India is popularly defined by its exotic food, culture and religion. While many magnificent architectural feats, such as the Taj Mahal, make it into tourist guides and agendas of culture seekers, a vast number of temples still remain unknown to many. It is my intention to seek out these incredible and lesser known monuments and bring them to light. Karnataka, a southwestern state rich in history and culture, is the birthplace of some of the most powerful kingdoms in ancient history and home to some of the most beautiful constructions in India. Read on to discover three exquisite monumental constructions located in this state.
1) The Chennakeshava Temple: Completed in the 18th century, the Chennakeshava Temple boasts of Hoysala architecture, which was famous for angular, geometrical constructions and sculptures made of black stone. I often compare Hoysala architecture to Baroque or Gothic architecture because of the dark, beautiful, alluring quality of the constructions.
Its architects seem to have been perfectionists with an expert eye for detail, precision and… metaphors! The rows and rows of majestic horses, lions and elephants set in the base of the structure represent speed, courage and strength respectively. Chennakeshava is not only a place of aesthetics but also mathematics and a little bit of mystery. In the inner sanctum resides a human size statue of an apsara (a celestial damsel) whose face is said to be EXACTLY 1/7th of her body, accurate to the decimal. It also holds numerous stone pillars, each with unique carvings etched into them. Now here’s what amazes me: one of the gigantic stone pillars (weighing hundreds of tons) can rotate around its hinge! And the amazement does not stop there. A myth declares that a pillar (standing firmly on the ground) was erected in such a way that a thin material, such as hand-kerchief or piece of paper, can pass under it without upsetting the balance of the pillar. While we didn’t test this myth, our tour guide swore by it.
This temple has it all: beauty, mathematics, and religion!
2) The Hare Krishna Hare Rama Temple in Tirupathi: The majority of those who come to the holy city of Tirupathi visit the Venkateshwara Temple, one of the richest temples in the world, if not the richest. But many of these lesser known but absolutely gorgeous temples are often bypassed by the thousands of rushing pilgrims and tourists. Admittedly, we have been visiting Tirupathi every year for the past 5-6 years and this was the first time we’d stuck around to explore this bustling city. One of the temples that blew me away was this ISKON temple.
As you can see from the photo above, the temple combines ancient temple building techniques such as intricate carvings with modern day technology with its incredible lighting effects. In daylight, the temple is pure white (that rhymed, did you notice? :D). Built quite recently, the temple combines a subtle blend of luxury and comfort (e.g. air conditioning, because it is sweltering in Tirupathi most of the time) without foregoing tradition and culture. This temple is special and self-sustaining in so many ways! Not only does this grand temple house the sanctum and the main deity, it also houses prayer halls, meditation centers, and a museum.
Visiting Tirupathi? The Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple is a must see!
3) Chandragiri Hill: For a bit of context, the Chandragiri Hill is a sibling to the Indragiri hill which hosts the monumental monolith of Gomateshwarar. While the Indragiri is definitely not lesser known (the Gomateshwarar statue is among the 7 wonders of India!), its brother hill definitely is.
Once again, our original travel plan did not include this hill. And it is probably the same story for most tourists who visit the petite town of Shravanabelagola. We visited this hill on an impulsive whim and for the extra exercise (1000 steps up the Indragiri hill and the Chandragiri presented 500 more). Only after reaching the top did we realize that we’d stumbled into something pristine and relatively untouched for over 2500 years. The exquisite Chamundaraya Basadi above is only one of the great historical artifacts on this hill.
The Chandragiri is home to the remains of a great civilization with temples and Jain monasteries and it’s a place absolutely worth visiting!
I believe that there is a always a sense of gratification and, admittedly, a little pride in taking the road less travelled and discovering somewhere new for yourself. I aspire to do more of this as I grow and I hope I can inspire you to do the same!
Written by Shivani Suresh who is a Third Culture Kid (Born in India, Brought up in Rwanda). She is currently on her gap year and keeps her passions for traveling, culture, writing and photography alive through her blog.