Somanathpur – Architectural Wonder
Somnathpur, a tiny village on the banks of the Kaveri, 140 km, south-west of Bangalore.”There are stillness and everlastingness about the past, it changes not and has a touch of eternity,” wrote Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in his “Discovery of India.
“This place boasts of one of the last and the grandest of Hoysala monuments – the Kesava Temple built 740 years ago. By the year 1268 A.D., the year in which the Kesava temple at Somnathpur was built. The riches and splendor of the Hoysala court were already evident in their grand temples at Belur and Dvarasamudra (present-day, Halebid).
History: The reigning monarch was Narasimha III (1254-91 A.D.) whose full regal title runs into a sizeable paragraph: “Sri Vishnuvaradhana, Pratapa Chakravarti, Hoysala Bhujabala, Sri Vira Narasimha, Maharajadhiraja, Raja Paramesvara, Sanivarasiddhi, Giridurgamalla, etc. The temple, however, was built by this celebrated army commander, Somnath.
Some years ago he had founded a village on the left bank of the Kaveri River, which he named Somnathpur, after himself. All the facts are duly mentioned on the slab in the old Kannada script and appear as though to have happened yesterday! The temples in Somnathpur are not as famous as the ones in Belur and Halebid, though they all are from the same period.
Somnathpur is more representative of the age since it did not suffer destruction as much as Belur and Halebid did and hence offers a more unbroken view of period’s architecture. Often it is referred to as the poor cousin of Belur and Halebid.
Somnathpur’s temples adhere to the typical Hoysala style architecture where the temple is designed as a mini cosmos with scenes carved on the walls including Gods, Goddesses, dancing girls, musicians, gurus and all kinds of animals including elephants, lions, cows, and monkeys. Its unique design and perfect symmetry are ignored amidst the farms and agricultural lands of surrounding villages.
It is visited more by foreign tourists than domestic. At the temple, the outer walls are decorated with a series of star-shaped folds, and the entire surface is covered with carved stone plaques. The walls above the plinth are also carved with exquisite figures of gods and goddesses, taken from the Hindu Puranas, and meticulously arranged in vertical panels. The most famous temple is the one dedicated to Keshava, built around 1268 AD by which time the Hoysalas had completed 260 years in power.
However, the temples of Somnathpur were not built by the king, but by popular army commander Somnath. He founded a village on the banks of the Cauvery and then embarked on constructing temples in a bid to further his immortality.
The temple itself, stellar in shape, has three profusely carved pinnacles with a common Navranga and stands on a raised platform. The three sanctums Sanctorum once housed beautifully carved idols of Kesava, Janardhana and Venugopala.
Today, the idol of Lord Kesava is missing but the other two still adorn the sanctums in their original form. Intricate carvings on the temple walls depicting characters from great epics such as Mahabharatha and Ramayana.