Chennakeshava Temple-Somanathapura

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Chennakeshava Temple- Somanathapura

For all those who love travelling, it is important to plan a trip to Karnataka. Besides the climate of his beautiful place, you have a treasure of heritage sites, ruins, temples, hill stations of the Western Ghats. You also find coffee plantations that are not only green but also lush.

Ancient temples are one of the ‘must’ visit here in Karnataka. These temples give you an insight of history and help you get a good understanding of the architecture used at that time. Besides this, you have number of festivals celebrated here. In short, you can say Karnataka is a ‘happy’ place to visit.

The Chennakeshava temple, Somanathapura is one such ancient temple which is a ‘must’ see.

Chennakeshava Temple, Somanathapura

This temple is also known as the Keshava Temple. This is a Vaishnava Hindu Temple located on the banks of Kaveri in Somanathapura. The consecration of this temple was in 1258 CE  by the general of Narsimha III, the Hoysala king. The name of the general was Somnatha Dandanayaka. This is located east of Mysore by 38 kms.

This temple is considered to be an illustration of the Hoysala architecture. A courtyard with a corridor that is pillared encloses this temple along with small shrines. Since this is ancient most of the shrines are damaged. In the center stands the main temple. This is on a platoform that is shaped like a star and has three sanctums that are symmetrical (garbha-griha).This is oriented along the north-south and east-west axis in a square matrix. The sanctum on the western side was for a Kesava statue that is missing at present. The northern sanctum was for Lord Janardhana and the southern was for Venugopala. All these are different forms of Vishnu. There is a community hall that is common for all the sanctums. This is known as the ‘sabha-mandapa. This hall has a number of pillars.

The inner walls, the outer walls, the ceiling and the pillars of this temple are carved intricately with Hinduism theological iconography. This also displays friezes considered to be extensive of the Hindu texts. The Mahabharata is in the northern section, the Ramayana in the southern section and the Bhagvad Purana in the western section of the temple.

This temple is ideal for those looking for knowledge in Hindu mythology and texts.

According to George Michelle, this Chenakeshava temple represents the development climax but is unique in many ways.

History of Chennakeshava Temple, Somanathapura

Somanatha or Someya Dandanayaka, a general, founded the Chennakeshava temple in the 13th century. He worked for Narasimha III, the Hoysala king. Somanatha granted land to the Brahmins and dedicated a lot of resources for building and maintaiig temples. He created Agrahara. Somaanthapura is a town dedicated to Somanatha. There is an alternate name of this town, namely Somnathpur.

Similar to the other temples built, the Kesava temple was also badly damaged, according to the inscriptions of the 15th century. With support and financial grants by the emperors of the Vijayanagara Empire, this temple could be repaired in the 16th century. The different color of the stones and the quality of work is an evidence of the repairs made. This is in the platform of the main temple, veranda and the some parts of the northern tower. In the 19th century the repaired temple got damaged, this was repaired in the 20th century again by the Mysore Government colonial era.

The kings of the Hoysala Empire built around 1500 Jain and Hindu Temples. The Kesava temple is one of these. The temples at Halebidu and Belur are the other temples of the Hoysala that are studied well.

During the time of the Muslim attacks in the kingdom of Hoysala the temple was destroyed. The first attack took place in 1311by the general of Alauddin Khilji, Malik Kafur. The second attack was by Muhammed Bin Tuglak in 1326. The Vijayanagara kings managed to restore some parts.

Insight into the Architecture of the Chennakeshava Temple

Inside the courtyard corridor that is pillared, there are small shrines in the northern and southern rows. These are 18 single shrines and 1 shrine each linked double. The shrine that is linked double is at the southwestern and northwestern corners of the corridor.

There are 14 small shrines in the row in the west.In the east side you find 2 linked-double shrines and 8 small shrines that are single. The Kesava temple, in total, has 58 small shrines, 2 small linked-double shrines and 2 in the central main temple and near the entrance.

The shrines in the corridor, at one time, featured Puranic and Vedic deities and also rooms for the pilgrims. The statues that were placed in the smaller shrines had their limbs broken and were defaced. Inside the temple you may find some of these broken pieces lying in a heap.

In the ceilings in the shrines on the southern array you find carvings. There are no such carvings in the western area. Instead, you find an inscription that is related to the repair from the time of Vijayanagara Empire.  The Northern area also lacks any art, except in the middle near the stairs. There is great damage in the eastern area with most of the shrines missing.

The main temple that is star-shaped is around 3 feet in height and is built on a jagati, symbolizing the worldly platform. There are steps at the east end for climbing to the temple. On each side, near the temple, you have 2 guardians (dvarpala).

The platform circles all around the temple with a walking space that is broad. This is the circumambulation path (Pradikshana patha). You need to walk this in the clockwork direction so that you can read the Ramayana, Bhagvad Gita and also the Mahabharata.

The east side of the platform is shaped like a rectangle, the space that is below the temple tower (vimana) mirrors the star shape of the tower, with 2 liking edges and 9 points on each of the side.

How to Reach Chennakeshava Temple

There is no bus that goes directly from Bangalore to Somanathapura. You need to take a road trip via the Maddur Road in Bangalore and then divert towards Talakadu. Almost 7 kilometers ahead of Bennur is the main temple.

You also have the option of taking a train to Mysore and drive to Somanathapura, which is only 34 kilometers away.  It is convenient to cover Talakadu Panchlingeshwara temples and also the Somanathapura Keshava temples from Mysore in a single day. Mysore is the nearest airport.

A Guided Walk of the Chennakeshava Temple

You need to start from the entrance or the Gopuram, and climb the 4 steps to the main temple. As mentioned, the stories are sequenced on the walls in a clockwise manner. This means you have to start from the left when facing the shrine. You can decide whether you need to use the circumbulation path first or go to the main shrine. This is a ‘non-functional’ temple so it does not make much of a difference.

Basadis and Broken Mahadwara

The Mahadwara or the entrance is typical Hoysala styled. This is built on the same level as the main shrine. The Mahadwara is very different from the typical Dravidian temple , this is a square mandapa. This temple was made in Vesara style. This is a mixture of Dravidian style (South India) and Nagara (North India).

The small temple rooms, basadi, have been restored.

The basadis may have been used for placing the local deity’s idols or of the sages, Jain Tirthankaras or yakshas. These basadis were destroyed only to find gold. This is due to the fact that there were no banks in earlier times, and the gold was kept in temples under the supervision of the different Brahmins. The attackers might have got information on this and thus the shrines were plundered.

Basadis and Broken Mahadwara

There is a tall inscription on the left, which is written on Chalkstone or soapstone. This is soft in texture when it is brought from the quarry, but tends to harden when exposed to the heat and wind. The ASI has placed different idols from other ruined temples where there is no restoration work done.

The Main Shrine and the Dwarpalakas

The 2 dwarpalakas at the entrance are not monoliths. The different parts of idols are fixed. Jaya and Vijaya, the two dwarpalakas, tend to resemble Keshava, the main deity. They have 4 hands and hold the symbolic weapons of the Lord Vishnu. Sadly, most of the limbs and other parts are broken but these do speak of glory. From the entry place, on the other side, you can see the 2 kshetrapalas.

Interior of the Temple

When you enter the main shrine, you are welcomed by a huge Sabha Mantap. There are sturdy pillars supporting the Mantapa, and the ceiling has intricate carvings.

The huge hall is formed by 9 squares and this is called Navranga. Before you enter the garbhgriha, you can get a glimpse of all the 3 deities from a stage that is slightly raised. This indicates the Devadasi system as this is a place for dancing.

Interior of the Temple

The Ceiling

The entrance depicts the so- called social life of the era that is past. Dancers, musicians, Vishnu, Shiva-Parvati and a few courtiers are seen sitting. There are different stories engraved in the dome- like ceiling.

Moving in a zigzag manner, starting from the left side, you can see the different blooming stages of the lotus. Some of these squares have a jumbled snake carving or a carving of Naagpash rangoli. This can also denote the Karma-Samsara wheel that is endless.

When you reach the final square the ceiling with a lotus that is completely bloomed can be seen. This is with the Keshava in the front. You have Venugopala on your left and on your right you have Lord Janardan.

Hoysala Pillars

These pillars here are typical signatures of the Hoysala architecture. 2 of the 16 pillars are handcrafted with nature and geometric design on them. The rest are chiseled. These pillars combine 5 different parts that are attached together. The chiseled body, the bottom square, the plate and the connector to the carved ceiling are the main parts of the pillars.

Hoysala Pillars

The Sanctum of Tri-shrines Sanctorum

This temple is constructed in the order of Trikutchala. This means there are 3 garbhgriha for the same deity.

  1. Keshava

The Chennakeshava idol is in the center Sanctorum that is facing the east side. This means, beautiful’ Krishna.  This is one of the different names of Lord Krishna.

  1. Venugopala

This shrine is in the southern direction and is elaborated in a manner in which this looks like a scene where Lord Krishna is playing the flute. You need to observe this closely. This scene includes the different gods and goddesses and even the cows getting engrossed in his music.

  1. Janardana

The Yoganarayan carved figure is the common link between the north and also the south shrine. You find Lord Vishnu in the yogik pose along with the dwarpal, Jaya and Vijaya. Janardana, who is four headed, can be seen holding Chakra, Shankh, Padma and Gada. In this shrine, the actual idol’s miniature is placed on the entrance of the toran.

The nails of Janardana indicate the details the sculptor has considered.

Timings of Chennakeshwara Temple

You need to pay Rs5/- as the entry fee to this Chennakeshwara temple if you are an Indian. Foreign tourists need to pay Rs.100/- for a tour of this ancient temple. This temple is open from 9AM to 530 PM.

The best time to take a trip here is between the months of October and March. You need around 3 hours to admire the beauty and explore the temple.

You can check-in at one of the many hotels close-by and visit the temple in the morning so that you have enough time to soak in not only the beauty but also get an insight into the beautiful architecture of this temple.