Hoysala Temples in World Heritage List

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September 26, 2023

Why in news?

Recently, 3 Hoysala-era temples were added as to UNESCO’s World Heritage List thus becoming the 42nd site from India.

What is UNESCO World Heritage Site?

  • World Heritage Site (WHS) – These are the sites are designated as having “outstanding universal value” under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
  • It was adopted by UNESCO in 1972 and formally took effect in 1975.
  • The list of WHS is maintained by the International World Heritage Programme, administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
  • The 3 types of site are Cultural, Natural, and Mixed.

World Heritage List of India

  • India has 6th highest number of WHS in the world (Italy is 1st with 58). 
  • Total number of World Heritage Site - 42
  • Total cultural heritage sites - 34
  • Total natural heritage sites - 7
  • Mixed heritage - 1 (Khangchendzonga National Park in Sikkim).
  • 1st WHS from India - Tajmahal, Agra Fort, Ajanta and Ellora caves all listed in 1983.
  • Latest addition in WHS List- 42nd is Sacred Ensembles of Hoysala Temples and 41st is Santiniketan in 2023.
  • Dholavira in Gujarat is the only site of Indus valley civilisation in World Heritage List from India.

What is the procedure for including a site in the WHS list?

  • Selection criteria - To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria of UNESCO.
  • Only countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention can submit nomination proposals for properties on their territory to be considered for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
  • Tentative List – The first step a country must take is to make an ‘inventory' of its important natural and cultural heritage sites located within its boundaries, known as the Tentative List.
  • The World Heritage Committee cannot consider a nomination for inscription on the World Heritage List unless the property has already been included on the State Party's Tentative List.
  • Evaluation- A nominated property is independently evaluated by
    • The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
    • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
    • The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM)
  • Deciding authority - Once a site has been nominated and evaluated, it is up to the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee to make the final decision on its inscription.


What constitutes the Sacred Ensembles of Hoysalas?

  • It includes 3 temples- Chennakeshava temple (Belur), Hoysaleswara Temple (Halebidu), and Keshava Temple (Somanathapura) of Karnataka.

The Sacred Ensembles of Hoysalas


The Chennakeshava templechennakesava


  • Location – Belur in Hassan District
  • Major shrine of– Lord Vishnu
  • Time period – Consecrated around 1117 AD
  • Built by – Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana
  • Nickname - Vijaya Narayana temple as it was built by the king to mark his victories against the Cholas

The Kesava templekeshava

  • Location –Somanathapura village (Mysore district)
  • Time period – 1268 C.E
  • Built bySomanatha, a General of Hoysala King Narasimha III
  • Major Shrine - Vaishnava shrine


The Hoysaleswara temple


  • Location – on the banks of Dwarasamudra tank in Halebidu (Hassan district)
  • Time period – 12th Century C.E.
  • Major Shrine – Lord Shiva
  • It is believed to be the largest Shiva temple built by the Hoysalas.
  • Halebidu was sacked by Malik Kafur, a general of the then Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khalji in the early 1300s.

What makes Hoysala architecture stand out?

  • Unique confluence of styles – These temples are amalgamation of three distinctive temple styles prevalent in India.
    • Dravidian style represented in Pallava and Chola temples
    • Vesara style, the variant of the Dravida style that emerged in the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta temples
    • Nagara style of North India
  • Construction material – The use of soapstone, a malleable stone has made it easy to carve and contributed to abundant intricate sculptures on the temple walls.
  • Elevated platforms – The temples are generally built on stellate (star-shaped) platforms.
    • Kesava temple in Somanathapura is built in the shape of a 16-point star.
  • Beautiful Sculptures – The sculptures themes include animals, scenes of daily life, as well as depictions from the epics and the Puranas.
  • It demonstrates their creativity in translating religious beliefs and stories into sculpture.
  • Differentiated Pillars – The total number of pillars in Chennakesava temple at Belur is 46.
  • All of them, except the four in the central bay are of different designs.
  • Signed temples - The temples are given with information of the sculptors and masons who were involved in its construction.
  • Religious significance – These Vaishnava and Shaivya shrines were built at the time Jainism was prominent in the region.
  • It thus mark a turn towards Hinduism.
  • Social significance – The jewellery, headgear, clothes, etc. of the detailed sculptures give an idea of the society of the times.
  • One of the sculptures, Darpana Sundari (lady with the mirror), is modelled on Shantala Devi, the queen of Vishnuvardhana who had the built the Chennakesava temple.
  • Other details– No known monuments other than temples, like palaces or forts, survive from the Hoysala period.
  • The non-temple buildings were all built in either mud or brick or wood and not stone.
  • So, except for some ruins in Hampi, nothing has survived in the form of architecture of Hoysalas.

Quick facts


  • Origin – Provincial governors under the Western Chalukyas established themselves as rulers, as the two dominant empires of the South - the Western Chalukyas and the Cholas, crumbled.
  • Geography – Karnataka
  • Time period – 10th century to the 14th century
  • Capital – It was Belur earlier and moved to Halebidu or Dwarasamudra later.
  • Hoysala Emblem - Figure representing Sala attacking the tiger



  1. IE| Hoysala Temples as World Heritage Site
  2. IE| Sacred Ensembles of Hoysalas
  3. UNESCO| World Heritage List in India
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