Crossing the Realm of the Living into the Living dead or the Undead – Vethalams of Dodagadavalli

“Don’t miss Dodagadavalli” was the advise from Mrs. Lakshmi Sharath, popular blogger and column writer, when we planned out tour of Hoysala sites in June this year.

“As you drive down from Hassan towards Belur, about 20 kms from Hassan, after you pass the Hoysala Village Resort, you watch for a sign on your left – Dodagadavalli” She said.

The name had a certain ring to it and my son found it pretty amusing to pronounce. We did not miss the slightly nondescript sign board and turned into a small road. A further 3 kms along winding road passing bemused villagers and school children, we began to doubt if we had missed the site.

The location was exotic and as we strained our eyes, we spotted a dark greyish spot in the horizon, amidst lush green surroundings and a sublime water body.

Reinforced we proceeded on our route and entered the village and drove past the houses. The road ended but there was no sign of the temple and we continued on a mud path. There nestled inbetween village houses was this splendid monument standing for the past 898 years ! Yes, had a quick brush up from the

Mysore Archeological Series –


Honorary Correspondent of the Government of India, Archaeological Department,

Printed under the authority of the Government of his Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore, in 1919.

We were entertained by a charming lad whose English and by that not his exact vocabulary but his choice of a particular word endeared him to us.

Just a short introduction of the temple, before we proceed. Quote

“The Lakshmidevi temple at Dodda Gaddavalli is a typical example of the Hoysala style of architecture. It is quadruple, ie,, has four cells, and appears to be the only Hoysaja building of this kind in the State. From an inscription in the temple,we learn that during the rule of the Hoysalaking Vishnu the great merchant (maha vaddavyavahari) Kullahana Rahuta and his wife Sahajadevi founded the village Abhinava-Kollapura and caused to be erected in it the temple of the goddess Mahalakshmi in A, D 1113. It is thus one of the earliest temples of the Hoysala style, built four years before the Kesava temple at Belur which was founded by king Vishnu in 1117.”

So much for historical background, but what about the scary title of this post? Crossing the Realm of the Living into the Living dead or the Undead – Vethalams of Dodagadavalli, We entered the temple and even through the Sun was up, it was pretty dark inside. I turned to my right and walked a bit back to take a long shot of the first shrine. The Shrine of Kali

The lad kept up a steady chatter of explanations but one thing kept ringing back – Vethalas. The shrine is pretty unique in the sense that Kali faces the Vishnu shrine and the other two have Shiva as Bhutanatha and infront of him is Lakshmi.

The lad told us that Vishnu was to cool Kali and Lakshmi to cool Shiva ! Maybe we should look at it differently, that it shows Shiva and Kali side by side and Vishnu and Laksmi as a set. Anyway, the lad also commented that the Vishnu cell once had a beautiful image of Kesava and that it had been ” Kid napped” – loved the usage, that he didn’t think it was a case of some inanimate idol being stolen or smuggled but a case of Kidnapping !

We asked him if photography was allowed and he said it was not a problem and we started clicking. Kali first, could not get much, since she was all dressed up.

But the book paints a rather gastly image of her.

Kaji is a terrific eight-armed figure, about 3 feet high, seated on a demon, the attributes in the right hand being a trident, a sword, an arrow and an axe, and those in the left a drum, a noose, a bow and a cup

Just as the flash lit up the darker aisles, we were in for a shock. Memories of childhood nightmares seemed to literally flash in front of our eyes.


There on each side, neatly tucked away in the sides, were two Vethalams, both well over 6 feet, hunching over, eyes wide open, tongues protruding looking over us.

As we regained our composure, we saw that one had a oversized sabre with which it had ` recently’ decapitated someone and the other one had 4 mini goblins for company.

Not to be outdone, the shrines lintel had its own share of a tusked head, a row of pretas ( heads) and another assortment of Goblins – the ones of the two extremes playing the flute !!

I always thought that Vethals were troubled souls who were caught in the border between life and afterlife, and would hang upside down on trees and catch unwary passerby. Never expected them inside a temple. But then when your Lord is labelled the destroyer, is said to reside among other places at the cemetery, wears on his body ashes and has a wife like Kali !!!!

We will see the original Boothnath and others from here in the coming days.

A lesson on Ear Rings – Halebid

We take time away from Tamil Nadu into the delightful jewels of Hoysala land, into the Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebid, for a quick lesson on ear rings. But before embarking on the lesson let us pray respects to him guarded by his ever faithful door guardians.

Being used to hefty rock cut Pallava relief carved door guardians and the slightly more demure early Chola ones, the Hoysala ones must have had a better pay package ! Either the state paid for their Uniforms or their emoluments must have been simply awesome to afford such finery. But we must compliment them on their fashion and dressing sense.

Coming back to the topic, we have already seen the mismatched earrings of Shiva, here too we see his door guardian with a set of mismatched earrings.

On his left ear he had an exquisitely crafted Makara Kundala. Thanks to Sri Umapathy Acharya we now understand the Makara

But what interesting me was what he wore on his right ear. For the uninitiated – ear ornaments are generally called Kundalas.
Refering to Sri Gopinath Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography, he lists 5 different kinds of Kundalas. Patra kundala ( early palm leaf style – later replaced by gold leaf), the nakarakundala (same as the makarakundala), the Shankapatra Kundala ( a conch shell cut in profile to form a kind of spiral), a Ratna Kundala and a Sarpa Kundla.

The Sarpa Kundala is what interests us now. Normally the Sarpa or snake is a cobra as seen from the Garuda in Belur.

But what was interesting in this door guardian was the detailing of the multi hooded snake.

The work was so finely executed that you almost feel as if the central serpent has got a smile on his face.

Just on the topic of the intricacy of the carving, wanted to show you a piece of the ` head’ gear.

The Skulls have been carved hollow on the inside, considering the size and margin for error, cannot but salute these master craftsmen.