Hassan .... Hoysala Architectural Treasure


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March 14th 2016
Published: March 14th 2016
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The quest for the next, offbeat weekend gateway ended with the identification of Hassan, in the state of Karnataka. Since it was the month of October, to avoid the afternoon heat, we decided to travel in the night. The distance to be covered from Mumbai was 950 km and the estimated travel time was 16 hours with minimal pit stops.

After completing the day’s task we embarked on our journey at 16:00 hours and hit Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The city traffic on the Pune Bypass Road was dense and it took almost an hour to get out of it and reach Katraj Tunnel. Thereafter the road was good and the only delay was on account of the wait at the Toll Plazas. As we reached Satara, on Pune – Bangalore Highway, we decided to take a short break for the light dinner.

Pranjali Restaurant, on the Satara Bypass Road, seemed to be the right place for some authentic Maharastrian cuisine. Though not a very fancy restaurant, the Mutton Thali ordered by us was served at a lightening speed. Through my experience, I have learnt that if you are hard pressed for time and need a quick meal … opt for Thali, because most components of the thali are ready-to-serve, especially during mealtime. The meal was delicious.

The SUV engaged by us had a pair of drivers. Though personally, I do not like to occupy the rear seat, post-dinner, I did opt for a reclined seat in the second row. It was almost 10:00. Most truck drivers had parked their vehicles on the service roads for their meals and we could move much faster than anticipated on NH-4. Soon we passed Kolhapur and we were on Belgavi Road. The wide smooth road beckoned Lady Slumber, to be woken up early morning next day near Shivamogga for a quick hot steaming cup of tea. While we were asleep, we had crossed from NH-4 to Nh-206 and still 150 km to cover. The street-side tea, near the Bus Depot was very refreshing and we were ready to move on.

Around 9:00, we reached Channarayapattana, at the junction on Mangalore – Bangalore Highway NH-48. A filling break-fast was the need of the hour. As we took left turn for Hassan, a large food plaza appeared. Adyar Aananda Bhavan. This newest eater, was opened only a fortnight ago and is a part of the famous chain, by the same name, having a number of restaurants in South India. The food quality, hygiene and the service were excellent. We feasted on Dosas, Vadas and topped up with authentic, steaming hot filter coffee. Hassan was barely half-an-hour away.

We needed, no-frills, basic accommodation, for the night. We checked in at a centrally located Hotel Palika, in Hassan. It is the city and district capital of Hassan in the Karnataka state and blessed with fine weather throughout the year.

After freshening up, we started our exploration trip and the first stop was Hassanamba Temple. Hassan gets its name from the presiding deity of Hasanamba Temple. The Goddess of Shakti, Hasanamba has chosen her abode in the heart of Hassan city. She is perceived to be ever smiling (Hasya –Hassan). The people have strong belief that the Goddess smiles down on the devotees who worship her and bestows all riches on them. Inside the temple premises exists an ant-hill representing the presiding deity. The temple was constructed in the 12th Century during Hoysala dynasty.

The Hoysala Dynasty …. The prominent South Indian Kannadiga Empire ruled most part of Karnataka, in the period spanning from the 10th century to the 14th century. That era is remembered for the developments in the field of art, religion and temple architecture.

The Hasanamba temple, constructed in the same era, is unique because it opens for devotees, every year, only for a period of one week. The day of opening is the Thursday after the full moon day in the month of Ashwin or Aswija, of Hindu Almanac. The temple closes on the day of Balipadyami, during Diwali. The week is celebrated with festivities and religious fervor. It is considered to be sacred to seek the darshan during this auspicious festival period.

The closure of the temple is marked with elaborate religious rituals. The offerings of flowers, water and two bags of rice (to last for a period of one year) are made to the goddess. The Nanda-Deep is lit and the Anna-Navaidyam is offered, prior to the formally shutting the temple doors. The annual chariot festival also takes place on the closing day of the Hasanamba temple during Deepavali.

It is a miracle that the Anna-Naivadyam remains warm and unspoiled, the flowers stay fresh and Nandaa-Deep remains intact. The ghee does not deplete until the doors are opened after one year. These miracles strengthen devotees’ belief in supernatural powers of the Mother Goddess.

At the entrance of the main temple, there is a temple smaller dedicated to Siddheshwara – Lord Shiva. It has self-manifested Shiv-Linga. Additionally, there is unique idol of a nine-headed Ravana playing the Veena. Every new moon day, devotees throng this temple to honor the devout nature of Ravana.

It is rather unfortunate that these ancient structures are grossly neglected. Archeological experts should be preserving these national heritage assets. A lot of cleaning up and repairs activities were on during my visit, in preparation of the opening of the temple later that month. It was sad to observe that ordinary granite tiles (2 X 1) were being used to plaster the walls. A grossly neglected monument … which comes alive only for a week every year.

It was the lunch time, we were looking for some good restaurant. While entering Hassan in the morning, we had seen Hoysala Village Restaurant. The word Hoysala appealed to us and decided to give a try. The restaurant, aptly named Belur, the erstwhile capital of Hoysala, had ethnic décor. We opted for Lunch Buffer and the food was simply sumptuous. The authentic Karnataka spread was simply delicious … Neer Dosa, Egg Curry, Rice Kheer, Cucumber sweet, Papaya holige. The few dishes churned out at the live counter were very tasty. The bill was, though expensive by local standard, was fair for the delicacies served.

Later we drove to Belur, to explore the Chennakesava Temple. Belur was the original capital of Hoysala, which subsequently got shifted to nearby Halebidu.

Chennakesava (meaning handsome Keshav or Vishnu, in Kannada) Temple, is situated on the banks of the Yagachi River. This construction of this structure commenced during the Hoysala dynasty, in 12th Century. The Hoysalas employed many noted architects and artisans to develop a new architectural tradition, later came to be known as the Karnatak Dravida tradition.

The main entrance to the complex is crowned by a Rajagopuram built during Vijaynagar empire. The Chennakesava temple is at the center, facing east, and is flanked by the Kappe Channigraya temple on its right, Sowmyanayaki (Lakshmi) temple, and Ranganayaki (Andal) temple on left. The Garuda Sthambha was also erected during Vijaynagar period, whereas Deepa sthambha dates from the Hoysala period. The doorways to the mantapa have on both sides an image depicting the fight between the mythical warrior Sala and a tiger, which was later adopted to be the emblem of the Hoysala dynasty.

The shrine has a life size image of Keshav or Vishnu, with four hands. Each hand holds an attribute; chakra, gadha, padma and Shankha. The entrance to the shrine has life size sculptures of Dvarapal. The walls are decorated with innumerable images and figures of mythological subjects, gods, animals, birds as also human beings in forms, such as dancers, musicians and drummers, all sculpted in sandstone with extraordinary details. The decorative ceiling is supported by a number of hand-chiseled ornate pillars.

The sculptural style is significantly similar to the contemporary temples in the Northern Karnataka and the neighboring Maharashtra.

A short drive from Belur, brought us to Halebidu, the regal capital of the Hoysala dynasty in the 12th-13th century. The city got the name, because, in the early 14th century, it was ransacked twice by the invading army of Malik Kafur. Consequently it fell into a state of disrepair and neglect and came to be known as old city …. meaning Halebidu in Kannada. However, the authorities have ensured that this heritage site is properly maintained and has become a major tourist attraction in the state of Karnataka.

The ornate temple complex, at Halebidu, was constructed during the 12th century. It has two Hindu temples, one each dedicated to Hoyasaleswara and Kedareswara. In addition there are two Jain Temples (known as Basadi). The temples stands on the platform called jagati which is typically five to six feet in height and can be reached by a flight of steps. This jagati provides convenience and render a good view of the wall-relief and artistic sculptures to the visitors. Two monolith Nandis are guarding the Hoysaleswara temple. Soapstone (chloritic schist) has been used as the material of construction, similar to the most other temples in the vicinity. An archeological museum housing artifacts of the era is also being maintained in the complex. The Jain Basadis too are equally rich in sculptural details.

These temples are most well known for their sculptures that run all along the walls. Hundreds of images adorn the walls and perhaps no other Hoysala temples are as articulate in sculpture as this one. An endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology, animals, birds and dancing human figures are artfully sculpted with minute details. The interiors of the temples are relatively plain and simple except for the lathe-turned symmetrical pillars placed in rows.

There were a lot of domestic tourists as well as international tourists, who had reached here in large number of buses and cars. The shutterbugs were busy capturing vivid details of the sculptures. Few students of architecture were busy sketching on their scrapbook as a part of their college assignment. The selfie-seekers were there in large number too, trying to squeeze in as many as possible in a single frame. .

The evening had descended and it was the time for us to return to the comforts of the hotel and seek rest. We had opted for a simple meal for the dinner from hotel kitchen. It was palatable enough for filling the stomach and put us to sleep. The night temperature had fallen quite low and conducive enough to usher us in the thick blanket.

The morning began little late but we were up by the sunrise. The original plan was to drive straight to Mangalore for onward journey home. The local friend coaxed us to take a short break at Sakaleshpur, which was about 40 km from Hassan. We were told that it is the “the poor man’s Ooty”. Since the place was en route, we decided to give it a try.

A quick research on internet, yielded more information about this mystic place. The name Sakaleshpur, seems to have been evolved from the words “Sakal Aishvarya Purva” abbreviated as Sakaleshhpur, The literally meaning of these words denotes that the place is blessed with all kinds of wealth, the climate and the water. This hill-town is located in the Malnad region on the magnificent hills of the biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats. It has a temperate climate surrounded with lofty green hills full of coffee, cardamom, pepper and areca plantations

We left after simple functional breakfast & a steaming hot cup of coffee. The traffic was sparse on the Bangalore – Mangalore Highway. The public transport buses were carrying, to their full capacities, the local population to their places of work and students to their educational institutions. The farm laborers, both men & women, with their meals tucked in, were walking towards the nearby the farms. The road, lined with hedges of tall trees, looked magnificent. The weather was very pleasant and the temperature felt to be sub-20 degrees centigrade.

When we reached this picturesque hill station, located at an average elevation of 3100 feet, it was swathed in the morning mist. The chill in the air was accompanied with the scent of coffee and the air was as pure as paradise. The evergreen rainforest reserve, spread over 1000s of hectares, with sub tropical climate lashed by heavy rains in wet season, provides conducive environment of abundant growth of unique flora and fauna.

Our friend from Hassan had made an arrangement with an owner of a homestay to take us for a long walk through Arabica & Robusta coffee plantations, thickets cinnamon trees, orange orchids and rolling meadows. Large timber yielding trees provide shade for these coffee bushes. The view of Western Ghats from the top of the mountain was breathtaking and we could soak in the 360 degree panoramic view. After spending about an hour in the misty environment, we returned to the town market. At a small restaurant, we treated ourselves to a gastronomic lunch, before be bid farewell to Sakaleshpur, one of the 18 most diverse spots in the world in terms of flora and fauna.

After picking up few packets of Coffee Powder, we headed for Mangalore. We did wanted to visit Sakleshpur Shiva Temple and the for the Tipu Sultan built, but we kept them in abeyance for the next visit when we come back to visit Chikmagalur and Gomateswara. The 150-km long drive to Mangalore was scenic very through the ghats, opening new vistas at every turn. The sighting of the bridge over the Netravathi River, gave us a solace of having reached in the proximity of Mangalore.

The purpose of getting the glimpses of the world-famous Hoysala architecture was well attained and also discovered an unknown new hill station on the Western Ghats. Weekend well spent……

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