I only had the faintest memory of Mysore. I vaguely remembered eating at Dasaprakash (OMG!) and clicking pictures near the big Nandi on the way to the Chamundeshwari temple. When a close friend said she was getting married in Mysore, I was determined to make a holiday out of it. Who better than cousin S to drag along! After the wedding, we had about 2 1/2 days in the city. This series is an attempt to capture a few of the sights that got us excited during the trip.
I think the Chennakesava temple at Somanathpur is a befitting place to start even though that’s not the place we visited first ‘cos it simply took our breath away! If you watch tamil movies at all, you know what I’m talking about. You should recognize this temple from this song or this one or this one or the most popular of them all, this one. But nothing comes close to the first glance of the temple when you enter.
Soma, a commander under the Hoysala king, Narasimha III built a village on left bank of the river Kaveri and called it Somanathpur after himself. The Chennakesava temple is the most prominent landmark of Somanathpur (also called Somanathapura) and was also built by him. This temple is a fine example of Hoysala architecture that is found all over modern day Karnataka.
The more famous Chennakesava temple is housed in Belur. I haven’t seen that one but it is said to be grander than the one in Somanathpur. That is hard to imagine as this is a pretty massive temple too!
The entire temple is in the shape of a star. When you enter the temple, there is a mandap in the entrance with detailed inscriptions in Kannada about Soma, the Hoysala empire etc. It is also said to have the names of the sculptors who’ve worked on the temple. According to the friendly tribal artifacts shop owner near the temple, there were both local sculptors as well as some from Tamilnadu who worked on the temple. Even though I wasn’t able to really identify too much technical stuff about the architectural pattern, the entire temple was very geometric. There was a mathematical precision to the sculptures and the inscriptions we saw. The level was detailing in the sculptures was very high. Facial features, patterns on their dresses, jewelry they were wearing were all very precise and weren’t just replicated. You could make out that each idol had a character of its own. There are also sculptures of horses and other animals on which there are warriors who look like they’re getting ready for a fight.
The temple was very evidently a vaishnavite one. There were statues of Vishnu in all his forms all over the temple. There were sculptures of Dasavatharam, scenes from Mahabharata, Krishna, Rama, Garuda etc. When I was looking at the Dasavatharam on the left wall of the temple, I was surprised to see some very graphic sex scenes carved right between the Dasavatharam and a Garuda. I say surprising because I wasn’t aware of this aspect of the Hoysala architecture. Also, none of the blogs/sites I read before going even mentioned this.
The Garba graham or the sanctum sanctorum has 3 shrines. They house Keshava, Janardhana & Venugopala. All there are different forms of Lord Vishnu. We were hardly able t o make out anything there cos these shrines are very dark and even in bright day light, there is light there.
The passage that connects all three has beautiful pillars with intricate patterns on them. The rings on these pillars are nothing like I’ve seen anywhere. There is very little light that comes in to this part of the temple ‘cos there are only tiny holes in the wall the act as a light source and ventilation.
This is a “temple” only by manner of speaking. There is no Pooja that happens here as the idols were maimed by muslim invaders who came to this region later. However, I wasn’t sure why the idols weren’t replaced and the worship continued. Didn’t get any satisfactory answer for this near the temple or the internet. This place is maintained by the ASI and is truly well preserved. A lot of restoration work is still in progress at the temple and we saw some extensive work under progress when we went.
We were also lucky ‘cos we went to the temple on a weekday. There was hardly anyone when were went there. Other than a bunch of really noisy school kids on a vacation, we got almost exclusive time at the temple!
Getting there: We took a cab from Mysore for a day trip to Somanathpur, Talakad, Gaganachukki and Barachukki falls and a couple of other temples on the way. The total trip was about 250km and it cost us about Rs. 2200. The road from Mysore is pretty decent and should take you less than an hour to reach there.
Entry: there is a Rs. 5 entry. No extra charges for a camera.
Toilet: there is a very clean toilet in the temple premises.
Food/Drinks: there is only one tea shop that serves some hot tea and some snacks. Carry food if you think you might be hungry.
Stay: though were were told there were places to stay at somanathpur, you’re better off staying in mysore (more details about where to stay in Mysore coming up in the next posts).
Memorabilia: you can buy postcards of the temple for Rs. 10 from hawkers outside. Or, there is a shop that sells tribal artifacts including some stuff very specific to the temple.
More pictures of the temple here.
Written with inputs from Cousin S who blogs here.