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According to an inscription in the temple, King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala in 1117 A.D, erected it to commemorate his victory over the Cholas in Talakad, while, according to tradition, he did so in honour of his conversion from Jainism to Vaishnavism.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the form of Chennakeshava (literally means handsome Kesava), this monument of supreme architectural beauty took over 103 years to complete. The temple is one of three characteristic Hoysala temples which are celebrated for their intricate and sculpture. There are three entrances, on the east, south and north.
The temple complex is entered through a tall beautiful 16th century Vijayanagara Gopura that dominates the main street of the town. The temple is set in a large and wide prakara, enclosed by high walls.
The temple build on a star-shape platform has three doorways and bracket figures or 'Madanikas' which are masterpieces of craftsmanship. Built entirely in grey green schist, it consists of a sanctuary with minor shrines such as those of Soumyanayaki and Ranganayaki, beloved of Sri Chennakesav on three sides and a columned hall partly open as a porch in front. Both the sanctuary and hall are raised on a terrace that repeats the complicated star shaped plan of the building. The main shrine is located in the middle of the prakara and on a basement about 90 cm high.
As one steps into the vast courtyard, one can see a golden horse and a temple chariot. One can also seen a winged figure of Garuda, stand at the entrance, facing the temple. The intricate carvings on the stone walls and the gravity pillar in the courtyard are the unique features of the temple.
The hall is approached by double flights of steps on three sides, which are flanked by model shrines with pyramidal towers. The doorways are headed by arches framed by pairs of makaras with profusely foliated tails sitting on pilasters. Icons of Vishnu, Narasimha each with Garuda beneath, are carved on the lintels. The porch has stone screens with miniature figures. One can seen Vishnuvardhana, seated with ministers, courtly women and attendants. Also can seen carved elephants, lotus, garlands, couples and musicians on the walls. There are also sensually modelled dancing maidens. The walls are raised on carved rows of elephants, lions and horses.
The interior of the temple considered even better than the outside, contains many exquisite panels and richly carved pillars. The interior is dominated by polished multifaced columns. The large domed ceilings ornated with concentric corbelled rings decorated with scrollwork and lotus buds. The lintel shows Lakshmi and Vishnu seated within an arch flanked by makaras. The image in the shrine is about 2 m high and stands on a pedestal. On the halo around the image, can seen ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
A 12th centruy Ammanavara temple is situated at the north west corner of this temple complex. Carvings are seen in the Kappe Chennigaraya Temple to the south. One can also see a stepped tank with minor shrines in the northeast corner of the complex.