India // Karnataka //


Built in 1268, the exquisite Keshava Vishnu temple (daily 9am–5pm; Rs100 [Rs5]), in the sleepy hamlet of SOMNATHPUR, was the last important temple to be constructed by the Hoysalas; it is also the most complete and, in many respects, the finest example of this singular style (see Hoysala temples). Somnathpur itself, just ninety minutes from Mysore by road, is little more than a few neat tracks and some attractive simple houses with pillared verandas.

Like other Hoysala temples, the Keshava was built on a star-shaped plan. ASI staff can show you around and also grant permission to clamber on the enclosure walls, so you can get a marvellous bird’s-eye view of the modestly proportioned structure. It’s best to do this as early as possible, as the black-coloured stone gets very hot to walk on in bare feet later in the day. The temple is a trikutachala, “three-peaked hills” type, with a tower on each shrine. Its high plinth (jagati) provides an upper ambulatory, which on its outer edge allows visitors to approach the upper registers of the profusely decorated walls. Among the many superb images here are an unusually high proportion of Shaivite figures for a Vishnu temple. As at Halebid, a lively frieze details countless episodes from the Ramayana, Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata. Intended to accompany circumambulation, the panels are “read” (there is no text) in a clockwise direction. Unusually, the temple is autographed; all its sculpture was the work of one man, named Malitamba. Outside the temple stands a dvajastambha column, which may originally have been surmounted by a figure of Vishnu’s bird vehicle Garuda.