Hero stone (virgal) with old Kannada elegiac inscription (1220) at the Ishwara temple in Arasikere, Karnataka
In the late 12th century, the Hoysalas, a powerful hill tribe from the Malnad region in modern southern Karnataka, exploited the political uncertainty in the Deccan to gain dominance in the region south of the Krishna river in southern India. A new chronological era was adopted, imperial titles were claimed and Kannada literature flourished with such noted scholars as Janna, Harihara, Rudrabhatta, Raghavanka, Keshiraja and others.
Two renouned philosophers, Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya who lived during this time influenced the culture of the region. The conversion of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana from Jainism to Vaishnavism was to later prove a setback to Jain literature, which in the decades to follow faced competition from the Veerashaivas and the Haridasas as well. These events changed the literary landscape of the Kannada speaking region for ever.
Poet Harihara (or Harisvara) came from a family of karnikas (accountants), one of the earliest Veerashaiva writers who was not part of the Vachana literary tradition, and worked under the patronage of King Narasimha I. He wrote the Girijakalyana in the Kalidasa tradition, employing the old Jain champu style, with the story leading to the marriage of Shiva and Parvati in ten sections. In a deviation from the norm, Harihara avoided glorifying saintly mortals. He is credited with more than 100 poems in ragale metre, called the Nambiyanana ragale (or Shivaganada ragale, 1160) praising the saint Nambiyana and Virupaksha (a form of Hindu god Shiva). For his poetic talent, he has earned the honorific "poet of exuberance" (utsava kavi).
Harihara's nephew, Raghavanka (1165), was the first to introduce the shatpadi metre into Kannada literature in his epic Harishchandra Kavya, considered a classic despite occasionally violating strict rules of Kannada grammar. Drawing on his skill as a dramatist, Raghavanka's story of King Harishchandra vividly describes the clash of personalities between sage Vishvamitra and sage Vashisht and between Harishchandra and Vishvamitra. It is believed that this interpretation of the story is unique to Kannada literature. The writing is an original both in tradition and inspiration. In addition to Hoysala patronage, Raghavanka was honoured by Kakatiya king Prataparudra I.
Rudrabhatta, a Smartha Brahmin (believer of monistic philosophy), was the earliest well-known Brahminical writer, under the patronage of Chandramouli, a minister of King Veera Ballala II. Based on the earlier work of Vishnu Purana, he wrote Jagannatha Vijaya (1180) in the champu style, relating the life of Lord Krishna leading up to his fight with the demon Banasura.
In 1209, the Jain scholar and army commander Janna wrote Yashodhara Charite, a unique set of stories dealing with perversion. In one of the stories, a king intended to perform a ritual sacrifice of two young boys to Mariamma, a local deity. After hearing the boys' tale, the king is moved to release them and renounce the practice of human sacrifice. In honour of this work, Janna received the title Kavichakravarthi ("Emperor among poets") from King Veera Ballala II. His other classic, Anathanatha Purana (1230), deals with the life of the 14th Tirthankar Ananthanatha.