What was striking about these temples was its emphasis on syncretism. At a period of time when followers of Vaishnavism and Shaivism were often in conflict , each sect competing with the other for dominance and power, the rulers of the Hoysala kingdom built temples dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu. It is a remarkable endeavour to bridge differences and a testimony to an inclusive position of plurality in pursuit of the divine.
Last week we headed onto the River Tern Lodge to catch up with these birds (more of it later!) and on the way back, stopped over at the Amrutheshwar Temple. The road leading to the temple off the Bangalore Shimoga highway weaves around quaint villages and vast green pastures.
I was overawed with the first sight of the temple which is set in sylvan surroundings. The temple still has its original outer wall with interesting, equally spaced circular carvings, each one exquisitely distinct from others. This sets it apart from all other Hoysala temples, whose walls are otherwise nondescript.
It is a low set temple and doesn’t look impressive from a distance as it is not built on a platform (jagati), much like the Buceswara temple at Koravangala. But once you go near it, the details on the outer wall envelop you in a magical way! In most of the Hoysala temples, the outer wall has several layers of friezes. The lowest one depict elephants which symbolize strength and stability, above which in order are friezes with lions symbolizing courage, decorative floral scrolls, horses symbolizing speed, depictions from Hindu epics, mythical beasts and finally swans.
The outer walls in Amrutheshwara are dramatically different. More than a hundred miniature temple towers have been carved on its parapet wall. Above them are140 panels of sculptures depicting the Hindu epics. Unlike in many Hoysala temples where the panels are small and carvings miniature, these panels are large. The Ramayana is sculpted on the south side wall on 70 panels with the story proceeding anti clockwise which is unusual. It starts with the Putrakameshti yajna of Dasharatha and ends with Sita’s reunion with Rama and Lakshmana. On the north side wall, all depictions are clockwise, the normal Hoysala style. There are twenty-five panels related to events in Lord Krishna’s life as depicted in the Bhagavata Purana starting with his birth in Kamsa’s prison and ending with the death of Kamsa at the hands of Lord Krishna. The forty five panels depicting Mahabharata panels do not convey the full story. It starts with Kunti seeking help from Bhishma to protect her children and ends with Arjuna being granted Pashupata at the hands of Shiva.
I have never seen panels of such dazzling intricacy, with superb attention to detail.
It is sheer poetry in stone, especially those which depict scenes in Lord Krishna’s life. Seeing them, I was reminded of Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s song ‘Aasai Mugam Marandhu Pochche’ where he comments:
“Kannan mugam maranthuponal,
Intha Kangal irunthu payan undo”
Loosely translated as:
“If I can forget Kannan’s face
What use of having eyes at all?”
By comparison the main mantapa is shorn of much detail. There are rows of shining lathe turned pillars which support the domed inner ceiling. The sanctum sanctorum has a Saligrama Shivalinga. On the left side is a deepa which reportedly has been burning continuously without a break for the past two hundred years. By the side of the main temple is a small shrine dedicated to Sharada Devi. A unique aspect of the idol is the absence of the veena, the musical instrument with which the goddess of wisdom and learning is associated.
It’s a wondrous experience every time I visit a Hoysala temple. These are moments when the gossamer curtain between the present and the past parts, to reveal a world of unsurpassed harmony and beauty.
Sculptors create with their souls
With passions that burn deep
Sharing their hearts deepest desires
Glimpses at: goo.gl/photos/zbu8kRnA37342YJz8
I would urge you to spend some time to watch each of these panels…even if it takes a while!