Somanathapura Temple

Weather :

Time Required : 1-2 hrs

Entry Fee : Indians: INR 5,
Foreign Nationals: INR 100
Children (Up to 12 years): No entry fee
Videography: INR 25

Timings : 9:00 AM - 5:30 PM

Somanathapura Temple, Mysore Overview

On the banks of Holy river Kaveri is a tiny tranquil town of Somanathapura. Here stands the finest and most exemplary monument of Hoysala architecture known as the famous Prasanna Chennakesava Temple or simply the Kesava Temple. Consecrated in the year 1258 CE, it is a Vaishnav Hindu Temple dedicated to might and beauty of Lord Krishna (Chenna= Beautiful and Kesava= Krishna). Tourists from near and far come to visit the temple to get a view of the beautiful place. The Chennakesava temple is one of the 1500 Temples built by the Hoysala Empire kings in different parts of their kingdom, and is said to be the climax development in Hoysala temple style and yet is unique in many other ways. 

A classic example of the famous Hoysala architecture, and is one of the three temples of the kind to be nominated in the Unesco World Heritage list. Unfortunately, this temple is no longer used as a place of worship because the idols have been broken and desecrated by the invading Muslim armies. However, the beauty of the temple still charms thousands of visitors who visit the site to witness the magnificent artistic and engineering achievements of the era, to seek the Lord's blessing and admire the delicate carvings and sculptures, whose beauty is unequal and as unique as the God that it houses.

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History of Somanathapura Temple

Somanathapura, the town was founded by a general named Somanatha Dandanayaka in the 13 century, while he was in the service of Hoysala King Narasimha III. After that, he sought the king's permission and granted lands and resources to Brahmins to build and maintain the temples in the town, Somanathapura (known after the name of the patron). In the heart of this new town, General Somanatha built the Kesava temple and consecrated it in 1258 CE. Additionally, several other Hoysala style temples were also built in the city but all these except the Lakshmi Narasimha temple has disappeared or are in ruins after the wars between the Hindu kingdoms and Muslim sultanates ravaged the region.

According to inscriptions, the Chennakesava Temple also suffered huge damage due to the war in the 14th century but was repaired a century later by the grants and financial aid given by the Vijayanagara Empire kings. The difference in the color of stones and quality of work in the verandah and some parts of the northern tower and platform of the main temple is the evidence of these repairs. Once again, the beautiful temple suffered another bout of damage in the 19th century and was again repaired in the early 20th century by the colonial era Mysore government.

Architecture of Somanathapura Temple

This intricately carved and tastefully architectured temple was built in the 13 century on the banks of the beautiful river Kaveri. Unique and beautiful Hoysala architecture is one of the many features of the place that has made it famous all around the world. The whole temple complex, its gates, mandap and inscription stones are carved out of soapstone that enabled the artists to carve out the beautifully intricate artwork.

Outside
The Chennakesava Temple is enclosed in a walled courtyard that has the ornate main gate or Mahadwar. Outside this Mahadwar stands a tall pillar having a statue of the Garuda on top, that was considered as Lord Vishnu's vaahan (vehicle). The Garuda statue is now missing. As one enters from the Mahadwar, an open public courtyard, with the main three-towered temple in the centre, comes into view. The walls of the courtyard are frames a rectangular verandah with an array of 64 shrines. 

Main Temple
The main temple is built on a jagati, symbolizing a worldly platform, with the idol of Lord Vishnu on top. It is about 3 feet high and is shaped in the form of a star with stairs for climbing up on the east end. Near the stairs are the shrines of two dwarpals (gatekeepers), which are now damaged. Around the jagati is a narrow pradakshina patha (circumambulation path). While doing the parikrama, one can read pictorial stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana legends in the correct sequence.

Outer Walls
The outer walls of the Somanathapura Temple have horizontal patches of artwork carved into them divided into three major sections. The lowest section showcase a row of elephants, marching in the clockwise direction. Above the elephants is a row of armed riders mounted on horses or camels. The band further above represents flowers, fruits and occasionally some peacocks and wildlife. Another band above it is the mythology frieze depicts the legends and spiritual capturing stories found in the Ramayana, the Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata. The upper level of the wall has nearly 200 relief carving showing the life of the people. Most of them are defaced or damaged. Apart from that, there are various other carvings of deities, predominantly Vishnu in his various aspects and avatars. 

Navranga
As one enters the wooden door to the inside of the temple, there is a Navranga with its usual nine squares as mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. There are three ankanas and jagali platforms for the visiting devotees to sit. The interior here and the Navranga suggests that the temple was designed per Panchayatana puja architecture found in Smarta Hindu tradition.

Pillars and Ceiling
The colossal mandap hall is supported by various posts. The four centre pillars portray common life themes stacked in sequence: disc, bell, pot, wheel and umbrella. The four central square pillars yakshas and brackets that are either damaged or have disappeared. Two other pillars on the east are in the shape of 32 pointed stars.

Inscriptions on Chennakesava Temple

The outer walls, the inner walls, and the temple complex is entirely covered with intricately carved mythological and theological iconography. They display various Hindu text such as Ramayan (southern section), Mahabharata (northern sections) and Bhagwat Puran (Western section). Important historical dates and circumstances concerning the region are also inscribed in eight stones scattered across the temple complex. The inscriptions confirm the building and repairs that underwent in the temple across centuries. Various other inscriptions also carry with the names of the artist who carved the block, pillar or artwork.

Chennakesava Temple Deity

The three holy idols housed in the temple, Keshava, Janardhana and Venugopal are all names of Lord Krishna found in the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita. The Chennakesava itself means 'handsome Krishna' and denotes the physical and spiritual beauty of the Lord's might. Unfortunately, the magnificence of the idols here has been marred by many military expedition and battles with Muslim armies that happened in the region.

Best Time To Visit Somanathapura Temple

The best time to visit the temple is during from October to March. During the rest of the year, the temperature in this part of the country is soaring high and is very humid, making the journey uncomfortable.

Tips For Visiting Somanathapura Temple

1. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the main complex.
2. Pets are not allowed in the temple.
3. You may sit in the open garden surrounding the temple but maintain cleanliness.  
4. You can avail the facilities of a government certified guide for a fixed rate of INR 300 per 30 minutes.

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