BANGALORE, KARNATAKA AND HOYSALA SACRED ENSEMBLES

BANGALORE

Bangalore (290 kilometers west of Chennai) is India’s fifth largest city and the capital city of Karnataka State. Known as the Silicon Valley of India, it is home to 8.5 million people and thousands of information technology and Internet- and computer-related businesses as well as aircraft, silk and motorcycle industries and a number of universities and technical colleges such as the National Aeronautical Research Institute, and of the University of Agricultural Sciences. IBM, Intel and Sun Microsystems have a long association with Bangalore. Among the other sobriquets by which Bangalore is known are City of Gardens, Pensioners Paradise, Pub City, IT City, BT City and Pub City.

Today Bangalore is one of South India's major transportation hubs and home to drug companies, electronics industries and textile mills. Coffee and other agricultural products are traded in the city and many people have retired here. Between 1981 and 1998, the population doubled from 2.4 million to 5 million and the number of cars and scooters increased from 200,000 to 1.6 million, increasing pollution, traffic, congestion and unregulated development.

The city is mostly flat, except for a central ridge, running northeast to southwest. The highest point is of the ridge is 962 meters (3,156 feet) above sea level. Bangalore has wide streets and numerous parks. It has one of the highest concentration of yuppies in India, the most active pub culture, and the best hotels. It is a modern city, somewhat similar to Mumbai it has computer geniuses sharing the streets with beggars and amputees,. Lush green parks and well laid-out gardens stand near art galleries, pubs and restaurants. Shoppers can engage in street shopping and check out high-end brands at modern shopping malls. Among the most sought-after items are Mysore saris, made of premium quality silk and sandalwood products.

Karnataka

Karnataka is a state between the west coast of India and the Eastern Ghats that embraces Bangalore and Mysore. Most the people in Karnataka speak Kannada, a Dravidian language with its own script. Kanarese make up two thirds of the population. Tamils are a large minority.

Karnataka state covers 191,791 square kilometers (74,051 square miles), is home to about 61.5 million people and has a population density of 320 people per square kilometer. About 39 percent of the population live in urban areas. Bangalore (Bengaluru) is the capital and largest city, with about 8.5 million people. It is a global technology center known as the Silicon Valley of India.

From 1578 to 1947 most of Karnataka was the kingdom of Mysore, ruled by a maharaja based in Mysore City. It was also part of the culture rich kingdom of Hooysalas (A.D. 1007-1336) and a polity of the Vijauanagar Empire (1336-1565). In the 18th century the Muslim adventurer Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan led four wars against the British. During the Mysore war of 1780, a 3,700-man battalion led by Col. William Balliee was defeated by Haider Ali. Balliee died as a prisoner. The British got revenge in 1799, attacking the sultan's palace, killing Tipu and opening the way for the British conquest of South India. The British never ruled Mysore directly they preferred to t pressure it indirectly by propping up the Maharaja of Mysore

Karnataka is borderd by Andhra Pradesh and Telegana to the east, the Arabian Sea to the west, Maharashtra and Goa to the north and northwest, and Kerala and Tamil Nadu to the south. A land known historically for its silks, spices and sandalwood, Karnataka is known today for its wildlife, national parks, monuments and heritage sites and pilgrimage sites. The 320-kilometers-long coastline dotted with un-spoilt beaches. Important cultivated crops in the state include millet, rice, sorghum, tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, potatoes, onions, turmeric, cardamom and chilies. the primary plantation crops are coffee and coconuts and to a lesser extend tea and rubber. The famous Kannada novelist and poet U.R. Ananthamuthy was born in Mysore and died in Bangalore.

History of Bangalore

Bangalore is now officially called Bengaluru. Bangalore literally means "town of boiled beans." Founded in 1537, it was originally trading center for silk and sandalwood. Kolar Gold Fields, 50 kilometers east of Bangalore, was known for its gold mines. Bangalore once had a large British civil and military post. The city got its start in the high tech business in the 1980s when it was the center of the Indian space program which was set up by the Indian government to loft India-made satellites into space using Indian-made rockets.

Bangalore was founded by Kempe Gowda I, a vassal of the Vijaynagar Empire and the building of Bangalore Fort. Hyder Ali in 1761 replaced the mud fort with a stone fort and it was further improved by his son Tipu Sultan in the late 18th century. The army of the British East India Company, led by Lord Cornwallis captured the Bangalore Fort in March 1791 in the siege of Bangalore during the Third Mysore War (1790–1792). At the time the fort was a stronghold for Tipu Sultan.

Bangalore’s infrastructure has been stretched to the limit by economic growth. Simply putting up buildings where cowsheds and slums once stood is not enough. Providing water is the biggest problem. Farmers and city residents fight over rights to the water in the Cauvery River. The roads are potholed and filled with traffic. A hotel shortage has meant that businessmen sometimes have difficulty getting a room in $400-a night downtown hotel. A new airport — Kempegowda International Airport — opened in 2008.

Transportation in Bangalore

According to ASIRT: Unplanned expansion of business and industrial areas contribute to heavy congestion on urban roads. There are many roads, but the road network is insufficient to handle the rapidly increasing numbers of vehicles. Traffic jams are common, and traffic management is inadequate. Streets are potholed. Road surfaces are often rough. Ditches dug by power, water, phone, cable, and sewerage companies are not promptly refilled. Wooden boards are often placed over the ditches as temporary bridges. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]

Traffic includes many 2-wheeled vehicles. Potholes create hazards for cyclists, especially during rainstorms. Many secondary roads are so narrow it is difficult for two cars to pass. Heavy traffic makes crossing streets difficult for pedestrians. Residential neighborhoods often lack sidewalks. Existing sidewalks are commonly obstructed by parked cars, vendors’ stands and goods displayed by store owners. Pedestrians should be alert for cyclists, as they may ride on sidewalks/footpaths to avoid traffic jams.

Public transport is well developed, but is not sufficient to accommodate the expanding population. Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) provides bus service. Service is reliable. Purchase ticket when boarding. Schedules are available. BMTC’s Vajra and BIG 10 and Tata Marcopolo buses are air-conditioned. BMTC’s Suvarna and Pushpak buses are not air- conditioned. Bus fleet includes high capacity buses. Bus stops near Cubbon Park are air-conditioned. Information on BMTC bus fares, passes and schedules is available in English on their website

Auto-rickshaws are readily available. Also known as “autos.” They are black and yellow, 3-wheeled vehicles. Can transport up to 3 passengers. Are metered. Several companies provide taxi service. Taxis are metered and are generally called “City Taxis.” Fares are generally higher than auto-rickshaw fares. Many taxis must be arranged by phone. Some taxis are air-conditioned.

Getting There: By Air: Kempegowda International Airport opened in 2008 and is around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city center and is connected with all important Indian cities. Also known as Bengaluru International Airport, it is located four kilometers (2.5 miles) south of Devanahalli and 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Bangalore City Railway Station. It is the 4th busiest airport in India. Columbia Asia Hospitals runs a clinic at the airport. National Highway 7, a 6-lane expressway, provides access to the airport. BMTC’s Vayu Vajra buses serve 12 routes between the city and the airport.

By Road: Bengaluru is connected to all major towns and cities in the country. Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation provides inter- city bus transport to other cities in the state and neighboring states. By Train: The city is well-connected by railways with all major cities in India.

The Bangalore-Mysore Toll Road is a two-lane dual expressway with paved shoulders. A limited access toll road, linking Bangalore and Mysore. It has a continuous barrier on both sides and passes near Bangalore where it serves as part of the city’s ring road. Also links the NH 4 (Bangalore-Pune) and NH 7 (Bangalore-Hosur). An elevated road runs from the expressway to Bangalore’s city center

Sights in Bangalore

Bangalore sights include the 16th century Bull Temples (with a grey granite bull), the ruined Fort, the Government Museum (with old artifacts and a art gallery), a planetarium, an aquarium (second largest in the country), Cubbom Park, Vidhan Saudha, Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore Palace, Lal Bagh, some nice gardens, the Attara Kacheri (High Court), St Mary’s Basilica, and the ISKCON Temple.

Bull Temple is dedicated to Nandi (bull god). This temple is noted for its large statue of sacred bull, Nandi. Standing at a height of around 4 meters, the statue has been carved out of a single grey granite stone and has been polished black with a mixture of charcoal powder and peanut oil. Built in traditional Dravidian style of architecture, the temple is said to have been commissioned by ruler Kempe Gowda, of the Vijayanagara empire, during the 16th century. The present vimana, or the structure above the inner sanctum of the temple, was built during the 20th century and is adorned with Shaiva motifs. The temple is open from 6:00am to 8:00pm everyday.

Bangalore Palace is a two-storeyed granite structure that is adorned with fortified towers and turreted parapets. A visit to the palace introduces tourists with the lavish lifestyle lived by one of southern India's most influential dynasties, the Wadeyars (1339-1947), who built it in 1887. Surrounded by well-maintained gardens, Bangalore Palace is famous for its beautiful wood carvings and fascinating architecture. To an extent, it resembles the medieval castles of Normandy and England as it has been built in the Tudor style of architecture, with Scottish Gothic influences. The most-striking feature of the palace is its vine-covered walls. The interior of the palace is in stark contrast with the English facade. One can see traditional Hindu style decor at the living quarters of the palace with elaborately decorated pillars and arches. Luxurious chandeliers and patterned walls are reminders of the princely past of the palace. The palace also houses some of the great paintings of the 19th and 20th century by renowned artists like Raja Ravi Varma. According to one story, on one of his trips to England, The Wodeyar king, Chamarajendra Wodeyar, was so impressed by Windsor Castle he built Bangalore Palace along the same lines.

Bangalore Fort began in 1537 as a mud fort.The builder was Kempe Gowda I, a vassal of the Vijaynagar Empire and the founder of Bangalore. Hyder Ali in 1761 replaced the mud fort with a stone fort and it was further improved by his son Tipu Sultan in the late 18th century. It was damaged during an Anglo-Mysore war in 1791. It still remains a good example of 18th-century military fortification. The army of the British East India Company, led by Lord Cornwallis captured the fort in March 1791 in the siege of Bangalore during the Third Mysore War (1790–1792). At the time the fort was a stronghold for Tipu Sultan. Today, the fort's Delhi gate, on Krishnarajendra Road, and two bastions are the primary remains of the fort. A marble plaque commemorates the spot where the British breached fort's wall, leading to its capture. The old fort area also includes Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace, and his armoury. The fort has provided the setting for the treasure hunt in the book Riddle of the Seventh Stone.

Tipu Sultan's Palace (inside the Bangalore Fort) is an opulent palace that once served as a summer retreat for the legendary king of Mysore. The palace stands as a fine specimen of Indo-Islamic architecture and is among Bengaluru's most-visited spots. The most striking part of the palace is its grand architecture that boasts ornamental frescoes, beautiful motifs, protruding balconies and magnificent arches. A visit to the palace introduces visitors with the princely lifestyle enjoyed by king Tipu Sultan. The palace is said to have been originally constructed in 1537 by local chieftain Kempe Gowda. The two-storeyed palace is mostly made of wood and also houses a museum managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that provides glimpses of the life of Tipu Sultan.

Vidhana Soudha spreads over an area of 60 acres and is a famous landmark in Bengaluru that houses the Secretariat and the State Legislature. The stately white building is made in Mysore Neo-Dravidian architecture with Indo-Saracenic and Dravidian influences incorporated as various elements. Built over five years, between 1951 and 1956, the largest legislative building in the country was conceptualised by Kengal Hanumanthaiah, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka. The Vidhana Soudha has 300 rooms, which are used by the different departments of the state government. The grand structure stands 46 meter high, making it one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. The Vidhana Soudha has been built entirely out of granite and porphyry. It features four domes on its four corners and the entrance of the building is embellished with the national symbol of India. The building can be accessed from all the four sides and visitors need to obtain prior permission to enter inside the building. The best time to visit the Vidhana Soudha is on Sundays and public holidays, when it is beautifully lit in the evening from 6:00pm to 8.30pm.

Janapada Loka Folk Art Museum (on the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway) houses more than 5,000 folk items and artefacts, including musical instruments, traditional costumes, temple chariots, shadow puppets and a replica of a traditional village. The museum was created with an aim to preserve local rural culture and draws visitors from all parts of India. The entrance gate of the museum is adorned with finely carved images of deities and brass trumpets are placed on its either sides. On entering the museum, one reaches the information center or the Lok Mata Mandir, where daily use items like farming tools and cooking utensils are displayed. The other two important parts of the museum include the Doddamane, a big house and Chitra Kuteera, a double-storeyed building that displays all the achievements of the founders of this place.

Other museums in Bangalore include the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Aerospace Museum and Visvesvaraya Industrial And Technological Museum. Human Brain Museum s houses brains of humans as well as animals. Besides seeing a variety of brains, you can also hold them. It is situated inside the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS).

Parks in Bangalore

Cubbon Park (central Bangalore) is one of India’s most beautiful and famous parks. Exuding British colonial charm, it is the home of the imposing red-colored British-era library, statues, museums, an aquarium, a tennis academy, a toy train and numerous pavilions. Sprawling over an area of 300 acre, the park has well-maintained jogging tracks, comfortable benches, shady groves, flowering trees, water fountains and beautiful walkways. The Cubbon Park serves as an ideal spot for joggers during the early morning hours and the evenings. It is the perfect place to enjoy the amazing climate that Bengaluru is blessed with. Officially known as Sri Chamarajendra Park, Cubbon Park dates back to 1870 and is a must-visit spot in Bengaluru. The Vidhana Soudha and the High Court are among the few important buildings that lie on the park's periphery.

Lalbagh is an internationally renowned center for botanical artwork and conservation of plants. One of the most scenic gardens in Karnataka, it sprawls over an area of 240 acres, the park draws visitors in large numbers with its popular glass house and also serves as a home for as many as 1,854 species of plants. The glass house plays host to the biannual flower show held here as an extension to the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. The Lalbagh once served as the private garden of Mysore's ruler Hyder Ali and was initially built in Mughal style over an area of 40 acre. The British transformed the park and gave it its current look. A visit to the park makes for an interesting exploration for tourists.

Hesaraghatta Lake is a man-made lake that covers an area of 1,000 acres. It is not only a popular picnic spot and ideal scenic getaway from the city it also attracts bird-lovers in large numbers. Some of the popular migratory and avian species you can spot include paddy field pipit, kingfisher, pond heron, magpie robin, black drongo, brahminy kite, black kite, cormorant and egret. The lake also provides the perfect setting for taking nature walks. One can also visit the Government Aquarium.

Nrityagram is a popular dance village set up by renowned classical dancer Protima Bedi. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Nrityagram is an institution specialising in Classical Indian Dance forms. It is situated near the outskirts of the city of Bengaluru in south India. Established in 1990 by Protima Gauri, Nrityagram is a community of dancers following a lifestyle of the Gurukul tradition, influenced to some degree by Kalakshetra and Santiniketan. The institution encourages an awareness of the interdisciplinary approach and an understanding of the inter-relatedness of all arts and physical traditions, not only of India, but also of other countries. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

Along with the intensive dance training in their residential dance education programs, the students learn Indian Literature, mythology, poetry, Sanskrit, music, aesthetics, history of dance, philosophy, spiritual thought and dance theory. Regular workshops are conducted in martial arts, yoga, mime, meditation, sculpture, etc. The institution believes in self-sufficient existence where they use their resources to the fullest and share a relationship with the earth they reside on and as a member they believe not only being a complete dancer but also a complete human being. The institution also runs various villages and school outreach programs encouraging local children from various financial and social backgrounds to participate in various workshops and pursue a career in dance.

Ulsoor Lake (northern Bangalore) draws visitors for its picturesque surroundings, boat rides, clam waters and several little islands. You can hire a cruise from the boat club at the lake. Ulsoor Lake was built by Kempe Gowda II, a ruler of the Vijayanagara empire, in the 2nd century. The lake draws huge crowds during the Ganesha Festival celebrated in the months of August and September. You can also visit the recreational complex near the lake or go for a swim in the well-maintained pool. Other nearby attractions include a gurudwara, considered to be the largest in the city and a temple dedicated to Lord Subbaraya.

Yoga in Bangalore

According to yoga.in: “Bangalore has many yoga schools which offer a variety of yoga styles to choose from. Being a large city, all of the traditional yoga styles and schools (such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda and Bihar etc.) are present. There are also many yoga centers on the outskirts of the city, for those who prefer to be a little away from the city. Being a city filled with young and modern minds, the yoga scene in Bangalore has started to shift and include new ‘western style’ studios with a strong focus on well-being in a broad sense. Some of these studios have hardwood floors, air-conditioning and soft music, similar in style to studios you might find in New York City and London.

Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana is a university dedicated to the study of yoga based on the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. Accredited by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), The university is one of the most prestigious yoga training centers in the world and offers several courses like Yoga Instructor's Course, Bsc in Yoga Therapy, MD in Yoga and PhD in Yoga. It is supported by a unique yoga therapy research health home, which has a 250-bed patient treatment facility, Arogyadhama. The aim is to treat and prevent modern non-communicable diseases, promote health and ensure long-term rehabilitation. The organization has been working towards making yoga a socially relevant science and continues to be an important center for the study of the ancient Indian practice of Yoga.

Art of Living International Headquarters (21 kilometers southeast of Bangalore) was established in 1986 by musician Ravi Shankar to offer a base for his Art of Living Foundation. It draws 1.2 million visitors yearly for its yoga and meditation programs. The lifestyle is with a daily routine of group meditation, chanting, knowledge sessions, pujasand satsangs. It also host Panchkarma Center and Ayurvedic Hospital for Ayurvedic treatment. The ashram that offers residential courses every week, from a basic one that introduces people to Sudarshan Kriya (a unique breathing technique) to the advanced one that gives them the opportunity to go deeper within oneself. In addition to enjoying meditative walks and exploring the ashram, visitors can also do seva or voluntary work at the ashram. This includes serving food in the kitchen, mopping the premise and taking overall care of the ashram. A popular attraction is the evening satsang in which many youngsters sing, dance and meditate to songs in praise of various gods and goddesses.

Near Bangalore

Near Bangalore are hill stations, coastal towns and national parks. Day trip destinations include Bannerghatta National Park, Ramohalli, Nandi Hills, Mekedatu, Shivasamudram, Halebid and Belur Kolar Gold Fields, with a population of 144,400, 50 kilometers east of Bangalore, is known for its gold mines.

Nandi Hills tower over Bangalore and provide a popular weekend getaway for the city’s residents and tourists. Covered in low-hanging clouds and shrouded by mist, Nandi Hills is a nice spot for nature lovers and trekkers. The Nandi Hills View Point gives a sweeping view of the city. Tipu's Drop Point is perched upon a hill and said to be the place where prisoners were pushed off by the army of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. The point is also the best spot to enjoy a panoramic view of the Nandi Hills. Dating back to the 9th century, the Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple, also known as the Nandi Temple is among Karnataka's oldest temples. It draws visitors for its splendid architecture and peaceful environment. History lovers can head to the summer residence of king Tipu Sultan, also known as Tashk-e-jannat. Build with wood, the temple is known for its beautifully carved arches, painted walls, high ceilings and pillars.

Mekedatu (80 kilometers south of Bangalore) is where the River Cauvery cascading through a narrow gorge. Bordered by lush green landscape, the river flows through a narrow and deep ravine of hard granite rocks. A prime spot here is the sangam, the confluence of rivers Arkavathi and Cauvery. Tourists can also visit the beautiful Sangameshwara Temple, which is flocked by devotees throughout the year. Other important attractions in Mekedatu include Shivasamudram Falls and Kallahalli Sri Srinivasa Temple. The word Mekedatu means goat's lap in Kannada. The place was so named because the gorge through which River Cauvery flows is so narrow that even a goat could leap over it. The best time to visit Mekedatu is during the winter season. The river is the highest in the monsoon season.

Muthyala Maduvu (15 kilometers south of Bangalore) Or Pearl Valley Surrounded by a picture-perfect landscape lined with verdant hills, the valley serves as an ideal picnic spot. The prime attraction of the valley is a majestic waterfalls that drops from a height of 90 meters. When the water rushes through the flora of the valley, it creates an illusion that the drops of water are a string of pearls and that is how the valley got its name. The valley is nothing less than a haven for bird-lovers and one can spot a wide variety of avian species here. Tourists can also visit a small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Pearl Valley also draws trekkers and adventure enthusiasts in large numbers as its open forests and mountain ranges provide ample trekking opportunities.

Kaveripattinam

Kaveripattinam (75 kilometers southeast of Bangalore) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the Silk Road Sites in India in 2010 . According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The town now existing at Kaveripattinam was once a busy trade and commerce center from Pre-Sangam period to medieval times. The excavation revealed evidences of continuous levels from Pre-sangam period to Vijayangara period as evidenced from the structures which include Wharf at Kiliyur dated to 1st-2nd c.A.D, Inlet sluice at Vanagiri dated to 2nd-3rd c.A.D and Buddhist vihara and temple dated to 5th-6th c.A.D and antiquities like Buddhapadha of early historic period and the coins of Chola, Vijayanagar and Setupati dynasties. This evidence exhibits an important development in the life cycle and culture of the port city, over a span of time human values, over a span of time, within a cultural area. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

“The excavated structure of Buddha Vihara , temple site at Pallavanesarm and antiquities like bronze Buddha and lime Buddha pada are, confirm that Buddhism was prevailing during Early historic period in Kaveripattinam and it was also patronized by Kings. The discovery of a Buddhist monastery confirmed the literary evidence found in the Tamil epics - Silappatikaram and Manimekhalai which records that Kaveripattinam was a center of Buddhist faith. The creation of structures of brick, stucco, tile and wood as a regular feature in the Sangam period finds an echo in the brick Buddhist temple found at Pallavanesvaram. The numerous terracotta of the Saiva and Vaishnava faith found at the Vellayaniruppu site show rise of worship of Saivism and Vaishnavism. This place was a reflection of the cultural and cult environment recorded in the twin epics - the Silappathikaram and Manimekhalai.

“The excavated structures at Kaveripattinam reveal that the highest technology of construction adapted during Chola period. This is evidenced from the rectangular or 'L' shaped as well as the small square voids in the foundation, together with the large central squarish void, at Buddhist Vihara which would seem to suggest that the structure stood in more than one storey height and perhaps the shrine was erected by a astylar corbelling principle with staircases suggested by 'L' shaped voids leading to the upper floor from all the three sides except the east. The construction of wharf with two stages and inlet sluice with an inlet drop into the depressed land, the sluice also had a discharge channel including widening curved mouth and a drip course of bricks to prevent erosion also are witness to the technological development of building activity of early period.

“The excavation confirmed this place as a full fledged port of the Cholas as referred in Tamil as well as western literatures. It also represents an outstanding example of traditional human settlement, use of land and seas and human interaction with environment. It is thus for the first time that the continuous story of Tamil culture is documented on archaeological data, on the ground, from the 2nd -3rd century B.C. to A.D. the twelfth century A.D. making the limited excavations a truly outstanding archaeological exercise for the early history and culture of Tamil Nadu and more so because it is truly corroborated with literature.

“Emerged as a trading colony where Romans settled to trade with the west through sea and introduced ceram9ic tradition of the Mediterranean which further evolved the pottery of similar nature in the Indian context. The settlement flourished with residential colonies , craft workshops and shopping centers which is visible after excavations. It bears a unique testimony to the trading settlement of the past during early historic period. The trade methodology is described into details in the early classical literature of Greece and Rome and corroborated by archaeological finds.”

Shravanabelagola

Sravanabelgola (130 kilometers west of Bangalore) is a major pilgrimage center for members of the Jain religion. Every 12 years a great festival occurs here (the next one will take place in 2002). The rest of the time the city is pretty quite. The main sight is a massive statue of statue of Gomateshwara, a Jain saint that meditated in one place for so long, creepers grew up his legs and body. The nude statue, with carefully renders genitals and toes nails as large as a person is locate don top of a 470-foot-high that must be climbed without shoes. Each morning at 10 o'clock Sravanabelgola Akanabasti Temple fills praying nude men.

One of the most-visited Jain pilgrimage spots in South India, Shravanabelagola is a popular weekend getaway from Bengaluru. It is famous for a massive 57-ft high statue of Bahubali, which is the world's tallest monolithic stone statue carved out of a single granite block. This is housed in the Gomateshwara Temple, which is perched atop the Vindhyagiri Hill at a height of 3347 feet.

For over 2,300 years, Shravanabelagola has been a major attraction for Jain's and has been drawing them for its culture, art and architecture. A town of temples and ponds, Shravanabelagola boasts one of the largest numbers of rock inscriptions at one place. Another attraction is the 14 historical shrines known as basadis at the Chandragiri Hill. The most important of these include Chavundaraya Basadi, Chandragupta Basadi, Chandraprabha Basadi, Kathale Basadi and Parshwanath Basadi.

Hoysala Sacred Ensembles

Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala (210 kilometers west of Bangalore) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The ‘Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala’ represents the pinnacle of artistic and cultural accomplishments of the Hoysala Empire that reigned from the 11th to the 14th Centuries...The properties represent a cultural value and respect for the pluralistic spiritual beliefs of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Jainism and contributed to their development. The sacred and the spiritual intersected with ordinary people and daily lives in numerous ways. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The sacred ensembles of the Hoysala exhibit an interchange of human values in two kinds of syncretism unique to this region of the world. First, in a region where Vaishnavism (sects of Hinduism who worshipped Vishnu) and Shaivism (sects of Hinduism who worshipped Shiva) were divided and often in conflict and where followers of each sect competed for power, the Hoysala ensembles bridged differences with an overt position of plurality in their built form that recognized and respected both. Further, they recognized Jainism, an entirely separate religion, on par with Hinduism. This syncretism in the architectural and spatial elements is testimony to the emphasis on an elevated level of spiritual attainment beyond rituals and material practices that was inclusive of all these different beliefs. Second, the architectural style of the Hoysala temples, followed the dravidian style of southern India, also incorporated elements from the North Indian nagara style of temple architecture. This was a unique effort at integrating nagara and dravidian style of temple architecture to create syncretic new forms.

“The sacred ensembles of the Hoysalas bear unique testimony to the extraordinary artistic achievements, architectural skill, and cultural contributions of the Hoysala period. The exquisite intricacy of the stone sculpture and carvings on the Hoysala temples exteriors with attention to detail of ornamentation, clothing, and dynamic movement of human and animal figures are above and beyond any other. These poetic interpretations in stone of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavatham was made possible in part by the soft chlorite-schist stone and in part by the intertwining of art with spirituality.

“At a time when temples were rectangular based on ancient treatises, the Hoysala temples were temples were unique in their star-shaped plans, complex forms, and raised platforms. Their formal geometry and unparalleled in the artistry of their sculptural details have earned them recognition as outstanding masterpieces of South Asian art. Characteristic architectural elements such as the lathe turned stone pillars, the curved and corbelled vimana or towers over the shrines that combined the nagara and dravidian architectural styles, and the bell shaped cornices are significant innovations in the development of temple architecture.

“Sacredness and spirituality were integrated into a variety of spheres: from the location of the towns on sacred sites nestled in the foothills of the hilly and forested terrains of the Western Ghats, to the water bodies, and the layout of the city based privileging a cosmic diagram. The sculpture and iconography of all the structures valorized the deities and expressed the spiritual beliefs while providing visitors yet another vehicle for spiritual elevation.”

Hoysala Empire and Culture

Hoysala Empire that reigned from the 11th to the 14th centuries largely in present day Karnataka. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Hoysala era is one that contributed enormously to the development of several creative fields as well as spiritual and humanistic thought. During their reign, the Hoysalas built more than 1500 temples all across their empire of which only a little over 100 survive today. Art historians recognize the exceptionally intricate sculptural artistry of the Chennakeshava temple at Belur and the Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebid to be among the masterpieces of South Asian art making the name of Hoysala synonymous with artistic achievement. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“In addition to supporting both Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects of Hinduism, the Hoysala rulers gave court recognition and status to Jainism, a religion that prescribes a path of non-violence and self-control as paths to spiritual liberation and emphasizes the equality of all beings. They were not only inclusive of the plural religious following but the sacred ensembles were important agents in the development of the spiritual beliefs of Vaishanavism, Shaivism, and Jainism through interpretations in sculpture, poetry, music, classical dance, and Kannada literature.

“Literature too flourished in this period and the Kannada language developed (spoken today by 60 million people). The environment of religious plurality and the close intermingling of spirituality and art made integrated religious and literary writings. Jaina scholars in this period wrote extensively on Jainism and Veershaiva writers, devotees of Shiva, wrote important expositions on Shaivism.Important treatises on Kannada grammar, poetry, natural sciences, and mathematics, were written during the period. The development of the Bhakti movement (spiritual liberation through devotion) in Kannada saw their beginnings under the Hoysala. Numerous Hoysala epigraphs written in Kannada poetry rather than prose are found in the region.

“Bharatnatyam, an important classical temple dance form of India that continues to this day, developed substantially during the Hoysala period. The friezes, sculptures, and brackets on the exterior of the main temples in Belur and Halebid depict female forms in a variety of dance positions, an invaluable resource to dancers to this day. The integration of the navaranga or a performance pavilion adjacent to the main temple hall is an important evidence of this support for the temple dance form of Bharatnatyam.”

Hoysala Temples and Urban Planning

The Hoysalas were known as patrons of temple construction and the temples constructed under their rule are noted for their minute and intricate carvings and sculptures adorned with metal-like polishing. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The sacred ensembles of the Hoysalas were far beyond temples for worship. They were extraordinary expressions of spiritual purpose and vehicles of spiritual practice and attainment. Set in the foothills of the hilly and forested terrain of the Western Ghats on sites of enduring sanctity, the sacred ensembles included grand and small Hindu temples designed on ancient treatises, Jaina temples, numerous secondary structures, intricate sculpture and iconography, temple dances and music, lakes and tanks, town planning with the sacred elements, and a relationship to the natural environment that was both material and symbolic. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The most remarkable architectural achievement of the Hoysala is the numerous intricately carved stone temples in star shaped plans. The architecture of the Hoysalas is a hybrid of the nagara style of temple architecture of north India and the dravidian style from the South. The temples were built on platforms and had a star shaped plan. A navaranga was usually included as a place for people to gather and participate in cultural programs such as music and dance performances, story-telling from mythology, and religious discourses. Visual elements such as a gently curving bell shaped chajja, and lathe turned stone pillars with circular rings carved on them are typical stylistic elements of Hoysala architecture. Rich sculptural decoration is a mark of the highest artistic achievement of the Hoysalas. The exterior walls of the numerous temples were intricately decorated with stone sculptures and carving. These sculptures are rich with religious and cultural iconography depicting gods and goddesses, wars and victories, dance and music, hunting, games, processions, and the dress, jewelry, and daily life of people and scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavatham. The temples were built of a soft chlorite-schist stone quarried nearby that was especially soft when first quarried and hardened on contact with air. Other smaller temples, shrines, and mantapa dot the town. Mantapa that are pavilions or pillared halls of all sizes are a typical feature and occurred with temples and without.

“Kalyani or stepped wells are commonly found in the Hoysala sacred ensembles. These wells served as an important source of water and were an important architectural structure. The lakes were places for bathing and ritual cleansing, worship, meditation, and water management for the agricultural areas surrounding the temple and town. Open Mantapas, present around the water bodies, provided shelter to visitors. A pushkarani or well was often located within the temple premises and a tank or lake adjacent to the temple.

“The towns were planned on a cosmic diagram with main axes in the cardinal directions and the main temple at the center of town at the intersection of the axes. The temple complex had rathabeedi or wide streets for processions and circumambulation of the deities on enormous chariots. The town surrounded by a fort wall and moat as a defense mechanism. The typical settlement pattern consisted of a fortified area called kotte, and a commercial center called pete. The kotte was on a slightly more elevated land and was made of mud and stone. Historians believe that typically, a dry moat or ditch surrounded the fort wall. The main temple was located in the middle of the fortified kotte on an elevated platform. The towns had grand entrance gateways in the four cardinal directions. Residential streets were narrow with an irregular grid. Outside the fort wall and around the lake were stretches of fields. A main street led from the temple to the pete forming the central spine of the town. The sacred ensembles of the Hoysalas at Belur and Halebid are the finest, most exquisite, and most representative examples of the artistic genius and cultural accomplishments of the Hoysalas remaining today.”

Belur: the First Hoysala Empire Capital

Belur (250 kilometers west of Bangalore) was the first capital of the Hoysala empire. The prime attraction at Belur is the popular Chennakeshava Temple, dedicated to Lord Chennakeshava, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It rests on a star-shaped platform and houses two smaller shrines of Lord Chennakesava's consorts, Soumyanayaki and Ranganayaki. The temple's facade is decorated with intricate sculptures and the interior houses 48 pillars of varied shapes, sizes and designs. Visitors can also admire fine carvings depicting scenes from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Towards the right of the main entrance gate lies a stepped well or pushkarni that is another attraction. The Chennakeshava Temple stands in testimony to the brilliant Hoysala architecture and was raised by King Vishnuvardhana to mark his victory over the Chola dynasty.

On the Sacred Enesemble of the Hoysala at Belur, the report submitted to UNESCO reported:: “Belur was the first capital city of the Hoysalas. The Chennakeshava temple complex was at the center of the old walled town located on the banks of the Yagachi River. The complex itself was walled in a rectangular campus with four rectilinear streets around it for ritual circumambulation of the deity. Construction of the temple commenced in 1117 and took a 103 years to complete. A total of 118 stone inscriptions have been recovered from the temple complex covering a period from 1117 to 18th century, giving details of the artists employed, grants made to the temple and renovations done. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The Chennakeshava temple was devoted to Vishnu. The richly sculptured exterior of the temple includes sculptures and iconography and horizontal friezes that depict scenes from daily life, music, and dance, and narrate scenes from the life of Vishnu and his reincarnations and the epics, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. However, some of the representations of Shiva are also included. Consecrated on a sacred site, the temple has remained continuously worshipped since its establishment and remains to this day as a site of pilgrimage for Vaishnavites.

“The layout of the town represents the cosmic diagram with walled kotte, the streets in four cardinal directions, the temples of anjaneya at the gates at the ends of these four cardinal streets, the rathabeedi or chariot streets around the temple, and the remains of the defensive wall and moat. Chariot festivals with processions around the temple complex and festivals centered on the Vishnusamudhra lake have continued to this day. Monuments of the Shankareshwara temple complex, devoted to Shiva were located on the bank of the lake to the north of the fortified town, the Kalasadakere.

“Belur has remained continuously inhabited as a town since the 12th century and worship has been continuous at a majority of the shrines and temples and at the lakes and ponds. The Chennakeshava temple in Belur remains an important pilgrimage center for for Vaishnavites. Halebid lost most of its inhabitants at the time of the city’s destruction in the 14th century and worship at the main temple had ceased for a period of time and revived in recent years. However, the smaller temples and shrines have remained in continuous use.”

Halebid: Second Hoysala Capital

Halebeedu (212 kilometers west of Bangalore) is small town that once was the capital of the Hoysala empire (10th to 14th centuries). The prime attractions in Halebeedu (Halebidu) are the twin temples of Hoysaleshwara and Kedareshwara. The twin temple complex houses two grand statues of Nandi (bull god), Lord Shiva's vehicle. Visitors can see as many as 108 pillars inside the temple. These pillars resemble each other but feature different design patterns. The temple walls are adorned with intricate carvings of Hindu deities like Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. They also feature scenes from Hindu epics like the Mahabharata, along with finely carved images of animal figures like elephants and horses. The temple also houses a separate sanctum dedicated to Lord Surya, the Sun God.

On the Sacred Ensembles of Halebid, the report submitted to UNESCO reported: “At the zenith of the Hoysala empire, the capital moved from Belur to Halebid that was then known as Dorasamudhra. Far bigger and grander than Belur, the city served as the capital for nearly three centuries. However, the fort was attacked numerous times by invaders from North India who finally succeed in pillaging the city in 1310. The main temple at the center, various other smaller temples shrines and palace buildings were all destroyed making it the ‘ruined city’ or Halebid. Despite all the destruction, some temples and structures of unparalleled beauty still remain. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu is the most exemplary architectural ensemble of the Hoysalas extant today. Built in 1121CE during the reign of the Hoysala King, Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleshwara. The temple, dedicated to Shiva, was sponsored and built by wealthy citizens and merchants of Dorasamudra. While rulers have typically sponsored the grandest temples in southern India, the merchants of the city dedicated the Hoysaleshwara temple. The intertwining of the sacred and spiritual attainment with commerce and artistic achievement was most clearly evidenced in the Hoysaleshwara temple. More sculpturally and artistically sophisticated than any other Hoysala temple, the Hoysaleshwara temple is most well-known for the more than 240 wall sculptures that run all along the outer wall. Bands of intricately carved friezes run along the exterior wall expressing aspirational spiritual qualities, symbolism, and mythology.

“Halebid has a walled complex containing of three Jaina basadi (temples) of the Hoysala period as well as a stepped well. The basadi are located close by the Dorasamudhra lake. The Parshvanatha Basadi, the Adinatha Basadi, and the Shanthinatha Basadi are three Jaina shrines containing tall idols of the Jaina deities. The Parshvanatha Basadi, as the largest of them also has niches for idols of the 24 thirthankaras or saints of Jainism.

“The Kedareshwara temple is another exquisitely carved temple dedicated to Shiva that is close to the Jaina basadi complex and with a temple pond adjacent to it. Other somewhat more modest temples of the Hoysala period that are made of similar architectural elements, material, and style dot Halebid including the Ranganathaswamy temple, the Huccheshwara temple and the recently excavated remains of the Nagareshwara temple complex in addition to smaller shrines dedicated to Anjaneya and Ganesha. Dorasamudhra was built with defensive fortifications. The walls had 5 gateways in addition to the 4 main ones in the cardinal directions. Excavation has revealed the remains of an inner fortification protected the royal palace, offices, and women’s quarters.

“Numerous tanks, wells, and ponds, are in and around the town and lakes just outside. The largest lake close to the Hoysaleshwara temple is the Dorasamudhra lake. Mantapa of various types are extant around the Dorasamudhra lake. Hulikere, located on the southern side of the town is a kalyani (stepped well) of exceptional beauty. Richly carved and decorated with numerous miniature shrines, the stone well is most outstanding example of Hoysala water structures extant today that combine artistry and hydrology with the sacred.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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