The Hoysaleswara Temple in Halebid is one of the most impressive and popular temples to Shiva in Southern India. This is particulary true of the temple interior, which is easily one of the finest temple interiors in the country. It is the largest of the Hoysalan shrines, and the carvings and artwork that cover the temple are, simply put, among the best anywhere. As a result, the Hoysaleswara Temple is one of the most visited in Karnataka.
Major temples to Shiva have stood in Halebid for around a thousand years. Unlike most other major shrines to Shiva, this one does not necessarily tie its history to any particular events in Hindu legend (which is probably why no major temples stood here until the Middle Ages). Its not even certain if this was a major center of worship before the temple was built.
Construction began early in the 12th century under the auspices of one Vishnuvardhana, the ruler of the local Hoysala kingdom (for which the temple was named). According to tradition, this temple was built as a response to the magnificent Chennakesava temples which were then under construction in several locations throughout the area and which were dedicated to Vishnu.
By the time of its completion, it was one of the most magnificent temples in what as now Karnataka, and was the jewel of the city of Halebid. Unfortunately, the city and temple were sacked by the Delhi Sultanate about a century later. The temple never truly recovered from this disaster, and much of its decoration, especially many of its carved figurines, was destroyed.
Things did not get much better during the British Raj. Much of the temple’s artwork was pillaged during this era, some of which is now displayed in museums around the world. The Hoysaleswara Temple has recovered somewhat in recent decades, with restorations returning it somewhat to its former glory. No longer in active use as a temple, it has become an architecture and art-lovers dream, drawing tens of thousands of secular pilgrims annually.
The Hoysaleswara Temple occupies a huge platform by the shores of the Dwarasamudra Lake. It is ensconced amidst beautifully landscaped gardens and foliage, with towering palm trees standing like sentinels before it. Technically two temples (the larger sponsored by the king and the smaller by his wife), the structure is actually not particularly tall, and does not boast a traditional dome or pyramid tower. However, what it lacks in height it more than makes up for in the details.
The temple interior is large and spacious, and is renowned for the magnificent pillars which support the ceiling. These structural supports are among the finest anywhere in the world that date from the Middle Ages. Much of the temple, inside and out, is covered with countless magnificent carved figures and friezes. Popular scenes involve various Hindu deities triumphing over demonic foes.
The Hoysaleswara Temple stands at the shore of the lake on the southeast side of the town of Halebid, approximately 450 miles south of Mumbai. As of this writing visitor information was not available. However, while the temple is no longer an active site of worship, paid guides are generally required. Web: www.templenet.com/karnataka/hoyshale (official website).
There are not a lot of other major temples in the vicinity of Halebid, but arguably the next most popular one is the Parswanathasamy Temple.