“Hoy Sala " (Strike Sala!) said guru Sudatta Muni to his student Sala, who was in armed combat with a tiger. The beast had just attacked the duo, who were immersed in rituals at a Durga or Vasantha Parameshwari temple in the village of Sasakapura or Sosevur. The student struck the animal in one blow, immortalizing himself and his victim. Pleased, the guru instructed Sala to establish a kingdom. Thus was born the Hoysala dynasty, with Sosevur as the capital.
We are a country that loves stories. There are tales for everything from deities to devils, from demi-gods to mortals. You will often hear this story told and retold if you are in Malenadu in Karnataka. Almost every Hoysala temple has this tale carved in stone, making it a royal emblem.
The dynasty that ruled Karnataka for over 400 years is known more for its temples than its battles. It is believed that they built over 1,500 shrines, of which more than 400 have been discovered today. Of these only three have made it to the tourist map - Belur, Halebeedu and Somnathpur. My journeys have taken me to barely 30 of them, of which I would now recommend about five.
When a dynasty owes its origins to a myth, one has to see the place where the story was set. It is believed that Sala’s Sosevur is Angadi, a small hamlet in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. Deep inside coffee plantations lies the temple of the Goddess, along with the ruins of more temples and Jain basadis. The priest will narrate the story and show you the temple where Sala killed the tiger. Although historians dismiss the myth, they do believe that the basadis here are the earliest of the monuments built by the Hoysalas. Small mud roads take you uphill into dense coffee plantations. As you follow the roads, you reach a rugged path that takes you to the basadis. Another path leads you to the three temples, which were completely in ruins when I chanced upon them. They are the Chennakesava, Patalarudreshwara and Mallikarjuna temples. Surrounding you are verdant plantations and all that you can hear is the chirping of birds, with hardly a soul around.
On the route to Belur from Hassan lies a small green board that says “Doddagaddavalli”. Follow the arrow and drive through the detour and you will see lush fields and coconut trees all along the way. As the eyes get blinded by the greenery, you see the first glimpse of this beautiful 12th century temple, built by a merchant, with a lake in the background and fields all around it. A quaint hamlet with a handful of houses interrupts you, as you finally land right on the doorstep of the temple. It is a Lakshmi temple with shrines dedicated to Kali, Shiva and Vishnu and the only Hoysala temple with four towers or vimanas. A serene lake completes this picture-perfect monument as you look up to see the Hoysala crest basking in the sun.
Hulikere is not a temple but the only Kalyani or step-well that I have seen in the Hoysala monuments. Located barely a few kilometers from the Hoysaleshwar temple in Halebeedu, the step-well has several shrines alongside it. The Pushpagiri hill looks down on this small dusty hamlet and Hulikere often becomes the playground for the village kids who head here to play “This is Queen Shantala Devi ‘s private pond,” says the watchman, adding that it is called Hulikere because the security arranged by the king for his queen was so secure that even a tiger could not walk around it. So much for names and myths!
Three brothers competed with each other to build the most beautiful Hoysala temple right here in Koravangala, near Hassan. But all that we saw was a 12th century Dwikuta or a temple with two vimanas or towers dedicated to Shiva called Bucheswara. It was built by a wealthy officer Buchi after he won the war against the Cholas, although he lost his sons in the battle. The inscriptions here say that Buchi vied with his brothers Govinda and Naka, whose temples lie absolutely in ruins beside a dry lake bed.
Twin temples dedicated to Keshava and Siddeshwara lie in a quiet remote village called Marle in Chikmagalur district. The village spoke of tribal chieftain Poysala Muruga, one of the earliest founders of the dynasty. Yet, today, you barely see a soul around you as you walk along dry fields and patches of land to see the temples virtually lost to the sky and earth. The two lie side by side, adorned with some flowers left by a priest from the neighbourhood.
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