The temple is of the Vijayanagara architectural style. The main temple is laid out in three parts, these are: The assembly hall known as the Mukha mantapa or Natya mantapa or Ranga mantapa; arda mantapa or antarala (ante chamber); and the garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum. The temple, as an edifice, is encircled by two enclosures. The outermost walled enclosure has three gates, the northern gate is used regularly. The inner east gate is the entry to the assembly hall, which is a large sized open hall designed with a large space in its central part. It is at the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum and has a profusion of sculptures and paintings over every inch of space on the columns and ceiling. The images on the pillars and walls are of divine beings, saints, guardians, musicians, dancers and 14 avatars of Shiva. Figurines of the goddesses Ganga and Yamuna flank the entrance to the sanctum. The exterior columns of this hall are built over a decorated plinth; the decorations are in the form of blocks of carved images of horses and soldiers. The columns are slim and have features of collonettes carved with eaves, overhanging in a curved shape. The open space in the middle part of the hall is defined by large columns or piers which have carvings of triple figures. In the columns in the northeastern part of the hall, there are images of Natesha flanked by Brahma and a drummer. In an adjoining column there are figurines of nymphs in dancing postures, flanked by a drummer and cymbalist. The column at the southwest part of the hall has an image of Parvathi, Shiva's consort, flanked by female attendants. There are also carvings of divinities such as Bhringi with three legs and Bhikshatana carved in a dancing posture; this is in the northwestern part of the hall. The ceiling of the hall is fully covered with mural paintings depicting the scenes from the epics, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas along with the life sketches of the benefactors of the temple. The paintings in each bay on the ceiling of the main mandapa, the antarala and other shrines, depict the grandeur of Vijayanagara pictorial art. They are painted over an initial plaster layer of lime mortar. The colour scheme consists of vegetable and mineral colours of yellow, ochre, black, blue and green blended with lime water; the background is generally painted in red colour. Apart from figures of gods and goddesses, in the presence of the devotees arranged in rows, the frescoes also depict the incarnations of Vishnu. The paintings are in striking compositions where the particular emphasis is on the period costumes and facial expressions.
The word mukha in Sanskrit refers to the face while kīrti means "fame, glory". The story of Kirtimukha begins when a great king Jalandhara, who "by virtue of extraordinary austerities ... accumulated to himself irresistible powers." In a burst of pride, he sent forth his messenger, the monster Rahu, whose main task is eclipsing the moon, to challenge Shiva. "The challenge ... was that Shiva should give up his shining jewel of a bride [Parvati]." Shiva's immediate answer was to explode a tremendous burst of power from his third eye, which created a horrendous, emaciated, ravenous lion. A terrified Rahu sought Shiva's mercy, which Shiva agreed to. But how then were they to feed the ravenous demon lion? "Shiva suggested that the monster should feed on the flesh of its own feet and hands." So Kirtimukha willingly ate his body starting with its tail as per Lord Shiva's order, stopping only when his face remained. Shiva, who was pleased with the result gave it the name Face of Glory and declared that it should always be at the door of his temples. Thus Kirtimukha is a symbol of Shiva himself. The Kirtimukha is often used as a motif surmounting the pinnacle of a temple or the image of a deity, especially in South Indian architecture. As Zimmer writes, "Kirtimukha serves primarily as an apotropaic demon-mask, a gruesome, awe-inspiring guardian of the threshold." This face is sometimes confused with another sculptural element, the lion face (Simhamukha). However, in order to be a Kirtimukha it has to be engaged in swallowing, for the Kirtimukha is the figure of the "all consuming" This monstrous face with bulging eyes sits also as an embellishment over the lintel of the gate to the inner sanctum in many Hindu temples signifying the reabsorption that marks the entry into the temple. In Dravidian architecture and elsewhere it tops gavaksha (kudu, nasi) motifs. Mostly it is only a face, indeed very often only the upper jaw and top of the face is visible, although in some places its arms are portrayed as well. The motif can also sometimes be found in Shiva's matted hair. Some authors have compared the Kirtimukha with the Greek myth of Ouroboros.