The Karnataka Diaries – 2 : Halebidu

Warning: Long post ahead – The author got carried way….8O 

The next stop in our Karnataka sojourn was the historical city of Halebidu. Located in the Hassan district of Karnataka. Halebidu is known for its ancient Shiva temple built by the Hoysala kings around the 12th century. Yep! India is really old!! The Hoysalans were extremely popular for their sculpting and building skills and their temples are stunning examples of beautifully ornate architecture seldom seen elsewhere in the world. Per wiki Halebidu, literally means ruined city…With such a mysterious description to its name, a place like this is bound to have a magnetic effect to an old temple loving, travel bug.

External view of the temple
Dancing Ganesha...

After an adventurous drive though fields with no roads, we stopped at Halebidu. For a second I could not make sense of what the driver was pointing to as we seemed to have stopped in the midst of a bustling junction with the chaos of traffic, people and markets around us. And then there it was….the vast expanse of stone monuments spread across several acres of land rising at a distance demanding your attention. The moment I set my eyes on the temple, I couldn’t wait to get in. After buying tickets and leaving our foot wares outside, we entered the beautiful abode of Lord Shiva. We were welcomed by the most stunning statues of a dancing Lord Ganesha complete with the sweet dumplings and mice chariot and other Gods and Goddesses who looked like they would step down the  temple walls and tell us century old tales of history the temple has been witness too.

The temple houses two beautiful Shiv Lingams – the Shantaleshwara and the Hoysaleshwara and each one of them come with their personal Nandi (the bull) that gaze very fondly at their masters from outside. The Gods were guarded by the most beautiful Dvarapalas. Dvarapalas are essentially demi-gods who guard the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum of the main Gods. Every piece of jewellery and attire is so beautifully carved that one can spend hours appreciating the talent, skill and workmanship of the person who must have carved it.

Ganesha dances on the temple ceiling...

If this wasn’t enough the entire temple hall is filled with imposing pillars each different from the next. The Hoysalans didn’t even let go of the ceilings, where there were more carvings of Hindu God’s and Goddesses and scenes from the Ramayana and maybe even the Mahabharata…. It was pretty sad to know that parts of the temple were destroyed by the various invading kings. A guide mentioned that British even took away some of the sculptures crowning the majestic pillars….if that is true all I can say is – the nerve!!

However nothing prepared me for the visual treat that waited for me outside, Beautiful carvings depicting life in the 12th century, scenes from the great epics, carvings of the 10 avatars of Vishnu and more….

Hoysalan Lions decorate the temple walls
Govardana Krishna
Varaha Avatar

Not to mention the huge Nandi! I expected the bull to moo at me any time and gently chase me away for getting too close to its lord. Every little detail from its hoof to its tail tucked between its massive legs was so flawless that one can’t help but wonder why we don’t have more such marvels these days when technology has advanced so much. What took these guys years to complete using hammer stones and other pre-historic tools could be completed in a few days now but we still lack the quality of the past….. But that doesn’t stop our good citizens from scratching “Viji loves Vijay” on these national historic monuments!!! Breaks my heart…..


The rear end of the temple was equally wonderful with more dancing Ganeshas (seems like the Hoysalans loved their Ganesha). A huge Ganesha greets visitors at the rear garden and it was interesting to note the presence of another Lingam right in the middle of the grass. It was heartbreaking to note the ruins of once magnificent sculptures and obelisks’ laying on the ground in ruins….however it all forms a part of the scenery at Halebidu.

The temple is surrounded by well manicured gardens overlooking a huge lake. There is also an archaeological museum in the temple complex that houses some other sculptures that have been orphaned from the main temple. It also had interesting information of other archaeological sites discovered in India and artifacts from the Hoysalan period.

Even a day would not be enough to spend at Halebidu if you are someone who loves history, art, architecture and can appreciate architecture and the arts. One cannot help but imagine the grandeur of life of the 12th century when this temple would have been fully functional. I could clearly see the locals dressed in their finery praying to Lord Shiva as priests with ashes on their forehead chanted mantras with sincerity. I could see men and women dancing and singing praise to their Lord and their kings  and festivals being celebrated in the temple halls….Sadly we had to leave. The silver lining was that our next stop was the equally exciting temple town – Belur! Before I sign off this post I wanted to leave you all with the following fact from the Hoyasalan dynasty….

Food for thought– It was interesting to learn that Hoysalan kings constructed their temples to honor the Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Jain practices. They were wise enough to look at these sects singularly way back in the 12th century. But in this day and age we still differentiate between the various sects and profile people based on the same. Why, we even get cheeky enough to come up with rude jokes and funny insults for the various sects and religions … Are we really in the 21st century??

The Holy Trinity
The temple overlooks this lake


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