Three Hoysala temples on UNESCO heritage list

  • Three Hoysala-era temples have recently been listed to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, under the collective entry of ‘Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas’.
  • The selected three temples were built in the 12th and 13th centuries are important not just because they demonstrate their builders’ superior skill, but also because they narrate the tale of the politics that shaped them.

Temples selected for the UNESCO list

  • The announcement for selection of three temples was made by UNESCO on September 18, during the World Heritage Committee’s 45th session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • 3 temples included in the list:
    • Chennakeshava temple in Belur,
    • the Hoysaleswara Temple in Halebidu, and
    • the Keshava Temple in Somanathapura.

Hoysala Dynasty

Image of Hoysala Temples

  • The Hoysalas governed areas spanning Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for over three centuries, with Sala serving as the dynasty’s founder.
  • The first kings came from the hills northwest of Dorasamudra (present-day Halebid), which became their capital in about 1060.
  • The Hoysalas were feudatories of the Chalukyas of Kalyana, also known as the Western Chalukya Empire.
  • The most notable rulers of the Hoysala dynasty were Vishnuvardhana, Veera Ballala II, and Veera Ballala III.
  • Vishnuvardhana (also known as Bittideva) was the greatest king of the Hoysala dynasty.
  • The Hoysala dynasty was a tolerant and pluralistic society that patronized various religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
  • King Vishnuvardhana was initially a Jain but later converted to Vaishnavism under the influence of the saint Ramanuja.

Key Facts About the Hoysala Temples

  • Chennakeshava Temple in Belur:
    • Built by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana to commemorate his victory over the Cholas in 1116 AD.
    • Beluru (also known earlier as Velapuri, Velur and Belapur in olden times) is situated on the banks of the Yagachi River and was one of the capitals of the Hoysala Empire.
    • A star-shaped temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and is the main temple in the temple complex at Belur.
    • It has the total number of pillars is 46.
    • It is believed that one of the sculptures, Darpana Sundari (lady with the mirror), is modelled on Shantala Devi, the queen of Vishnuvardhana who had the temple built.
  • Hoysaleshwara Temple in Halebid:
    • A twin-shrined temple
    • One of the largest Shiva temple built by the Hoysalas.
    • The sculptures depict various aspects of Shiva, as well as scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana.
    • Halebid has a walled complex containing three Jaina basadi (temples) of the Hoysala period as well as a stepped well.
    • The Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu, is regarded as the highest achievement of the school, though its present ruined condition… renders it difficult to realise this.
    • The infinite wealth of sculpture over the exterior of this temple makes it one of the most remarkable monuments of the world and an unrivalled ‘repository of religious thought expressed in plastic form’.
    • Halebidu was raided by Malik Kafur, a general of the then Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khalji.
  • Keshava Temple of Somnathpur:
    • The Kesava temple in Somanathapura is built in the shape of a 16-point star, and has three shrines, dedicated to Keshava, Janardhana and Venugopala. The Keshava statute, however, is missing now.
    • A Trikuta Temple dedicated to Lord Krishna in three forms-Janardhana, Keshava and Venugopala.
    • The Janardhana and Venugopala idols are damaged.

Specific features of Hoysala architecture

  • Use of soapstone: It is a malleable stone that is easy to carve due to which there are intricate sculptures one can see on the temple walls.
    • The sculptures include animals, scenes of daily life, as well as depictions from the epics and the Puranas.
    • The jewellery, headgear, clothes, etc. of the detailed sculptures give an idea of the society of the times
  • Stellate (star-shaped) platforms which are adorned by several structures inside the complex.
  • The walls and pillars are covered in beautiful sculptures that have “rich narrative and descriptive dimensions”.
  • A unique confluence of styles Hoysala architecture is an amalgamation of three distinctive styles
    • the mainstream Dravidian architecture as represented in the Pallava and Chola temples;
    • the Vesara style, the variant of the Dravida style that emerged in the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta temples; and
    • North Indian Nagara style.
  • The political dimension to this is the various military expeditions that the Hoysalas undertook, which led them to different regions from where they brought back masons, sculptors, architects who could visualise and actualise such temples
  • Vaishnava and Shaiva shrines were built at the time Jainism was prominent in the region, and thus mark a turn towards Hinduism.


  • Therefore, Hoysala temple architecture represents rich socio-cultural prosperity of the Kingdome and shows the prosperity of the Kingdome from the architecture point of view.
  • And recent inclusion of three temples in UNESCO heritage list will promote the rich heritage of India and encourage tourists of different parts of the world to visit India.