The Hoysala Dynasty temple circuit of Hassan, Karnataka, includes a stop at Channakeshava Temple of Belur and a stop at Hoysalewara Temple of Halebid. If you’re lucky you’ll survive unshaken by the throng of touts situated near both popular South India tourist spots. Or, you could go directly to Kedareswara Temple of Halebid where you’ll find the same awe inspiring, detail rich architecture on display without the hassle of fellow tourists or the annoying sales pitches.
Located down a dead end road behind Hoysalewara Temple, a strip of nearly forgotten temples lie among grassy plots and the shade of a few palm trees. You’ll need to ask for directions from a local tuk tuk driver. You could also ask for assistance from the numerous pick-up guides stationed outside Halebid Hoysalewara Temple with the understanding they will likely pass given their income opportunity is much greater at the latter, far more popular tourist site.
A total of 4 temples exist behind a flimsy chain link fence: Kedareswara Temple, Parshvanatha Basadi, Shantinatha Basadi, and an unnamed structure.
This compact structure made of carved stone is a spitting image to the larger, more ornate Channakeshava Temple and Hoysalewara Temple. Six steps ascend the five layer star shaped platform from which the temple is built upon, a signature design of Hoysala builders. Interior access is prohibited leaving visitors able only to peek inside through locked metal grate doors. Massive monolithic black columns support a highly decorated stone ceiling in a more intimate setting than it’s more famous sister temples. The inner shrine appears to have been vandalized at some point.
In keeping with a similar design as the Hoysala temples, Kedareswara is also encircled by a raised outer ring. From here, one can view an impressive 8 rows of friezes in the images of elephants, lions, horses and bead garlands all around the bottom half of the temple’s outer wall. Much of the carvings remain in respectable condition given Mother Nature’s best efforts to erode history. Entry into the temple (if accessible) would be through a tradition mandapa which appears to have been altered with inserted screens made of carved stone. This same alteration can be seen at Channakeshava Temple and Hoysalewara Temple, although the screens of Hoysalwara are larger and more architecturally interesting.
Above the rows of friezes are two larger rows of carved deities finalizing the nearly 16 feet high outer temple walls. You won’t find the stunningly elaborate bracket figurines of Channakeshava Temple here, or the stylish smaller shrines flanking temple steps as seen at the other two neighboring temples. Instead, Kedareswara Temple looks as if it were a blue print for grander, more skilled designs to come from the Hoysala Dynasty. Call it understated elegance. It is still a definite must see.
Parshvanatha Basadi & Shantinatha Basadi
Simple outer walls, mandapas supported by massive columns, and just a few fine hand carved details describe these two temples which drastically contrast the opulent look of Kedareswara Temple. Hoysala rulers were followers of Jain principles before converting to Hinduism. Parshvanatha Basadi and Shantinatha Basadi are relics of Hoysala’s Jain period.
Parshvanatha Basadi is more refined in appearance of the two temples. Dedicated to the 23rd Tirthankar (founder/teacher) of Jainism, this temple was built in 1133. Two elephants guard entry into a spectacular open air mandapa which is uniquely unattached from the actual temple structure. Bulky carved monolithic columns bear the interior roof weight while simpler, narrow stone columns support the outer edges. Rather stark exterior walls have just a touch of intricate carvings by way of two narrow rows of carved deities, and a larger upper row of carvings adorning the roofline. The overall simplicity is possibly thoughtful brilliance or just a result from strained resources.
Visitors would be smart to bring a flashlight. Entering Parshvanatha Basadi is like venturing into a windowless cave. Interior details are viewed only in 1 second snippets by way of camera flashes. It’s a novel way to find your way around in a pinch. Any disappointment from rather drab exterior walls is quickly disregarded at the abundant sights of interior embellishments throughout Parshvanatha Basadi. An 18 foot tall statue of Parshvanatha Tirthankar stands within an inner sanctum marked by the same dramatic black columns seen inside Channakeshava Temple. You can’t help but to run your bare hands against the chillingly smooth stone columns. Fingertips are brought to heightened senses as they traverse the centuries old hand carved ornaments. And eyes are hypnotized at maze like, criss-crossed octagonal ceiling artwork.
Shantinatha Basadi blends several styles of architecture while looking distinctively unlike any other temple in the area. Built in 1196, a full 63 years after Parshvanatha Basadi, the stone block structure is dedicated to the 20th Jain Tirthankar. An elevated mandapa connected to the temple is supported by tapering columns with unique notches rather than the more commonly seen circular razor edged lip design. A frontal view of the structure invokes an eerie similarity to Roman and Greek architecture.
Interior design quality lacks the punch given by both Parshvanatha Basadi and Kedareswara Temple. It’s most interesting detail is an 18 foot high statue of Shantinatha Tirthankar which again can’t be seen without a flashlight or camera. From a lackluster ceiling design to the seemingly unfinished walls inside and out, Shantinatha Basadi gives an impression of “eh, we tried”. Dazzling, no. Introspective, definitely.
Between Parshvanatha Basadi and Shantinatha Basadi lies a fourth, unnamed temple. Crumbling from the outside, interior views are actually more impressive than one might expect. Small shrines and textured columns adorn the low ceiling approach to a simple inner sanctum. A few ceiling embellishments add flare yet the overall appearance falls well short of the other temples.
Appearing from nowhere was an extremely friendly, non English speaking attendent. Tall and thin with piercing eyes and a full head of hair, his good looks didn’t match his slightly ragged appearance. Part temple guardian, part guide, his voiceless directions to interesting sights were priceless. Literally. He would not take a tip for his assistance.
Entry to all temples is free.
Treat yourself to an uncomplicated look into Hoysala architecture at this spot away from the masses. Transportation is available by tuk tuk or walking. Arrange for your driver to wait or return after a specified time limit as there are no waiting return rides to town.