How the famed Hoysala temples became UNESCO World Heritage sites

News Excerpt: 

Meera Iyer, convener of the Bengaluru chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, explains how the Hoysala temples at Belur, Halebid and Somanathapur got recognition by UNESCO.

Who were the Hoysalas? 

  • The Hoysala Kingdom was a Kannada-speaking empire in present-day Karnataka
    • It flourished between the 11th and 14th centuries
    • The Hoysalas originated from the Malnad region of the Western Ghats
  • Initially, they were vassals of the Kalyani Chalukya dynasty
  • They broke away and established an independent state by the 12th century
  • Some notable Hoysala rulers:
    • Nripa Kama II
    • Vishnuvardhana
    • Veera Ballala II
    • Veera Ballala III
  • During Vishnuvardhana's reign, the philosopher-saint Ramanuja came to Hoysala territory
    • He was known for propagating Sri Vaishnavism, a form of Vaishnavism,
  • Vishnuvardhana is believed to have a sick daughter, and though he had taken her to many physicians, it was Ramanuja who cured her. 
    • This may have influenced Vishnuvardhana to convert from Jainism to Sri Vaishnavism (Whether he did or not is a bit debatable)
  • Vishnuvardhana aimed for an independent empire but did not fully succeed  “That didn’t happen till the time of his grandson Veera Ballala II (1173–1220),
    • Complete independence was achieved under his grandson, Veera Ballala II (1173-1220)
    • The Hoysalas continued expanding their empire into Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh
    • The last great king, Veera Ballala III, was captured and executed in 1342 after the Battle of Kannanur
    • This marked the decline of the Hoysala Kingdom

key points about the architectural contributions of the Hoysala Dynasty:

  • The Hoysalas built a vast number of stunning temples across their kingdom, both large and small
  • There are believed to have been several hundred temples constructed during their reign
  • Over a hundred Hoysala temples still remain today in various stages of preservation
  • Some of them are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, some by the Karnataka State and some of them are unprotected
  • The Hoysala temples are renowned for their:
    • Aesthetic appeal and diverse architectural plans (including the iconic stellate plan)
    • Detailed architecture and ornately carved walls/pillars
    • Temples were built not just by royalty but by people from all walks of life
    • Idea of syncretism -  the same town would often contain Vishnu, Shiva and Jain temples.
  • Another fascinating fact is the idea of artistic agency, Many sculptures have inscriptions with names/initials of artisans who created them, sometimes family trees and origin
  • Around 200 artisan names are known, providing insights into artistic agency
  • Hoysala temple architecture drew influences from various styles:
    • Shikharas resembling Bhumija style of central India's Malwa region
    • Influences of earlier Western/Kalyani Chalukya architecture
    • Built upon Chalukya designs but extrapolated to a grander scale
  • The ornate, large-scale carving and construction represented an evolution of earlier traditions.

UNESCO World Heritage Status

  • In recognition of their historical and architectural significance, UNESCO designated the Hoysala Temples as a World Heritage Site recently. 
  • This recognition catapults these temples, which had been on the tentative list for the honour since 2014, onto the global stage, and acknowledges their exceptional craftsmanship while underscoring the importance of preserving and celebrating India’s diverse cultural heritage. 
  • These temples, constructed during a time of great artistic development in Southern India, are a blend of various South Indian architectural traditions, yet retain their distinctive style, making them a tangible part of India’s cultural heritage.

UNESCO World Heritage: 

  • World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
  •  This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

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