Here is an interesting video featuring an Indian temple that is 900 years old and reviewing the workmanship in building the columns and the carvings. Once again, the notion that it was a bunch of guys with primitive chisels and hammers does not really work. Watch the video and you will see what I mean. I also included a Wikipedia post about the same temple so you can get some background about it.
Hoysaleswara temple, also referred simply as the Halebidu temple, is a 12th-century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It is the largest monument in Halebidu, a town in the state of Karnataka, India and the former capital of the Hoysala Empire. The temple was built on the banks of a large man-made lake, and sponsored by King Vishnuvardhanaof the Hoysala Empire. Its construction started around 1121 CE and was complete in 1160 CE. During the early 14th century, Halebidu was twice sacked and plundered by the Muslim armies of Delhi Sultanate from northern India, and the temple and the capital fell into a state of ruin and neglect. It is 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Hassancity and about 210 kilometres (130 mi) from Bengaluru.
The Hoysaleswara temple is a Shaivism tradition monument, yet reverentially includes many themes from Vaishnavism and Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, as well as images from Jainism. The Hoysaleswara temple is a twin-temple dedicated to Hoysaleswara and Santaleswara Shiva lingas, named after the masculine and feminine aspects, both equal and joined at their transept. It has two Nandi shrines outside, where each seated Nandi face the respective Shiva linga inside. The temple includes a smaller sanctum for the Hindu Sun god Surya. It once had superstructure towers, but no longer and the temple looks flat. The temple faces east, though the monument is presently visited from the north side. Both the main temples and the Nandi shrines are based on a square plan. The temple was carved from soapstone. It is notable for its sculptures, intricate reliefs, detailed friezes as well its history, iconography, inscriptions in North Indian and South Indian scripts. The temple artwork provides a pictorial window into the life and culture in the 12th century South India. About 340 large reliefs depict the Hindu theology and associated legends. Numerous smaller friezes narrate Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana. Some friezes below large reliefs portray its narrative episodes.
The artwork in Hoysaleswara temple is damaged but largely intact. Within a few kilometers of the temple are numerous ruins of Hoysala architecture. The temple along with the nearby Jain Temples and the Kedareshwara temple, along with the Kesava temple in Belur have been proposed to be listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Hoysaleswara Temple is located in Halebidu, also called Halebeedu, Halebid, Dorasamudra. Halebidu is a town in Hassan district of the Indian state of Karnataka. It is about 30 kilometres (19 mi) northwest of Hassan. The temple is about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Belur temples. Halebidu has no nearby airport, and is about 210 kilometres (130 mi) west of Bengaluru (IATA Code: BLR), about 4 hours drive accessible with a four lane NH75 highway through Hassan. Halebidu is connected by railway network at Hassan to major cities of Karnataka.
The Hoysala period of South Indian history began about 1000 CE and continued through 1346 CE. In this period, they built around 1,500 temples in 958 centres. Halebidu was originally called Dvarasamudra (or Dorasamudra), a name derived from two Sanskrit words “Dvara” (gateway, door) and Samudra (ocean, sea, large water body). The capital used to be Belur, but Dvarasamudra became the established capital under king Vishnuvardhana and served as the capital of the Hoyasala Empire for nearly 300 years.
Unlike other Hoysala temples that have survived into the modern age, and despite numerous inscriptions in the temple premises, the Hoysaleswara Temple lacks a dedication inscription. It is likely lost, along with the many other features of the original temple. An inscription found about five kilometers from the temple site, near the Kallesvara temple ruins in Ghattadahalli, states that Ketamalla – officer in the employ of king Vishnuvardhana constructed this temple. It also notes that the king made grant of lands to support the construction, the operation and the maintenance of the Shiva temple in Saka 1043, or 1121 CE. It was not the only temple built in that era. The inscriptions suggest that the capital consisted of numerous other temples, both of Hinduism and Jainism traditions, along with stepwells, ponds and mantapas (mandapas, public halls) in the vicinity of the large Dorasamudhra lake. Evidence within the temple suggest that the temple was reconstructed and repaired over its history, sometimes for enhancements, sometimes to address structural issue with the towers above it (now missing), and sometimes after wars with the remains of ruined temples elsewhere in the region. It is one of the largest temples dedicated to the god Shiva in South India.
The Hoysala Empire and its capital Dvarasamudra was invaded, plundered and destroyed in early 14th century by the Delhi Sultanate armies of Alauddin Khilji, with Belur and Halebidu becoming the target of plunder and destruction in 1326 CE by another Delhi Sultanate army of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq. The territory was taken over by the Vijayanagara Empire. The Hoysala style, states James C. Harle, came to an end in mid 14th century, when King Ballala III was killed in a war with the Muslim army led by Malik Kafur. Dvarasamudra and its temples became ruins, the capital abandoned and the site became known as “Halebidu” (literally, “old camp or capital”). About 300 of the original Hoysala Empire temples survive in different states of damage, scattered around the Halebid region. Of these, states Hardy, about 70 had been studied to varying degrees of detail by 1995.
The Hoysaleswara temple, also spelled as Hoysaleshwara or Hoywalesvara temple, is a twin-temple, or dvikuta vimana (plan with two shrines and two superstructures). The two temples are of the same size, and their sanctums open to the east, facing sunrise. The sanctum of the “Hoysaleswara” (the king) and the other for “Shantaleswara” (the queen, Shantala Devi) both have a Shiva linga. Outside on the east side of the main temples are two smaller shrines, each with seated Nandi. To the east of the southern Nandi shrine is a smaller attached Surya shrine, where there is a 7 feet (2.1 m) tall Surya statue facing the Nandi and the sanctum. Historians such as Adam Hardy state that the Hoysalesware temple shows evidence of other shrines but these are now missing, lost to history.
The temple complex as a whole is placed on a jagati (literally, worldly platform). The platform is 15 feet wide around the outer walls of the temple, meant for the visitor to walk on and view the artwork clockwise while completing the circumambulation of the sanctums. It is called the pradakshina-patha (path for circumambulation). The smaller shrines share the same jagati as the main temple, connected by stone stairs. The two sanctums are next to each other in a north-south alignment, both face east, and each have in front a mandapa (also spelled mantapa, community hall). The two mandapas are connected giving a view of a large, open navaranga for family and public gatherings.
The temple had towers on top of each sanctum, but they are now missing. According to Foekema, these towers must have followed the star shape of the shrine, because Hoyasala temples that are better preserved have them. The superstructure over the vestibule which connects the shrine to the mantapa, called sukanasi (a low tower that looks like an extension of the main tower) is also missing. Similar the row of decorated miniature roofs, the eastern perimeter walls and other shrines with the main temple are all gone.
The temple was built with chloritic schist, more commonly known as greenschist or soapstone. The soapstone is soft when quarried and easier to carve into intricate shapes, but hardens over time when exposed to air.
The temple outer walls is intricately carved. Its lowest layers consist of bands with friezes that consist of (from bottom to top) elephants, lions, scrolls with nature and miniature dancers, horses, scrolls, scenes from Hindu texts, mythical beasts (makara) and swans.According to Shadakshari Settar, the artwork shows details as “no two lions are alike in the entire span that covers more than a furlong (200 metres)”, the artists “captured the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the main episodes of the Bhagavata”. The temple’s outer wall is a pictorial narration of Hindu epics, and its middle potion have large panels where “the entire pantheon of Hindu divinities are presented, it is a manual of Hindu iconography”, states Settar. According to Foekema and other art historians, the quality and quantity of the epics-related “friezes are amazing”, but the panel series do not complete the story in a stretch, rather after a stretch, another text is intermingled in for a while. The outer walls of the Hoysaleswara temple shrines feature 340 large reliefs.
The friezes and wall images on the outer wall predominantly narrate the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, the other major Shaiva and Vaishnava Puranas. Some main displays include (clockwise):
- On the north-east outer wall of the northern Shiva temple: Court scene, Bhairava, Bharavi, Samudra manthan, musicians with 12th century musical instruments, Sukracharya, Kacha-Devayani legend, Lakshmi, Umamahesvara, Vamana-Bali-Trivikrama legend, Indra legend, Virabhadra, Shiva in yoga.
- On the south-east outer wall of the northern Shiva temple: Dancers, Bhairava, Bhairavi, Umamahesvara.
- On the north-east outer wall of the southern Shiva temple: Krishna’s lila from Bhagavata, Vasudeva in prison followed by carrying newborn Krishna across Yamuna legend, Krishna slaying Putani and other asuri, Krishna stealing butter, Krishna playing flute with humans and animals dancing, Krishna and Pradyumna legend, Krishna lifts the goverdhana, Yudhisthira and Sakuni playing dice, Kichaka molests Draupadi and Bhima meets Kichaka dressed up as a woman to return justice.
- On the south-east outer wall of the southern Shiva temple: Bhisma parva and Drona parva of the Mahabharata; Vishnu standing, dancers and musicians celebrating the victory of Arjuna over Drona.
- On the south-west outer wall of the southern Shiva temple: Arjuna with Krishna episodes in the Mahabharata; dancers festively celebrating the victory of Pandavas; the Mohini legends in the Vedas; Dakshinamurti, Umamahesvara, Tandavesvara, Vishnu; Arjuna meets Shiva legends; Aranya parva of the Mahabharata; Bhima and Bhagadatta legend; Bhairava, Ganesha, Vishnu and Vamana; Dancers and musicians at the marriage of Parvati and Shiva; Vishnu-Shiva-Brahma together; Shanmukha and Tarakasura legend; Tandavesvara; three face Brahma on a swan; Shiva with Ganesha and Kartikeya; Narasimha doing yoga; Durga as Mahishasuramardini; Mohini dancing.
- On the north-west outer wall of the southern Shiva temple: Reclining Vishnu with all gods and goddesses in reverence; Prahlada-Hiranyakasipu-Narasimha legend from the Bhagavata Purana; Mohini as Bhairavi with Bhairava; Rama fighting Ravana from the Ramayana; Indra seated; Brahma with Saraswati; Karna-Arjuna and Bhina-Dussasana legends from the Mahabharata; Umamaheshvara, Ganesha; a kissing scene between a man and woman; musicians, dancers; Mohini stories; more courtship and kissing scenes; Kali Shakti legends; Arjuna legends.
- On the south-west outer wall of the northern Shiva temple: standing images of Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Saraswati, Kama and Rati, Parvati, Indrakila legend; Parvati doing yoga; Shiva is infatuated by Mohini; Ramayana stories including the golden deer, the first meeting with Hanuman and Sugriva, Rama shooting an arrow through seven palms, Hanuman giving Rama’s ring to Sita; Mohini legends; reclining Vishnu on Sesha giving birth to the cosmic cycle; Vamana legend; avatars of Vishnu; Shiva and Ganesha dancing together; twelve Adityas from the Vedas; Arjuna-Bhisma legends; Shiva and Vishnu’s female avatar Mohini dancing together.
- On the north-west outer wall of the northern Shiva temple: Nataraja in Tandava dance; Durga and the Saptamatrika; legends of Abhimanyu, Drona, Krishna with Arjuna in Mahabharata; Nataraja; eight forms of Rudra; Mohini dancing; Bharavi; Sarasvati dancing, Shiva and Ganesha dancing, angry Narasimha, various forms of Vishnu, dancing Ganesha with Gajasuramardana Shiva; Kartikeya; Parvati; dancers and musicians.
In terms of theology from different Hindu traditions, the large images on the outer walls of the west side present the following frequencies (excluding small panels and miniature friezes):
- Shiva: as Umamahesvara (8), as Nataraja and destroyer of various demons (25), Dakshinamurti (1), as nude Bhairava (6)
- Shakti: as Parvati forms of Durga, Mahishasuramardini, Kali and others (18)
- Vishnu: seated or standing (15), Krishna as Venogopala (12), Varaha (2), Narasimha (4), Vamana (1), Trivikrama (1)
- Harihara (half Vishnu, Half Shiva) (1)
- Ganesha: seated or standing (4)
- Kartikeya: on peacock (1), under seven-hooded serpent (2)
- Brahma (4)
- Saraswati: seated or standing (9)
- Vedic deities: Indra, Surya and others (4)
- Others: Vishnu in his female avatar Mohini clothed and nude, Shiva with Mohini, Arjuna and others (not counted)
The walls on the other side have more large images.
Doorways and mandapa
The temple has four entrances. The one normally used by visitors as main entry nowadays is the northern entrance closest to the parking lot. There is one entry on the south side and two on the east side, facing two large detached open pavilions whose ceiling is supported by lathe turned pillars.
The temple originally had an open navaranga, wherein the mandapa pavilions were visible from outside shrines and the outside was visible to those in the mandapa. In the era of Hoysala king Narasimha I, the mandapa was closed, doors were added and perforated stone screens placed, according to an inscription found in the temple. Along with the four doors, the later artists added dvarapalas and decorations as follows:
- Southern entrance: six feet high dvarapalas wearing jewelry on both sides of the doorway. Each has four hands (two broken, others damaged), wear jatamakuta, have third eye and fangs, and stand in S-shaped tribhanga pose. They hold Shiva icons such as damaru, cobra, trisula and others. They were defaced at some point. Attempts were made in the 20th century to trim, restore and re-polish the dvarapala faces, but it created a disproportionate artificial look. Above the door lintel, there is artwork showing a Nataraja (Tandava) along with Nandi, other dancers and musicians.
- Southeastern entrance: similar to southern entrance, two hands broken but the faces are better preserved. Above the door lintel, the carving is the best preserved entrance Nataraja with ten hands (one damaged), accompanied on left by Narasimha, Saraswati, Brahma, Ganesha, Parvati, one deity damaged and unclear and Shiva, while the right side has Shiva, Parvati, Bhairava, Indrani, Keshava, Surya and Parvati.
- Northeastern entrance: the doorway is damaged and dvarapalas are missing though the pedestal and panels remain. The carvings above the door lintel are defaced.
- Northern entrance: used by modern-day tourists. The original dvarapalas are lost, and two replacement mispaired dvarapalas were recovered from the ruins of the region for tourists. The scene above the door lintel is also damaged and inferior in execution.
Outside the southern doorway, in the park, are large statues, one of Ganesha. The statue was among those which were originally farther out at the temple premises outer gate, but damaged and collected from ruins there. They were recovered and placed close to the temple. The navaranga includes two small niches facing each other between the two temples where they are joined at the transept. These have carvings and artwork, but the statues inside each is missing. There is a stone panel near the western niche with a large Sanskrit inscription in a North Indian and a South Indian script.
Pillars and ceilings
The interior walls of the temple are quite plain compared to the outer wall, except for the lathe turned pillars that run in rows between the north and south entrances. The four pillars in front of each shrine are the most ornate and the only ones that have the madanika sculptures in their pillar brackets.
The fused mandapa features a row of pillars aligned along the north-west axis. In the central navaranga of each temple’s mandapa are four pillars and a raised ceiling that is intricately carved. Each of the four pillars of this central navaranga had four standing madanakai (Salabhanjika, mostly female) figures, or a total of 16 standing figures per temple. Of the 32 figures on the central pillars for the two temples, 11 remain. Only 6 damaged ones have survived in the north temple and 5 in the south temple. A closer examination of the pillar’s capital suggests that there was a figure on each pillar in the eastern row facing the sunrise, but all of these show signs of destruction and none of those images have survived. The pillar near the second eastern door have two damaged madanakai, but the better preserved are those in the central navaranga.
The twin-temple has two sanctums (garbha griha), both with Shiva linga. One sanctum is dedicated to “Hoysaleswara” Shiva (the king) and the other for “Shantaleswara” Shiva (the queen, Shantala). Both are of equal size. Each sanctum is a square with a darsana dvara (view doorway) on the east, with three niches on the north, west and south. The doorways are flanked on each side by a dvarapala, each leading to a sukanasi(vestibule chamber). There is intricate carving above the lintel between the dvarapalas, presenting Shiva with Parvati, along with other devas and devis, as well as two large makaras (mythical syncretic sea creatures). On the makaras are Varuna and his wife Varuni riding. The doorjambs are decorated with purnaghatas (vessels of abundance). The sanctum square originally had a tower (shikhara) above rising towards the sky to complete the vimana superstructure, but the towers have been lost to history and the temple looks flat. The sanctum walls are plain, avoiding distraction to the devotee and focussing the attention of the visitor at the spiritual symbol.
The Hoysaleswara Temple premises include a museum managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. It contains numerous pieces of ruins and temple artwork recovered from the site for closer three dimensional examination. The temple premises also has the so-called Garuda Sthamba (Garuda pillar) to the south of the temple. It is also damaged, with its top portion gone. It contains an inscription that breaks off in the middle of the sentence. The part which can be read states that a general Lakshmana, his wife and followers sacrificed themselves after the death of Ballala II. In the middle of the pillar are eight male figures, four of whom are shown as using their swords to sacrifice themselves (siditale-godu). One of the sacrificer is shown seated in a namaste posture preparing for the sacrifice, while others are shown in the process of the sacrifice. The images represent the devotion of these to their leader and their determination to die with him.
The temple premises show evidence of other shrine and temples. Just like the Surya (Sun) monument that is to the east of one Nandi, there was a Chandra (Moon) monument attached to the other Nandi. Excavations on the southwest side of the temple revealed the remains of a destroyed temple.
Numerous temple artwork panels contain signatures or statements by the artists or the guild they belonged to, and these are usually at the artwork’s pedestal or underneath. The most repeated names of artists found at the Hoysaleswara temple include Manibalaki, Mabala, Ballana, Bochana, Ketana, Bama, Balaki and Revoja. The guilds can be identified by the organization’s icon marked and names inscribed such as Agni-Indra, Indra, Paduca (lit. west) and Paduvala-badaga (lit. northwest).
According to the 19th-century art critic James Fergusson, it is a “marvellous exhibition of human labor to be found even in the patient east and surpasses anything in Gothic art“. The temple of Halebidu, has been described by Percy Brown as an “outstanding example of Hindu architecture” and as the “supreme climax of Indian architecture”.
If it were possible to illustrate the Halebid temple to such an extent as to render its peculiarities familiar there would be few things more interesting or more instructive than to institute a comparison with the Parthenon at Athens. (…) [The Halebid temple] is regular, but with a studied variety of outline in plan, and even greater variety in detail. All the pillars in the Parthenon are identical, while no facets of the Indian temple are the same; every convolution of every scroll is different. No two canopies in the whole building are alike, and every part exhibits a joyous exuberance of fancy scorning every mechanical restraint. All that is wild in human faith or warm in human feeling is found portrayed in these walls; but of pure intellect there is little – less than there is human feeling in the Parthenon.