Somnathpura Chennakesava temple, Mysore

A Guide To The Somnathpura Chennakesava Temple, Mysore

Also known as Kesava or Somnathpura temple, the Chennakesava temple is a popular pilgrimage site, located on the outskirts of Mysore City, Karnataka. This 13th-century masterpiece is the most exemplary example of Hoysala architecture. This popular temple is a tourist hotspot that attracts people from all across the globe.

This article aims to aid you in getting familiar with the temple’s history and architecture, as well as provide useful information that ensures you have a clear understanding of the planning, timings, and ticket prices, among other things.

Somnathpura Chennakesava Temple

Best Time To Visit

Somnathpura temple or Kesava temple

Somnathpura can be visited throughout the year.

Languages Spoken

Although Kannada is the native language spoken by regionals, the tour guides over here can converse in multiple languages including Hindi and English.

Network Availability

All network providers offer stable reception in the Somnathpura region.

ATM Availability

There are no ATMs available in the village of Somnathpur. As digital payments are not really encouraged in the region, have sufficient cash with you at all times. Bannur which is 9 Km away is your best bet for finding a reliable ATM.

How To Reach?

By Air

The nearest airport to Somnathpura is the Mysore Domestic Airport (42 Km, Airport Code- MYQ). From here, an hour’s drive by private transport or a cab will lead you to your destination. There are no direct buses from the airport.

By Train

The Mysore Railway Station (35 Km, Station code- MYS) is the nearest railway station to Somnathpura. This station is well-connected with major Indian cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Goa, Mumbai, Mangalore, Ernakulam, and more. From Mysore, Somnathpura can be reached only by roadways.

By Road

To reach Somnathpura by public transport, buses are the ideal mode of transport. After reaching Mysore, hop on a bus to Bannur. From Bannur, buses to Somnathpura frequent once every hour. A town bus will take you to Somnathpura village. From the bus stop, walk for 100 meters to reach the Chennakesava temple.

You can also hop on a shared tempo from Bannur. However, the most ideal method is to use personal transport.

Where To Stay?

There are no accommodation facilities available in the Somnathpura village. The nearest villages of Bannur and T Narasipura have decent lodging facilities.  

If you are looking for hotels to meet a certain standard of comfort, Mysore should be your choice.

 

Where To Eat?

There are a couple of small shops where you can get tea, coffee, snacks, and cool drinks. Proper dine-in restaurants for lunch, breakfast, or dinner are not available in the village.

Entry Tickets

Entry tickets to the Chennakesava temple can only be purchased online. You can reach the destination and book the tickets instantly. Also, note that the tickets are valid only on the day of purchase, making prior booking not only unnecessary but also invalid.

Price: 

  • Rs. 20 for Indians
  • Rs. 250 for foreigners. 
  • Free for children up to 14 years of age.

Guide Fee: 

  • Rs. 400 is charged for 1 – 5 people. 
  • These tour guides are licensed by the tourist department of India, making them reliable professionals.

Steps To Book Entry Ticket:

  • Open the booking link – asi.payumoney.com.quick.net
  • Click quick booking -> Keshava temple
  • Select your nationality. 
  • Add the number of people visiting the temple and their details.
  • Choose an ID of your choice and fill in the ID of at least one person.
  • Fill in your mobile number
  • Click proceed and pay now.
  • Select your mode of payment and complete the payment.

Parking Facility

Parking space is available near the entrance of the temple. The charges are as follows:

  • Rs. 5 for two-wheelers
  • Rs. 10 for autos
  • Rs. 30 for cars
  • Rs. 50 for tempo
  • Rs. 60 for minibus, bus, and 6-wheelers.

Restroom Availability

Safe and clean restrooms are available close to the temple premises.

Timings: 9 AM – 5:30 PM, on all days

Note: Footwear is not allowed inside the temple. You have designated outlets that store your footwear free of cost at the entrance of the Kesava temple that you can utilize while you visit the temple.

History

The Somnathpura Chennakesava temple was built by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a high-ranking officer under the then Hoysala King Narasimha III between 1254 and 1291 AD. It took 68 years to build this architectural marvel which houses more than 5000 statues. 

With no use of modern equipment, about 500 sculptors worked every day for 2 generations to complete this 750-year-old temple. The 5 main sculptors were Masanithamma, Mallithamma, Bameya, Chameya, and Chowdeya. Among them, Mallithamma, a Tamil sculptor is most famous for her ingenious beautiful carvings. She is the one who carved the most statues including the northern Sikhara of the Janardhana cell. Even today you can find the names of these artists etched in the plinth of these sculptures.

Why The Name Somnathpura?

Somnath means Shiva. But this is not a temple to honor Lord Shiva, but Lord Vishnu. Since the person who constructed the temple was named Somanatha, the village and temple got its name Somnathpura. ‘Pur’ or ‘Pura’ or ‘Puram’ means village or dwelling, a common suffix that can be noticed in several names of villages and cities across India.

Why Poojas Are Not Done In Somnathpura Temple?

In 1311, Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s general, Malik Kafur attacked and looted the temple treasures. A few years later again in 1326, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq attacked the temple. The main idol of Keshava in the Gharbagraha (sanctum) was completely destroyed by him.

carvings on the outer wall of the Somnathpura temple

If you notice carefully, the noses of every sculpture in the temple were chopped off, and some of the leg and hand parts were smashed. As per Hindu customs, damaged or defaced idols should not be worshiped. Since the statues are deformed, poojas are not done in the Somnathpura temple.

Initially, poojas were done for about 20 years before the attack happened. In 1958, the archaeological department declared this temple a protected monument. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has maintained and preserved the monument since then.

Temple Inscriptions

Once you enter the temple, a huge stone slab can be found on your left. The inscriptions were written in the 13 century in the old Kannada script. The ancient script is challenging to interpret even for the native people of today. The inscriptions have details about the construction of the temple, the donations and contributions, and information about several patrons who helped in the upkeep of the temple.

A gist of what is written in the inscriptions is translated into English and kept on a board, for the visitors to understand.

Hoysala Architecture

The Hoysalas have a unique style of architecture. They built temples with soapstone or chalkstone and never used bricks, iron rods, or cement. These soap stones were taken from the Earth and they were smooth, soft, and had a soapy texture. They are carved and fused using the interlocking system which is scientifically known as the Cretaceous.

The temple is not carved out of a single stone, rather it was built using thousands of pieces put together. The lathe-turned pillars, delicately carved ceilings, and walls are the characteristic features of the Hoysala art. No machines were used during that time. Lathe-carved soapstone pillars were made by tying the chains to elephants and horses to rotate them.

Temple Layout

full view of the somnathpura temple, Mysore

The Chennakesava temple stands on a raised platform, shaped in the form of a Nakshatra (star) with 36 corners. The stone elephants once stood marking each start point. 11 out of 15 elephants survived the damage during the attack.

Since Somnathpura has three temples or Garbhagriha, it is also called Trikutachala. The structures of Venugopala (Krishna), Keshava, and Janardhana (three different forms of lord Vishnu) are kept inside the elegantly carved Shikhara (temple tower). From the 64 idols kept in Agrahara rooms, the Archeological Department has replaced the original Kesava idol as the original one had been completely defaced. Though the Kesava idol that you see today is not the original the other two idols of Krishna and Janardhana are original.

The three vimanas (temple towers) which are of the same height, combine intricate artwork, in a plan that alternates rotating squares with star-shaped 16-petalled lotuses. As the tower rises, rhythmically reducing in height is capped with kalashas (pots).

Carvings On The Outer Wall

carvings on the outer wall

The basement of the outer wall is heavily ornamented with friezes of elephants, horses, nature, epic scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana, small images with intervening turrets and columns with figures in-between, and various avatars of Vishnu and Lakshmi among other gods and goddess.

There are a total of 547 completely unique looking elephants, differing in either their expressions or posture. 194 primary god idols are there, out of which 164 are of lord Vishnu. Some noteworthy ones include the one of Lord Vishnu in a sitting and meditating position, the dancing Ganesh, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi, 10 avatars of Vishnu, depictions of ladies enduring pregnancy in all the stages, Chamundeshwari demolishing Maheshasura, etc.

There are 13 separate water outlets for three temples. Made from a single stone, they are 13 feet each, starting from Garbhagraha and stretching all the way outside. The abhiseka or pooja water would come out through these water outlets (before the attack happened).

The Outer Cells/ Rooms

cells or rooms around the temple

There are a total of 64 cells around the main temple. Statues of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi were there in every room for which poojas were done (before the attack). But today, only a very few remain.

A few damaged pillars were rebuilt using sandstones in 1958. You can clearly notice the difference between the newly built sandstone pillars and the chalk stones from their color and texture.

Inside The Chennakesava Temple

inside somnathpur chennakesava temple

You will notice the Vishnu temple guards (Dwarapalakas – Jaya and Vijaya) on either side of the main entrance. There are 18 pillars in total, of which the two pillars to the east of the central square are shaped like a 32-pointed star and are handmade.

carvings in the ceiling of the temple
Carving on the ceiling

The 16 ceilings are carved illustrating the blooming stages of a lotus. The Navaranga or the dancing platform is small and can be found at the center. The new door at the entrance was made in 1958 by the Archeological Department of India.

The circular pillars were done by joining 5 pieces together – Peeta, Kamba, Kumba, Kati, and Baravahaka, known as Panchastilasthamba in Sanskrit (Pancha – 5, Stila – stone, Sthamba – pillar).

To know the hidden stories behind the beautifully etched drawings and sculptures, we highly recommend that you hire a guide. The guides beautifully show you the hidden stories through the carvings.

Have you visited any Hoysala temples? What is the chief thing that intrigued you? Tell us in the comments below.

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