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The Amriteswara temple in Chikmagalur district is one of the finest shrines that display the architectural splendour of the Hoysala period, says B P PREMAKUMAR
The meteoric rise of the Hoysala power in the Sahyadri mountainous range not only altered the geo-political chemistry of the region, but also added meaning to their much-celebrated idiom of temple architecture. The beauty of Hoysala architecture lies in its innumerable temples of varied size and dimension, spread over a vast area that exhibit high architectural merit.
The last decade of the 12th century saw the rise of one such temple emerge on the horizon of a small hamlet called Amritapura, near Tarikere taluk in Chikmagalur district. Built in 1196 A D by Amitayya Dannayaka, an able general of Hoysala king Vira Ballala II, the village was convened in to an agrahara and the Amriteswara temple formed the nucleus of this agrahara.
The earliest temple built in 1196 AD consists of a garbhagriha, a sukhanasi, a navaranga and a porch, which was followed later with additions (after a decade) like a mukhamantapa, known for its coruscating conglomeration of turrets and pilasters, creepers and floral designs that decorate the outer walls.
The original structure has the common architectural schema of squares rising on a set of molded cornices, above which the sculptor has displayed his carving skills profusely through decorated niches with long turrets supported by pilasters and flanked by a long vertical band of ornate floral designs. However, the space meant for sculptures in the niches has only stone blocks, suggesting the half-finished work of the temple. This, when compared to the Nageswara temple at Morable in Hassan, where we find representation of varied forms of Shiva and his entourage, may be indicative of the shortage of sculptors who were well-versed in the Saivite iconography at that time.
The mukhamantapa, which is supposed to have been added later in 1206 AD, does not have molded cornices. The complete architectural idiom of the mukhamantapa is, perhaps, unmet in any other temple. The bold representation of alternating small and big turreted shikharas on fluted pilasters exhibits the innate ability of the Hoysala sculptor in scraping a soft medium like chloritic schist to its finest detail.
Above these turreted sikharas, between two horizontal bands of creepers, are small sculptures representing stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata. The story-teller in the sculptor has revelled here in narrating the mythological sequences in its simplest form.
The soaring spire on the garbhagriha is unmatched in its beauty with seven steps of indented squares, each step fully-ornamented with kirtimukhas. The parapet wall above the eaves has spellbinding minute carvings of kirtimukhas, floral scrolls, and sculptures of gods and goddesses. A large panel of Shiva (dancing) killing the demon Gajasura is on the sukhanasi projection of the tower.
The highly-polished pillars supporting the large navaranga ceilings are the exquisite part of the Hoysala architecture. The indomitable sculptor Mallitamma, who had worked on the six Hoysala temples built over a period of six decades, had started his career from this temple by working on some of the ceilings of this navaranga.
The large stone inscription in the temple complex is a fine example of medieval Kannada poetry, composed by famous poet Janna, who claims to be a great friend of good poets.