Chennakesava Temple in Belur

Chennakesava Temple in Belur


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Chennakesava Temple / Belur Temple

At a distance of 0.5 km from Belur Bus Station, Sri Chennakesava Temple is an ancient temple situated at Belur, Karnataka. The temple is listed as a UNESCO World heritage Site and is one of the must-visit places as part of Belur Tour Packages.

Also referred to as Kesava or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, Chennakesava Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty in 1117 CE, on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, an early Hoysala Empire capital. The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to complete. It was repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history.

Among the famous places to visit in Belur, the temple is very famous for extensive carvings, stone sculptures, artwork and its unique architecture. Built with soapstone, the Chennakeshava complex at Belur consists of several Hindu temples and minor shrines inside a walled compound. The compound is entered from the east through a Gopuram. The main temple sits in the center, facing the east - a classic example of South Indian temple architecture. A six feet tall idol of Lord Vishnu is placed in the sanctum sanctorum of the Kesava temple.

The pillars of the temple exhibit some of the best details and finishing of sculpture and artwork in the entire complex. The Narasimha pillar is one of the most popular of these temple pillars. There are a total of 48 pillars, all uniquely carved and decorated. The four central pillars were hand chiselled by artisans and feature madanikas or celestial damsels. The madanikas are in different poses and some of the popular ones which gain the attraction of tourists and art enthusiasts include the lady with a parrot and the huntress.

The temple features a beautiful stepwell (Pushkarani), right near the entrance. This well was used in the olden days for taking a bath before offering prayers and other rituals, as was customary at the time. A 42-meter high pillar called the Gravity Pillar has also been installed in the middle of the courtyard.

Timings - 7.30 AM to 6.30 PM,

Entry Fee: Free, Rs. 30 for Camera & Rs. 50 for Car Parking

At a distance of 0.5 km from Belur Bus Station, Sri Chennakesava Temple is an ancient temple situated at Belur, Karnataka. The temple is listed as a UNESCO World heritage Site and is one of the must-visit places as part of Belur Tour Packages.

Also referred to as Kesava or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, Chennakesava Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty in 1117 CE, on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, an early Hoysala Empire capital. The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to complete. It was repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history.

Among the famous places to visit in Belur, the temple is very famous for extensive carvings, stone sculptures, artwork and its unique architecture. Built with soapstone, the Chennakeshava complex at Belur consists of several Hindu temples and minor shrines inside a walled compound. The compound is entered from the east through a Gopuram. The main temple sits in the center, facing the east - a classic example of South Indian temple architecture. A six feet tall idol of Lord Vishnu is placed in the sanctum sanctorum of the Kesava temple.

The pillars of the temple exhibit some of the best details and finishing of sculpture and artwork in the entire complex. The Narasimha pillar is one of the most popular of these temple pillars. There are a total of 48 pillars, all uniquely carved and decorated. The four central pillars were hand chiselled by artisans and feature madanikas or celestial damsels. The madanikas are in different poses and some of the popular ones which gain the attraction of tourists and art enthusiasts include the lady with a parrot and the huntress.

The temple features a beautiful stepwell (Pushkarani), right near the entrance. This well was used in the olden days for taking a bath before offering prayers and other rituals, as was customary at the time. A 42-meter high pillar called the Gravity Pillar has also been installed in the middle of the courtyard.


Chennakesava Temple, Belur, Karnataka

Chennakesava Temple of Belur also known as Velapura in early days is located in the Hassan district of the Karnataka in India. The mighty king of Hoysala Empire, King Vishnuvardhana commissioned the building of the temple in 1117 century. The work of the temple construction continued under three generation of the Hoysala rulers and took 103 year to complete. The temple is dedicated to Hindu God, Lord Vishnu. The literal meaning of the word Chennakesava is ‘handsome kesava’ or Vishnu. The temple is known for its religious significance as well as architecture and history. Chennakesava Temple depicts the cultural, theological and artistic aspects of the South Indian Empires during 12th century. The intricate artwork in the temple showcases the secular social life of the people during that period. Pictorial narration of Hindu texts like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas are also found in the walls of the temple. Although the temple is based on the Vaishnava theme, paradigm of Shaivism, Shaktism, Buddhism and Jainism can also be found inside the temple complex.

Apart from the main temple of Chennakesava, there are many other temples and shrines inside the temple complex built in different period of time. The remarkable architecture, sculptures iconography and inscriptions inside the temple complex in spite of numerous plunders and destruction by the Muslim invaders and its reconstruction by various Kings and prominent leaders at different times make it a popular tourist destination in Karnataka. The Chennakesava temple is located on the bank of Yagachi River and is 3.5 hours of drive from the city of Bengaluru.


Chennakeshava Temple, Belur

Belur, situated on the banks of river Yagachi, 38 km from Hassan, is a world famous tourist destination. Belur was the erstwhile capital of the Hoysalas and referred to as Velapur, Velur and Belahur at different points in history. The town is renowned for its Chennakeshava temple, one of the finest examples of Hoysala workmanship. The temple was consecrated by the famous Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to mark his victories in 1116 AD against the Cholas and called the Vijaya Narayana.


Belur

Located in the district of Hassan, Belur lies in the state of Karnataka in India. This ancient town which was known by the name Velapura earlier is situated on the banks of the river Yagachi in Hassan. This was the capital of the Hoysala Empire during the 11 th century. The number of monuments and temples built by the Hoysala rulers over a period of 300 years gives enough proof for their love of architecture and art and the best among these lies in Belur.

Kappe Chennigaraya Temple, Belur. Image courtesy: Holenarasipura

The magnificent sculptures and architecture bring in thousands of tourists each year. The Chenna Keshava Temple built in the 12 th century by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana is dedicated to Vijayanarayana an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The temple is covered in fascinating sculptures and carvings done by the Chalukyan artisans and is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims.

The Gravity Pillar built during the reign of Vijayanagara Empire has a lamppost that's 42 feet tall and the architectural brilliance continues to fascinate people from around the globe. Dedicated to the king and queen of Hoysala, the ancient temple Hoysaleshwara is another site of religious importance. This town is also well known for the Vishnu Samudhra, Veeranarayana Temple, Kappe Chennigaraya Temple and Yagachi Dam. The best time to visit Belur is between the months of October and April. Know more about Belur here.


The Top Temples In Belur That You Must Visit

1. Commonly Referred To As Keshava: Chennakesava Temple

A fine example of Hoysala architecture, the Chennakesava Temple in Belur was built in the 12th century by the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana. Adorned with intricate carvings depicting scenes from the ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’, the temple took 103 years to finish. Also referred to as Keshava, it has been an active Hindu temple since its founding. Dedicated to Shiva, this little wonder of Belur is one of the lesser-known sites in Karnataka. This temple of Belur is a testimony to the cultural, artistic, and theological perspectives of the Hoysala empire.

2. An Ancient Sculpture: Paathaaleshwara Temple

One of the most famous places in Belur, the Paathaaleshwara Temple is one of the ancient sculptures constructed by the Ganga kings. Known for the colour-changing lingam present at the temple, the place attracts thousands of tourists. Constructed by carving on stones, this temple in Belur has fantastic architecture. Standing in near ruins, this little wonder of Karnataka is an understated one.


Perfectly Carved Elephants At Entrance

One can see two perfectly carved elephants stand on either side of the entrance because of architectural style. Small shrines are also present at the entrance along with a stepwell or pushkarni just placed near the entrance. In the days of the Hoysalas, people used to conduct various temple rituals and take a holy bath here.


Chennakeshava Temple, Belur

Sri Chennakeshava Temple, Belur

Continuing the description of my visit to the Hoysala temples in my initial blog , this is a follow-up post on the Chennakeshava Temple, Belur .

The incredible details of the sculpture can only be managed when the artist is working merged with his higher self

“Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come.”

Michelangelo

Chennakeshava Temple, Belur location

The Chennakeshava Temple, also referred to as Keshava, or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, is a 12th-century Hindu temple in Karnataka, India. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE (after a major military victory in 1116 CE over the Cholas in the great battle of Talakkad), on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, also called Velapura.

The seven-storey Gopuram at the entrance

The city was so revered by the Hoysalas that it is referred to as “earthly Vaikuntha” (Vishnu’s abode) and “Dakshina Varanasi” (southern holy city of Hindus) in later inscriptions. Belur was the first capital city of the Hoysalas.

Devotees at the entrance

Chennakesava, or “handsome Kesav“, is one of the forms of Vishnu Bhagwan. The temple has been an active Hindu temple since its founding. It is reverentially described in medieval Hindu texts and remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism. Though it is a Vaishnava temple, it reverentially includes many themes from Shaivism and Shaktism, as well as images of a Jina from Jainism and the Buddha from Buddhism. The Chennakeshava temple is a testimony to the artistic, cultural and theological perspectives in 12 th century South India and the Hoysala Empire rule.

The Gopuram seen from the temple

The temple complex consists of a 443.5 feet by 396 feet courtyard with several temples and minor shrines inside a walled compound. The entrance to the compound is from the east through a seven-storey Gopuram. The bottom part of the Gopuram is made of hard stone while the top is made of brick and mortar. It is richly decorated with figures of Gods and Goddesses. There are two structures on the topmost corners in the shape of cow’s horns, hence the name Go-puram and between the two horns are five golden kalashas or pots.

The entrance through the Gopuram

The temple complex was built at the centre of the old walled town and took over three generations – 103 years – to finish. It has been repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history. The Hoysala Empire and its capital was invaded, plundered and destroyed in the early 14 th century by Malik Kafur, a commander of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji. Belur and Halebidu again became the target of plunder and destruction in 1326 CE by another Delhi Sultanate army.

Our group getting briefed about the history and significance of the heritage site by the renowned Art Historian, Dr Raghvendra Rao Kulkarni Our group

The temple has three entrances and their doorways have decorated sculptures called dvarapalaka (doorkeepers) on either side.

The front entrance of the Chennakeshava Temple – the miniature temples on the sides of the steps provide the design of the missing shikara (tower) over the garbh griha

The main temple had a shikara (superstructure tower) but it is now missing and the temple looks flat. The original vimana or shikhara (tower), suggest the inscriptions, was made of brick and mortar supported by woodwork that was plated with gold gilded copper sheets. It had to be dismantled during the early 19th century in order to save the damaged inner sanctum.

Sala killing the tiger sculpture adorns the entrance

On both sides of the gate are two huge structures of Sala killing the tiger, the state emblem of the Hoysalas.

The State emblem of the Hoysala dynasty – Sala killing the tiger

The legend is that a small local chieftain Sala slew a tiger and went on to establish the Hoysala dynasty. Though no trace survives to tell us about the heroic Sala who defeated the tiger, there are enough historical and archaeological records to support the fact that Sala did live in this hamlet which today is away from the tourist circuit. This is Angadi or Sosevur, the place where Sala slew the tiger. It is in the temple of a Goddess Vasanthika here that Sala killed the tiger while he was with his preceptor, a Jain ascetic called Yogendra Sudatta.

There are two small shrines on each side of the emblem dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

The exquisitely carved lintel relief above the eastern entrance to the temple

The entrance on the east is decorated with Makara Torana. The overhead panel on the main door depicts the ten avatars or forms of Lord Vishnu. On the walls on each side of the east gate are carvings of court scenes of King Vishnuvardhan on the left and his grandson Veer Ballala, on the right.

Court scene of King Vishnuvardhan on the panel on the side of the entrance Reliefs depicting court scenes

The temple is an ekakuta (temple with one shrine) and the garbha griha houses an enshrined image of Krishna (Chenna means beautiful whereas Kesava is another name of Vishnu). The temple combines elements of North Indian Nagara and South Indian Karnata style architecture. The temple stands on an open and wide platform designed to be a circumambulatory path around the sanctum.

The temple built on its jagati (wide platform)

The temple and platform were initially without walls and the platform surrounded an open mantapa, following the contour of the temple. A visitor would have been able to see the ornate pillars of the open mantapa from the platform.

Carved screens, with openings for light, were later provided between columns to protect the interiors of the temple

Later walls and stone screens were added, creating an enclosed vestibule and mantapa, providing security but also darkening the interiors, making it difficult to appreciate the artwork inside.

The intricate friezes along the south wall of the temple

The richly sculptured exterior of the temple includes sculptures and iconography and horizontal friezes covering the entire external walls. The temple is remarkable for its architecture, sculptures, reliefs, friezes as well its iconography, inscriptions and history. The temple artwork depicts scenes of secular life in the 12 th century, dancers and musicians, as well as a pictorial narration of texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas through numerous friezes. There are supposed to be nearly 4000 carvings in the temple.

The richly sculptured exteriors of the temple the exquisite carving of Ravananugraha – Ravana lifting Kailash Parvat, with Shiva-Parvati sitting on top, can be seen in the background

The external walls feature 80 large reliefs around the temple.

A profusion of large reliefs adorn the external walls Large sculpture panels along the external walls

The artwork can be seen during the circumambulation of the temple over the jagati platform in horizontal bands. The bottom band is of elephants with different expressions, symbolically supporting the entire structure.

The bands on the exteriors the madanikas (dancers) can be seen under the roof eaves

Above it is an empty layer, followed by cornice work with a periodic lion face. Above it is another band of scroll and then cornice band, except at the back of the temple where a row of horsemen in various riding positions are depicted.

The carved horizontal bands run around the temple

The fifth carved band is of small figurines, mostly females with various expressions facing the viewer, while periodically the band includes Yakshas who face towards the inside of the temple. This layer also has numerous dancers and musicians, as well as professionals with their tools. The band above has pilasters between some of which are carved secular figures mostly females and couples.

Details of exquisite carvings on the bands

A nature and creepers band wraps the temple above the pilaster band, with scenes of the Ramayana epic included in this band. Above this layer are scenes from common life depicting kama, artha and dharma. Included here are couples in courtship and eroticism, followed by couples with children, economic and festive activities.

Carvings cover every nook and cranny of the external walls

Above these bands is the later construction that added 10 perforated stone windows and screens to the north side and 10 to the south side of the temple.

The later artists engraved Purana scenes in ten of these later additions, and the other ten have geometric floral designs.

A detailed war scene showing elephant fighting off the enemy An intricate sculpture of a fight with a tiger from an elephant, tucked away in a corner

A large number of sculptures are in the form of miniature temples, sculpted along the external walls showing various scenes from the Puranas.

Above the perforated screens, on capitals of the supporting pillars, are madanika (Salabhanjika) figures. There were originally 40 madanika, of which 38 have survived in damaged or good form.

Madanika figurines adorn the exteriors under the eaves

Two of these are Durga, three huntresses (with a bow), others are dancers in Natya Shastra abhinaya mudra (acting posture), musicians, women dressing or doing makeup, a woman with a pet parrot, men making music.

A madanika huntress seen with her bow

A majority of these madanika figures are also carved into miniatures in the sixth band of the outer wall around the pradakshina patha.

A madanika atop a lathe-turned column

Some of the statues present exceptional details. For example, one madanika figure is shown with a fruit tree canopy, where a small fly is shown sitting on the fruit and nearby a lizard is preparing to pounce on the fly.

The delicate carving of a madanika doing make-up, looking at herself in a mirror

In another, an eagle is shown attacking a sarabha, which in turn is attacking a lion, which in turn is pouncing on an elephant, which itself is seizing a snake, which in turn is shown in the act of swallowing a rat – a sight that includes a pondering sage.

The exquisitely delicate carving of the tree cover over a madanika figurine

The wall of the Navrang mandapa depicts the social fabric – the Jivatma whereas the walls of the Garbhagriha depict the spiritual life and tales from the Puranas – the Paramatma.

Lathe-turned columns line the passageway to the navaranga from the south entrance

The central hall (navaranga) in the Kesava temple at Belur is the largest of any Hoysala temple and is of triratha diamond-shaped layout. The navaranga hall has forty-eight pillars. All except the central four are carved in a unique way – the central four are later additions built to support the roof.

Intricate designs even at the top of the column, which can hardly be seen Unimaginably perfect geometric design on the columns – can this be made by mere hand tools?

Two pillars are particularly notable. One is the Narasimha pillar which is carved with miniature figures from top to bottom, such as a tiny bull (kadale basava). This pillar once could rotate because of how it was supported, but is now fixed.

The Narasimha pillar, which could rotate at one time

The four central pillars are notable for having been hand carved while the others were lathe-turned.

The hand carvings on the Narasimha pillar

The other pillar is the Mohini pillar. The Mohini pillar is a sixteen fluted star-shaped pillar with a large enchanting figure of Mohini, the female avatar of Vishnu, flanked by a Chauri bearer and a garuda It is perhaps one of the finest specimens of Hoysala pillar craftsmanship. The pillar has eight bands of carvings, including those of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, then ten avatars of Vishnu, the eight direction deities, mythical animals with the body of a lion but the face of other animals.

The Mohini pillar with the enchanting female avatar of Vishnu

In the centre of the hall is a large open square, above which is a domed ceiling about 10 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep. The central ceiling of the mandapa is an exceptional beauty carved on stone. The ceiling is in the shape of an inverted lotus between two concentric circles.

Exceptional carvings on the concentric circles of the roof of the mandapa

The central part of the circle is in the shape of an inverted Linga, with Narasimha carved on the base and lotus flower in the middle symbolic of Brahma.

The inverted linga in between the lotus flower carved on the roof

The Trinities are represented in a single stone through symbols, also called as Trimurti Sangama Bhubaneshwari. At the bottom of the dome is a series of friezes with the Ramayana story.

Details of the intricate carvings on the roof of the mandapa

On the capitals of the four pillars are madanikas (Salabhanjika). These are of Queen Shantaladevi and the others are regular dancers, but with different expressions.

A madanika dressing her hair, atop one of the central column of the mandapa

One is dressing her hair, the other in a Natya posture, and the fourth has a parrot seated on her hand.

A parrot seated on the arm of a madanika

The figures of the Gandharva dancer and Queen Shantaladevi (Darpan Sundari) are noteworthy as their accessories are movable.

Darpan Sundari, Queen Shantaladevi, herself an accomplished dancer, adorns one of the central columns of the mandapa – her bracelet is moveable

The tiny ring on the headdress of the Queen, on the southwest pillar and the bracelet on the arm of the dancer, on the northwest pillar can be rotated.

The fourth madanika is a Gandharva dancer – the inscription on the base is the ‘signature’ of the sculptor

The mandapa leads to the garbha griha past the pillars and a doorway.

The door is flanked by dvarapala, Jaya and Vijaya. The gateway of the inner sanctum is decorated with Makara Torana and filigree works. There is a figure of Lord Vishnu and Devi Lakshmi on the top of the gateway.

The sublimely carved Vishnu Bhagwan in the garbha griha (inner sanctum)

Inside the square garbha griha is the image of Keshava, or as inscriptions call it “Vijayanarayana”. It stands on a 3 feet high pedestal, is about 6 feet high with a halo. It has four hands, with chakra and shankha in the upper hands and a gada and lotus in his lower hands. The halo has cyclical carving of the ten avatars of Vishnu – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. Keshava is flanked by idols of his consorts- Sridevi and Bhudevi. The temple is an active house of worship.

The glorious murti of Keshava shines through the doorway of the garbha griha – the two dwarapalas (door-keepers) Jaya and Vijaya stand guard, with the intricate Makar (crocodile) Torana filigree work on the lintel above the doorway. Lakshmi-Narayana are seated in the centre, with musicians playing 12th-century musical instruments below them

Stambhs (Pillars)

Two main sthambha (pillars) are found in the temple complex. In front of the east gate the pillar facing the main temple, the Garuda (eagle) sthambha was erected in the Vijayanagar period, also known as the Dhwajastambha.

The two sthambhs (pillars) seen in the courtyard of the temple – on the left is the unique 42-foot Deep sthambh gravity pillar

In front of it is a beautifully carved sculpture of Garuda, the vehicle or Vahana of Vishnu, facing towards the shrine. On the left side of the gopuram towards the south is a huge free-standing 42 feet high pillar carved out of a single stone called Deepastambha. Built on a star-shaped platform, the pillar has no foundation and stands by its own weight, known as a gravity tower. It has a lamp at the top and dates from the Hoysala period.

Garuda, the vahana (vehicle) of Vishnu

Kappe Chennigaraya Temple

The southern end of this main temple lies Kappe Chennigaraya, consecrated by the queen of Vishnuvardhan, Shantaladevi, the same year. Besides the main shrine, there is a sub-shrine housing the image of Venugopal.

Saumyanaki Temple

The Saumyanaki Temple

This is an important temple dedicated to Goddess Sridevi towards the southwest of Keshava Temple. It has a Garbhagriha, Sukanasi and a Mandapa. The temple is adorned with a vimana or shikhara which is said to resemble the original vimana of the Keshava temple that has been brought down. The outer wall is adorned with sculptures.

Elephants adorn the steps leading to the Saumyanaki Temple

Ranganayaki (Andal) Temple

The Andal temple, also called Ranganayaki shrine, is to the northwest of the Kesava temple has been built in memory of the poet-saint Alwar. She is believed to be an incarnation of Mahalakshmi and is the only female among the 12 Vaishanavite Alvar saints of South India.

The life-size sculptures on the walls of the Andal Temple

Its outer wall is decorated with artwork such as elephants and nature. It also displays 31 large images of deities from the Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism. It also has intricately carved Venugopala, Mohini and Lakshmi, as well as friezes showing legends in the Puranas.

The smaller Andal Temple

A dancer stands at the corner of the Andal Temple

Viranarayan Temple

The same compound houses another temple named Viranarayan to the west of Chennakesava. It is an ekakuta, Vaishnava temple.

Vasudev Tirtha

A stepped pond called Vasudev Tirtha was constructed to the northwest of Chennakesava by Veer Ballala II. It is a consistent feature of any temple in which devotees perform an ablation before entering the mandapa.

An ancient well in the temple courtyard, still in use

The temple is locally referred to as Kalasagar (ocean of artistry) for its breathtaking carvings and fine sculptures. The beauty is so expressive that one can feel life inside these non-living stone structures.

Every corner is covered with examples of exuberant beauty – these carvings look as if they have been cast in a mould!

How to Reach

The Chennakeshava Temple is located in Belur and is about 35 kilometres northwest of Hassan. The temple is about 16 kilometres from Halebudu temples. Belur has no nearby airport and is 200 kilometres west of Bengaluru, about 3.5 hours drive accessible with a four-lane NH75 highway. Hassan is the closest city near Belur that is connected by the railway network.

A grand miniature temple is carved along the external walls

Festivals

The annual Rathotsava is the major festival celebrated in Belur in the month of March-April, twelve days after Ugadi or the Kannadiga New Year. The celebrations last two days when the Utsava Murti is drawn on a huge wooden chariot.

Intricate carvings cover the entire external wall

Travel Tips

The preferred months to visit are from October to March, that too in the early mornings. Due to the stone becoming too hot to walk on when temperatures rise.

A good, certified guide is a must, if one does not want to miss out important aspects of the temple.

Hassan is the nearest town with decent and comfortable hotels.

At the end of an unforgettable out-of-the-world experience

My blogs on the other Hoysala temples we visited can be seen at:

Note: All photographs displayed above are my exclusive property and copyright their use is prohibited without explicit consent, in writing.

We finally leave the walled temple premises, the surrounding areas are dominated by the massive Gopuram


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Hassan District – Chennakesava Temple – Belur – Part 1

There are some places when we see, we get a feeling that God himself created them. The Chennakesava Temple (also called Vijayanarayana Temple in olden days) in Belur is one of them. This is one extraordinary temple which is so vast that it took 103 years to complete. Belur is 40 kilometres from Hassan town and is on the banks of the Yagachi river.

The Chennakesava Temple was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in the year 1117 A.D, which many scholars believe was to promote his military success against Cholas, Chalukyas and others. A total of 118 inscriptions have been recovered from the temple complex, covering the period between c. 1117 CE to 18th century, which give details of the artists employed, grants made to the temple and renovations. The Hoysalas employed many noted architects and artisans who developed a new architectural tradition, which some historians call Karnata Dravida tradition. The master sculptor was Jakkanacharya and later his son Dankanacharya completed the construction. Jakkanacharya was entitled ‘Amara silpi’ (Immortal Sculptor). The credit of carving most of the sculptures goes to Jakkanacharya. A legend says that Dankanacharya found that the main statue of Lord Vishnu was faulty and had frog inside it. Jakkana, shocked to believe this, cuts his right hand. He will begin to build the other temple and contemplates the task. Later, the old temple(which had faulty statue) came to be known as Kappe Chennigaraaya’s temple (kappe=frog).

By the time i reached Belur, it was very cloudy and i anticipated downpour. One needs at least an hour to spend in this complex. I could have spent as much as half a day, however due to the time constraint spent two hours. The main entrance to the complex is crowned by a rajagopura built during the Vijayanagara reign in the area. The view once i entered the temple is amazing. There lies a masterpiece in front stretching wide welcoming the visitors. The temple complex, the Chennakesava temple is in the centre, facing east and flanked by Kappe Channigraya temple on its right, and a small Sowmyanayaki (Lakshmi) temple set slightly back. On its left, set slightly back is the Ranganayaki(Andal) temple. There are also shrines dedicated to Saint Ramanuja and the twelve alwars in this temple complex.

There are smaller shrines on either ways of the steps that lead inside the temple. They are very beautifully carved out of one stone with intricate designs. Each shrine has a kalasa on top and sculptures of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu beautifully carved inside. One the topmost step, you will find large life like sculptures of the Royal Emblem of the Hoysala Dynasty (Sala killing the Tiger) on either sides. The sculpture is so detailed that even some not so insignificant details like Sala holding the dagger are shown. The temple was built using soap stone which will be soft when unearthed, however turns hard as it gets exposed to light and air.

The Chennakesava temple has three entrances and the doorways have decorated sculptures called dvarapalaka (doorkeepers) on either side. Two main Sthambha (pillar) are there in this temple complex. The pillar facing the main temple, the Garuda sthambha was erected in the Vijayanagar period while the pillar on the right, the Deepa sthambha dates from the Hoysala period.  We will talk about this Deepa Sthamba after a little while. A dhwajasthamba signifies that the temple is still functional and there is a deity who is worshipped. Absence of flag post tell us that the temple is a monument.

This is just the beginning of an amazing temple constructed for over 100 years with 1000 sculptors working on it. As i move inside the temple, i look forward to have a great darshan of the beautiful Chennakesava.