Spotting Dashavataras at Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Karnataka | 26
My third visit to Halebid and am as stunned as I was the first time I was there. Every inch of the incomplete temple is filled with gorgeous, artistic patterns from our mythology and history. The kind of detailing that each carving has at this temple is mind-blowing. There are so many stories etched on this temple, that for an art and history lover, one visit may not be enough.
Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

History of Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

A 12th-century old monument, this temple was started by King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala dynasty and the work on the temple continued for almost 30 years. Unfortunately for this temple, it remained unfinished as it was attacked by the Muslim invaders who destroyed some of the carvings here.
Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid
Amongst the various stories etched on this temple are the ones about Dashavatara and recognizing them amidst the various other tales was an instant high. Before I go onto describing these carvings, first a note on Dashavatara.

About the Dashavataras

Hindu mythology has it that Lord Vishnu is the Supreme Protector of the world and whenever evil on earth reaches a point of unbearable levels, he takes on an incarnation to save the world. It is said that he takes on 10 such incarnations – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vaman, Parshuram, Ram, Krishna, Buddha and one that is yet to be born – Kalki. I could not spot Kalki, Matsya, Parashuram and Buddha here but the rest of them as below. If you want to know more about these incarnations, just click on them. 🙂

Kurma at Halebid Temple

Kurma Avatar etched on the walls of Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

The avataar of a tortoise to help out the churning of the ocean is generally referred to as Kurma. Click this link for the story of the Samudra Manthan or the Churning of the Ocean. Depicted beautifully in this carving where you can see the Mount Mandar on a small tortoise in the center and the snake Vasuki being held on one side by the Devas (Gods) and the other side by the  Asuras (Demons). Unfortunately, while the heads have been chopped off in this carving by the Vandals, they could not take away the beauty of the carvings.

Varaha in Halebid Temple

Varaha as depicted at Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

Varaha or the Wild Boar that rescued Earth from the ocean and sprung it back to its cosmic place. This carving shows the form of Varaha where he is destroying various demons coming to the aid of the demon Hiranyaksha is represented as being trampled by Varaha.


Narasimha Avatar at Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

The story of Narasimha is one of my favorites, told to me as a kid as a moral story. The story of the devotee of Vishnu – Prahlad still finds a place in the Indian History Textbooks and makes a great bedtime story for the Indian Kids. The carving on the temple walls is quite big with the focus on Narasimha – the half man and half lion incarnation of Vishnu.  You can clearly see him tearing open the demon Hiranakashyap, while his many hands fight with the demons coming to rescue their chief. The entire sculpture has been made around a frame to represent the doorway as in the story – where Hiranakashyap could not be killed in the house nor outside, neither at night nor day and neither by man nor animal. Check out at the bottom left, where you can see his devotee Prahlad standing with folded hands and paying his respects.


Vaman on Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid
This particular one is in two parts – just like the story. The first carving is that of the dwarf who tricked King Mahabali. Check him out in this sculpture as he bows to receive his wish from King Mahabali. I love the detailing on King Mahabali – the intricate beads to represent his jewelry, perfectly shaped finger nails and the evil tooth that curls out of his mouth.
Vaman shown in his full form, Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid
The second one is that of him taking the form of a giant to make that leap to banish King Mahabali to the underworld. Notice how dwarfed King Mahabali is in this one, on the left-hand bottom of the entire carving.


Depiction of  Ramayana on the walls of Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

The popular epic Ramayana and its hero Rama does not really need any introduction. The story of Rama destroying the evil demon Ravana is not just familiar in India but the world over. The Ramayana gets quite a few carvings on the temple façade, from the scenes of Sugreeva killing Bali to the entire Monkey Force helping Ram. There isn’t one big statue here but smaller ones in a row. Here is a close up of the same – check the 3rd row from the top.


Krishna lifting Govardhan- on the walls of Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

The fun and playful incarnation of Vishnu – known for his bravery and cunningness, Krishna is possibly one of the most recited and well-known avatars. At Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebid, he is depicted as holding the Mountain Govardhan for his villagers. The complete tale of this part of his life can be read here. In this carving, note the lovely detailing of his dress and jewelry.  Not to miss the way the entire village with its cows, cowherds, and musicians have been carved out under the mountain. Even on the mountain, besides the fauna and flora, there is a smaller hunter carved. See if you can spot him 🙂

Through my pictures above, you would have guessed that these aren’t the only wonders of this temple. And maybe in the later posts, I shall share some more of these gorgeous sculptures. But for this one, I thought it would be an interesting angle to just look at the Dashavatars. For the ones, I am missing, I might just go back and look only for those but if you manage a trip to Hoysaleswara temple in Halebid before I make it, do look for the missing incarnations of the Dashavatar.

P.S: Have added citations for all the avatars to familiarize you with the story of each in brief. Just click on the highlighted links for the same.

Getting to Halebid:

  • Halebid is around 210 kms from Bengaluru, which is the nearest airport. The best way to reach here is by road – through cabs or buses. There are regular buses to Halebid from Bengaluru.
  • One can even take a bus or train to Hassan, which is 28 kms from Halebid. From Hassan, there are plenty of buses heading to Halebid. One can even opt for a cab from Hassan.

Travel Tips:

  • The entry to the temple is free. There are plenty of guides available at the temple and I personally, feel that for the first visit, a guide would be useful. Remember to take a Govt. Approved guide – identified by his official badge and certificate.
  • The temple has to be toured bare-foot keeping in mind the Hindu etiquettes of a holy place. However, no donations are necessary here
  • Photography is permitted within the temple.
  • Being a small town, there aren’t too many options to stay. One can board at the KSTDC guest house else, the better options are at Hassan.
  • Combine a visit to its Twin temple town Belur. It is just 12 kms from here. The Chennakesava temple in Belur has equally mesmerizing art to showcase.
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