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THE HOYSALA ARCHITECTURE
Documentary Film Series on The Hoysala Architecture

The Hoysalas originated in the hilly region along the western boundary of Hassan District and southern Chikmagalur District in Karnataka State. The dynastic history spans the eleventh through the mid-fourteenth centuries A.D., and its largest the empire extended from the Tungabhadra River in the north in what had been Later Calukya territories to the Kaveri River to the south in the Cola regions.

From their hill-tribe origins the Hoysalas proceeded to involve themselves in the constant power struggles of the region. From very early times the Rastrakuntas and the Gangas were allied against the Colas. At the end of the tenth century the Later Calukyas supplanted the Rastrakutas and as the power of Gangas waned, the Hoysalas gained control of their dominions. These first strides for the establishment of a Hoysala kingdom were made by Vinayaditya (r. 1047-c. 1098). He founded his capital at Dorasamudra or modern Halebid.

Major expansions radiating from this central core around Halebid were made by Vinayaditya's grandson, Visnuvardhana (r. c. 1108-1142). There is efidence that Visnuvardhana offered political and religious asylum to the great Vaisnava reformer, Ramanuja, and the story of Visnuvardhana's conversion from the Jaina faith is often told. Later Hoysala rulers appear to have been Saivite, but a general tolerance of all faiths is typical of their rule.
The empire on a much diminished scale was reunited under Ballala III (r. 1292-1343) but with the coming of Islam in the fourteenth century the final death-blow was struck. In 1311 the Hoysalas clashed with Malik Naib Hazardinari (otherwise known as Malik Kafur) and Ballala had to divide his attention between the rising Muslim power and the expanding Hindu dynasty of Vijayanagara. In 1343 Ballala died at the hands of the Sultan of Madura and his body was ignominiously stuffed with straw and hung from the fort wall. The Hoysala empire under his successor, Ballala IV (r. 1343-c. 1346), was quickly swallowed up by Vijayanagara.After the fall of the Calukyas of Badami subsequent dynasties in the area contributed much to the art of temple building. Many dynasties rose and fell. An enumeration of all of the minor ones would be pointless here. Cities and villages passed from hand to hand and the power struggle for the area continued. The immediate successors of the Calukyas were the Rastrakutas who were in essence a conglomerate of smaller non-imperial kingdoms in Karnataka.

They in turn fell from power and the empire of the Later Calukyas of Kalyani was established. It was during the rule of this latter dynasty that temple building in Karnataka again reached great heights. A large number of temples remain which were built by the later Calukyas and they extend deep into present-day Karnataka State.

The temple style of the Calukyas of Kalyani gave rise to many variant styles usually associated with the patronage of specific dynasties. This dynastic nomenclature is at times difficult to follow since there are stylistic incursions into other kingdoms from time to time and an accurate boundary line is often impossible to draw. At the same time the association of one style with one dynasty is inaccurate since, just as with the Early Calukyas of Badami, there were many options open to the architect during the medieval epoch. The major out-growths of the Later Calukya style are the temples built by the Hoysalas, primarily in southern Karnataka State (in what was formerly the State of Mysore) and the temples built by the Kakatiyas in what is now the northern part of Andhra Pradesh.
It would be misleading to suggest that each of these three styles, the Later Calukya, Hoysala and Kakatiya, were the same, and equally misleading to suggest that they were totally different. In detail they have much in common. Not only do they often use the same vocabulary of motifs, but sometimes draw their craftsmen from the same areas, as proved by the epigraphic over-all effect of the buildings. The conception of architectural space and applied decoration differs greatly from one to the other. There are, of course, temples which display overlapping styles and the divisions between one dynastic preference and another are not always clear-cut, but examples of temples built in mixed styles suggest a conflict of purpose, the buildings merely approximate the feel of the other dynastic style.

It is often pointed out that among the variants of the Later Calukya style, the Hoysala is the most ornate and exuberant. The Hoysala style displays a heavier reliance on sculptural decoration, often in the form of large figural sculptures which dominate the wall surfaces. All of the temples built by the Hoysalas do not share this trait. In fact, very few of the many (over 250) sites patronized by this dynasty are of the ornate variety. The temples to be discussed below fall into this more exuberant category, since these are the temples which illustrate the uniqueness of the Hoysala vision. It is this unique style which we label Hoysala.
When considering the offshoots of the Later Calukya style, the temples built in Andhra Pradesh by the Kakatiyas represent the other end of the spectrum. Where the Hoysalas took the Later Calukya motifs and multiplied, elaborated, and congealed them offering a Baroque variation, the Kakatiyas simplified and mannered the motifs produce temples which may be considered less exciting in detail but offer some of the most aesthetically pleasing visual experiences in the Deccan.
One lasting contribution of the Hoysalas is its temple style known throughout modern India for its ornate and exuberant decoration. The style of the Hoysalas can be fully defined by comparisons with the other contemporary styles of the area. The most distinct style which is highly related to that of the Hoysalas is that of their distant neighbours, the Kakatiyas. As can be seen from the illustrations of the temples built by these two dynasties, they are composed of the same basic elements. The temples are often three-shrines, of cruciform ground plan, raised on platforms and have pillared halls composed of pillars which have been labeled “lathe-turned” due to the very precise carving of the rounded surfaces of the shaft.

There is, of course, a wide range of types within both dynastic groups of temples. A chronological survey of the monuments does not necessarily give a stylistic progression since every guild was not as progressive as others. On the Hoysala side there is the chronological and stylistic development from the Kesava temple at Belur (1117) to the Hoysalesvara temple at Halebid (c. 1120-1182) to the Kesava temple at Somanathapur (1268), the three most well-known examples of the style. But on the Kakatiya side the temples at sites such as Hanamkonda (1163) and Palempet (1213) offer variants. That of Palempet, although the most famous Kakatiya example, is highly mannered. As seen from its wall articulation it is out of the mainstream development of the style.
When considering the offshoots of the Later Calukya style, the temples built in Andhra Pradesh by the Kakatiyas represent the other end of the spectrum. Where the Hoysalas took the Later Calukya motifs and multiplied, elaborated, and congealed them offering a Baroque variation, the Kakatiyas simplified and mannered the motifs produce temples which may be considered less exciting in detail but offer some of the most aesthetically pleasing visual experiences in the Deccan.

One lasting contribution of the Hoysalas is its temple style known throughout modern India for its ornate and exuberant decoration. The style of the Hoysalas can be fully defined by comparisons with the other contemporary styles of the area. The most distinct style which is highly related to that of the Hoysalas is that of their distant neighbours, the Kakatiyas. As can be seen from the illustrations of the temples built by these two dynasties, they are composed of the same basic elements. The temples are often three-shrines, of cruciform ground plan, raised on platforms and have pillared halls composed of pillars which have been labeled "lathe-turned" due to the very precise carving of the rounded surfaces of the shaft.

There is, of course, a wide range of types within both dynastic groups of temples. A chronological survey of the monuments does not necessarily give a stylistic progression since every guild was not as progressive as others. On the Hoysala side there is the chronological and stylistic development from the Kesava temple at Belur (1117) to the Hoysalesvara temple at Halebid (c. 1120-1182) to the Kesava temple at Somanathapur (1268), the three most well-known examples of the style. But on the Kakatiya side the temples at sites such as Hanamkonda (1163) and Palempet (1213) offer variants. That of Palempet, although the most famous Kakatiya example, is highly mannered. As seen from its wall articulation it is out of the mainstream development of the style.
A comparison of the architectural and sculptural differences between the art of the Hoysalas and the Kakatiyas involves a comparison of many factors including: A) the plan of the temple itself; B) its setting within a compound space; and, C) the treatment of the wall surface and the structural articulation of the wall.

As would be expected from the elaborate wall treatment of Hoysala temples, the iconography is quite diversified Iconographic types that are common to the Dravidian area are rarely found in the Hoysala region. Just as the Hoysala borrowed architectural details from the north, which often confuses the definite dravida character of the architecture of the medieval Karnataka, much of their iconography has affinities with northern and Deccani usage. Within the Srivaisnava iconography of the region the twenty-four murtis of Visnu as well as the dasavatara are universally found. When the avatara group is placed on the torana (arch behind the image) of a shrine figure the Buddha is placed in the ninth position, but he is never found as a large figure on the temple walls. Krsna, the usual eighth avatara, is found in many forms on the walls: Quelling Kaliya the snake demon, Lifting Mt. Govardhana, and Venugopala (fluting) are all extremely common depictions.

The Saivite iconography is less diversified but in some ways more complex. Many of the images appear to refer to sectarian practices and beliefs of the period, and it is often difficult to identify specific images with absolute certainty.The Tamil Bhiksatanamurti, Bhairava, Kankalamurti, Lingodbhavamurti, and Daksinamurti are not found, while a very distinctive Bhairava form (more accurately labeled Brahmasirascedakamurti, Siva with the severed head of Brahma) was extremely popular. This figure is often accompanied by a nude female figure which I have identified elsewhere as Brahmahatya, a personification of the sin of Brahmanicide. They appear to be part of the iconography of some Saiva sect in the area, possibly the Kapalikas, and are found at a number of later Calukya and Kakatiya sites as well.

There are few sites which display peculiar images which strikingly illustrate the differences between the Hoysala iconography and that of their neighbours to the south. One such temple is the Isvara temple at Nagalapura (Tumkur District) of the mid 12th century where a number of Siva images hold the stag and axe in the manner of many Tamil images. The stag is totally absent from the iconography of other Hoysala sites and the axe is not common to Hoysala Sivas unless he has a great number of arms. At the same time the shape of the axe is a Tamil one, implying that the images, although in general stance and decorative detail Hoysala, reflect an iconographic migration from the Tamil districts of the empire.

There are a great number of other iconographical details on these temples other than the large figural bands. Every inch of the temple is carved with detail including the small narrative panels on the jagati (a half wall which screens the lower part of pillared halls and entrances) and miles of freizes around the entire base. Perhaps the most interesting details are found in the narrative freize, an intrinsic part of the temple. Stories from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavata Purana are told in intimate detail. An illiterate visitor to the site accompanied by a well-versed guide can learn many tales out of the folklore of the faith.

The Hoysala artist was at heart an architect and it is his architecture that displays his genius. There is a great variety of temple plans, and it is this planning which illustrates the principle intent of the style. It is true that in the 13th century the trikutacala (three-celled temple) became the desired Vaisnava type, but even within the limited form there are many alternative solutions. Within the full range of the style the sculpture is always subservient to this plan.

The main desire was to create a logical and readable unit. The temple must be a solid living form. With so many details covering the entire edifice there was very rigid control over the elements added. These are highly organized temples with iconographic and decorative features subtly balanced with each other. The artist is after all a craftsman who must follow the scheme laid out before him. This is evident in the shift form Belur to Halebid where the whole temple takes on a more encrusted and compressed appearance and the true Hoysala type evolves.

The Kesava temple at Somanathapura is probably the best known temple of the period and it is also a brilliant example of temple planning. It is a trikutacala and each cell has its own vestibule which is in turn connected to a single navaranga

and pillared entrance. The three vimana sections are not identical in elevation, although to the casual observer they appear to be repetitions of the same model. Where the north and south vimanas are treated in a similar way, visually divided into two storeys, the west vimana has only one storey. At the same time the nature of the images varies between the north / south and west. An analysis of these images points to a religious distinction. The front vimanas display images of a semi-narrative character as well as rigid iconic types under foliate canopies, while the back vimana is devoted to rigidly posed Vishnu under arched toranas. This is the suitable type for shrine interiors. This difference in iconography corresponds to the differentiation of the treatment of the wall surfaces, setting the west shrine apart as the main religious focus of the temple.