On the Footsteps of the Hoysala Dynasty – A Road Trip

The temples of the Hoysala Empire are not as popular as the temple ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire at Hampi. Hampi being a UNESCO world heritage site has attracted a tremendous inflow of tourists over the past several years. Its lesser known cousin – the Hoysala temples – are not as popular as the ones in Hampi but are equally magnificent. So, one may ask, if it’s not so popular, how did we decide on this destination then? It started with a simple Google search, as does any of our plans. We wanted to go on a road trip, since it was quite a while since we went on one. My husband left the decision to me. He tells me that I am better at planning and I should decide on the place and plan accordingly. But I know the truth. He’s just lazy and he would rather I do it. Either way, I was glad to do the planning. So, one fine morning, I opened my laptop and searched for ‘weekend getaways from Kozhikode’ (that’s where we live) on Google. Google threw across a few links that suggested the usual – Ooty, Wayanad, Kochi, Alleppey, Munnar, Coorg, etc., all of which are popular holiday destinations close to where we live. However, there was one option that stood out from the rest – a historic city that goes by the name – Belur. I had never heard of this place and that peaked my interest. My next step was obviously to read more about the city and its history. Thus, I came upon the famous Hoysala dynasty. Over the course of that day, I continued to expand my knowledge on the history of this dynasty and I came to understand that the Hoysala era is primarily remembered for its art and architecture. Much of the said art and architecture can be seen in the temples that were built during this period. Only close to 100 temples of the total 1500 temples built during the period remain now. Of these, the two most prominent temples are the Chennakesava temple at Belur, a fully functioning temple and the Hoysaleswara temple of Halebidu, no more a functioning temple but rather preserved as an architectural site. Much of the said two temples were destroyed during the Sultan invasion from the north. However, there are still a few temples which have been fully preserved from the time it was constructed that reflect the architectural style of the Hoysala empire. Surprisingly, the temples that weren’t destroyed are lesser known temples. Two such temples are the Chennakesava temple of Somanathapura and Veeranarayana temple at Belavadi. Backed with the above knowledge, we decided to embark on the historical road trip that cover the above said four temples of the Hoysala dynasty.

At 9:00 AM, on a Saturday morning, we left home having had a heavy breakfast. The best part of where we stay – every time we have to cross states, we need to drive through a forest. If we need to enter Tamil Nadu, we must drive through the Mudumalai wild life sanctuary. If we must enter Karnataka, we must drive through either the Muthanga wild life sanctuary, the Bandipur forest or the Nagarhole tiger reserve. Having done several road trips through Mudumalai, Muthanga and Bandipur, we decided to take the Nagarhole route this time. Luckily for us, according to Google Maps, the drive through Nagarhole was the quicker route. However, we didn’t spot any wildlife. Not even the usual elephant we come across in most of our road trips. Our first stop was at Somanathapura temple near Mysore. It took us around five hours and a half to reach our destination. We stopped briefly on the way to have some tea and snacks.

The first temple we arrived at was the Chennakesava Temple at Somnathapura.

Somanathapura | Chennakesava Temple

A brief history: Situated on the banks of the Cauvery river, the temple was constructed by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala king Narasimha III. Historically, the temple had three sanctums one each for – Kesava, Janardhana and Venugopala. Some sources say the statue of Kesava was destroyed during the Sultan invasion while other sources say the idol simply went missing. Either way, the Kesava idol at the temple is a replacement statue has been kept inside the sanctum. The temple is no more functioning and is simply maintained as an architectural site.

Timings: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. However, a few tourists have mentioned that the temple closes a little earlier than the said closing time. We arrived at the temple at 2:30 PM and were done by 4:00 PM.

How to reach: The temple is located in the Mysore district, 35 kms from Mysore city. If you are travelling by public transport, you can take a bus from Mysore city and arrive at Bannur. KSRTC runs a frequent bus service between Mysore and Bannur. From Bannur, you can take another KSRTC bus (not so frequent) to Somanathapura. The ideal, but more expensive way to reach this temple is to hire a round trip car from Mysore. It takes around an hour from Mysore, 3 hours from Bangalore and 5 hours and 30 minutes from Calicut to reach Somnathapura.

Where to stay: Somanathapura is a small village with no hotels/lodges. If you want to stay overnight, the best option would be to stay at Mysore city.

Entrance tickets: Rs. 15 per person for Indian nationals and a steeper rate of Rs. 100 for foreigners.

After spending close to two hours at the temple, we headed North, to Belur, located in the Hassan district. We were to stop there for the night. It took us around five hours to reach Belur (inclusive of the dinner stop we made at Adyar Ananda Bhavan). We then checked in to the hotel and crashed there for the night. The next morning, after a quick shower and breakfast, we visited the Chennakesava temple at Belur which was at walking distance from our hotel.

 

 

 

Belur | Chennakesava Temple

A brief history: Another one of Hoysala’s marvels, the Chennakesava temple at Belur, the then capital of the Hoysala kingdom, was built in the early 12th century by the Hoysala ruler, Vishnuvardhan to commemorate his defeat of the Chozhas. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is not just an architectural site but a fully functioning temple. It’s intricate sculptures and art work is a must see. The temple has several thousands of figures on the walls which depict scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Timings: 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM

How to reach: The temple is located in the Hassan district, 38 kms from Hassan city and 155 kms away from Mysore. The best way to reach the temple is by car however, there are buses that run from Bangalore and Mysore to Belur.

Where to stay: There are several hotels at walking distance from the temple. We stayed at Hotel Mayura Velapuri Belur. Hardly a 2-minute walk from the temple, it was a perfect location for an early morning visit to the temple.

Entrance tickets: Free

Once we were done looking around the temple and paying our respects to the deity, we drove down to Halebidu, the next temple on our list. It took us around 30 minutes to reach the destination.

Halebidu | Hoysaleswara & Kedareswara Temple

A brief history: Another temple built during the Hoysala empire by King Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleswara. The temple is no more functioning and is simply maintained as an architectural site. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There is a small museum close to the temple that has on display several standalone figures that were looted/destroyed during the Sultan invasion.

Timings: 6:30 AM – 9:00 PM

How to reach: Located around 15 kms from Belur, it can be reached by car within thirty minutes. The best way to reach Halebidu is to hire a round trip cab/auto from Belur.

Where to stay: It’s ideal to stay in Belur and hire a car/auto to reach this temple.

Entrance tickets: Free

Once we were done with Halebidu, we drove down to our final destination – the Veeranarayana Temple at Belavadi. This was our personal favourite for three reasons. One, it was a partially functioning temple. Two, there were absolutely no tourists since not many people know about this temple and three, the temple was not destroyed and hence we could enjoy the temple in its full glory. Also, it was as beautiful as the other three temples of the Hoysala Empire.

Belavadi | Veeranarayana Temple

A brief history: A lesser known temple, it was built in the 12th century by Veera Ballala II. Just like the Veeranarayana temple in Somanathapura, this temple has three sanctums, one each for Venugopala, Veeranarayana and Yoganarasimha. As per information on several websites, it was here that Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers killed Bakasura – the demon that terrorized the villagers. For those of you who don’t know, this is a chapter from the epic – The Mahabharatha. However, upon enquiry in the temple, this fact was not confirmed by the Swamy in the temple. He said there is no proof of that event occurring here. He neither denied or confirmed it.

How to reach: It is situated just 12 kms away from Halebidu. The best way to reach is by car/auto.

Where to stay: It’s ideal to stay in Belur and hire a car/auto to reach this temple.

Entrance tickets: Free

A bonus point about this temple, it was the only temple where we got prasadam (food offered to god) – some tamarind rice on a plant based disposable cup. Once we were done, we went back to the hotel, relaxed a bit, checked out, and headed back home. On the way we stopped once again at Adyar Ananda Bhavan for a late lunch. By the time we reached home (Calicut), it was almost midnight. All in all, it was a fun and historic weekend!

Notes:

The best and comfortable way to visit the temples of the Hoysala Dynasty is by car. Irrespective of where you are starting from (Bangalore/Mysore/Calicut), start early in the morning and arrive straight at the Somnathapura temple. Make sure you arrive before the temple closes. Earlier the better. Once you are done with the temple, drive to Belur and crash there for the night. The next day, you can visit the Belur temple, Halebidu and Belavadi, in that order. You can finish all three by late noon. You can either stay another night at Belur and drive back the next morning or you can return the same night as we did. It is an ideal weekend trip from Bangalore, Mysore and Calicut.

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