Ishvara Temple, Arasikere

Ishvara Temple is a Lord Shiva Temple, in Arasikere, Hassan district, Karnataka, dates to c. 1220 CE rule of Hoysala Empire. Arasikere ('Arasi' means 'queen' or 'princess' and 'kere' means 'tank' in the Kannada language) is located 60 km north the historic city of Mysore and 41 km north of Hassan city. The temple, which is dedicated to Hindu God Shiva, though modest in size and figure sculpture, is considered the most complex in architecture among surviving Hoysala monuments because of its ground plan: a 16-pointed star shaped mantapa (hall), in addition to an asymmetrical star shaped shrine, whose star points are of three different types.



The temple, which faces east like all Hoysala constructions, uses soapstone as basic building material and is a ekakuta shrine (single shrine or cella) with two mantapas, one open and one closed. All three units are connected to form a unity. The sanctum (garbhagriha) enshrines a linga, the universal symbol of God Shiva. The mantapa is where the devotees gather. The closed mantapa does not have any windows. The ceiling in the closed mantapa is divided into nine compartments or "bays" by the four lathe turned pillars that support the ceiling. The unusual stellate design of the open mantapa is a deviation from the "staggered square" - a standard in Hoysala constructions, and offers no opening for devotees to enter the temple. The entrance is through a "bay" between the two mantapas.

The shrine has a tower (superstructure or Sikhara) which is intact, though the finial (Kalasha) is a recent replacement. The vestibule, which connects the shrine to the closed mantapa has its own tower called Sukanasi. The term "nose" is sometimes used to describe this tower because it is a low protrusion of the main tower (tower over the shrine). On this "nose" is an image of a bull (Nandi), which may be a more recent addition.

The outer wall of the vestibule shares the same decoration as the outer wall of the shrine, but is inconspicuous because it forms a short continuation between the wall of the shrine and that of closed mantapa. The outer wall of the shrine is stellate, but the star points are not identical, rather they form three different kinds of star points, making the design complicated and unusual. The lower half of the outer wall of the shrine and the outer wall of the closed mantapa share the same architectural articulation. The open hall, with its 16-pointed star plan is most unusual design built by Hoysala architects. The central ceiling in the closed mantapa and the vestibule are decorated elaborately.

Both the interior and exterior of the temple shows interesting workmanship. The elegantly decorated ceilings, the domical ceiling of the open mantapa, the sculptures of Dwarapalakas (door keepers) in the closed mantapa (also called navaranga), the wall panel images numbering 120 (on pilasters between aedicules - miniature towers) carved on the outer walls are noteworthy.

Ishvara Temple, Arasikere is 41 km from Hassan and 176 km from Bangalore. The Isvara temple on plan has a garbhagriha, antarala, navaranga, mahamandapa and a unique stellate mukhamandapa with two lateral entrances at north and south in between mahamandapa and mukhamandapa. To match the stellate mukhamandapa, even the plan of the sanctum and mahamandapa are highly indented so as to arrive at an almost stellate configuration at sanctum. The garbhagriha accommodates a Shiva linga and the sukhanasi, a couchant bull. The mahamandapa has a raised square podium accommodating massive circular lathe turned pillars.

It is interesting to note that there are eight devakoshtas built into the northern, southern, western walls of the mandapa. The stellate mukhamandapa has a central circular raised dais surrounded by stellate jagati with thirteen circular lathe turned pillars placed at the periphery of the circulars dais, supporting a massive circular dome like Ceiling which is exquisitely carved with trifoliate leaf decorations in concentric circles ending in a huge pending. The interesting aspect of mukhamandapa is the depiction of the fore part of elephants inserted into the jagati inside as if supported the mukhamandapa on their shoulders. In elevation, the stellate exterior of the mukhamandapa is treated with the conventional mouldings of pada, adhokumuda, a tripattakumuda and pattika. Each of these is further divided into small horizontal friezes. In the region of mahamandapa, these conventional mouldings of adhisthana are crowned by a pattika of heavy denticular decorations before accommodating a sculptured bhitti. The mahamandapa at north and south has chariot like devokosthas. The bhitti of both the garbhagriha and mahamandapa are treated with the sculptural depictions of the chaturvimshati aspect of Vishnu, which are labeled at the pedestal flanked by saraswati and parvati, Brahma and Siva etc. All these images are represented against massive multifluted pilasters. The moderate eave supports a lenticular decorated prastara in the region of mahamandapa and the sixteen turrets raising one above the other. A stellate stupi has a stone kalasa and in the region of sukanasa, the same scheme of turrets in two tiers is introduced with the gable top accommodating a stucco bull. The mahanasa has the usual composition of Siva as Tandavesvara.

To the left of the temple stands a double temple with an intervening niche., which is of smaller proportions and without much ornamentation known as Halavukallu devasthana. Both the shrines have a garbhagriha with a linga and an open sukhanasi with a common hall in the front.

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