Chennakesava Temple Complex of Belur
Temples of South India epitomise its rich cultural heritage. South Indian rulers patronized art and architecture leaving behind legacy of magnificent structures, especially temples. Today, the temples are the best story-tellers of the bygone era through their sculptural exuberance. Belur and Halebidu temples of Karnataka are fine examples of South Indian grandeur. They call shrines at Belur, Halebidu and Shravanabelagola as the triangle eloquence in stone and are nominated to be UNESCO World Heritage Centers.
About 220 kilometers away from Bangalore, visiting Belur and Halebidu temples are an excellent choice for offbeat one-day road-trip.
We started our road-trip from Bangalore early morning at 6 AM. And our first stop was Belur. Belur is located in Hassan district of Southern Karnataka. It was the early capital of Hoysala empire which ruled Karnataka from 10th to 14th century. The Hoysala era was an important period in the development of art, architecture, and religion in South India. Over a hundred surviving temples built under Hoysala patronage are scattered across Karnataka. A feature of Hoysala temple architecture is its attention to exquisite detail and skilled craftsmanship.
The most visited tourist attraction of Belur is the Chennakesava temple. Chennakesava (which translates as Handsome Vishnu) temple is dedicated to Hindu God Vishnu. The temple was built by one of the most prominent Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in commemoration of his victory over the Cholas at Talakad in 1117 CE. Legend has it that it took 103 years to complete and Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Veera Ballala II completed the task.
Along with the guide, we spent hours admiring the intricate beauty of sculptures and there are plenty of those. While it is difficult to pin-point, here are 5 wonders of Chennakesava temple of Belur:
Majestic Gravity pillar outside temple
An ornate gopuram/temple tower welcomed us into the Chennakeshava temple complex. As soon as we entered the complex, we saw a tall pillar right in front of the temple known as the gravity pillar. It is a unique 42 feet tall lamp post (Karthika Deepotsava Stambha) which stands on its own without any foundation or base. That’s the reason behind its name ‘gravity pillar’. And it stands on a star shaped platform, which is said to be typical of Hoysala dynasty.
The origin of name ‘Hoysala’ and its emblem is interesting. “Hoy Sala” translates to “Strike, Sala”. Guru Sudatta Muni said this to his student, Sala who was in combat with a tiger. The duo were performing rituals when the tiger attacked them. Sala struck the animal with one blow, and both were immortal. Later, Sala became the first ruler and founder of the Hoysala dynasty. This incident gained prominence and it became the emblem of the Hoysala. And this emblem is seen in almost every Hoysala temple.
Madanikas Carvings of Belur Temple
For us, Madanikas were definitely the highlight of the trip. Madanikas are sculptures or bracketed figures of celestial nymphs along with dancers, musicians, drummers, instrumentalists, groomers. The guide explained to us that Queen Shantala, wife of King Vishnuvardhan inspired the Madanika artists, who was an eminent dancer herself. The most popular is Darpana Sundari (lady looking into the mirror). Another popular one is the lady with parrot and hunter
Inner sanctum of Chennakeshava
“Belur Ola Nodu, Halebidu Hora Nodu”
This Kannada saying when translated means beauty of Belur lies in inner sanctum and Halebidu outside. As soon as we entered inside the temple, we realized it aptness. The inside of the temple is quite dark but it is hard to miss numerous pillars in various designs in the main hall (navranga mantapa). Interestingly, these pillars have metallic glisten; but they are infact made of soap-stone. The most spectacular pillar is Narasimha pillar, carved with miniature figures, is difficult to miss as it is decked with kumkuma (vermilion) marked by devotees. The guide pointed to ball-bearing slots on pillar top and explained that back in the day, the pillar rotated.
Also, there is this brilliant ornate circle in the ceiling. It is the first and foremost thing to remember while visiting a Hoysala temple. At the center of the circle, there is prominent carving of Lord Vishnu in form of Narasimha.
Carvings and miniature shrines of Belur Temple Complex
Beyond these wonders, entire temple is a spectacle to behold. Be it the outer walls of the temple which has animal carvings in different forms. There are carvings with tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Every sculpture has a certain symbolism. Or the miniature shrines near the temple entrances and walls. The guide explained to us that these shrines were prototypes for actual shrines. Ironically, the miniature shrines look more like actual shrines due to their intricate design.
The Chennakeshava Temple of Belur is indeed a mesmerizing experience for any traveler. It is perfect place to soak yourself in the artistry of previous era. Here, time stands still with every stone singing its own melodious tune and every sculpture telling its own unique story. We almost spent three hours and did not realize we were hungry. But now our stomachs were rumbling with hunger and we headed out of temple to have lunch. Our next stop on road-trip was glorious Hoysaleswar temple of Halebid.
Quick Tips for visiting Belur
- Belur Chennakeshava Temple timings: 7:30 am to 8 pm. Time required for temple visit: 2 to 3 hrs
- Hire a guide to make your visit worth it and understand the nuances of the magnificent temple complex. The guides that you get at Belur and Halebidu may not be fully accurate but still worth hiring.
- Best season to visit Belur – October to March as weather then is cool; otherwise Belur can get pretty hot
- Make sure you take a camera along, these historic monuments and sculptures make interesting visual delights and are worth capturing
- As you exit the temple you may be approached by vendors stalking you to try and sell various books on history of Belur and nice bronze and stone souvenirs.
- At a distance of 2.5 km from Belur Bus Stand, Yagachi Dam is an earthen gravity dam situated near Belur in Hassan district of Karnataka. Famous for its water sports, the dam is one of the beautiful dams in Karnataka and also one of the popular places to visit in Belur.
- Dharmasthala – Belur – Halebidu – Shravanabelagola complete a brief Heritage tour of southern Karnataka. They call Belur, Halebeedu and Shravanabelagola as the triangle eloquence in stone and are nominated to be UNESCO World Heritage Centers.