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Unraveling the Stories Behind Hoysaleswara Sculptures

Picking up where we left off in the previous blog post, let me now unveil more from the captivating array of sculptures discovered during my immersive visit to the Hoysaleswara Temple in Halebidu. 

Each step within the sacred premises revealed a treasure trove of artistic marvels, transporting me to a realm where gods and goddesses materialized in stone. 

The sculptures are not only beautiful, but they also tell a story. They tell the story of the Hoysala Empire, a powerful kingdom that ruled over much of southern India in the 12th century. They tell the story of the Hindu faith, and the importance of art and spirituality in Hindu culture. 

Come join me as my imagination dances amidst the tapestry of Hindu mythology and ancient tales that enshroud each creation. 
The sculpture of Goddess Lakshmi with wealth flowing from her palm serves as a visual representation of the Hindu belief that worshiping and honoring the goddess brings fortune and prosperity to one's life. 

The original sculpture of Goddess Saraswati, depicting her playing the Veena with her limbs intact, would have been a captivating portrayal.

Although the upper part of the Veena, which connects the strings to the resonator, remains intact, it is deeply distressing to see the mutilated state of the rest of the Veena and the limbs of the sculpture. 

It would have been preferable if the Muslim invaders had exercised their judgment and refrained from defacing these valuable works of art. If the sight of idols was offensive to them, they could have chosen to respectfully cover them with a veil, at the very least.

The sculpture portrays a beautiful scene of Shilabalikas under a tree. Shilabalikas, also known as celestial maidens or celestial nymphs, are mythological figures commonly depicted in Indian temple art.  

One figure stands out as she cradles an infant in her arms. This particular portrayal adds a touch of maternal tenderness and nurturance to the scene.

Shiva and Parvati seated on Nandi, the sacred bull. 

According to an intriguing legend associated with this sculpture, Nandi, who is considered a devoted devotee of Lord Shiva, did not initially accept Parvati riding on him. 

Nandi believed that only Shiva was worthy of sitting atop him, and he sought to make Parvati uncomfortable.

As a result, the sculptor cleverly depicted Nandi's stride in a slightly different manner that creates a slight discomfort for Parvati. 

A scene of musicians performing for Lord Shiva. 

In this intricate artwork, musicians are shown playing various musical instruments to entertain and please the divine presence of Shiva. 

Notice how intricately the tuning rope around the drum is carved and the fingers passing under the rope.

The sculpture portrays Lord Shiva in a dynamic dancing pose known as Nataraja.

In this depiction, Lord Shiva is shown with multiple arms adorned with various weapons, engaged in a rhythmic dance. 

His left foot is raised gracefully, while his right foot firmly presses down upon a defeated demon.

The sculpture depicts the powerful and awe-inspiring scene of Lord Vishnu's avatar, Narasimha, slaying the demon Hiranyakashipu. 

Narasimha is shown in a half-man and half-lion form, emerging ferociously from a pillar or column. 

 The depiction captures the intense moment of his encounter with Hiranyakashipu, who was a tyrannical demon king. 

The sculpture is quite violent. You can notice on the left, eye balls are attached to the ripped portion of a demon's face. It's pretty gruesome.

Also see how Narasimha is using his leg to lock the shield held by Hiranyakashipu.

There are many sculptures depicting  different stages of Hiranyakashipu's disembowelment. Here's one.

The sculpture portrays the powerful and iconic depiction of Goddess Durga as Mahishasura Mardini, the slayer of the buffalo demon Mahishasura.  

Durga is depicted with multiple arms, each holding a different weapon. One of her arms pierces the chest of a soldier with a trident, while simultaneously, another hand deftly retrieves an arrow from her quiver, preparing to deliver the decisive and final strike to the buffalo demon. 

In this striking sculpture, an intense and fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva is depicted as he dances atop a vanquished demon.

Among the weapons held by Shiva, a notable one is a skull staff, entwined by a snake. In the upper right of the photo, Lord Shiva can be seen piercing a small adversary with his trident.

Vamana, dwarf avatar of Lord Vishnu, where he approaches King Bali to request land that he can cover in three strides. 

Lord Vishnu, in his Vamana form, stands before King Bali with a gentle and yet determined demeanor. 

To the lower right of the sculpture, Shukracharya, the sage and advisor to King Bali, can be seen. He dissuades Bali from granting Vamana's request, recognizing the true identity of Vamana as Lord Vishnu and understanding the implications of fulfilling his wish.

The sculpture depicts a moment from the Vamana-Mahabali legend, showcasing Lord Vishnu in his Trivikrama form. 

In this scene, Lord Vishnu, as Vamana, takes one of his three momentous steps. 

To the left of the sculpture stands Mahabali, the generous and noble demon king, with folded hands, acknowledging the divinity of Lord Vishnu. 

Lord Vishnu raises his foot in the step, symbolically reaching the heavens, represented symbolically by Brahma, the three-headed creator deity.

Natya Saraswati, represents the divine aspect of Goddess Saraswati associated with the performing arts, specifically dance and music. 

Unlike the traditional depictions of Saraswati with a veena, Natya Saraswati is often portrayed holding various weapons. Notice her vahan (vehicle) - beautifully carved hamsa (swan) below. 

The arrangement of the figurines in close proximity to each other showcases the remarkable optimization of space in the artistic display.

The next three sculptures beautifully portray the epic battle between Lord Krishna, also known as Shri Hari, and Lord Indra over the celestial Parijat tree. 

The story behind this battle is rooted in the desire of Satyabhama, Krishna's consort, to possess the divine Parijat tree and Krishna's decision to fulfill her wish while imparting a lesson to Indra.

Lord Krishna riding to Earth while holding the sacred Parijata tree. Krishna's appearance shows his readiness for battle, and Garuda, his celestial mount, is also prepared to launch weapons.

Following Krishna's descent to Earth with the Parijata tree, the divine couple, Indra and Indrani, riding atop the celestial elephant Airavata follows him. 

Notice the elephant with its tail held high, charging forward in full motion and Indrani is suspended in the air taking the bumpy ride.

Both Indra and Indrani are shown wielding the powerful Vajra, a thunderbolt-like weapon associated with Indra's might.

Indra is eventually defeated, and the Parijata tree remains on Earth.

The poignant tale of Gajendra Moksham, where Lord Vishnu, also known as Shri Hari, comes to the rescue of Gajendra, a devoted elephant, when he is attacked by a crocodile. 

The sculptures beautifully capture the key moments of this divine intervention. 

As Hari approaches riding on Garuda, the elephant welcomes him by offering a lotus. 

With a single strike of the chakra(divine discus), he defeats the crocodile, freeing Gajendra from its grip.

The performance of Ananda Tandava(joyful dance) by Mahadeva (Lord Shiva) is a captivating sight to behold. 

It's carved from a single stone and every tiny detail, from Shiva's features, skull shaft with snake crawling on it, the intricate waste-band to the musicians, is simply marvelous. 

The sculpture of Visha Kanya, or "The Poison Girl". 

Vishakanyas are often portrayed as young attractive women who have been exposed to toxic substances or venom from a young age, rendering their bodies poisonous.

According to legends, their touch or presence can be lethal. 

In this particular portrayal, she is shown in a nude, voluptuous form with her legs chained by a serpent that coils around her and extends all the way up to her right shoulder. 

Notice the fashionable footwear and hairstyle depicted in the carving. 

An ensemble of musicians and dancers. 

In my opinion, the sculpture on the right is the best portrayal of a dancer caught in the middle of a performance. 

The intricate hand gestures, feet position, elegant posture, and captivating jewelry are truly mesmerizing. 

It's as if the dancer suddenly turned to face the audience and got immortalized in stone, preserving that moment forever. 

Towards the right side, there is a carving portraying a foreigner. 

The foreigner is depicted with distinct clothing and hairstyles that differ from traditional Indian attire. 

The figure might represent a trader or emissary who visited the Hoysala court.  

Notice that the foreigner is depicted without shoes, which is a common Indian practice indoors. This suggests that the foreigner respected and adhered to the local customs during the visits to the Hoysala court.

Goddess Chamunda Devi, also known as Matrika, represents one of the most fearsome forms of Devi, the Supreme Goddess. 

She embodies the female energy of Yama, the God of Death. 

Unlike the other Matrikas who are considered energies of male divinities, Devi Chamunda is believed to have emerged directly from and embodies the energy of the Supreme Goddess, rather than being associated with a male deity.

While the other Matrikas resemble their male counterparts in appearance, mounts, and weapons they carry, Chamunda Devi enjoys her own independence. 

She is the only Matrika who is worshipped individually, while the others are mostly worshipped together. 

Devi Chamunda is associated with demanding animal and human sacrifices, as well as the consumption of liquor. She is also considered as the chief yogini.

The iconography of Devi Chamunda is a testament to the practices and beliefs prevalent in Tantrism during a certain period. 

Her sculpture features four arms and three eyes. She is depicted with a fiery red complexion, adorned with abundant thick red hair that resembles flames, with snakes protruding and coiling upwards. Her hair is tied in a chignon adorned with a tiara of skulls and a crescent moon.

Devi Chamunda's eyes are prominent and menacing, as if capable of burning evil through her gaze. 

She wears a necklace of snakes, their coils echoing the rings of decaying flesh. 

Sculpted with sagging flesh beneath her collar bone, she wears a mundmala, a garland of human skulls, as a sacred thread. 

Her body appears withered and emaciated, instilling fear and horror with her protruding ribs, veins, and shriveled, sunken breasts.

The expressions on Devi Chamunda's face are frightening, with tusks protruding from the corners of her mouth. 

She wears Kundala, earrings made of conch shells, while her elongated earlobes rest on her shoulders. A terrifying grin adorns her broad face. 

She is often accompanied by Preta (spirits of the departed) and ghosts.

The carving of Devi Chamunda depicts her holding various symbolic objects, including a Damaru (drum), trishul (trident), sword, snake, skull-mace (khatvanga), thunderbolt, severed head, and either a panapatra (drinking vessel) or skull-cup (kapala) filled with blood. 

These objects represent her powers and attributes associated with her fierce and formidable nature.

Let me introduce you to Bhikshatana Bhairava, a unique figure that combines the fierce form of Shiva-Bhairava with the calmness of a monk Bhikshatana.

In this depiction, you can spot the monk's sandals, while Bhairava is represented by forked teeth, a garland made of skulls, and a severed head.

Interestingly, in the lower right corner, there's a ghoul, breast feeding her child while looking up lovingly at Bhikshatana Bhairava. It's truly a fascinating mix of contrasting elements and a heartwarming moment of motherhood in the divine realm!

Ravananugraha is a compassionate form of the Hindu deity Shiva. 

In this depiction, Shiva is seated on his sacred abode, Mount Kailash, alongside his consort Parvati. Meanwhile, the ten-headed demon-king Ravana of Lanka endeavors to uproot the mountain. 

According to Hindu scriptures, Ravana once attempted to lift Mount Kailash, but Shiva effortlessly pressed the mountain back into place with his big toe, trapping Ravana beneath it.

Ravana gave a loud cry in pain. Since Ravana cried, he was given the name "Ravana" – one who cried.

During his thousand-year-long captivity, Ravana sang hymns praising Shiva, who eventually bestowed his blessings upon him. 

As a gesture of benevolence, Shiva granted Ravana an invincible sword and a powerful linga, which is Shiva's symbolic representation, known as the Atmalinga, for him to worship.

The depiction of Mount Kailash is absolutely stunning! The structure is a four-tiered pyramid. It's filled with lots of attendants called ganas and lush plants covering different parts of the mountain. 

In the sculpture, we can see Mahadeva(Shiva), pulling Devi (Goddess Parvati) close to provide comfort. Ravana's feet are firmly pressed against the ground, exerting great effort to lift the heavy weight.

Who are the sculptors?

The temple artwork panels feature signatures or statements by the artists or their guilds. 

There are recurring names of artists such as Manibalaki, Mabala, Ballana, Bochana, Ketana, Bama, Balaki, and Revoja. 

These artists, who were nearly forgotten by history, remain unknown unless one pays meticulous attention to the pedestals. 

The Hoysaleswara Temple sculptures are a testament to the skill, dedication, and creativity of these artists who created them. 


I have more sculptures to share in my next blog post. Don't forget to comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Please find below the links to all three parts for your convenience:

Part 1: Mesmerizing sculptures of Halebidu

Part 2: Unraveling the Stories Behind Hoysaleswara Sculptures

Part 3: A Tapestry of Wonder

Linked with Mosaic Monday

Mesmerizing sculptures of Halebidu

During the second leg of our road trip, we had the opportunity to visit the Hoysaleswara Hindu temple, a magnificent structure dedicated to Lord Shiva. 

Constructed in the first half of the 12th century, this temple is located in Halebidu. 

Given the large number of pictures, I will continue to share the remaining images in subsequent posts. Stay tuned for more glimpses into the mesmerizing sculptures of Halebidu.

As the sun stretched its golden rays across the ancient land, I embarked on a journey to the realm of timeless grandeur, a realm known as Halebidu.


As I approached this mesmerizing enclave, a symphony of awe played in my heart, echoing through the corridors of history.

As I ventured further into the heart of this architectural opus, the air grew heavy with an ethereal presence.

The temples, like sentinels of antiquity, stood tall, as if reaching for the heavens themselves. 

Every inch of their surfaces bore the intricate tapestry of legends and mythology, each sculpture narrating tales of gods and goddesses with such intricate detail that they seemed to come alive.

During the early 14th century, Halebidu and several other temple sites in the region fell victim to invasions by Muslim forces, including the Khilji dynasty and Tughlaq dynasty. 

These invasions resulted in the sacking and looting of the temples, leading to significant damage to the artwork and sculptures.

The invaders specifically targeted the sculptures, often mutilating them by damaging the noses, faces, limbs, and even the sexual organs of the depicted figures. 

This destruction was aimed at defacing the idols and symbols of the Hindu religion, as it was a way for the invaders to assert their dominance and religious ideologies.

The mutilation of the sculptures at Halebidu and other temple sites during this period represents a tragic loss of cultural heritage and artistic masterpieces.

Despite the loss and damage, the remaining sculptures at Halebidu continue to showcase the remarkable artistry and craftsmanship of the era, providing a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of India.

Above the door leading to the sanctum sanctorum of the Hoysaleshwara temple, an array of exquisitely carved stone artwork captured my attention.


The sculptures of Dwarapalas hold significant prominence in the temples of Halebidu. Dwarapalas, meaning "door guardians" or "gatekeepers," are imposing figures placed on either side of temple entrances, serving as protectors and wardens of the sacred space.

These sculptures are often depicted as fierce warriors or divine beings, exuding an aura of strength and authority.

They are adorned with ornate jewelry, crowns, and regal attire, symbolizing their elevated status.

The sculptures of  Shanmukha (Kartikeya) and Ganesha at Halebidu are stunning representations of the Hindu deities. 

They are sons of Hindu god Shiva. 

Shanmukha stands tall, with his multiple arms holding various weapons such as the spear, showcasing his prowess as the commander of celestial armies, while Ganesha is portrayed with an elephant head and a joyful, compassionate demeanor. 

These sculptures embody the divine qualities of courage, wisdom, and the ability to remove obstacles. 

The holy trinity of the Hindu pantheon, consisting of Brahma, Maheshwara (Shiva), and Vishnu. Followed by Uma-Maheshwara(Shiva and Parvati) at the end.

The sculpture of Brahma, the creator, portrays him with multiple heads and arms, symbolizing his all-encompassing knowledge and creative abilities.

Maheshwara (Shiva), the destroyer and transformer.

Vishnu, the preserver and sustainer, is represented with divine grace and majestic presence.

The Natya Saraswati is a captivating depiction of the Hindu goddess Saraswati in her aspect as the patron deity of music, dance, and the performing arts. 

This sculpture showcases the grace and elegance associated with Saraswati, who is revered as the source of creative inspiration and knowledge.

The flutist and the percussionist.

The Bhairava sculpture at Halebidu is a striking depiction of the fierce and formidable aspect of Lord Shiva, known as Bhairava. 

This sculpture showcases the intense and transformative energy associated with Bhairava, represented through unique and symbolic elements.

In this sculpture, Bhairava is depicted with multiple arms and a menacing expression, exuding a sense of raw power and divine ferocity.

One of the distinctive features of this sculpture is the presence of a dog that is seen licking the blood from the decapitated head held in Bhairava's hand. 

This represents Bhairava's association with cremation grounds and his role as the destroyer of ego and ignorance. The presence of the dog symbolizes the shedding of attachments and impurities.

Additionally, the sculpture features the goddess Kali dancing on the side of Bhairava.

Kali is a fearsome form of the divine feminine, representing the power of time, death, and destruction. Her dance symbolizes the cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and dissolution.


The Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebidu boasts a wealth of ornate wall panel reliefs and molding friezes that adorn its exterior walls. 

The wall panel reliefs depict a wide array of subjects, including mythological scenes, gods and goddesses, celestial beings, animals, and everyday life. 

Each panel is meticulously carved with exquisite detail, capturing the expressions, gestures, and intricate ornaments of the depicted figures. 

These reliefs serve as visual narratives, telling stories from Hindu mythology and providing insights into the cultural and religious practices of the time.

The molding friezes, on the other hand, are decorative bands that encircle the temple walls, showcasing an intricate interplay of floral and geometric patterns. 

The meticulous craftsmanship in these friezes adds a touch of elegance and grandeur to the temple's exterior.


In this sculpture, Saraswati is shown seated elegantly with her veena, a stringed musical instrument, delicately resting on her lap. Her fingers gently touch the strings, creating a divine melody that resonates with the cosmic rhythm.

Saraswati's other hands hold symbolic objects such as a book or scroll, representing knowledge, a lotus symbolizing purity, and sometimes a mala (rosary) symbolizing spiritual discipline.


In this sculpture Darpana Sundari, an Apsara (a celestial nymph from Hindu mythology) is portrayed in a graceful pose, holding a mirror in her hand.

A scene where a servant or attendant is presented with a towel to offer to the Apsara. 


My wife unintentionally strikes a pose reminiscent of the Darpana Sundari while taking a selfie.


In this sculpture, Krishna is shown in his iconic standing posture, with his flute held to his lips. 

His enchanting music resonates through the air, drawing the attention of various living beings around him. 

These beings, including animals, birds, and mythical creatures, gather around Krishna, captivated by the spellbinding music.


The sculpture depicts Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill to protect the people from a catastrophic deluge.

Upon closer examination of the sculpture, one can observe a plethora of intricate details that bring the scene to life. 

Here are some notable examples:

1. A monkey climbing a tree, positioned next to a banana tree laden with fruit, with the monkey eyeing the bananas.

2. A lion devouring its prey, with a portion of the animal already inside its mouth.

3. A man climbing, demonstrating the human presence and their interaction with the environment.

4. Reptiles crawling upward.

5. A bear observing a bird, which in turn appears to be swallowing a snake.

6. An animal entering a cave, with only its body, tail, and hind legs visible.

7. A hunter depicted with an arrow aimed at a boar.

8. Two birds feeding alongside a lizard, showcasing the coexistence of different species in their natural habitat.

9. Various trees and creepers, adding lushness and depth to the sculpture's environment.

10. People from different professions, distinguished by their turbans (headgear) and the tools of their respective trades, highlighting the diversity of human occupations.

11. Three musician-dancers facing different directions, with their perfectly positioned legs, allowing for a harmonious composition within the sculpture.

12. Carved cows and bulls with hollow portions, creating a three-dimensional effect and adding depth to the sculpture.

13. Intricate depictions of anklets, toes, toe-nails, toe-rings, jewels, ornaments, flower garlands, and crowns, showcasing the meticulous attention to detail in portraying adornments.

14. The perfection in depicting the hand holding the mountain, including the nails and rings, reflecting the skillful craftsmanship of the artist.

The sculpture of Gajasurasamhara Shiva at Halebidu depicts a significant legend from Hindu mythology. 

In this scene, Shiva is portrayed as the destroyer of the demon Gajasura, who had taken the form of a massive elephant. 

The artwork captures the culmination of the legend, where Shiva, while continuing his cosmic dance, triumphantly slays the elephant demon.

In the sculpture, Shiva is shown in his iconic Nataraja form, with multiple arms and dynamic postures, dancing atop the head of the slain elephant. 

The elephant's body is depicted collapsed and lifeless. Additionally, the four legs of the elephant are represented in the four corners of the panel.

The sculpture of Varaha and Bhudevi at Halebidu depicts a significant episode from the ancient scriptures. 

Bhudevi, representing Mother Earth, is portrayed as the consort of Varaha, an anthropomorphic form of Lord Vishnu.

The sculpture narrates the tale from the Satya Yuga (the first age of the world) in which the demon Hiranyaksha kidnaps Bhudevi and submerges her in the primordial waters.

To rescue Bhudevi and restore balance to the universe, Lord Vishnu incarnates as Varaha, a boar-like creature. 

Varaha dives into the cosmic ocean, engages in a fierce battle with Hiranyaksha, and ultimately defeats the demon, liberating Bhudevi from his clutches. 

With great strength and determination, Varaha lifts the Earth from the depths of the ocean, balancing it on his mighty tusks. See how he steadies Bhudevi by holding her feet.

These were the initial batch of pictures. I plan to analyze and share the upcoming set of pictures in a new post shortly. Feel free to leave your comments below!

Please find below the links to all three parts for your convenience:

Part 1: Mesmerizing sculptures of Halebidu

Part 2: Unraveling the Stories Behind Hoysaleswara Sculptures

Part 3: A Tapestry of Wonder