The exterior view of Chennakeshava temple in Somanathpur is covered in an earlier article – HERE.
In this article, we will see all key sculptures in detail, and interior view of the temple.
Once you enter the temple, you can see machine-like-finish pillars in gigantic size, but the entire temple is handcrafted. Remember, the Chennakeshava temple was built 750 years ago – the period in which there was no advanced machinery. The entire temple was built with soap stone (a.k.a soft stone).
You can see a close up shot of a pillar below.
The temple is made up of multiple horizontal layers assembled together. Each layer has a history to unfold.
In the picture below, you can see there are six layers of sculptures – they form the base of the temple. The layers from bottom are – elephants (represents stability), horses (represents speed), flower creepers (represents decoration), stories from ramayana and mahabharatha, mythical animal, and peacock.
A closer look at the layers. There are a total of 547 elephants across the temple.
A closer look at the layers.
A closer look at the layers.
There is a reasoning behind the mythical animal too (see picture below). The mythical animal is formed from parts of seven different animals —
- Elephant’s trunk – represents stability
- Crocodile’s mouth – represents grip
- Monkey’s eyes – represents powerful vision
- Cow’s ears – represents sharp ability to hear
- Pig’s body – represents unity (pigs roam together most of the times)
- Lion’s leg – represents strength
- Peacock’s tail – represents beauty
There are 194 main statues in the temple (164 of them are lord Vishnu).
“All” the statues have one thing in common – none of them have a nose.
Chennakeshava temple was attacked twice by Mughal kings – one in 1311 AD by Malik Kafur and again in 1326 AD by Mohammed Bin Tughlaq.
All noses of statues were damaged / broken by the invaders, they carried away all the wealth of Somanathpur and destroyed the main god. Breaking noses are considered to be an insult, and Hindus don’t worship god statues that are damaged. This activity has made the entire temple not usable by public and hence it was converted into a museum or archaeological site.
You can see a broken nose statue below.
In below picture, you can see that only the nose is damaged in entire statue. This is one of the rare statues of Vishnu – because, there is only one more statue like this in the world (in Badrinath) where you can see Vishnu in meditating avatar.
A broken flute.
A completely damaged statue.
Yet another completely damaged statue.
When pujaris perform abhisheka for god statues inside the temple, all liquid thats poured on god goes to the outside of temple with the structure seen below. All liquid gets collected here for the people to take. This structure is built of a monolithic stone.
One of the layer of statues across the temple is a layer of various statues of various erotic positions.
Narashima avatar of lord Vishnu.
Very rare to find a dancing Lakshmi (a god).
Again, very rare to find a dancing Ganesha (a god).
Lord Vishnu is shown in three avatars. Below is lord Vishnu in the avatar of a fish.
Below is an avatar of a turtle.
Below is an avatar of a pig.
Can you see the horizontal layer between the bottom and top of the temple – The layer that has lot of holes in its structure for light and air to pass through? This layer did not exist when the temple was built by Hoysalas. Later in 16th century, Vijayanagara kings fixed this new layer in order to avoid animals and birds from entering the temple.
A closer look at the structure.
Surprisingly, the same structure gives a totally different shape when viewed the from inside of the temple. See picture below.
Can you spot the odd thing out of the below picture? Yes, it is the stone in the 3rd row and third from left side. During the invasion by Mughal kings, this statue went missing and the government has sculptured a replica and replaced it. But, notice the difference in stone color and the lack of depth of carving. Remember, all stones apart from this are 750 years old and still looks impressive. Notice the color change of the new stone statue.
A closer look of the old vs new.
Once you enter the temple, you must look up to the ceiling to see Lotus flowers sculptured in 18 different stages — right from the bud stage to all the way to a fully bloomed stage.
Below picture represents stage 1 (bud) of Lotus flower. The carvings are so deep in all of the 16 stages of representation.
Stage 2 of the Lotus flower below.
Stage 3 of the Lotus flower below – petals are starting to grow (but damaged by invaders).
Stage 4 of the Lotus flower below.
Stage 16 of the Lotus flower below – a fully bloomed stage. This is the inside view of the flower. This ceiling is the closest to the main god in the temple.
Inside the temple, you can also notice that every pillar has a different structure and shape.
A closer look at one of the pillars.
Inside the temple, there are three garbhagriha (sanctum) that has the god Vishnu as Keshava, Venugopala and Janardana. All three garbhagriha are locked in order to prevent theft of these idols.
Below is the statue of Janardana – the area from the chest to belly resemble a cow’s face. The toe of this statue is damaged, and hence this statue is also not worshipped.
The 2nd statue.
The most important garbhagriha lost its actual statue during the invasion. The government has taken a statue of Vishnu from other part of the temple and kept it inside garbhagriha – you can notice the change in color of the statue (compared to other two statues above) and also this statue is not attached to the ground.