Halebeedu or Halebidu is an important temple town, situated about 200 KMs from Bengaluru in Karnataka. It was the capital city of the Hoysala Empire, who were great patrons of art and literature. The name “Halebeedu” literally means an old camp in Kannada. It is also referred to as “Dwarasamudra” due to the presence of a large water body near the temple. This ruined city is famous for Hoysaleshwar temple, Jain Basadis, and many other historical temples which are examples of a glorious past of the city.
The Hoysalas were primarily from a region called Malenadu in the Western Ghats, who were all well versed in warfare techniques. They took advantage of the internal ongoing wars between the Chalukyas and the Kalachuri dynasty and annexed the areas under present-day Karnataka. By the 13th century, they were ruling most parts of Karnataka, minor parts of Tamil Nadu and some parts of western Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The Hoysala period is considered a golden period of the region for their influence on art, architecture, literature, and religion, and developments in South India. They ruled from the city of Belur as their capital but later moved to Halebeedu. They are remembered today primarily for the Hoysala Architecture.
There are about 92 temples present today, out of which about 35 are in the Hassan district. Prominent among them are Chennakesava Temple in Belur, Hoysaleshwar Temple in Halebeedu, and Chennakesava Temple in Somnathpura. Other temples like Laxmi Narasimha in Nuggehalli, Veer Narayan in Belawadi, Ishwar Temple in Arasikere, Bucheswara in Koravangla, Jain Basadi’s, Brahmeshwara in Kikkeri are also a distinct example of Hoysala architecture.
According to a Kannada folklore, there was a young man called Sala who saved his Guru from a tiger by striking with a sword. Since “strike” in old Kannada was called “Hoy”, hence, the name Hoysala.
Halebeedu attained glorious heights during the reign of King Veer Ballal. Its prosperity attracted the kings of Delhi Sultanate and it was attacked twice by Malik Kafur in 1311 CE and once again by Muhammed Bin Tughlaq in 1326 CE. Attacks by the invaders and death of its king Ballal III in a battle against the Sultan of Madurai in 1342 CE was the last blow to ruin the glory of Halebeedu. The Hoysalas were forced to relinquish this beautiful capital city and it became a memory in the pages of history.
Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebeedu
The most important temple in the town is the Hoysaleswar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built by Ketumalla Setti, an official of King Vishnuvardhan. The temple was built in the honor of the king and his beloved queen Shantala Devi. There are two shrines in the temple both dedicated to Lord Shiva known as Hoysaleswara and Shantaleswara.
The construction of the temple started in 1121 CE and it is said to have continued for a century. Some historians believed that it is still incomplete as there are no Shikhar or towers and also some unfinished portions still remain. But some have the view that the Shikhar was demolished.
The temple is built of local soapstone also known as chloritic schist. It is a star-shaped temple and has four porches for entry, each on north and south and two on the eastern side. Currently, the north entrance is used for visitor entry. The temple is built on a platform or Jagati like the other Hoysala temples. It is about 15 feet in width and built across the temple. It is used for circumambulation or Pradakshina. The stone steps connect the Jagati with the ground. There are many smaller shrines dedicated to different deities on the Jagati built across the temple near the stone steps on each entrance.
Sculpted Friezes of Hoysaleshwar Temple
The lower portion of the temple is decorated with richly sculpted friezes which run continuously along the walls. The sequence of the friezes from the bottom are as follow:
- Elephants- They symbolize strength, hence they were carved at the bottom of the temple. There are around 1248 elephants built in different styles along the walls.
- Lions- They represented courage
- Flowering creepers represented beauty
- Horses represent speed
- Again flowering creepers for beauty
- Scenes from epics
- Mythical beasts called Makaras
- Mythological figures of deities called as Khetrapalas
- Scenes depicting moral stories, social life, and erotic postures
- Large sculptures of Gods and Goddesses and stories from the epics
The upper portion of the walls has beautiful perforated screens for ventilation and passage of light inside the temple complex. According to our guide, initially, there were no perforated walls as the mandapa inside the temple was open. They were later added during the reign of King Narasimha I and the mandapa was closed. As we go around the temple, we can see some of the grandest and marvelous architectural wonders.
35,000 Sculptures at Hoysaleshwar temple
It is said that there are about thirty-five thousand splendidly carved structures. These structures are bigger and better in terms of quality and quantity than the structures in other Hoysala temples of Belur or Somnathpura. Prominent among these structures are:
- Krishna lifting Govardhan
- The battle between Arjun and Karna from Mahabharata
- Gajendra moksha
- Ravana lifting mount Kailasha
- Samudra Manthan
- Vanar Sena helping in building the bridge during Lanka Yudh
- Stories from Bhagavata related to the birth of Krishna, Putana Vadh
There are two sanctum sanctorum, Shantaleshwar in North and Hoysaleswar in South housing two east-facing Shiva lingams. The shrines are built on north-south alignment with an entrance on the eastern side. The two temple halls are joined by a common verandah. Two Nandi Mandapa on the eastern side house two huge Nandi, the vahana or vehicle of Shiva. Both the Nandis are richly decorated. Behind the Nandi mandap that faces the Hoysaleshwara, is a large figure of Suryadev along with seven horses and Arunadeva, the charioteer.
There are two entrances to the temple on the eastern side – One for Hoysaleshwar and another for Shantaleshwar. Both the entrances are flanked by two Dwarapalas and beautiful Toranas on the lintel of the doorway. The interior of the temple is large and spacious but the walls are comparatively plain compared to outer walls. There are smaller shrines dedicated to different Gods and Goddesses inside the temple but most of them are destroyed. The interior is richly decorated with ornately carved circular lathe pillars, a unique style of the Hoysala architecture.
Interiors of Temple
The interior of the temple also follows the Dwikuta Vimana plan consisting of two identical shrines, each consist of a Garbhagriha, Sukanasi and a Darshana mandap or Navrang mandapa. The Garbhagriha is decorated with Makara Torana, above which different avatars of Vishnu is carved. Two small Nandis sit in front of the shrine facing the shiva lingams. The central verandah that joins the mandapa of both the shrines has a row of pillars in the north-south alignment. Each Navrang mandapa has richly carved four pillars and a raised ceiling.
The pillars have figures of beautifully sculpted female figurines called the Madanikas on the top, near the ceiling. The ceiling is intricately carved with sculptures of different Gods and Goddesses. The figurines of Madanikas in most of the pillars are either destroyed or missing.
The southern doorway has a delicately carved rich filigree work that is unrivaled and is considered a masterpiece. The central figure portrays Shiva in Nataraja pose along with Nandi and another musician. The entrance is also flanked by two big six feet high Dwarapalas, richly decorated with ornaments. Even though they are defaced and destroyed, they are captivating.
There is a Garuda pillar on the southern side built in the memory of the bodyguards of the royals called “Garuda”. The southern entrance also has an eight-foot-high sculpture of Ganesh.
The temple complex has manicured lawns with sitting arrangements and beautiful flowering plants. The complex has an ASI museum with many Hoysala sculptures recovered from the ruins of different Hoysala shrines across the state.
Other important monuments in Halebeedu
Located towards the southwest of the Hoysaleswar temple, this is another Hoysala masterpiece. It is a Star-shaped Trikuta temple with three shrines, dedicated to Shiva on a raised platform called Jagati like the other Hoysala temples. It was constructed by King Veer Ballal II and his queen Abhinavi Ketala Devi.
Situated in a beautiful garden, with very few visitors, the place is always calm and gives a sense of divine presence. The temple was closed when I visited. But as per the local guide, the interior has a main sanctum and two smaller shrines on its sides. All three shrines are connected through a central hall or maha mandapa. These shrines have individual Garbhagriha and Sukanasi that is connected to the hall. The lower wall of the temple has elaborately carved friezes of elephants, lions, Makara, swan-like the Hoysaleswar temple. The upper part of the walls has about 180 sculptures of various deities, stories from Puranas, Ramayana, and Mahabarata.
Jain Basadis in Halebeedu
Jainism also flourished during the rule of Hoysalas, though its patronage substantially decreased after the 12th century AD. Halebeedu has three Jain Basadis not far from the Hoyasaleswar temple dedicated to three important Tirthankars of Jainism.
Dedicated to the 23rd Tirthankar it is the most important among the three Jain Basadis and is believed to be built by Boppana, the son of a minister of King Vishnuvardhan in 1133 CE. It is adorned with splendid sculptures and elaborate carvings. There are polished mirror-like 12 pillars in the central hall. The central ceiling is also ornately carved. The sanctum sanctorum enshrines an 18 ft high black granite stone image of Shri Parshwanatha Swamy.
Smaller than the Parshwanatha Basadi this one is dedicated to the 16th Tirthankar Shri Shanthinathswamy. It was built around 1192 CE during the reign of King Veer Ballal II. The shrine is also ornately carved with beautiful sculptures and mirror-polished lathe pillars. The sanctum sanctorum houses the 18 ft high black granite stone image of Shri Shanthinathaswamy.
Small Basadi dedicated to Shri Adinatha Swamy, the first Jain Tirthankar. It was built around the 12th century and houses images of Shri Adinatha and Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning and wisdom.
Situated near the KSTDC lodge, it dates back to the Hoysala period but there are hardly any carvings. It is a Trikuta temple with three shrines enshrining two Shiva Lingas and another shrine has an image of Veerbhadra. The temple compound can be entered through a Mahadwara.
In ruins, situated near the Rudreshwara temple complex. Sculptures recovered from this site can be seen in the museum.
Situated towards the north of the Hoysaleswara temple close to Syndicate bank. Originally built during the Hoysala period dedicated to Shiva. But, later on, it was enlarged and dedicated to Vishnu as Shri Ranganatha or Vishnu.
There are other shrines near Ranganatha Temple dating back to the Hoysala periods. Like Kumbaleswara, Gundleswara, and Veerabhadra.
The deities are not worshipped. Hence no temple rituals are followed here. The temple is famous for its architectural marvel.
Travel Tips to Halebeedu
- It is about 200 km from Bangalore. Day-trip by road is possible. The nearest town is Hassan from where it is an hour’s drive. Advisable to stay in Hassan so that both this place and Belur, another Hoysala marvel too can be explored on the same day.
- Hassan is well connected through road and rail with important towns and cities of Karnataka. KSRTC buses regularly ply from these towns and cities.
- There are good hotels available in Hassan. Hence stay is not a problem.
- One can visit at any time of the year. But the best time to visit is between October to March when the weather is cool.
- Early morning and late afternoon are preferred times of visit.
- Decent restaurants are near the temple for snacks and lunch.
- Advisable to hire a guide. Guide charges are fixed by the association @Rs 300/-
- No entry fee for the temple complex.
- Temple timings – 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM.
- Museum Timings – Monday to Friday – 9 AM to 5 PM.
This is a post by Shruti Mishra under Inditales Internship Program.
Shruti Mishra is a professional banker. She loves to travel and explore the rich heritage of different places and enjoy their local cuisine. She is a book lover. And also likes to cook a warm meal for the family. She currently lives in Bangalore. Has dreams to extensively explore this beautiful country completely and write a book on the roads less traveled.