Hoysala Rulers who built many temples in present-day Karnataka, ruled over Mysore Plateau between 11th and 14th century. As lovers of art, they evolved a new form of Architecture, Hoysala architecture. The most notable temples of this style are in Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur.
Somnathpur temple was one of the first temples built under Hoysala regime. To give you a broad introduction to the town and its significance in architectural heritage in India, I will be focusing on the following questions:
- Somnathpur – where the name comes from?
- Places to visit in Somnathpur
- How to reach Somnathpur temple from Mysore?
- Visiting tips
Somnathpur – where the name comes from?
The interesting fact about most of the names of Indian monuments and cities – they have a meaning. In this case, the temple was built by general Somanatha (who worked during Hoysala King Narasimha III reign). Pur(a) in Sanskrit means a city or settlement. The town of Somnath.
Beyond this marvelous construction, the general has allocated resources to maintain other temples in the area as well. According to the inscriptions, Somnath built numerous other temples in Hoysala style. Unfortunately, most of them were destroyed during wars in middle ages.
Places to visit: Somnathpur Keshava Temple
Somnathpur Temple is the main attraction of the village as well as a fascinating site for architecture and culture lovers exploring Karnataka. Somnathpur is a Vaishnavite temple, meaning it is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Chennakeshava (also known as Keshava temple) stands on a star-shaped platform. The temple exteriors are ornated and decorated from all the sides with the presentation of Hindu mythology. The pictures of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic stories can be seen in this order if you go around the temple in a clockwise direction.
The secret of longevity of intricate design
Somnathpur temple was built back in the 13th century – almost 800 years back!!! Parts of the temple were destroyed and restored throughout the history. (A friendly shout to some modern builders giving 50 years warranty for new constructions). The secret of the temple is the material.
These intricate carvings around the temple were made possible because of the soapstone which was used in construction. This stone is originally soft and becomes harder when it contacts with the air. These carvings are present both outside and in the ceiling of the temple. A feature of Hoysala architecture.
There is also a detailed presentation of different animals and nature. People say this depiction was inspired by Buddhism, as it was in vogue those days in Hindu subcontinent. This shows the secular nature of the architecture.
It takes roughly one hour to explore Somnathpura temple if you love intricate details. Unlike Lepakshi Temple, Somnathpur is primarily an architectural monument. You will not see priests inside the temple. At the same time, there is also an entrance fee. Somnathpur temple ticket costs 15 INR for Indians and 200 INR for foreigners.
Near the entrance to the temple, there are a few people offering their guide services. They charge 300 INR per tour around the temple. Somnathpur temple timings: 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. daily. Photography is allowed.
Mysore to Somnathpur – how to reach?
Mysore is the most logical start for this trip. The distance from Mysore to Somnathpur is just 35 km. There are also regular tours from Bangalore to Somnathpur, though it might be quite hectic, considering traffic from Bangalore and distance 137 km.
Despite there is no direct transport from Mysore to Somnathpur (unless you hire a bike/car or take a tour from an agent), it’s quite easy to reach. Firstly you need to take a bus from Mysore KSRTC bus stand to Bannur. There are regular buses from platform number 9. You can buy a ticket from the driver, it costs 30 INR one way. It takes 45 minutes to reach Bannur.
The driver will drop you at the bus stand or around in Bannur. From the main road (here 12.332699, 76.866347) near the bus stand, there are tempos that regularly leave in direction of Somnathpur village. You can expect there are many people, but all seating only. You need to pay 10 INR directly to the driver while leaving the tempo. It takes 10 minutes to reach Somnathpur village.
If you would like a personal auto, they charge 200 INR (which is ridiculously high for 6.5 km). I’ve asked two, maybe you get a better deal.
There is the same procedure of catching transport back to Mysore. Just stand on the main road of Somnathpura and hail the tempo. There is a tempo every 20 minutes. Then go to the bus stand in Bannur and catch the bus to Mysore.
- Somnathpur is a half-day getaway from Mysore. It’s better to visit the site before heat if you travel outside of November-March months. Despite there are wet carpets around the temple, it’s not fun to step on the hot stones not covered with carpets (for instance, if you need pictures of the temple from weird angles).
- Somnathpur is a village. You will find a shop with basic necessities and snacks on the way to the temple and a fruit seller near the complex. If you feel you need something more significant, carry food with you.
- Cover your legs and shoulders while visiting and dress modestly. You will need to remove shoes near the gate to the temple – there is a sign and a shoe rack.
Somnathpur is one of the architectural highlights in Karnataka. There also many other hidden gems in this state. If there are any other questions you have or you would like to share your travel experience there, I will be happy to hear from you.