Hidden gems of Hoysala empire


While Belur and Halebidu are exemplary works of Hoysala art, there are a number of little-known Hoysala masterpieces scattered across Karnataka. These temples were built by the Hoysala kings, not only to get divine blessings but also to display their wealth and power. Usha Hariprasad takes us on a guided tour of some of the off-beat locations near Bangalore.

Belur, Halebidu and Somanthapura, are beautiful temples built during the Hoysala period. But these are not the only architectural marvels constructed by Hoysala Kings in Karnataka. The Panchakuta Temple at Govindanahalli, the soapstone temples of Nagalapura are all Hoysala masterpieces but definitely not touristy places. Most of these temples are tucked away in remote villages, not to mention scenic locations. And you need to rely mostly on the Google Maps Navigation and help of the locals to access these offbeat locations. Here is a handy guide to check out these obscure Hoysala temples near Bangalore.

The Kedareshwara temple at Nagalapura is made of soapstone

A brief history of Hoysalas

The Hoysalas ruled Karnataka from the beginning of 11th century to the middle of 14th century. They began as tribal rulers in Malanad region gradually expanding their power in South India. During the reign of Viraballala-II they had extended their rule till Tamil Nadu, and the State was a Hoysala protectorate. It was because of the Hoysala rulers that most parts of South India could resist Muslim invasions from North for a long time.

A memorial stone at Nagalapura

The origin of Hoysala dynasty goes to a historical personality named Sala. It is said that at Sosekapura – the present Angadi of Chikamaglur district, a Jain ascetic, Vardhamana was worshiping the goddess Vasantika Devi. A tiger attacked him and he cried ‘Poy Sala’ or hit Sala, and Sala acting under these instructions struck the tiger and killed it. The sage was pleased and blessed him. Sala became a ruler shortly.

The early rulers of Hoysala dynasty after Sala was Vinayaditya. He was a subordinate of Chalukyan king, Vikramaditya-V. After him came Nripakama– his son, next Vinayaditya-II. It was Vinayaditya-II who extended the Hoysala territory and then changed the capital from Sosevur to Dorasamudra or Halebidu. After Vinayaditya-II, it was his grandson Ballala-I who came to power. He ruled only for eight years, and after his death his younger brother Vishnuvardhana came to power. During his reign (1108-1142 AD), he subjugated many dynasties. He defeated the Cholas and put an end to the Chola domination in the south. He became an independent monarch after he won against Chalukyan army.

The beautifully carved ceiling inside the Kedareshwara temple

Vishnuvardhan’s son Narasimha-I, however, was a weak ruler. His own son Ballala-II revolted against him. Ballala-II was crowned king in 1172 AD. His rule made Hoysala dynasty an imperial power. He defeated Pandya rulers, Kadambas of Hanagal, Sevunas, and expanded the Hoysala territory. The Hoysala influence extended till TamilNadu. His son Vira Narasimha-II was an able ruler and maintained the Hoysala empire efficiently. After his death, his son Vira Someshwara came to power and during his reign, he divided the empire to his two sons Narasimha-III and Vira Ramanatha. Inspite of the division, the brother’s continuously clashed with each other and weakened the empire.
The last great ruler of Hoysala dynasty was Ballala-III, during whose rule South India was invaded by Muslims from North. He was killed in the battle in 1342, which took place between the Madurai Sultan and Ballala III. He was caught and flayed. After his death his successor was Ballalal-IV, who came to throne in 1343 AD. However by this time the Vijayanagara dynasty rose to power and most of Hoysala territories came under their rule.

Hoysala temples and their features

While Belur and Halebidu are exemplary works of Hoysala art, there are a number of Hoysala masterpieces scattered across Karnataka as well. temples were one way of displaying wealth and power. And Hoysala kings used this effectively, showcasing temples in all their grandeur. Perhaps another reason for construction of temples was to get divine blessings. According to Puranas, a king who built temples would earn his place rightfully in heaven.

A closeup of the horizontal friezes on the temple walls

Most of the Hoysala temples were either at the centre of a town or outskirts near the banks of a river or lake. And generally the villages had both Shiva and Vishnu temples, so that the devotees of both the deities could co-exist peacefully. Most often Vishnu temples were located in the centre of the city while Shiva temples were in the east, north east or south east of the town.

Nagalapura is one such planned village that has both Shiva and Vishnu temples. In the case of Nagalapura, the Vishnu temple’s location was once the centre of the town.

The Hoysala temples were influenced by Western Gangas, Cholas and Kalyani Chalukyas, but they also developed their distinct style. The Hoysala temples were most often built in soapstone that was easily available. Another common feature was the stellate plan. The inner sanctum or the garbagriha walls and the raised platform in which Hoysala temples were built were generally star shaped. Another common feature was the horizontal band of friezes that ran the entire length of the temple. The lower most horizontal band of friezes was of elephants followed by tigers, then horsemen, scenes from epics, then yalis and finally the geese. Above the friezes there are niches having rich decorative figures.

Hoysala sculptures are generally high relief images. These were according to the guidelines laid out by Puranas and Agamas. The images were supposed to be decorative so that they could attract divinity and usher in success and prosperity.

Many of the temples do not have the name of the architect or the sculptor. In some temples like Kedareshwara temple at Nagalapura, the artist Baicoja has carved his name and origin. Some temples have only the short names or initials like ‘Ma’,’Bo’ etc. There were some famous sculptors like Dasoja, Malloja, Macoja, Mallitamma, etc. Many of these artists migrated from other regions especially from Chalukyan empire, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Hoysala temples

Though most of the temples are scattered in Karnataka, temples built after 13th century are concentrated south of their native— mostly in Hassan and Mysore. The Sevunas had during this period conquered the northern part of their homeland. The temples listed here are from this period.

The horizontal friezes on the Channakeshava temple at Nagalapura dedicated to Vishnu


This is a small village in Tumkur boasting of twin temples of Vishnu and Shiva– the Channakeshava and Kedareshvara temples. Both these temples are made of soapstone and are similar in most of the sculpturing details.

The doorkeepers or dwarpalaks at the Govindanahalli temple

The Kedareshvara temple which is an ekakuta temple boasts of the traditional star shaped platform of the inner sanctum. The temple is quite simple with a garbagriha, vestibule and a navaranga. The deity – a cone shaped linga is kept inside the garbagriha and faces east.

The ceilings inside the temple are beautiful. It is divided in-to nine blocks and the patterns in each part are different. While some have the banana flower patterns, some have the conventional ashtadikpalakas – Gods of eight directions. Inside the temple there are other sculptures of Saptamatrika, Vishnu, and Surya, etc. And there is a statue of Nandi in the hall.

A sculpture on the Brahmeshwara temple at Kikkeri

The outer walls of the temple have the typical Hoysala feature – horizontal friezes of elephants, horses, scrolls, makaras, and swans. However there is also a blank frame running along the walls of the temple. The puranic scenes were meant to be carved here but it is empty. The sculptures on the outer walls of the temple, however, are very rich and artistic thus offsetting the emptiness brought about by the missing tower and blank friezes. Some of the significant sculptures on the outer walls are that of Bhringi, Bhairava, and Arjuna.

A few minutes away is the Channakeshava temple dedicated to Vishnu. It was once at the centre of the old town. Today it stands on fields with a small school nearby. It is similar to Kedareshvara temple and has a garbagriha, vestibule and navaranga with the ceiling designs. Once again on the outer walls there are friezes, and a blank frieze meant for depicting puranic scenes. The idol inside the inner sanctum however is that of Venkatesa – five feet high of Vijayanagara times and not from the Hoysala period.

The special feature of the Hoysala temple at Govindanahalli is its Panchakuta structure


One of the specialities of the Hoysala temple at Govindanahalli is that it is a Panchakuta structure – i.e. five shrines with five towers. Dedicated to Lord Shiva this temple in Mandya has five lingas in five separate shrines. All the lingas are enclosed in shrines and each of these shrines is connected to a hall or a navaranga. Initially this temple was a Chatushkuta – a four shrined structure, the east shrine was a later addition.

There are plenty of interesting things to see in this temple.

For one, the linga inside the shrine is distinctive. With different names like Aghora, Ishana, Tatpurusha, Sadyojata and Vamadeva, the lingas in the five shrines are different in shape and size. Only two of the shrines boast of a Nandi mantapa in front. You can see some unique sculptures of Saptamatrika, Mahishasuramardini, Shanmuka, etc., inside the shrine.

There are beautiful sculptures of doorkeepers or dwarapalakas in the entrance, and on the pedestal is carved the name Mallitamma. He was a sculptor responsible for work of many temples— Amritapura, Nuggehalli, Somnathapura, etc.
Another interesting thing about this temple is that it boasts of a 1236 AD inscription during the reign of Hoysala King Veera Someshwara. Someshwara gave a grant of Tenginaghatta village to his ministers Bogayya and Mallaya. The ministers transformed this village and its eleven hamlets into agrahara – called Prasanna Somnathapura and gifted it to different Brahmins in the presence of God Ramanatha at Setu.

On the outer walls of the temple there are various forms of Vishnu- Keshava, Madhava, Govinda, Venugopala, etc. What is interesting here is that the labels of the gods have been inscribed below each of these forms giving clarity on the various sculptures.


This is a Jain centre for Digambaras. And it has basadis (temples) dating to Ganga and Hoysala times. Kambadahalli has a panchakuta basadi and in the north of this basadi is another temple dedicated to Shantinatha.

Panchakuta basadi

The Panchakuta basadi has been built in two phases. First a trikuta structure dedicated to Adinatha was built and then a dvikuta was added to it.

The trikuta structure has three inner sanctums – the central sanctum has the Adinatha sculpture while the east facing sanctum has the sculpture of Neminatha, and the west has Shantinatha. All of them are seated on lotus. The trikuta structure can be dated to 900 AD. The three shrines have a common navaranga and a mukhamantapa. Inside the temple there are sculptures of yaksha, yakshis like Dharanendra, Kushmandini, Padmavati, etc. The ceiling of the navaranga has the figures of ashtadikpalakas.

An interesting feature of this temple lies in its shikaras or towers. Each of the three shrines has a Dravidian style shikara topped with a different stupa. While the east facing shikara has a circular stupi, the south facing shikara has a square shape and the west facing shikara is octagonal. The niches in the temple walls are filled with tirthankara figures (figures of spititual teachers) while some are left bare.

Two more twin temples that face each other have been added to the trikuta structure in the second phase making the temple complex panchakuta. These twin temples said to have been added during Hoysala times have their own inner sanctum, antarala and navaranga and have figures of seated tirthankaras.

There are a few memorial stones outside the temple complex.

The two dwarpalaks at the Shantinatha basadi

Shantinatha basadi

To the north of the panchakuta temple complex is the 12th century Shantinatha basadi. It was constructed by Boppa, son of Gangaraja– a general during Vishnuvardhan`s times. The temple has two garbagrihas, a navaranga and a sabhamantapa as well. The temple boasts of a well carved Shantinatha sculpture, beautiful sculptural designs on the navaranga ceiling. There are also two dwarapalakas or door keepers in the temple.

Along with the charming basadis, there is a 50 feet high pillar with a Brahma sculpture on top. The pillar has ashtadikpalakas at its base.


Kikkeri is located in Krishnarajapete taluk. It has a beautiful Hoysala- styled Brahmeshwara temple. It was once an agrahara known as Kikkeripura.

The Brahmeshwara temple is a Dravidian style temple with a Nandi mantapa outside. The temple boasts of an inner sanctum, sukhanasi, navaranga and mukhamantapa. The temple has the Brahmeshwara linga inside, and two other shrines in south and north. One has a Shivalinga in it and the other shrine has the sculpture of Keshava. The doorways of the temple boast of Shaiva doorkeepers. The navaranga has Hoysala-styled pillars with the Madanika (sculpture of women displaying stylised feminine features) reliefs.

The Nandi mantapa outside has a beautiful image of Nandi and the sculpture of sun idol behind it.

The temple does not have any plinth and there are no horizontal friezes like other Hoysala temples. But it has beautiful sculptures of Uma-Maheshwara, Brahma-Saraswati, Lakshmi-Narayana, Arjun piercing fish, Bhairava and the famous Darpana sundari images(a lady holding a mirror) that we see prominently in Belur. In the temple courtyard, you have other smaller temples of Parvati-Ganapati and Kalabhairava. There are also few Naga sculptures in the courtyard said to be from the Hoysala period.

As per inscription records this temple was built by Bammavva, wife of chieftain Barmayya in 1171. This was during the reign of Hoysala king Narasimha I.

Getting there

Nagalapura is 123 km from Bangalore located in Turuvekere Taluk in Tumkur. Kambadahalli is located in Nagamangala taluk in Mandya and is 18 kilometres from the popular Jain centre Sravanabelagola. Govindanhalli is located in Mandya and is around 161 kilometres from the city. Kikkeri is quite near to Govindanahalli, just five kilometres or so.


There are very few eateries near the temples as they are often located in remote locations. However both Tumkur and Mysore highways boast of myriad eateries, so much so that you will be spoilt for choice. There are a variety of South Indian eateries where you can get/pack breakfast and lunch.

Usha Hariprasad

Usha Hariprasad is a freelancer who is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writing about
travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. Currently, she works in a trekking organisation.