Page C1.1 . 31 March 2004                     
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  • Postcard from Halebid, India
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    Postcard from Halebid, India

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    Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid. Photography by Mamta Malhotra.

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    During a drive of four hours from Bangalore, India's hub of information technology, one seems to slip gently back in time. The landscape gradually changes as we move through groves of coconut and banana trees. Past rocky outcrops scattered with temples, and with the coffee-growing hills of Chikmanglur on the horizon, one reaches Halebid the site of the ancient city of Dwarasamudra, the 12th- and 13th-century capital of the Hoysala empire. Repeated invasions have left few traces of the once flourishing city, now known as Halebeedu or "the ruined city." One survivor is the Hoysaleswara Temple, built in the mid-12th century. It is set among ancient trees and verdant lawns and gleams like a gem in the afternoon light.

    The temple has a high, wide, star-shaped plinth, and a wall treatment of strong horizontal bands of sculpture. It keeps the structure firmly grounded, seeming to defy long-gone invaders and the elements, even though the "shikhara," or superstructure, has been lost. Inside, the temple consists of a pillared hall with two twin sanctuaries. Both are faced by open pavilions, each housing a majestic polished stone Nandi bull. The interior of the temple is softly illuminated by daylight filtering through perforated screens on the eastern walls. The hall has highly polished, lathe-turned stone pillars, with capitals supporting brackets intricately carved with figures from Hindu mythology.

    On the outside, continuous horizontal bands of ornamental borders, moldings, and canopied statues run around the temple walls, in accordance with the tenets of the "Vastu Shastra." Scenes from religious epics, legends, and the Hindu pantheon are recorded in detailed, high-relief carvings. For over a century, according to legend, generations of sculptors expressed their ingenuity, skills, and religious consciousness. Every panel has a story to tell in colorful detail.

    On the road in Halebid, India
    Mamta Malhotra


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