Any travel plan I conceive of these days is centered around Architecture, more precisely on Temple Architecture. I think this new pursuit is a natural consequence of my recent interest in the Medieval History of India (550 – 1526 AD) combined with my inclination towards photography. Before undertaking some grand travel plans to visit some distant Architectural site in some corner of India, I have decided to cover the nearer ones, i.e. within about 50 km of my hometown Mysore, which by the way are many.
Keshava temple of Somnathpur:
A few weeks back on a lazy Sunday afternoon I made an instinctive decision to visit Kesava temple at Somnathpur which is about 40 km east of Mysore. This temple was constructed in 1268 A.D. by Somnath, a high ranking officer under the Hoysala king Narasimha III. We had no idea about the visiting timings of this temple complex, as a result by the time we left our house it was already 4 PM and we managed to reach the temple only by 5:15 PM, 15 min before the closing time – 5:30 PM. In those 15 min I managed a few hurried shots of this splendid example of Hoysala architecture. I will surely visit this place again with lots of free time on my hands, but until then these pictures should do.
The star shaped gopura (vimaana), which is a treat to the eye with its elaborate carvings.
I have visited Belur and Halebidu temples – the other architectural wonders of the Hoysala period, but the Somnathpur temple differs from them by the ornate star shaped gopuras on each side (dvikuta); the Belur and Halebidu temples have a flat ceiling with a low parapet.
Hoysala temples are known for their symmetricity in construction, the below picture is an example of the same.
Nanjundeshwara temple of Nanjangud
This was a better-planned outing, the decision to visit the place was taken the previous night! Nanjangud is 24 km south of Mysore taking not more than 30 min on road depending on the traffic conditions.
The Nanjundeshwara temple was constructed by the Ganga rulers in the 9th century and later renovated by the Hoysala kings. The kannada word “nanjundeshwara = nanju unda eeshwara” can be translated as – “The Eeshwara who drank poison”, here the Hindu deity Shiva is commonly referred to as ‘Eeshwara’. The story of Shiva drinking poison is taken from the ‘Samudra Manthana’, one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas. The story goes like this: Once when the Devas and Asuras were involved in churning the ocean to procure ‘Amrutha’ (the nectar of immortality), first came ‘Halahala’ (poison) which was said to be so toxic that it could have wiped out the entire creation if left alone. The Devas approached Shiva for help who drank the poison out of compassion for all living beings. However, Parvati, Shiva’s consort is said to have pressed his neck to stop the poison from spreading to the rest of his body and thus the poison stayed in his throat neither going up nor down. The poison being very potent changed the colour of his neck to blue, also earning him the name ‘Neelakanteshwara’ (blue necked Eeshwara).
We reached Nanjangud at around 11 AM. The temple complex painted in brown jutting out against the clear blue sky had a certain aura about it.
The entrance graced by the 120 feet tall Gopura (tower) welcomes one and all; at the entrance there is a steady stream of water where the devotees can wash their foot before entering the ‘pradakshinapatha’ or the circumambulation path of the huge temple complex, which spans 385 ft. in length and 160 ft. in breadth. The doorway is huge and is fitted with wooden doors with metal decorations.
As I was busy taking the above picture I was warned by a temple authority to refrain from taking any pictures inside the complex and asked me to take permission from the archeology department if interested in photography, they also warned that even flaunting the camera inside the sanctum area could result in its confiscation. This warning though not uncommon in such holy places was a good thing as it let me spend more time observing the surroundings and helped me appreciate the detailed sculptures of different deities (mainly Shiva) which are placed all around the sanctum area.
I had joined a queue moving at a leisurely pace into the sanctum. The slow pace of the queue has its merits, it does give a person ample time to introspect and iron out his usually temperamental emotional state before entering the sanctum, which sadly not many utilize and are seen wrapped in the same old daily bickering. Anyway, all my idealized notions of peace and tranquility to be found in a temple was lost the moment I entered the sanctum area – there were numerous temple authorities herding the people with their high booming voices, which resounded even more in that cramped space. The devotees as usual were spending just that extra second peeping at the deity, in this case the ‘Linga’ (symbol for the worship of lord Shiva), and the authorities were shouting at no one in particular to ‘hurry’ and ‘move forward’ in the queue. In this din all I wanted to do was get out as soon as possible. The ‘Linga’ itself was covered in a layer of pure butter with some decorative items used for bringing out the features in a human face. Personally I’m not against such embellishments but it doesn’t compare with a bare ‘Linga’ in its simplicity of form. A sanctum usually has two entrances, one from the forward which usually will be in line with all the doors leading into the temple and the other will be a side door, we exited from this side door and continued our way around the sanctum.
Closer look at the Gopura
The passage around the sanctum has Shiva sculptures depicting him in his different forms. These sculptures of black stone are about 6 feet high and are of breathtaking detail. I could recognize some of the famous forms of Shiva like: ‘Nataraja’, ‘Neelakanta’, ‘Ardhanareeshwara’, ‘Chandrashekhara’, ‘Umamaheshwara’… There was also a sculpture of ‘Karthikeya’ (Shiva’s second son), which depicted him with 5 heads and 6 pairs of hands seated on a Peacock. The ornateness of this particular sculpture made me pause for a few minutes in front of it and take mental note of its many details.
By the time we exited the temple it was noon; I went around the outer walls of the temple complex which are again lined by a continuous line of sculptures (mainly Shiva).
On the way back to Mysore we stopped at the river side for eating breakfast (Mango rice) which my mom had packed from home. It was the tastiest Mango rice I have ever had.
Three statues visible above the water surface, left to right: Goddess Chamundi, small Nandi, Big Nandi, Ganesha.
Date: 12th April and 4th May 2008