A recent trip took me to Somanathapur, which is located on the banks of river Kaveri, around 35 kms from the town of Mysuru. The place is home to one of the most significant temples built in the Hoysala style – the Chennakesava Temple. It was built in 1258 by Somanatha Dandnayaka, a high ranking general of the then reigning Hoysala king, Narsimha III and is also simply referred to as Kesava temple. The temple belongs to the Vaishnava tradition and is dedicated to Kesava, Janardhan and Venugopal. The term Chennakesava means handsome Kesava.
The Journey to Kesava Temple Somnathpur
The journey from Mysuru takes around an hour and the route becomes increasingly picturesque towards Somanathapur. Views of Kaveri River, small villages and fields full of coconut palm trees and betel trees keep you engaged. It is extremely soothing to get away from the city sounds and give yourself and opportunity to relish the tranquil beauty of interiors.
A small stone slab with Somanathapur written on it welcomes you to the Kesava temple. Outside the temple entrance there are a few shops one of which is a small art store where art and craft items from different parts of India are sold.
The Entrance & the Courtyard
To enter the Kesava temple, there is a small entrance fee and separate charges for video. A pathway flanked by green lawns leads up to a tall pillar followed by the main gateway, Mahadwara. Though no worship is carried out in the temple yet shoes have to be removed at this point before proceeding any further. Within the gateway there is a slab with inscription engraved on it which elaborates on details about the temple in Kannada language. For those who do not understand the language there is a quick detail on the opposite side (also one outside opposite the pillar).
The gateway opens up into a spacious walled courtyard with a pillared corridor running through its sides. At the time of visit, there weren’t too many people in the courtyard (though the main temple was full of people). Standing there, it appeared beautifully serene. The corridors are occupied with 64 smaller cells which are mostly single. Almost all of them are empty barring a few where some smaller broken statues are kept. There are few bigger statues that are kept outside in the open as well.
The Main Temple And The Carvings
The main temple stands right in the middle of the courtyard on a star shaped platform which is accessible by a few stairs. Statues of Jai and Vijay guard the entrance gate. A few more steps lead up inside into the main hall – Navranga – which is supported by lathe turned pillar. Pierced screens (jalis) throughout the wall ensure light and ventilation inside. Interestingly, these screens appear square from inside but when seen from outside, they appear star shaped. There are three sanctums dedicated to Kesava, Venugopal and Janardhan – all of them open into the main hall. The statue of Keshava is missing while the other two can be seen in the sanctum.
A great deal of carvings is seen in the main temple, inside on the ceilings and walls; outside, at the lower and upper level, on the towers – essentially anywhere you turn to see. To put it succinctly, the Kesava temple Somanathapur is profusely carved and because of this, it is visually stunning.
A closer look of the exterior walls reveal carvings of elephants, horses, nature, mythical creature makaras (or yali), events from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagvad Purana, decorative peacocks. There are also smaller carvings that depict deities and scenes from more common lives of the people. The most striking of all, however, are the big deity reliefs. Here you can see carvings of Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, Lakshmi, Krishna, Indra, Parshuram, Ram, Mahishasumardani, Dhanvantri, Kamdev and Devi Rati.
The towers too are intricately carved with geometric, floral, wildlife, kalasha carvings. The carvings inside the main temple in the ceiling depict lotus in bloom, palm leaves, snake like knots and many more.
Though it is not very big, it took me around 1 ½ hours to explore the Kesava Temple Somanathapur. Depending upon how much you are keen on exploring, you can spend around the same amount of time or a little more/less than this.