Tucked away in the bucolic obscurity of the small village of Somanathapur only a few kilometers from Talakad is one of the most beautiful temples in all of India: the Kesava.
Also known as the Keshava or Chennakesava, this wondrous little gem was constructed during the 13th century by Somanatha Danayaka, a popular general serving under the Hoyasala Empire who also established the nearby village as part of his plans to make sure his name would be preserved for posterity.
Thanks to the Kesava he certainly managed to achieve his dream, helped in part by a nearby inscription stone that provides detailed records of the construction of the temple and the various grants that were provided to subsequently maintain it. Still, while he may have been a little vain, the good general must have been a generous soul, for he also allowed the artisans who did the carvings in the temple to inscribe their own names into its walls, thereby giving them their own shot at joining the immortals.
The general’s carefully-laid plans almost came to naught in 1311 when the temple was plundered by invaders from the north who ran off with all its treasures but fortunately left the structure relatively intact. As a result, the Kesava is much better preserved than the more famous temples that were built in Belur and Halebid during the same period and provides a much more vivid picture of the stunning sophistication of the architects and craftsmen of Hoysala Empire.
And vivid is the operative word, for the outer walls of the temple are festooned with stunning carvings and sculptures depicting a rich cornucopia of gallant gods, gorgeous goddesses, and charming consorts, not to mention elephants galore as well as horses and horsemen and even the occasional camel, lion, and peacock.
Further delights lie inside the temple, including the finely rounded curves of its lathe-turned pillars and its richly carved ceilings.
In the northern and southern shrines of the temple, the two original idols of Venugopala (Krishna) and Janardhana (Vishnu) remain; it’s just a pity that the western shrine houses only a replacement of the original idol of Kesava himself, another manifestation of Vishnu.
After consuming the rich visual feast of the temple, view the structure from a distance so that you can take in the full genius of its architecture.
Built in “Trikutachala Style”, the temple’s three shrines are encased in beautifully proportioned towers with sixteen sides connected by a single entrance and nave in a perfectly symmetrical star-shaped design.
With its perfectly proportioned design and exquisite craftsmanship, the Kesava is truly a marvel of Indian temple architecture. About the only thing it’s missing is a weird founding myth mined from the depths of antiquity. Indeed, the only mystery that surrounds the temple is why it remains so obscure and attracts only a small number of visitors. But that just makes the experience even more enjoyable for those intrepid souls who make it there.