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History of Karnataka
The Hoysalas
Religion, Literature, Art and Architecture

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Jainism was patronized by the Hoysalas. The legend has it that the founder of the kingdom, Sala was blessed by Sudatta Muni a Jaina Teacher. Vinayaditya and Ereyanga were devout Jains; so was Vishnuvardhana’s queen Santaladevi who was a disciple of Prabhachanda Siddantadeva.

The generals of Vishnuvardhana like Gangaraja Mariyane, Bharata and Punisa were all jains. The entry of Ramanuja into Karnataka inaugurated a period of popularity for Srivaishnavism. According to tradition, Ramanujacharya, who was persecuted by the Chola King Kulothunga, fled to the Hoysala country, converted Vishnuvardhana to his faith and popularised Srivaishnavism. Many Vaishnava temples were built at Melkote, Tonnur, Belur, Talkad and Hardanahalli.

In fact Vishnuvardhana has been described as the Constantine of Srivaishnavism. Shaivism was patronized by Ballala II and Vira Somesvara. This period witnessed the popularization of the Virashaiva faith in the Kalachuri territories. Reigious toleration was never a discredited principle in the Hoysala dominious.

As William Coelho observes, “The people of the Hoysala Empire followed different creeds, and all those creeds at one time or other flourished under the patronage of the Hoysala kings”.

Education was promoted in the agraharas, which developed into centres of learning. The revival of learning brought to surface a large number of poets whose works are still regarded as master pieces of Kannada literature. The most famous poet at the court of Ballala I was Nagachandra who was known as “Abhinava Pampa”. His two important works are “Ramachandra Charita Purana”, and “Mallinathapurana”. Ballala also is said to have patronized the poetess Kanti, but scholars are not agreed upon her historicity.

Among the literary figures of the period of Vishnuvardhana, mention may be made of Vishnudandadipa, Santa Mahanta and the redoubtable Rajaditya. Harihara, the author of Girija Kalyana and his nephew Raghavanka, the famous author of “Harischandra Kavya” flourished during the reign of Narasimha I. The latter is said to have visited the Hoysala court under the influence of the minister Kereya Padmarasa. Janna was the poet laureate of the court of Ballala II and Narasimha II. He obtained the title of “Kavichakravarti” from Ballala, and wrote “Yashodhara Charite” and “Ananthanatha Purana”. Nemichandra, the author of “Leelavati” also flourished during this period.

Rudra Bhatta, the author of “Jagannatha Vijaya” was patronized by Chandramauli, a minister of Ballala II. The reign of Vira Someshwara saw the production of two great works namely Sukti - Sudharnava by Mallikarjuna and Shabdamanidarpana of Kesiraja. In short, the Hoysala period was immensely fertile in the production of literary works of great merit and variety.

Art and Architecture:
The Hoysala claim to immortality is securely based on the beautiful architectural tradition, which they nourished in Karnataka. Art critics like James Fergusson and Henry Cousens do not distinguish between the Chalukya and the Hoysala styles of architecture. Upto a point this is understandable because the Hoysalas took over from the later Chalukyas politically and culturally.

In fact, there is a good deal, in common between the early temples of the Hoysalas and those of the later Chalukyas. Both have the carved doorways, lathe - turned pillars and pierced window – screens. But to this Chalukyan heritage the Hoysalas added certain architectural features peculiarly their own such as star shaped ground plan, the Jagati and the Zig- Zag character of the walls.

Hence scholars like Havell, R. Narasimhachar, Dr. M. Sheshadri and Dr. S. Settar have recognized the Hoysala architecture as a distinct tradition.

Havell has made some adverse remarks about the Hoysala style. He refers to the over - elaboration and wild profusion of sculptures in the Hoysala temples. According to him the palmy days of Indian art had come to an end and that decadence had set in with the advent of the Hoysala art. But this view is indeed uncharitable to a style, which has a distinct charm of its own.

The development of the Hoysala style took place in the old Mysore territory largely because of the availability of the chloritic schist, a type of green soapstone, commonly found in the rock-system of the area. It is a close - grained stone, easy to work but at the same time durable and can be quarried in fairly large sizes. The adoption of this stone facilitated the art of decorative carving for which the Hoysala School of architecture is justly famous.

to be continued......


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