When I embarked on the quest of traversing rustic Karnataka looking for lesser known Hoysala temples, little did I know that I would stumble upon an obscure village that may hold clues to the origins of the dynasty. I am not referring to Angadi, the soseyuru of the ancient Hoysalas, where myth and history converge, where legends claim that Sala slew the tiger and founded the dynasty at the behest of his guru or where historians claim that the oldest ever Hoysala monuments were built. I am referring to a pair of twin temples found in picturesque villages and my trail began with one of them – Marale. Located between Belur and Chikmagalur, it is home to one of the earliest twin temples of the Hoysala dynasty.
I learned that Marale had an interesting link with the origin of the dynasty. An inscription here threw some light on the history of the Hoysalas, who were referred to as Male chiefs of “chieftains of the hills” and were considered vassals of the Chalukya kings. The village was apparently once the home of the early chieftains and the name “Poysala" for the first name is recorded in history here.
An inscription here says that Poysala Maruga, grandson of the chieftain Arakalla, fought a war against his contemporaries. The year mentioned is around 940-950 AD. Although historians remain divided over the findings, the origins of the dynasty are mired in myth, legend and clues from inscriptions. I went looking for the temples.
The village was virtually empty. The fields were harvested. The lake beds were dry. I was looking for two ancient temples built adjacent to each other. Most Hoysala temples are referred to as Ekakuta or Trikuta, depending on the number of shrines and towers built on them. The Belur Chennakesava temple, for instance, is an Ekakuta, while the Kappe Channigraya temple built next door is a dvikuta, with two shrines. My search for two ekakuta temples, resembling each other, took me down a small path into a vast open space. A lone lady tending her flock of cattle pointed to a row of coconut trees and peeping behind them were two Vimanas or towers. Shrouded by greenery, there were two petite temples -- one dedicated to Shiva and the other to Vishnu. Adorned with a single tower each, the Ekakuta temples were called Keshava and Siddeshwara.
A priest had just visited them and left the lamps burning. Bright yellow flowers stood out against the dark stone idols. Two beautiful carved elephants with lotuses in their hands greeted the visitor at the entrance of the Keshava temple. The ceiling and the outer walls were carved with floral motifs and sculptures, although they were not as ornate as the other temples. A stone carving of Ganesha stood at the Siddeshwara temple. The guardians who protect the various directions, the Ashtadikpalakas, were carved as well.
It was absolutely silent but for the birds. As I looked around, a 12-feet stone inscription stood amidst the temples, but the information was absolutely lost to me. I spent some time sitting beside the temples, hoping a priest would come by to throw some light, but only a few cattle grazed around. Marale seemed to be another quaint village with a piece of antiquity lost in the wilderness.
Another village close to Hassan that takes its name from a crocodile, Mosale is home to another perfect twin. Built in the reign of Veera Ballala in 1200 AD, the Nagesvara and the Chennakesava temples resemble each other in their architectural styles, but for the deities that they are dedicated to. It was not difficult to find them. The roads, flanked by green fields, took us to an enclosure where the temples were surrounded by walls and seemed to be maintained well. As we walked in, we saw a family sitting on the porches in the midst of worship.
We heard that the village was the hermitage of the sage Jamadhagni. Unlike Marale, the temples here are ornate and decorated with carvings. There is not a single stone left uncarved – walls, ceilings, friezes are all filled with sculptures. You can see some of the sculptures carved on the panels of these temples and some of the deities have been named. While the Nagesvara temple has forms of Parvati, Bhumadevi, Shiva, Brahma among others, the Kesava temple has various forms of Vishnu and Krishna as Kesava, Madhava, Venugopal and Garuda. Some historians say that the temple complex looks like a dvikuta with two shrines and towers, as they are both aligned and identical.
I sit on the porch awhile, along with other women, listening to some of them sing. As the wind blows in my face, I lose track of time. Finally, as I leave, I see the familiar Hoysala crest looking down at me - Sala slaying the tiger.
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