I saw this very popular video a few days ago: Hoysaleswara Temple, India - Built with Ancient Machining Technology?

Here is a related article.

It claims the following

If you look closely, you can see these minute circular marks all around the pillar. These are created as a result of machining the pillar on a lathe, this process is called turning. There is no way to achieve this with chisels and hammers manually. If you look at these pillars, it is crystal clear that they were made with machines. In fact, archeologists agree that these pillars were created in a lathe, but offer no convincing explanation as to how these huge pillars were machined, 900 years ago. Nowadays, we are able to create these fascinating grooves and designs on a lathe, but machining a 12 foot tall stone pillar would be a very difficult job, even today. So, how were these pillars created with amazing perfection in ancient times? Did ancient builders use machines and advanced tools, just like what we use today? If this is true, is it possible that they also carved these machines or tools in this temple?

Were these pillars built using lathe?

  • 3
    "There is no way to achieve this with chisels and hammers manually" is begging the question. Assuming that something is impossible does not make it factually so. The same tactic is used by people to argue that the Egyptian pyramids were built with the help of aliens - because "it is impossible to carve these blocks and move them and position them so perfectly without machines ".
    – Nij
    Aug 18, 2017 at 4:16
  • 1
    The claim is closely related to the alien astronaut theory-skepdic.com/vondanik.html! Aug 18, 2017 at 14:41
  • "We don't know how they did it." ≠ "They couldn't have done it, so it must have been aliens, lost technology, time travelers, or crab people." Aug 21, 2017 at 17:11

2 Answers 2


Were these pillars built using lathe?

Yes, or more precisely given the lack of primary documentation, there is no reason to presume otherwise and is not considered controversial see here and here

Evidence for the existence of lathes, at least for woodwork, goes back to, at least, Ancient Egypt.

By the 11th century, it was a well established technology used for many purposes. The argument that lathe use on a 12 foot soapstone column being surprising doesn't hold water either. There is primary, contemporaneous evidence that lathes were used to turn the cores of large, metal bells, for example. As the columns are external turning on a much softer material, they would need much less sophisticated technology than was concurrently available.

On the fine carving point, the author seems to have a very misguided view of what it takes to work soft stones. Bronze age technologies would be more than sufficient to do this work and they were available 2000 years earlier. By the 11th century there really wouldn't have been an issue even if you assume, without much basis given the Hoysala Empire's trading links, that most technological advances had bypassed the region.

This is not, of course, to detract from the astonishing achievement that is Hoysaleswara Temple. It is an amazing human accomplishment from an impressive civilisation.

  • 4
    I would note that even in cases where the weight made it impractical to actually "turn" the stone one might instead use a rotating (wood) collar around the stone to produce the circular grooving seen. Aug 18, 2017 at 22:31

Hoysaleswara temple was built in Halebidu (currently in the modern state of Karnataka, India) during the rule of King Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleswara of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century and is one of the largest temples dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva in South India. The construction was started around 1120 CE and completed in 1150 CE.

Many art historians accept the theory that the Hoysala pillars were prepared on lathe.

The pillars of the later period, particularly those of the Hoysala period are found to have been carved and polished on a lathe like machine, the nature of which is s not known yet. However, based on a close study of the minute, crisp and sharp mouldings and deep cut grooves of the shaft, it has been generally accepted that the pillars of Hoysala period were prepared on lathes. Source: STAMBHA / PILLARS

However, Professor S. Settar a scholar in history of ancient and medieval Karnataka, and a specialist on Hoysala history disagrees that similar type of pillars were built using lathe because Karnataka craftsmen still produce lathe turned "kind" of pillars without any mechanical aid. He notes the following comment with regards to Chennakesava temple of Bellur which was completed in A.D. 1117 before the construction of the Hoysaleswara temple.

This is an ekakuta, or single sanctum temple. The most interesting parts are of this hall are the pillars and ceilings. The four central pillars bear the madanikas. They are large, impressive, and very well carved. It is unlikely that these were lathe-turned pillars. Parts of the pillar were most definitely churned by hand. Source: Hoysala heritage

Also, Adam Hardy in his book "Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation - The Karnataka Dravida Tradition 7th to 13th Centuries" disputes that the pillars were built using lathe by noting that pillar makers were highly skilled and were making circular parts in such precision equaling the output of lathe.

But evidence against the lathe theory seems more convincing. Before the advent of the lathe turned appearance, pillar makers were already highly skilled in making circular parts even in cave temples where they did not certainly use lathe. Pillars of comparable circularity and shine to the full size versions are attached to wall shrines. Source: Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation - The Karnataka Dravida Tradition 7th to 13th Centuries

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