Gerard Foekema aptly writes in the preface to his acclaimed book, ‘A Complete Guide to Hoysala Temples’ that the temples in Belur and Halebid give a marvellous impression of Hoysala sculpture, but only a poor impression of Hoysala architecture, because they are seriously incomplete. He further writes that visiting a few other villages in the neighbourhood of Belur and Halebid is very rewarding, because there smaller but complete temples can be found. The Lakshminarayana temple at Hosaholalu is one such Hoysala temple which is complete and ornate.
The Lakshminarayana Temple was built by the Hoysala King Vira Someshwara and dates from about 1250 AD. It is well preserved compared to other Hoysala temples and is completely covered with detailed and ornate sculpture. It is a trikuta temple (i.e. it has three shrines). Only the central shrine has a superstructure (Shikhara) The main deity is Nambi Narayana, believed to be consecrated by the great saint Ramanuja himself. The main deity is depicted as holding the shanka (conch) in the right hand and the Sudarshan Chakra (discus) in the left hand and hence is called ‘Nambi Narayana’ and not just ‘Narayana’. It is believed that once a devotee places his/her trust in the lord here, the lord will take care.
To the left of the main deity is a shrine dedicated to Lakshmi Narasimha, which faces north. The peculiarity of this idol is that Prahalada, the great devotee is depicted near the feet of Narasimha. Opposite to this shrine is that of Venugopalaswamy. The original idol has been replaced by a new one for unknown reasons.
The interior has fine pillars and ceilings in the usual Hoysala style. There are pillars with eight corners, sixteen corners and thirty two corners. There is a small natya mantapa. One can see all the three deities at once from this mantapa. There are two small shrines dedicated to Balaganapathi and Mahishasuramardhini flanking the main deity which are equally captivating.
In typical Hoysala style, the temple is built on a star shaped platform (jagati). The large wall images form a continuous row all around the exterior of the temple. There are many unique depictions of the usual gods and goddesses. There are sculptures of Natya Saraswathi (Saraswathi in a dancing posture), Natya Lakshmi and Natya Parvathi which are rarely found. The sculpture of Prasanna Narasimha is also unique as Narasimha is usually depicted in the fiery form (Ugranarasimha) or in a sitting posture with Lakshmi seated on the lap (Lakhminarasimha). There is a beautiful sculpture of Badrinarayana, Vishnu depicted just as he is in the Badri Temple. These sculptures seem to be painted originally as one can still see remnants of red dye here and there. There are smaller sculptures of Panduranga Vittala and Rukmini, Natya Ganapathi, Rama and Lakshmana and Trivikrama. All are ornate and one can spend a whole lifetime admiring them.
Below the row of large images is the base of the temple. There are six rectangular mouldings of equal width called friezes. From top to bottom they show hamsas (swans)in the first frieze, makaras (mythical aquatic monsters) in the second, epics and other stories in the third, creepers in the fourth, horses in the fifth and elephants in the sixth. The frieze containing the epics is marvellous. There are well known scenes from the Bhagavata Purana, Ramayana and Mahabharata depicted realistically. The one that struck me the most was the scene depicting Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows waiting for the Uttarayana Punyakala so that he can die. The way in which the bed of arrows has been sculpted is sheer genius. The horses in the fifth frieze are vivid and one can deduce the rank of the horse rider from the decorations on the horse.
A later extension has been added to the once open hall of the temple which takes away the original beauty of the front elevation. Even an outer doorway has been added. These are believed to be added during the Vijayanagara period. The temple was originally called Nambi Narayana Temple, but the locals decided to add a shrine of Lakshmi next to the existing temple and renamed it as Lakshminarayana Temple.
Hosaholalu is a village located 2.5 km from Krishnarajpet, 60 km from Hassan and 45 km from Mysore. It is a fine, well preserved specimen of both Hoysala architecture and sculpture. This temple deserves to be at par with the temples at Belur, Halebid and Somnathpura. Another visitor voiced my views by angrily exclaiming why this temple hasn’t been given its due share of recognition by travel guides and the state tourism department.
The temple is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). An office of the ASI is located behind the temple. One can engage a guide here. There are many other Hoysala Temples nearby, most of which are in ruins today. Notable among them are the Brahmeswara Temple at Kikkeri and the Panchalingeshwara Temple at Govindanahalli which are definitely worth a visit.
Read my article on the temples at Thondanur – Timeless Thondanur
Read my article on the Hoysala Temple at Govindanahalli – Panchalingeshwara Temple at Govindanahalli