Somnathapur Temple – Have a spiritual and artistic experience

Somnathpur temple
Photo by Eric Parker

Built in the year 1258, Chennakeshava Temple is also known as Somnathpur Temple, a splendid piece of Hoysala Architecture. They are famous for their elaborate carvings. It was built during the climax period of the Hoysala rule. Also, the temple is considered to be the epitome of the Hoysala empire’s architecture. Situated in the town of Somnathapura, this historical temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is situated around 35 kilometers from the city of Mysore. The temple was created not only to worship and seek blessings but also to show the brilliance and grandeur of Hoysala craftsmanship. The pioneers of this temple had presented the rich culture and power of Hoysala rulers. The enchanting beauty of this temple attracts devotees from all over the world. The temple also attracts historians and artists.

History and Structure of Somnathpur Temple

History of Chenna Keshava Temple

chenna kesava temple
Photo by Natesh Ramasamy

Located along the Cauvery River, Somanatha Dandanayaka had built this shrine. He was a general during the reign of King Narasimha III, of the Hoysala dynasty. It is dedicated primarily to Lord Vishnu. It is said that the general, with the king’s permission, had given lands and resources to brahmins to develop and maintain temples in this town. Presently, the temple is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). According to the inscriptions, this temple endured huge damage during the war of the 14th century. But it was repaired almost a century later by the rulers of the Vijayanagar Empire. One can notice the differences in the stone colors and style of workmanship in some parts like the veranda and the main platform. It had suffered major damage, yet again, during the 19th century. Again, it had undergone repairs in the by the Mysore government of the colonial era.

Structure of the Shrine

chennakesava swamy
Photo by Saurabh Chatterjee

Chennakeshava Temple is a three-shrine temple. It is also called “Trikuta”, which have their Vimana, the tallest pyramid-shaped structure. Vimana is exactly over the inner sanctum of a Hindu temple. Besides, “Sukanasi” is an external ornamented structure over the entrance to the inner shrine. 

Some of the features of the structure include:

Outside the Mysore Somnathpur Temple

somnathpura temple timings
Photo by Saurabh Chatterjee

A walled courtyard surrounds the main temple. The main gate is called the Mahadwar. Right outside this Mahadwar, there is a tall pillar that had a structure of Garuda. Garuda is Lord Vishnu’s mount or vehicle or Vahan. The statue is now missing. As you enter the temple courtyard from the main gate, you can witness an array of 64 shrines on the walls on the courtyard. They represented Vedic as well as Puranic gods. Also, they served as rooms for pilgrims. The southern, as well as a northern row of shrines in the courtyard corridor, comprises eighteen single shrines and one linked-double shrine. The linked-double is situated at the northwestern as well as southwestern vertices of the courtyard. And, the western side of the row has fourteen shrines. Eastern row at the same time, has two linked-double and eight single tiny shrines. At the entrance, there are slabs of soapstones with inscriptions of the temple’s history in the form of carvings. The script is mostly in old Kannada. The outer walls present beautiful carvings and inscriptions.

The Design of Main Temple

mysore somnathpur temple
Photo by Eric Parker

Like many other Hoysala temples, the main structure of the Chennakeshava temple is built on a raised platform called Jagati. It is about 3 feet high. And, it is shaped in the form of 16 point star, symbolizing a worldly platform for the lord. In the past, the platform had three shrines of Lord Keshava, Lord Janadhana and Lord Venugopala. They are all incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Only two shrines stand today. There are stairs built on the east end of the platform for climbing. They have statues of gatekeepers, called Dwarpals. They are destroyed, too. Around the jagati, is a narrow circumambulation path wherein devotees take rounds as a form of worship. During the circumambulation, there are inscriptions of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagwat Purana. The main hall is supported by a number of pillars. The four center pillars depict various common life themes.

Outer walls: Lower levels

Outer walls have three major sections, the basement, the wall, and the top band. They showed bands of murals and other artworks. The lowest band is in the basement section. It depicts a row of elephants marching to the left. The elephants demonstrate different natural expressions. Some also show them in war, throwing enemies while rest portray teasing their riders. Certain artworks also highlight camels as a substitute for horses. It suggested that the Hoysala had used camel for their artillery. 

Outer Walls: Upper levels

This level showcases various Hindu fables and legends as mythical Makara. Makara is a mythic creature, a fusion of multiple animals. There are sculptures and inscriptions of Lord Vishnu. But some also include Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti. Reliefs illustrate the common life of people as well.

Tips for visiting Somnathpur Temple

somnathpur temple photos
Photo by Wendy North
  • The best time to visit this great historical site and temple is between October to March. It gets very hot and humid during summers.
  • Taking photographs is strictly prohibited inside the main temple premises. However, you can take pictures in the surrounding gardens and sit in the open garden. Besides, importance is given to cleanliness. You can check online or in the travel brochure for Somnath temple photos.
  • No pets are allowed inside the temple.
  • A certified government guide is also provided for Rs 300, for 30 minutes, if you choose to have one.

Basic Somnathpur Temple Information

somnathpura temple timings
Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
  • The temple is open from 9 AM to 5:30 PM all seven days if the week. 
  • The entry fee of Rs 5 is charged for Indian citizens and Rs 100 for foreign tourists. 
  • It takes roughly 3 hours to explore the whole structure and seek blessings of the lord. 
  • Many buses run from Bangalore and Mysore to Somnathpura. 

You can even hire a cab right up to this temple. It takes roughly one hour from Mysore.