Hoysaleswara Temple

Hoysaleswara Temple

Halebidu Temple is another name of the Hoysaleswara temple. This temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is an ancient Hindu Temple. This is one of the largest monuments in Halebidu, in Karnataka. This was the capital of Hoysala Empire in the past. This temple, built on the banks of a large lake that is man-made, was sponsored by the King Vishnuvardhana of the empire of Hoysala. The construction of this tempe commenced in 1121 CE and could be completed only in 1160CE. The Muslim armies of Delhi Sultanate plundered and sacked Halebidu during the 14th century. The capital along with the temple fell into a state of ruin and neglect. This temple is around 130 mi (210kilometers) from Bengalaru and 19mi (30 kilometers) from the city of Hassan.

This Hoysaleswara temple is a monument of the Shaivism tradition, but at the same time, this includes a number of themes from Shaktism and Vaishnavism of the Hindu tradition. This also includes the Jainism images. This temple is a ‘twin’ temple that is dedicated to Santaleswara and Hoysaleswara Shiva lingas, named after the female and male aspects. These are considered equal and joined at the transept. Outside, you have two shrines of Nandi, each of these facing the linga of Shiva inside the temple. This temple also has a small sanctum that is dedicated to Surya, the Sun god of the Hindus. The towers in this temple seem to have disappeared and there is flatness to the structure. You visit the temple from the North, but it faces the East. The two temples along with the Nandi shrines are on a square plan. This temple is notable for intricate reliefs, sculptures, friezes and also iconography, history in the South and the North India scripts. This temple is made of soapstone.

The artwork of this temple offers you n insight into the culture and life of South India of the 12th century. The reliefs, around 340 of them, depict the ideology of Hinduism and legends associated with the same. Small friezes depict the Hindu texts like the Mahabharata, Ramayana and also the Bhagvad Purana. Some of these friezes portray the episodes narrated.

Though the Hoysaleswara temple’s artwork is damaged, it seems to be intact. A few kilometers away from this temple you find a number of ruins of the architecture of Hoysaleswara. The Jain temples, along with the temple, and also the Kedareshwara temple, Kesava temple located in Belur, have proposed to be listed as the UNESCO World Heritage sites.


This Hoysaleswara temple is known to be among the first temples to be surveyed in 1801 – 1806 in Karnataka. After photography was invented, this was the first to be photographed in British India. This shows ruins and the temple neglected.

This period of Hoysala of South India began on around 1000CE and carried on to 1346CE. During this period, 1,500 temples were built in around 958 centers. Halebidu was known as ‘Dorasmudra’ originally in the inscriptions, derived from Dvarasamudra possible. ‘Dvara’ means ‘door’ or ‘gateway’ in Sanskrit. ‘Samudra’ means, ‘’sea’, ‘ocean’ or ‘large body of water’. Belur in Karnataka used to be the capital. Dorasaudra became an ‘established’ capital under the rule of King Vishnuvardhana and this served as the capital for around 300 years of the Hoysala Empire.

The Hoysaleswara temple lacks any inscription of dedication unlike the other temples that have managed to survive the modern age. It could be lost with the other features of the temple. There is an inscription that is located around 5 kilometers from the site of the temple, in Ghattadahalli near the ruins of the Kallesvara temple. This inscription states that an officer, who was employed by the King Vishnuvardhana, by the name of Ketamalla, constructed this temple. This also states that grants were made by the king for supporting the construction, and operating the maintenance of the temple in Saka 1043. This was not the only temple built during this era.

This inscription states that there were other temples in the capital, both of Jainism and Hinduism traditions, along with ponds, step wells and public halls (mandapas) in the Dorasamudra lake vicinity. This is considered to be th largest temple that was built by the Hoysalas dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god in the Southern India.

The empire of Hoysala and the capital, Dorasamudra, wwas invaded, destroyed and plundered in 14t century by the Alauddin Khilji’s armies. These were from the Sultanate of Delhi. Halebidu and Belur were the target of destruction and plunder in the 1326CE by another army of the Delhi Sultanate, that of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Vijayanagara Empire took over the territory.

In the mid 14th century, according to James C Harle, the Hoysala kingdom came to an end. King Ballala got killed by the Muslim army during the war. Dorasamudra and the temples became ruins. The capital was abandoned and this site was known as the ‘Halebidu’. This means, ‘capital’ or old camp’. Around 300 temples of the Hoysala Empire survived in the different states. These were totally damaged. Of the 300 temples, only 70 were studied in different degrees in 1995.

Mysore was under the influence of the British rule and scholarship with Tipu Sultan being defeated in the year, 1799. The ruins of the Hoysaleswara temple were surveyed early on and, also photographed early in 1850. The ruin panels from the other temples were used for covering the mandapa of Nandi and Friezes were used for repairing the plinth. The Hoysaleswara temple is a composite of the original architecture of the Hindu temple. Stone screens with the outer walls and also the doors were added in 14th century. The shikara, (the crowning towers) are lost. The ruins were repaired and restored a number of times in the 19th and the 20th century.


The Holeswara temple is dvikuta (twin temple) with two superstructures an two shrines. These two temples are the same size with the sanctums opening to the east and face the sunrise. Both these temples, the Hoysaleswara temple (of the king) and also the Shantaleshwara (of the queen) have Shiva linga. There are two small shrines on the east side, on the outside have Nandi. According to Adam Hardy, a historian, there is evidence in the Holeswara temple of other shrines. These have been missing.

The complex of the temple is placed on a worldly platform (jagati). This platform is of 15 ft around the temple’s outer walls. This is for the visitors to walk on and also to view artwork when completing the pradikshana. This jagati is shared by the small shrines connected by stairs made of stone. The mandapas are near one another and also connected. This offers a view of an open, large navaranga for public and family gatherings.

On the top of each of the sanctum there are towers. These are missing at present. The structure over the vestibule connecting the shrine to the mantapa, are called sukanasi, is missing. The eastern perimeter walls, the row of roofs that were decorated along with other shrines, have also gone missing.

Soapstone was used for buildingof this temple. This is the type of stone is easy to carve on when quarried, but tends to harden with the passing of time.

Mantapa and Doorways

There are four entrances to this temple. The northern entrance can be considered as the ‘main’ entrance as this is used by people visiting the temple at present times. There are two entries on the east side and one on the south side. These face two open pavilions and the ceiling is supported pillars of lathe.

There was an open navaranga originally, where you could see the pavilions of the mantapa. In the era of Narsimha, the Hoysala king, they closed the mantapa, added doors and stone screens placed. This is according to one inscription that is found in this temple.

Later, decorations and dvarapalas were added by artists.

Outer Walls

The outer walls of this temple are carved intricately. The lower layers have bands with different friezes consisting of elephants, scrolls, lions and also miniature dancers, along with horses, scenes from the Hindu texts, beasts that are mythical and swans. This artwork has details with no 2 lions being similar in any manner in the span of 200 meters. The artist has also managed to capture the Mahabharta, Ramayana and the main episodes of Bhagwat. This is a narration that is pictorial of different Hindu epics, there are large panels in the middle section with the total pantheon of the Hindu divinities are present. According to Settar, this is a manual of the iconography of Hinduism.

Reliefs on the outer wall of the Hoysaleswara Temple, Hoysala style, Halebidu, Karnataka.
Reliefs on the outer wall of the Hoysaleswara Temple, Hoysala style, Halebidu, Karnataka.

The outer walls of this temple shrines have 340 large reliefs.


Inside this temple of Hoysaleswara the sanctum is in Halebidu.

There are two sanctums in the twin temples and both have the Shiva linga. One of these sanctums is dedicated to ‘Hoysaleswara’ and the other to ‘Shantaleshwara’. Both these sanctums are square with a view of the doorway (darsana dvara) that is on the east. This is three inches on the west, north and south. A dvarpala flanks the dvarpala on each side. Each of this leads to a vestibule chamber (sukanasi). Above the lintel you find an intricate carving between the dvarpalas. This presents Shiva along with Parvati and also other devas and devis. There are two makaras with Varuna and his wife. Purnaghatas (vessels of abundance) decorate the door jambs. Originally, there was a tower in the sanctum square. These towers are lost and now the total structure looks flat.

Other Monuments

The premises of the Hoysaleswara temple have a museum that is being managed by the Archeological Survey of India. This has a number of pieces of temple artwork and also ruins that have been recovered from the site for a closer examination. This premise has the Garuda-Shamba (pillar) to the south. The top portion has gone and this has been damaged. One part which can be read states that  Lakshamana, his wife and also his followers had sacrificed themselves after Ballala II died. The middle of the pillar has eight male figures; four of these are sow using the swords for sacrificing themselves. One sacrifice is in a ‘namaste’ pose and preparing for sacrifice, and the others are shown in the sacrificing process. These images represent their devotion to the leader and how determined they were to die with him.

These premises of the temple also show evidence of other temples and shrines. There is a Chandra (Moon) monument that is attached to the Nandi and one Surya (Sun) is attached to the other Nandi.

Ceilings and Pillars

As compared to the outer walls of the temple, the interior walls are simple and plain except for the pillars of lathe running in rows between the north and south entrance. The 4 pillars in front of each of the shrines are ornate and have madanika sculptures in the pillar.

Ceilings and Pillars

The mandapa has pillars aligned along the axis of north-west. In the navaranga that is in the central of each of the temple are 4 pillars and a ceiling that is raised are intricately carved. Out of the 32 figures on the pillars for both the temples, only 11 remain. 6 of these are in the north temple and only 5 remain in the south temple.

Best Time to Visit Halebidu

The best time to plan a trip to Haebidu is anytime between October and February. The Hoysala Maha-utsav has a dance festival during the month of March with the Mahashivratri. You can also plan a trip during Diwali as the atmosphere is festive.

A visit to Halebidu takes you back in time. You get an insight into history and also learn about the different religious stories. This is open throughout the year. Hassan Railway station is closest to at 27km.

Mangalore airport is the closest airport. This is at a distance of 168 km. Halebidu is well connected to most of the major cities. You can even travel by road as there are a number of buses.

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