Deccan Herald, Tuesday, November 30, 2004


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Deccan Herald » Spectrum » Full Story


Jewel in the Hoysala crown

B P Premakumar tells us of the Chennakeshava Temple which takes the Hoysala architecture to new heights.

While travelling from Bangalore to Shimoga, after Kibbanahalli cross and 15 km before Tiptur a big signboard reads “way to Chennakesava temple, Aralaguppe.” A couple of kilometres on this deviation brings us to the spellbinding 13th century architectural beauty of Hoysalas.

Aralaguppe was known as ‘Alariguppe’ according to inscriptions from the bygone era. The Chennakesava temple here has all the usual characteristics of the Hoysala architectural style which is said to have been introduced first in the Hoysaleshvara temple, Halebid.

The raised platform following the contours of the stellate plan of the main temple, circumambulatory path ay to go round the temple, carved repetitive friezes for basement cornices, introduction of a second chadya or eave between the figure sculpture, turreted pilasters and decorative miniature towers, exuberant ornamentation of the figure sculptures, are all the predominant features of Hoysala architecture. In the absence of any inscription available, this style alone has helped the art historians to assign this temple to 13th century.

The Chennakesava temple stands on a raised platform in the centre of the village. This ekakuta temple, with its star shaped garbhagriha and tower is of a simple ground plan consisting of an antarala (vestibule), navaranga and an entrance ankana fitted with pierced stone windows, which allows subdued light into the temple. The temple follows the contours of the vimana and has a flight of steps in the front flanked by two miniature towers on each side.

The decorative friezes running around the temple wall provides many spectacular scenes. The row of six friezes carved one above the other, separated horizontally by deeply cut recesses, consists of caparisoned elephants, horses, creepers, mythological frieze, makaras and lastly hamsas. The mythological friezes tell the story of Ramayana and Bhagavata, as identified by the dedicated directors of the Mysore Archaeological Survey. The lowest friezes of elephants and horses are picturesque representations of the turbulent wars fought by the Hoysalas to build and consolidate their empire. The makaras and hamsas are indicative of the peacetime prosperity, wealth and happiness of the subjects.

The wall decorations are as profuse as in any other ornate Hoysala temple.
Here also we see the regular scheme of dividing the outer wall into two portions by a horizontally running cornice. The lower half has the sculptures standing below a canopy of creepers. Most of them are the chaturvimsati form of Vishnu and other deities with six hands and are the most spectacular iconographic speciality of this temple. Because normally they are shown only with four hands. Above these sculptures, the upper half of the wall shows varied forms of miniature towers, turrets on pilasters.

The vimana of this temple is in the shape of 16 pointed star and consists of kuta aedicules each one rotated by 22.5 degrees, 45 degrees, and 22.5 degrees successively. The tower of the vimana with four talas has a vedike and kuta roof at the top, which follows the contours of the sanctum below. The top kalasa is missing.

The outer wall of navaranga is of staggered squares and represents a saptaratha structure. Some of the sculptures here bear the name of 'Honnoja' on their pedestal while some others have only 'Ho' as a short form of the sculptor's name. This terse name without any titles or claims keeps us in darkness as far as the sculptor is concerned.

The navaranga is of the usual nine ankanas or divisions and has two niches containing Ganesha and Mahishasuramardini, both of exquisite workmanship.
A six-feet tall slightly damaged Keshava idol is kept in the navaranga and perhaps, was the original deity that adored the garbhagriha, but at present there is a smaller idol for worship. The pillars that support the navaranga and the ceilings are elaborately worked. The fine workmanship of the pillars is eye-catching.
But unfortunately the exquisite beauty of this temple has been marred by another temple which is built for Ugra Narasimha, annexing the southern wall of the Chennakesava temple. Unless one has access to the garbhagriha of the Narasimha temple, it would be impossible to see the sculptural beauty of half the southern wall of Chennakesava temple.

Though Mysore archaeological report 1935, talks of removing this obstruction and building a separate temple for Narasimha, perhaps due to the unwillingness of the local villagers the project has remained on paper only. If not for this one flaw, the condition of this temple is fairly good.

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