The Hoyasalas

The Hoyasalas

Hoysala dynasty, family that ruled in India from about 1006 to about 1346 CE in the southern Deccan and for a time in the Kaveri (Cauvery) River valley. The first kings came from the hills northwest of Dorasamudra (present-day Halebid), which became their capital about 1060. With their hardy hill-dwelling, Kannada-speaking followers, they gradually absorbed Gangavadi (Mysore state) and the rich lands beyond the Tungabhadra toward Dharwar and Raichur. The imperialistic programs of the Chalukyas of Kalyani helped them, for under the Hoysala rulers Vinayaditya (reigned c. 1047–98) and his grandson Vishnuvardhana (reigned c. 1110–41) they gained wide experience as feudatory generals.

Vishnuvardhana won much territory from the tough Kadambas of Hangal, but his weak son Narasimha I lost much of it. Yet Vishnuvardhana’s expulsion of the Cholas from the plateau succeeded. His grandson Ballala II (reigned 1173–1220) was invited into the plains to help the Cholas. He agreed because his northern gains in 1189–1211 from the Chalukya dynasty beyond the Malprabha and Krishna rivers proper had diminished under pressure from the Yadava dynasty of Devagiri. He extended his dominions to the north of Mysore and defeated the Yadavas, making the Hoysala dynasty the dominant power in southern India.

Ballala II’s grandson Someshvara (reigned c. 1235–54) resided in the principality on the Kaveri given by the Cholas, and his son Ramanatha (reigned 1254–95) was allowed to remain there by the Pandya emperor. On his eviction, however, his attempt to take the plateau kingdom from his brother Narasimha III weakened Hoysala resources. Ballala III (reigned c. 1292–1342), who helped the sultan of Delhi against the Pandyas, brought about the dynasty’s downfall by his futile ambitions. The Vijayanagar dynasty succeeded the Hoysalas.

Hoysala architecture and sculpture, especially ornate and intricate, are best seen at Halebid, Belur, and Somnathpur. The family liberally patronized Kannada and Sanskrit literary artists.


Vishnuvardhana Raya: The Great King

In the history of Hoysalas the name, Vishnuvardhana Raya holds great importance. It was under King Vishnuvardhana Raya that the kingdom achieved political prominence. Of his many military conquests, he is best known for winning the Gangawadi area from the Cholas in 1116.

It was also under his reign that the influence of Sri Ramanujacharya spread in the Karnataka region and Srivaishnavism grew in popularity. Vishnuvardhana Raya himself was originally known as Bittideva and took on this name only after converting from Jainism to Srivaishnavism.

A number of Vaishnava temples were built under his patronage while his queen, Shantala Devi who remained a devout Jain, fostered a number of artists.


Today, the empire is remembered mainly for its temple architecture rather than its military conquests. There are over a hundred temples from this era still standing in various parts of Karnataka. Three of the most well-known Hoysala Temples are the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura, Chennakesava Temple at Belur and Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu.

Kesava Temple, Somanathapura

The Chennakesava Temple or Kesava Temple at Somanathapura was built under King Narasimha III in 1268 C.E. This is considered a Vaishnava Temple and has three shrines devoted to the different avatars of Lord Vishnu. The temple is built from soapstone and is known for its lathe turned pillars, symmetrical architecture and intricate sculptures.

Chennakesava Temple, Belur

Belur was originally the capital of the Hoysala Kingdom. In 1117 AD King Vishnuvardhana commissioned the building of this temple which was originally named the Vijayanarayana Temple. Scholars stand divided on whether it was built to celebrate his victory over the Cholas in the battle of  Talakad or to commemorate his conversion from Jainism to Hinduism.

The temple itself marks the development of a new Architectural style. It is also renowned for the 48 unique pillars inside the main hall. Of these the Narasimha pillar and Mohini Pillar are the most well-known.

Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebidu

In the 12th Century, the Hoysala capital shifted to Halebidu under the rule of King Vishnuvardhana. It is said that the rich an influential Shaiva followers of the city initiated the construction of this temple in competition with the Chennakesava Temple in Belur. This temple is best known for its intricately carved sculptures.

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