|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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.