapa inside, is the temple, a grand central structure.  The courtyard is surrounded by elevated corridors.  Around the raised platform are the friezes: a rectangular band of sculptures.  Here they are intricately carved and interconnected.  At the bottom are the elephants.  Above that horses and horsemen.  Then come the scrolls.  over that warriors.  Above them a series of yazhis.  On top of the platform are the swans, the Indian variety.  Over the basement are the panels.  At other places, over the warriors are figurines of gods and goddesses.  Krishna with the snake Kaliya can be seen as are the various avatars of Maha Vishnu.  Narasimha, the perennial favourite of our sculptors, is also depicted.  In between are carvings of lovers.  The panels on the basement are a maze of detail.  Krishna plays the flute: surrounding Him at three levels are the gopikas, cows and cowherds.  Among the friezes, is a carving of Vishnu reclining on His snake couch, Lakshmi at His feet.  Time or vandals have obliterated the faces, but not the carvings. One sees chariots carrying royals, common folk, puranic heroes, even camels.  There are two-tiered friezes, one on top of the other: the sculptor is obviously telling a story.  The vimanas are five-tiered, each layer so intricately-carved that there is nary a space for improvement.  Inside, the ceiling is maze of motifs.  At the rims are carved the gods in a circle.  And the ceiling is no ordinary one, it is multi-layered, each surpassing the other in detail.  At the central sanctum, facing us is Sri Kesava.  To his left is Sri Janardhana and to his right, Sri Venugopala.  There is no priest to attend to the gods, and no worship is offered.

How to get there:

Since there are no direct buses to Somanathpur from Mysore, take the bus to Bannur, about 27km, then the connecting private bus to Somanathpur (8km).  From Bangalore it is approximately 175km via Mysore.

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