Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Last week I visited the 12th Century Hoysala temple at Somnathpur. Located just 34 km East of Mysore, it nevertheless took us an hour to reach there by motorcycle. The first 25 km went quickly enough, but all that changed as we approached the village of Bannur. Here the reasonably well-paved road gave way to dirt and road work. Stones were being put down in preparation for paving, and traffic was limited to one direction at a time. Being India, there was no one there to direct traffic, and the usual near-anarchy of "bigger vehicle first" reigned.

Driving through Bannur on Alex's Enfield Bullet, we attracted quite a lot of attention. The roads were lined with large cardboard images of dieties, fairy lights, and loud speakers blaring tinny devotional music. On the far side of the village we saw a man passed out in the dirt road. Nearby, a crow pecked at a large pool of what appeared to be blood. Village life in India is still largely a mystery to me, as it is, I suspect, to most urban Indians. Was the blood the byproduct of a religious sacrifice? What were they celebrating? I still have no idea.

Somnathpur is a small hamlet, a cluster of houses, a school and a few shops near the big temple. It's remarkably quiet for India, and the site is beautifully maintained. We paid 100 rupees to enter (only $2.50, but still 20 times the rate for Indians.)

Like the more famous temples at Bellur and Halibed, the Keshava temple at Somnathpur was built by the Hoysala kings in the 12th century. Only the Somnathpur temple, however, was completed. It's a marvel of stone carving, a star-shaped temple in a courtyard surrounded by a rectangular gallery. Inside the temple are the principle idols, Gopala Krishna, Keshava, etc. The ceiling is intricately carved, and the heavily-detailed stone pillars were lathe-turned. Outside, the temple is covered with carvings of animals and dieties.

We spent about an hour wandering around in and outside the temple, taking way too many photographs. Outside we browsed the only open shop, a small showroom of tribal art. The work was lovely, not the stuff you usually see.

The ride back through the verdant fields of rural India was uneventful. The openness of the countryside never ceases to amaze me. If the majority of the population lives there, where are they keeping a billion people? The South is less densely populated than the North, so that explains some of it, but still...


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