Hoysaleshvara temple

Halebidu: Why You Must Visit This Temple Town of Karnataka Next

At present, Halebidu is a run-of-the-mill, nondescript town located in southern Karnataka. It hardly resembles its once illustrious presence as Dwarasamudra, the capital of the Hoysala dynasty.

Today, Halebidu is renowned for the ornate Hoysaleshvara Temple. The temple is overflowing with exceptional wall panels, depicting Hindu divine figures as well as royal figures, musicians, and dancers. Each of the sculptures is exceptionally lively, and you will be left awestruck by the sheer brilliance of the artists who carved them so perfectly and fittingly.

Hoysaleshvara Temple, Halebidu
The magnificent Hoysaleshvara Temple of Halebidu.

Where is Halebidu located:

Halebidu is a small town located in the Hassan district of Karnataka. Halebidu is 210 km from Bengaluru and 142 km from Mysuru.

Why you need to visit Halebidu:

Halebidu was the illustrious capital of the Hoysala dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries. It went by the name of Dwarasamudra then. Dwarasamudra was later abandoned owing to continuous raids by the troops of the Delhi Sultanate. The city subsequently came to be known as Old Settlement or Halebidu (which translates into old capital or ruined city).

Halebidu is home to the magnificent Hoysaleshvara Temple, which is regarded as the epitome of Hoysala temple architecture.

The star shaped pattern of Hoysaleshvara Temple
The Hoysaleshvara Temple is one of the most intricately carved temples in India.

How to reach Halebidu:

  • By train: Halebidu does not have any rail station. The nearest rail station is Hassan, which is 27 km away. Hassan, in turn, is well-connected with Bengaluru and Mysuru by train. From Hassan, you can take a bus to reach Halebidu.
  • By flight: The nearest airports are Mangaluru (168 km) and Mysuru.
  • By bus: Regular bus service is available from Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangalore, Hospet, Hassan, and Chikmagalur.
Panel on the outer walls
A fantastic wall panel depicting a fight between Vishnu-Lakshmi riding Garuda and Indra-Sachi atop Airavata.

Where to stay in Halebidu:

The only decent place to stay in Halebidu is KSTDC’s Hotel Mayura Shantala Halebeedu. We suggest staying at Bengaluru or Mysuru and visiting Halebidu as a day trip from there.

Decorative friezes
The decorative wall friezes of Hoysaleshvara Temple.

Who were the Hoysalas:

The Hoysala was one of the most powerful dynasties in southern India. They rose to power in the 11th century. They continued their reign up till the mid-14th century. According to legends, the mythical founder of the Hoysala dynasty was Sala. He once protected a meditating Jaina sage from a ‘yali’ or mythical leonine beast when the sage cried “Hoy, Sala” or “Strike, Sala”. The name of this royal line is derived from this.

Panorama of temple
A panorama of the Hoysaleshvara Temple.

The Hoysala’s first center of power was at Angadi, which eventually was transferred first to Velapura (today’s Belur) and finally to Dwarasamudra (Halebidu of present-day). Vinayaditya was the first to consolidate Hoysala’s power. The first autonomous Hoysala ruler, however, was Vishnuvardhana. He is also regarded as the greatest among the Hoysalas.

The Hoysala Empire was ransacked by Alauddin Khalji’s general Malik Kafur in 1311 CE, and later by the Tughluq army in 1326 CE.

Later, the Hoysala territories were incorporated into the Vijayanagara Empire.

For learning more about Hoysala’s style of architecture, check out our blog on Belur.

Each of the carvings testifies to the exceptional skill of the Hoysala artists.

About Hoysaleshvara Temple of Halebidu:

The Hoysaleshvara Temple is grander in scale, proportion, and sculptures as compared to the Chennakeshava Temple of Belur. Surprisingly, unlike Chennakeshava Temple, no clear information is available regarding Hoysaleshvara’s foundation. However, there is hardly any doubt that this astounding temple belongs to the era of the great Hoysala ruler Vishnuvardhana.

The Hoysaleshvara Temple is a ‘dvikuta’ type, having two shrines, named after Vishnuvardhana and his consort Shantaladevi. Both the shrines house two Shiva lingams.

Excellent sculpture at Hoysaleshvara Temple
Garuda fighting with a ‘Naga’.

What to see at Hoysaleshvara Temple:

Halebidu’s iconic temple is laced with innumerable pieces of exuberant sculptures. We were astonished not only at the sheer volume of breathtaking art but also at their exceptional artistry. It took us a good two hours to explore the nooks and crannies of Hoysaleshvara Temple. We were so immersed in the details of this temple that we literally lost track of time, and our driver had to ring us twice for making haste. We are quite sure, you will also have a similar experience while visiting this beautiful temple.

Beautiful sculpture
The sculptures of Hoysaleshvara Temple will blow your mind away.

We have listed here some of the places in the temple complex that you must not miss. We hope this will help you in chalking out your visit to this temple.

1. Wall panels on the temple:

Just like the Chennakeshava Temple of Belur, Hoysaleshvara Temple has an array of brilliant sculptures on its exterior walls. However, they are grander, finer, and more elaborate as compared to those found at Belur.

Start your tour from the left of the temple’s southern entrance. You will be first greeted by a dancing Ganesha, followed by Brahma riding on his swan, Arjuna at Draupadi’s ‘swayamvara’, Saraswati playing the veena, Krishna lifting Govardhana hill, and Shiva dancing over an elephant demon.

Varaha rescuing Bhudevi.

As you continue exploring the temple, you will be amazed by the dynamic portrayals of Varaha rescuing Bhudevi, Durga spearing Mahisasur, Trivikarma, and Garuda clutching a cobra.

Dancing Ganesha
Dancing Ganesha.

Some of the livelier panels depict Vishnu flying on Garuda and rescuing Gajendra, Indra and Sachi riding on the elephant Airavata, and Vishnu and Lakshmi flying on Garuda.

Next, you will come across Narasimha disemboweling Hiranyakashipu and a dancing Kali.

Shiva dancing above an elephant demon.

One of the most noted wall panels of Hopysaleshvara Temple is Ravana with multiple heads and arms shaking Kailasha.

Along with divine sculptures, you will also find a multitude of sculptures of dancers, musicians, and royal attendants.

Wall carving
The divine figures have marvelous proportions and are embellished with jewelry.

2. Basement narratives:

One of the most interesting features of Halebidu’s Hoysaleshvara Temple is the high basement composed of eight friezes. The bottom five portray lines of elephants; yalis; scrolling, leafy creepers; parades of horses; and a repeat of creepers.

Intricately carved friezes
The elaborately carved friezes of Hoysaleshvara Temple.

The sixth course represents scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagvata Purana. You will find small panels depicting ‘Samudra Manthana’; lore of Bhagvata Purana such as Krishna slaying Putana, sneaking butter from hanging pots, playing the flute and lifting Govardhana; battle scenes from Kurukshetra War such as Bhima killing Dushasana, Abhimanyu in ‘Chakravuhya’, Bhima fighting Bhagadatta’s elephant; and events from Ramayana like Rama and Sita seeing the golden deer, Rama and Lakshmana meeting the monkeys, Bali and Sugriva fighting, and so on.

Every stone has a story to tell here.

The topmost two friezes show mythical ‘makaras’; and ‘hamsas’ with elaborate tails.

3. Sub-shrines:

Sub-shrines are present at Hoysaleshvara Temple a la Belur’s Chennakeshava Temple. They are present beside the steps climbing to the mandapa entrances, having friezes of elephants and yalis.

Sub-shrines of Hoysaleshvara Temple.

4. Nandi Pavilions:

Since the Hoysaleshvara Temple of Halebidu is dedicated to Shiva, you will find Nandi pavilions aligned with mandapa entrances on the axis with the temple’s two Shiva linga sanctuaries. Both have a seated Nandi, ceremonially decked up with garlands, clappers, and bells on its head, neck, and body.

5. Interior of the Hoysaleshvara Temple:

The interior of the temple is also embellished with fine craftsmanship.

Things to know:

1. The temple remains open every day from 7-30 in the morning till 7-30 in the evening.

2. No entry fee is required here.

3. Combine Halebidu with Belur and Shravanabelagola for a complete experience.

4. You can also combine the Belur – Halebidu temple circuit with a visit to Chikamagalur.

5. Dress modestly, as this is an active temple.

6. Refrain from touching the sculptures. The artworks are best admired from a distance.

The Floating Pebbles