Ornate lintel over mantapa entrance in Chennakeshava temple

Ornate bay ceiling in mantapa in Saumyakeshava temple at Nagamangala, a common feature in Hoysala temples The mantapa is the hall where groups of people gather during prayers. The entrance to the mantapa normally has a highly ornate overhead lintel called a makaratorana (makara is an imaginary beast and torana is an overhead decoration). [16] The open mantapa which serves the purpose of an outer hall (outer mantapa) is a regular feature in larger Hoysala temples leading to an inner small closed mantapa and the shrine(s). The open mantapas have seating areas made of stone with the mantapa’s parapet wall acting as a back rest.

The seats may follow the same staggered square shape of the parapet wall. The open mantapa is the largest part of the temple and is the place supporting larger congregations of people. The ceiling here is supported by numerous pillars that create many bays. [20] The shape of the open mantapa is best described as staggered-square and is the style used in most Hoysala temples. [21] Even the smallest open mantapa has 13 bays. The walls have parapets that have half pillars supporting the outer ends of the roof which allow plenty of light making all the sculptural details visible.

The mantapa ceiling is generally ornate with sculptures, both mythological and floral. The ceiling consists of deep and domical surfaces and contains sculptural depictions of banana bud motifs and other such decorations. [22] The Amruteswara temple in Chikmagalur district has forty-eight domes in the mahamantapa (“great open hall”). Open Mantapa with shining, lathe-turned pillars at Amruthapura If the temple is small it will consist of only a closed mantapa (enclosed with walls extending all the way to the ceiling) and the shrine.

The closed mantapa, well decorated inside and out, is larger than the vestibule connecting the shrine and the mantapa and has four lathe-turned pillars to support the ceiling, which may be deeply domed. The four pillars divide the hall into nine bays. The nine bays result in nine finely decorated ceilings. [23] Pierced stone latticework screens placed between pillars to filter the light is a characteristic Hoysala stylistic element. A porch adorns the entrance to a closed mantapa, consisting of an awning supported by two half-pillars (engaged columns) and two parapets, all richly decorated.

The closed mantapa is connected to the shrine(s) by a vestibule, a square area that also connects the shrines. Its outer walls are finely decorated, but as the size the vestibule is not large, this may not be a conspicuous part of the temple. The vestibule also has a short tower called the sukanasi or “nose”[24] upon which is mounted the Hoysala emblem. In Belur and Halebidu, these sculptures are quite large and are placed at all doorways. The outer and inner mantapa (open and closed) have circular lathe-turned pillars[25] having four brackets at the top. Over each bracket stands sculptured figure(s) called salabhanjika or madanika.

The pillars may also exhibit fine ornamental carvings on the surface and no two pillars are alike. [26] This is how Hoysala art differs from the work of their early overlords, the Western Chalukyas, who added sculptural details to the circular pillar base and left the top plain. The lathe-turned pillars are 16, 32, or 64-pointed; some are bell-shaped and have properties that reflect light. The Parsvanatha Basadi at Halebidu is a good example. [27] The shaft of the pillar is a monolith with the base left as a square and with well-sculpted figures adorning the top.

Vimana Star shaped Vimana (shrine) at Hosaholalu The vimana, also called the cella, contains the most sacred shrine wherein resides the image of the presiding deity. The vimana is often topped by a tower which is quite different on the outside than on the inside. Inside, the vimana is plain and square, whereas outside it is profusely decorated and can be either stellate (“star-shaped”) or shaped as a staggered square, or feature a combination of these designs, giving it many projections and recesses that seem to multiply as the light falls on it.

Each projection and recess has a complete decorative articulation that is rhythmic and repetitive and composed of blocks and mouldings, obscuring the tower profile. Depending on the number of shrines (and hence on the number of towers), the temples are classified as ekakuta (one), dvikuta (two), trikuta (three), chatushkuta (four) and panchakuta (five). Most Hoysala temples are ekakuta, dvikuta or trikuta. [28] In temples with multiple shrines, all essential parts are duplicated for symmetry and balance. A temple’s minor shrine usually has its own tower.

There are cases where a temple is trikuta but has only one tower over the main shrine (in the middle). So the terminology trikuta may not be literally accurate. Smaller shrines attached to the outer walls and facing outward from a larger vimana are a common feature. The highest point of the temple (kalasa) has the shape of a beautiful water pot and stands on top of the tower. This portion of the vimana is often lost due to age and has been replaced with a metallic pinnacle. Below the kalasa is a large, highly- sculptured structure resembling a dome which is made from large stones and looks like a helmet.

It may be 2 m by 2 m in size and follows the shape of the shrine. Below this structure are domed roofs in a square plan, all of them much smaller and crowned with small kalasas. They are mixed with other small roofs of different shapes and are ornately decorated. The tower of the shrine usually has three or four tiers of rows of decorative roofs while the tower on top of the sukanasi has one less tier, making the tower look like an extension of the main tower (the “nose”). One decorated roof tier runs on top of the wall of a closed mantapa above the heavy eaves of an open mantapa and above the porches.

Outer wall panel with six horizontal mouldings at Somanathapura Below the superstructure of the vimana are temple “eaves”[30] projecting half a meter from the wall. Below the eaves two different decorative schemes may be found, depending on whether a temple was built in the early or the later period of the empire. In the early temples built prior to the 13th century, there is one eave and below this are decorative miniature towers. A panel of Hindu deities and their attendants are below these towers, followed by a set of five different mouldings forming the base of the wall.

In the later temples there is a second eave running about a metre below the upper eaves with decorative miniature towers placed between them. The wall images of gods are below the lower eaves, followed by six different mouldings of equal size. This is broadly termed “horizontal treatment”. [31] The six mouldings at the base are divided in two sections. Going from the very base of the wall, the first horizontal layer contains a procession of elephants, above which are horsemen and then a band of foliage. The second horizontal section has depictions of the Hindu epics and Puranic scenes executed with detail.

Above this are two friezes of yallis or makaras (imaginary beasts) and hamsas (swans). The vimana (tower) is divided into three horizontal sections and is even more ornate than the walls. [32] Sculpture Sthamba buttalika, Hoysala art at Belur Madanika bracket at Belur Hoysala artists are famous for their sculptural detail, be it in the depiction of the Hindu epics, yallis, deities, kirthimukha(gargoyles), eroticism or aspects of daily life. Their medium, the soft chlorite schist, enabled a virtuoso carving style. Their workmanship shows an attention paid to precise detail.

Every aspect down to a fingernail or toenail is perfected. Salabhanjika, a common form of Hoysala sculpture, is an old Indian tradition going back to Buddhist sculpture. Sala is the sala tree and bhanjika is the chaste maiden. In the Hoysala idiom, madanika figures are decorative objects put at an angle on the outer walls of the temple near the roof so that worshipers circumambulating the temple can view them. [33] They served the function of bracket figures to pillars inside the mantapa. These madanika were sculpted as seemingly engaged in artistic activities such as music (holding musical instruments) and dance.

Kirthimukhas (demon faces) adorn the towers of vimanas in some temples. Sometimes the artists left behind their signatures on the sculptures they created. The sthamba buttalikas are pillar images that show traces of Chola art in the Chalukyan touches. Some of the artists working for the Hoysalas may have been from Chola country, a result of the expansion of the empire into Tamil-speaking regions of Southern India. The image of mohini on one of the pillars in the mantapa (closed hall) of the Chennakeshava temple is a fine example of Chola art.

General life themes are portrayed on wall panels such as the way horses were reined, the type of stirrup used, the depiction of dancers, musicians, instrumentalists, and rows of animals such as lions and elephants (where no two animals are identical). Perhaps no other temple in the country depicts the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics more effectively than the Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu. [33][34] Erotica was a subject the Hoysala artist handled with discretion. There is no exhibitionism in this, and erotic themes were carved into recesses and niches, generally miniature in form, making them inconspicuous.

These erotic representations are associated with the Shakta practice. The temple doorway is heavily engraved with ornamentation called Makaratorana (makara being an imaginary beast) and each side of the doorway exhibits sculptured Salabhanjika (maidens). Apart from these sculptures, entire sequences from the Hindu epics (commonly the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) have been sculpted in a clockwise direction starting at the main entrance. [35] The right to left sequence is the same direction taken by the devotees in their ritual circumambulation as they wind inward toward the inner sanctum.

Depictions from mythology such as the epic hero Arjuna shooting fish, the elephant-headed god Ganesha, the Sun god Surya, the weather and war god Indra, and Brahma with Sarasvati are common. Also frequently seen in these temples is Durga, with several arms holding weapons given to her by other gods, in the act of killing a buffalo (a demon in a buffalo’s form) and Harihara (a fusion of Shiva and Vishnu) holding a conch, wheel and trident. Many of these friezes were signed by the artisans, the first known instance of signed artwork in India