Tales Set in Stone: Sculptures of the Halebidu and Chenakesava temples

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The Halebidu and Chennakesava temples were completed in the 12thcentury, during the reign of the Hoysala dynasty. While the Halebidu temple is dedicated to Shiv and the Chennakesava (translation: Handsome Kesava) temple is dedicated to Vishnu, the two share very similar sculptures. These sculptures provide a comprehensive understanding of the dynasty, reflecting societal structure and hierarchy, morality, mythology, development and more. There are over 20,000 carvings in these temples, and the stories I am about to share cover only a minute fraction of these tales carved in stone, the surviving legacy of a lost dynasty.

How the Hoysala Dynasty Got its Name

Legend has it that there one once a Gurukul in which many young boys were learning from their Guru, when suddenly a tiger appeared. All the boys scattered in fear, except one – a boy named Sala (suh-laa). His Guru noticed his bravery and said, “Hoi Sala!” which means “Strike, Sala!” in old Kannada. Sala followed his Guru’s instructions and killed the tiger. To honour his bravery, the dynasty was named Hoysala.

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The Indestructible Prahlad

Prahlad was the son of Hiranyakashipu, and was a devout worshiper of Vishnu. His father, on the other hand, was given a boon by Brahma that made him near immortal. He became obsessed with his own power and warned Prahlad against his spiritual inclination. Prahlad refused to pay heed to these warnings, and continued in his devotion to Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu was furious, and decided to kill his son. Yet no matter what he tried, he never succeeded, because Vishnu chose to protect Prahlad.

The attempt to poison Prahlad failed
The attempt to poison Prahlad failed
The attempt to trample him also failed
The attempt to trample him also failed
As did the attempt to have him killed by snakes
As did the attempt to have him killed by snakes

Shiva Teaches Ravan a Lesson

After defeating and looting Alaka, Ravana made his way back to Sri Lanka on a flying chariot, in high spirits. However, he found that he could not fly over Mount Kailash. On enquiring why, he was told that Shiv and Parvati were on said mountain and no one was allowed to cross.

Ravana was insulted by this, and began to lift the mountain with his twenty arms. Shiva realised what he was doing and pushed the mountain back down with his toe. When he did this, Ravana was crushed under the mountain and trapped there. He was thus humbled and sang praises of Shiva for a thousand years. Shiva then took pity on him and not only forgave him, but also gave him an invincible sword as a boon.

 

Ravana crushed under Mount Kailash
Ravana crushed under Mount Kailash

The Scorpion Girls

In the Hoysala dynasty, there were a few baby girls in each generation who were fed a little bit of scorpion poison every day until they were sixteen years old. They were the Scorpion Girls and their blood was believed to be poisonous. After they turned sixteen, they were sent on missions as assassins to kill the enemies of the king.

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