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Less famous than the renowned Hoysala marvels of Belur-halebid, the temples at Somanthpura, Melkote and Bellooru are rich repositories of graceful art.

Named after a famous Deccan dynasty which emerged around the middle of the eleventh century and lasted till the mid-fourteenth, the Hoysala School had its roots in today’s Chikmagalur district in Karnataka, famed for its coffee plantations. Expanding over major portions of south India (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala), the Hoysala school has its critics, too, who decry its baroque extravaganza and florid phraseology.

The founder of the Hoysala dynasty was a tribal, Sala. Myth has it that he exhibited extraordinary courage in defending a meditating sadhu from the attack of a tiger. The sadhu bade Sala strike the beast (hoy: beat, attack, slay), and blessed the successful warrior with a new name, Hoysala (Sala, the striker) and with land to rule. This myth is reiterated in all dynastic records, with colorful embellishments which gave rise to the royal emblem, installed on all the towers and main doorways of the Hoysala temples.

The Hoysalas built for their age, but also for the ages to come. In the 300 years of their rule, the entire region was so saturated with religious establishments that the dynasties that followed — Vijayanagara, Nayaka, Wodeyars —had to restrict their building activities to a few select centers.The subsequent rulers did, however, preserve their heritage and introduce additions and alterations in the Hoysala temples.

There are over 1,500 temples in 950 centers. The most famed are at Belur and Halebid, much photographed and on the itinerary of most tourists.

Kesava temple, just 32 km from Mysore, is usually part of a cluttered day tour of the city. Take a bus from Mysore to Narsipur and change buses to get to Somanathpura, The town dozes, this warm afternoon. Bullocks amble past and a snake slithers away into the grass Kesava temple’s foundation by Somanatha, a general in the army of Kmg Narasimha. III (1254-91).

All is quiet this weekday in the rectangular courtyard, inset with 64 little shrines (cellae) in proportion to the three shrines rising pyramidally heavenward. The three principal vimanas (towers) of equal dants, and no two ceiling bays look alike. The sculptors have left their names on the pedestals: Mallathamma, Chameya, Bhameya and simply M. Obviously they weren’t self-effacing or bashful, like their counterparts who had worked on the Gothic cathedrals of Europe.

The two shabby rooms adjoining the Kesava temple that Karnataka Tourism lets out for Rs 100 for a double room. They are empty, the beds and pillows have no covers.

Elegant carvings fill almost every available space on the towers. Each of the symmetrical shrines standing on a raised plinth has a star-shaped exterior. The whole complex, raised on a star-shaped terrace provides ample room for circumambulation. The base moldings have friezes of elephant processions, ducks and devils, men, warriors, horses and reptiles, and the topmost tier depicts incidents from the Ramayana and Mahabharata in a series of narrative panels. The wall niches display bold sculptures of gods and goddesses in costumes and jewels.

The pillars inside the mandapa have graceful moldings, the ceilings look like inverted baskets with floral, vegetable and serpentine carvings — a riot of lobes and pen-Neglected and Forlorn

The other three being Tirumalai in Andhra Pradesh, and Srirangam and Kanchi-puram in Tamil Nadu). Located in the Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district, Melkote is six hours away by a tedious government bus.

The Someswara temple in Kunigal town too stands neglected and forlorn, its ruins giving little indication of past glory. Pavilions all around are enclosed by a stone wall and surmounted by a lofty tower. A rectangular pavilion with ornate columns displaying narrative sculptures from the Ramayana and Mahabharata was built much after 1460 AD, during the Vijayanagara period.

The temple was richly endowed by kmgs like Narasimha I and Raja Odeyar (1578-1617) who donated to the deity a gold crown set with precious stones called rajamudi. Later, Krishnaraja Odeyar III gifted another crown, called krishnarajamudi. A diamond crown called vairamudi adorns the processional deity during the 12 day festival in April.

How and Where
Somanathpur is 35 km from Mysore, a journey that takes one and half hours. From Mysore, one can take the bus from the bus stand meant for short distance buses opposite Ritz Hotel. There are few direct buses from Mysore to, Somnathpur. Take a crowded Mysore-T. Narsipur bus (10 km from Somanathpur) or a MysoreBannur bus (7 km from Somnathpur). From T. Narsipur orBannur, buses run to Somanathpur frequently.

City tours cover the citysights, Chamundi Hill andSomanathpur (7.30 am to 8.30 pm,Rs 100) but you get only half anhour at Somanathpur. Book yourseats at Hotel Mayura Hoysala 2 Jhansi Laxmibai Road

At Somanathpur is possible in two rooms run by Karnataka Tourism, next to the temple, butthey are badly maintained and the restaurant serves drinks and snacks indifferent quality are other Hoysala sites.

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