“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” …. Marcel Proust
This is so true, many a time we miss wonderful gems which are all around us in our quest for new landscapes in faraway lands. We discovered a gem invaluable in its antiquity and resplendent in its beauty just a couple of hours away from where we stay.
It was a bright Sunday morning and we were off on a one-day road trip, our destination, an ancient Krishna temple that was built in the year 1268 CE which lay 35 Kilometers from Mysore and about 138 Kilometers from Bangalore, India in a small town called Somanathapura, also known as Somanathapur. It was not a really long drive, we expected to reach our destination in well under 4 hours which would include a stop for breakfast. We left a still sleepy city just waking up to a lazy Sunday behind us as we made good speed on a relatively empty road.
After an hour’s drive, we pulled into a roadside eatery – Kamat Lokaruchi which we knew served some fantastic breakfast. Our stomachs were already letting out wails and moans of hunger, owing to the fact that we had all risen up early. So our digestive juices had been activated and they craved for food much earlier than the usual time. We tucked in silently into steaming and hot Idlis, that glowed like white snow and was as soft as white cotton. For the uninitiated Idlis are savoury cakes made by steam cooking a fermented batter consisting of rice and lentils. We ate the idlis with spicy Chutney, an Indian sauce made of Coconut, green chillies, ginger, coriander leaves all ground into a paste. Another accompaniment to the delicate idlis was hot Sambhar, which is a vegetable based spicy Indian stew.
No one spoke a word, till we were all done. We finished the idlis and sat back in our chairs, with foolish smiles of contentment and satiation. We were not done yet, the waiter whose face was clouded by the steam emanating from the tray that he held in his hands, deposited hot and steaming cups of filter coffee in front of us. The rich aroma of coffee wafted to our nostrils and we drowned in the experience of authentic and well-brewed coffee.
Breakfast done, we were off again, enjoying some pulsating music and generally chatting. In the confines of the car, we felt closer to each other and more bonded than ever before.
We reached our destination as planned. Somanathapur turned out to be a small village on the banks of the river Kaveri with a population of just over 5,000 people. Without much dilly-dallying, we proceeded to the reason of our visit to this obscure village, the Chennakeshava temple.
We parked our car outside a gate that led to a spacious garden with fairly well-maintained lawns and interspersed with trees. There was a paved pathway that led to a small door with two pillars. This was the unassuming entrance to the Somanathapur Chennakeshava temple complex which was enclosed by a wall.
We passed through the doorway and let out a collective and involuntary gasp of astonishment, the unassuming doorway had not prepared us for what was in front of us. It was as if we had just passed a doorway that led to a period back in history. Before us stood a magnificent black structure, a silent tribute to the mastery and genius of its builders. This was the main temple of Chennakeshava in Somanathapur. A rain burst which had just preceded us had bathed the temple clean and it still glistened with the sheen of rain drops. The sky with an exquisite shade of blue provided an ideal background to the stunning beauty of the temple. A lone man sat in silent contemplation on the threshold of the temple.
A pillared veranda skirted the four sides of the temple and the temple stood in the center of a big courtyard. We wondered what the scene in the temple would have been like thousands of years ago during the heyday of the Hoysala Empire during which time the temple was built. It was built in 1268 C.E. under Hoysala king Narasimha III.
This Hoysala temple is known for its intricate sculpture. The fine architecture, sculptures on the shrines and panel sculptures speak volumes about the great taste of the famous architect and sculptor Ruvari Malithamma. A unique feature of this temple is that it has 16 different ceilings and each of these celings depict depict a different stage of a blooming plantain – banana flower. The temple itself stands in the center of a raised platform with enough space on all sides to allow visitors to circumambulate it ritualistically before or after entering the temple. This is common practice at Hindu temples. The outer walls of the temple are ornamentally embellished with intricate and beautiful reliefs and friezes.
The friezes are adorned with scenes from the Hindu Epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and stories of the Hindu God Krishna. The intricate detail that can be seen in these carvings speak volumes of the skill of the artists who toiled passionately over their labor of love, in a time gone by. Those men who gave birth and lovely shape to stones are long gone but their creations have survived the ravages of time and today sing silent paeans to their unknown creators.
We were lost in the beauty of this timeless art and moved around admiring the beauty that we found in each and every nook and corner of the temple.
Soon it was time for us to travel back in time from history and we approached the small unassuming door which would lead us back to the present.
Our feet crossed the threshold of time and we once again found ourselves on the paved path inside the garden through which we had first entered the ancient temple. Wistfully we looked back at the unassuming doorway that led to a place that was frozen in time and gave glimpses of a once glorious and rich culture.
We then slowly made our way towards the gate that would take us back to our normal lives, a life cluttered with computers, cellphones, cars and the cacophony of a concrete jungle.
Do watch this video to get an idea of how the temple looks.
Video courtesy: klnaraa74 NATURE/ART CHANNEL
How to reach Somanathapur
- You can travel by road from Bangalore to Somnathpur. It is at a distance of about 137 Kilometers
- You can travel by road from Mysore to Somnathpur. It is at a distance of about 35 Kilometers
- You can reach Bangalore or Mysore by Rail
- Bangalore is the nearest airport
Where to eat in and around Somanathapur
- You could eat at Village Family Restaurant
- There are many food joints on the Bangalore-Mysore highway
- Another option is restaurants at Mysore
Tips for a great experience in Somanathapur
- The monument is open from 9 AM to 5.30 PM on all days
- The best season to visit is between October to March. Peak season being April to May and September to January
Other Attractions near Somanathapur
Our day trip to Somanathapur was fascinating. We drove back home discussing about the wonderful architecture.
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