The intricate sculptures at the Belur and Halebidu temples in Karnataka's Hassan district are often described as poetry in stone. They are carved from chloritic schist, a soft stone, due to which the work has very fine detailing. These 12th century temples were part of UNESCO's tentative list of world heritage sites released in April 2014 as “Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala”.
The Hoysala dynasty ruled a major part of South India from around mid-10th to the mid-14th. The advancements in architecture and literature during their reign constitute a significant part of the history of the region. During their reign, the Hoysalas built more than 1,500 temples all across their empire of which only a little over 100 survive today. According to the UNESCO list, art historians recognise the exceptionally intricate sculptural artistry of the Chennakeshava temple at Belur and the Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebid to be among the masterpieces of South Asian art making the name of Hoysala synonymous with artistic achievement.
The Hoysaleswara temple was built by the chief of staff of the Hoysala Empire – Ketumalla in 1121. The temple has two shrines dedicated to Shiva built on the same platform, so it is a dikutchala temple.
The second one is named Shantaleswara Temple. The temple was constructed using monolithic soapstone which lends a unique touch to the numerous sculptures adorning the walls. The sculptures carved in the star-shaped temple walls depict scenes from Hindu mythology alongside animals and birds. A thing to marvel at is the intricate detailing and the visual elements such as a bell-shaped chajja, and lathe-turnedhave rich detailing of life. They depict gods and goddesses, wars and victories, dance and music, hunting, games, processions, dress, and jewellery.
Another thing to look out for are the stepped wells which are commonly found in the Hoysala sacred ensembles. They were an important source of water and most architectural structures had these so people could bathe in them, or do ritual cleansing, worship, meditate. They were of course essential for water management for nearby agricultural areas. Around the water bodies were open mantapas, which gave shelter to visitors.
As a memento, you can pick up a few of the tiny panchaloha (an alloy of gold, silver, zinc, copper and bronze) statues of gods and goddesses.