Somnathpur temple Mysore: a travel guide

The Somnathpur temple near Mysore is one of the best examples of the intricate carvings that characterize most of the Hoysala architecture in Karnataka, India. At first sight, the Somnathpur temple, also known locally as the Chennakesava temple, looks relatively small in size. Especially if you compare it to places like the famous Madurai Meenakshi temple

Yet, a visit to the 13th century Somnathpur temple can take up more time than you expect. Its beauty lies in the details. Somnathpur temple tells thousands of stories with the statues of gods and goddesses and relief carvings depicting Hindu epics from the Mahabaratha and the Ramayana. 

You don’t need to be Hindu to be impressed by the exquisite art works of the Somnathpur temple. It is only 35 kilometers from Mysore and an easy day trip from the city.

Somnathpur temple in Karnataka India
Somnathpur temple

Somnathpur temple history

The Somnathpur temple was built during the rule of Hoysala king Narasimha the third. The king granted a large piece of land near Mysore to one of his army generals in the tradition of creating an agraharam. This meant that the land was a gift to someone from the Brahmin caste with the purpose of building a religious community. 

A typical agraharam had a road running north to south with a Shiva temple at one side and a Vishnu temple at the other side. General Somnatha took his job seriously and first built the Chennakesava temple dedicated to Vishnu and later also the Pancha linga temple dedicated to Shiva. More temples followed, but most were destroyed in the wars that followed between Hindus and Muslim sultanates. 

The Chennakesava temple was the biggest and most beautiful temple of Somnatha’s agraharam. Although it was damaged several times in history it was restored and repaired every time to keep its former glory. Among those who renovated the temple were the Vijanagara kings who also built Hampi. Nowadays it is simply known as the Somnathpur temple. 

Somnathpur temple in Karnataka India
Somnathpur temple

Things to see in Somnathpur temple

The Somnathpur temple has a typical Hoysala model. The main temple is at the center and has three symmetrical sanctums around a common hall. Around the temple is a courtyard with pillared corridors forming an enclosure. 

Somnathpur temple entrance

The entrance gate to the Somnathpur temple has a stone with inscriptions in the old Kannada language about the history of the temple. There are also miniature reliefs of Keshava, Janardhana and Venugopala. All three are forms of Krishna, who is an incarnation of Vishnu. One can find larger statues of them in the inner sanctums of Somnathpur temple.   

Somnathpur temple in Karnataka India
Somnathpur temple

Pillared corridors

The pillared corridors that form the enclosure are rather simply decorated compared to the main temple. The corridors hold over 64 shrines whose statues include both Hindu as well as Jain idols. Unfortunately most statues are severely damaged. 

Pillared corridors of Somnathpur temple in Karnataka India
Pillared corridors

Somnathpur temple hall

The common hall of the temple has openings to the temple’s inner sanctums that once held the beautiful statues of Keshava, Janardhana and Venugopala. The statue of Keshava is a replica and the original is now on display in the London Museum. The other two statues of Vishnu are still in its original state.

The pillars in the common hall are beautifully decorated as well as the ceiling. Don’t forget to look up.  

Ceiling in the common hall of Somnathpur temple
Ceiling in the common hall

Outer walls

The outer walls are the most beautiful part of the Somnathpur temple. The intricate carvings include statues of gods, goddesses and mythical beasts. They also depict stories from the Hindu epics of the Ramayana and Mahabaratha. 

The temple is raised on a platform with a broad walkway that allows you to walk around the temple. If you walk in a clockwise manner you can see the depictions of the Hindu stories in the right order. 

I must be honest though that as a foreigner it is hard to make sense of them. However, it is easy to pick out the battle scenes with warrior chariots as well as some erotic carvings from the Kama Sutra.  

Even with my limited understanding I could watch the images for hours and was deeply impressed by its detail. The horizontal bands of horses, peacocks and birds are equally magnificent. The animals in the band might all look the same, but look closely and you will see that each of them is different. It’s then that you realize what a true masterpiece of art the Somnathpur temple really is.   

Horse warrior carvings at Somnathpur temple in Karnataka India
Horse Warriors
Hindu gods and godesses reliefs at Somnathpur temple in Karnataka India
Hindu gods and godesses

Somnathpur village

Somnathpur is now just a small village on the banks of the Kaveri river and surrounded by lush green rice fields. It’s a great place to see a little bit more of rural Karnataka. 15 kilometers from the Chennakesava temple are the remains of the much smaller Pancha linga temple dedicated to Shiva.

Somnathapura village
Somnathpur village

If you feel like seeing more Hoysala temple art I can recommend the Belur and Halebid temples. They are further away from Mysore, but still possible as a long day trip.

Somnathpur temple travel tips

Opening times: 09:00 – 17:30 every day

Entrance fee: 300 npr for foreigners, 10 npr for indians

How to get to Somnathpur temple

From Mysore

Somnathpur temple is easy to reach from Mysore. Although there is no direct public transport it is a straight forward and cheap journey. 

There are very frequent KSRTC buses from Mysore bus station to Bannur (25 kilometer, 20 – 30 nrp). 

From Bannur it is only 9 kilometers to Somnathpur village. There are less frequent buses, but it is easy to find a shared tuk tuk. 

From Bangalore

From Bangalore you have two options. You can either travel to Mysore by direct bus or train and then follow the steps above. 

By KSRTC bus you can also take a bus from Bangalore bus station to Mandya. In Mandya get a KSRTC bus to Bannur. Both connections have frequent buses going in either direction. 

From Bannur it is only 9 kilometers to Somnathpur village. There are less frequent buses, but it is easy to find a shared tuk tuk. 

For the train from Bangalore to Mysore can check time tables and book your tickets online directly through the Indian railways (IRCTC). Unfortunately this is not always a straightforward process. For a small extra fee you can use 12goAsia or Makemytrip

Tuk tuk from Bannur to Somnathapura
shared tuk tuk from Bannur to Somnathpur

Where to Sleep and eat

Somnathpur is a very small village and there are no guesthouses or restaurants. Small tea and coffee shops do sell some snacks. 

It is best to come early in the morning and bring some snacks and water with you. A day trip from Mysore to Somnathpur temple won’t take you all day so you can be back in Mysore for a late lunch  

Mysore is also the best place to sleep with a range of budget accommodation options. I can recommend Mansion 1907. Most of all because of its great location in walking distance from the bus station, Mysore palace and Devaraja market. 

This hostel has friendly owners, a great breakfast menu and female only dorms. During the tourist season they have free yoga classes in the morning and you can rent bicycles to explore Mysore and its surroundings.

There are other hostels in Mysore as well such as Zostel and Sonder hostel.

When to visit

The best time to visit Somnathpur temple is from September till March when the climate is pleasant. In April and May it starts to get very hot in Karnataka and in June it is the start of the monsoon season when rain becomes more frequent.

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