Twin Hoysala Temples of Marale and Mosale
Some of India’s best-kept secrets are not found on a map. Tucked away inside golden fields with lotus ponds surrounding them, are small ancient temples that have a historic connection to them. When I started on the quest of traversing across rustic Karnataka, looking for lesser known Hoysala temples near Hassan,little did I know that I would stumble upon an obscure village that may have some clues to the origins of the dynasty. I am not referring to Angadi , the Soseyur of the ancient Hoysalas, where myth and history converge, where historians claim that the oldest ever Hoysala monuments were built and where legends say that Sala slew the mythical yali or tiger and founded the dynasty at the behest of his Guru. I am referring to a pair of twin Hoysala temples of Marale and Mosale, located in nondescript but picturesque villages and patronised by the locals.
Many moons ago I took a sabbatical from my corporate media career and travelled into rustic Karnataka and explored over 30 Hoysala temples in the hinterland. Most of them did not even exist to travellers outside the realm of the villages. My trail was a mix of heritage and culture and while I discovered the lost temples, I was overwhelmed with the kindness and love of the people who would invite me into their homes and talk to me over a cup of coffee.
While there were many temples that were crumbling, I was grateful to find several temples taken care of by the local villagers. And that is how I stumbled upon the twin Hoysala temples of Marale and Mosale. My first visitwas to Marale, a village located between Belur and Chikmagalur. It is home to one of the earliest twin temples of the Hoysala dynasty.
During my research, I learnt that Marale had an interesting tryst with the origin of the dynasty. An inscription here did throw some light on the history of the Hoysalas who were referred to as Male chiefs of “chieftains of the hills” and were considered as vassals of the Chalukya kings. The village was apparently once the home of the early chieftains and the name “ Poysala “ for the first name is recorded in history here. An inscription here says that Poysala Maruga, grandson of the chieftain Arakalla fought a war against his contemporaries. The year is mentioned around 940-950 AD. Although historians are still divided over the findings, the origins of the dynasty are still mired in myths and legends and clues from inscriptions.
It was late afternoon when I visited Marale. The village was virtually empty . The fields were harvested. The lake beds were dry. I walked around, looking for two ancient temples built adjacent to each other. Most Hoysala temples are referred to as Ekakuta or Trikuta depending on the number of shrines and towers that are built on them. The Belur Chennakesava temple for instance is an Ekakuta , while the Veera Narasimha temple in Belavadi is a Trikuta with three shrines dedicated to Yoga Narasimha, Narayana and Venugopal, forms of Vishnu. .
However my search for two Ekakuta temples, resembling each other took me down a small path into a vast open space. A lone lady tending her flock of cattle pointed to a row of coconut trees and peeping behind them were two Vimanas or towers. Shrouded by greenery, there were two petite temples- one dedicated to Shiva and the other to Vishnu. Adorned with a single tower each, the Ekakuta twin temples were called Keshava and Siddeshwara .
A priest had just visited them and had left the lamps burning. The bright yellow flowers stood out in comparison to the dark idols. Two beautiful carved elephants with lotuses in their hands greeted the visitor at the entrance of the Keshava temple. The ceiling and the outer walls were carved with floral motifs and sculptures, although they were not as ornate as the other temples. A stone carving of Ganesha stood at the Siddeshwara temple. The guardians or gods of the eight directions – the Ashtadikpalakas were carved here as well.
It was absolutely silent but for the birds. As I looked around, a twelve feet stone inscription stood amidst the temples, but the information was absolutely lost to me. I spent some time sitting beside the temples, hoping a priest would come by to throw some light on it, but only a few cattle grazed around. Marale seemed to be another quaint village with a piece of antiquity lost in the wilderness.
My next destination was towards Hassan and I was heading to another village that takes its name from a crocodile. Mosale means crocodile in Kannada and this petite hamlet is home to another perfect twin temple, similar to the temples in Marale. Built during the reign of Veera Ballala in the early 13th century , the Nagesvara and the Chennakesava temples resemble each other in their architectural styles, but for the Gods that they are dedicated to. It was not too difficult to find them. The roads flanked by green fields opened into an enclosure where the temples were surrounded by walls and seemed to be maintained well. As I walked in, I saw a family sitting on the porches of the temple.
We heard from the locals that the hermitage of the legendary sage Jamadagni, the father of Vishwamitra was located in this village. Unlike Marale, the temples here in Mosale were more ornate and decorated with carvings. There was not a single stone left uncarved – the walls, the ceilings, the friezes were all filled with sculptures. You could see some of the sculptures carved on the panels of these temples as well.
While the Nagesvara temple had carvings of Parvati, Bhumadevi, Shiva, Brahma among others, the Kesava temple had sculptures of Vishnu and Krishna carved in the form of Kesava , Madhava, Venugopal and Garuda. Some historians say that the temple complex is probably a Dvikuta with two shrines and towers as they were both aligned and identical. There are many Hoysala temples near Hassan and each one of them is special. However the temples at Mosale are significant as they look like a single temple with two shrines but are essentially twin identical temples.
I sat on the porch for a while, along with the other women, listening to some of them sing and slowly I lost track of time. Finally, as I left I took one last look and there I saw the familiar Hoysala crest looking down at me as Sala slew the mythical yali . The twin Hoysala temples of Marale and Mosale may not be in any tourist map, but to me they represent the very origin of the dynasty.