• BELUR – Chenna Keshav Temple
Belur was the capital of the Hoysalas during the 11th and 12th centuries, before the capital was moved to Halebid. The fifth king of the Hoysalas dynasty, Bittadeva, is said to have changed his name to Vishnuvardhana (1108-1042) when he was converted from Jainism to Vaishnavism under the influence of Ramanujacarya. Most of the temples in Belur and Halebid were built during his reign.
The reason to come to this town is to see the impressive ChennaKeshava Temple, which has some of the most intricate and beautiful carvings in India. Beside this temple, there are two other temples to see, the Viranarayana Temple and the Chenniga Raya Temple.
This photogenic temple is an excellent example of Hoysala architecture. Construction of this impressive temple began in 1116 AD. This temple is over 800 years old. It took 103 years to complete.
The temple enshrines the beautiful, four-armed deity of Keshava, which is said to have been worshiped by Lord Brahma at Satyaloka. Later, King Indradyumna is said to have brought the deity here and worshipped Him until he left this world, after which the devas continued the worship until King Vishnuvardhana began the worship. The king discovered the deity when he was travelling through the area and one of his servants took bath and was cured of leprosy while bathing in the lake known as Vishnu Samudra, which is situated on the outskirts of town. Legend says that the lake appeared from a drop of nectar that fell from Garuda’s pot. The king understood that this was a special place, which was confirmed when the deity of Keshava appeared in the dreams of both King Vishnuvardhana and Ramanujacarya, telling them to build a temple for Him. Thereafter, as instructed, the king discovered the deity at Chandra Drona Hill, from where he took the deity to SriNarayanapura and then on to Velapura, now known as Belur.
Built of gray-green chlorite, the temple is covered with intricate sculptures, including scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is named after the beautiful (chenna) long-haired (keshava) form of Lord Krishna. The 2m (6 ft) Deity rests on a 1 m stand. The two upper hands hold disc and a conch, the two lower ones hold a lotus and a club.
To the left of the main shrine is a shrine dedicated to Kappe Chenniga Raya. There are two altars in the temple. The shrine faces east houses KappeChenniga Raya, and the one facing north houses Venugopala. There is another shrine dedicated to Somanaytki with a tower (vimans) over it. To the west of the main temple is a shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu called Viranarayana. Behind the main temple is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi,the consort of Lord ChennaKeshava.
The temple walls are 132m (443 ft) by 120m (396 ft). The temple itself is 53m (178 Ft) by 47m (156 ft). A tall stone pillar in the temple courtyard is balanced only by its center of gravity. There are 645 elephants carved at the bottom of the outside walls of the temple. No two elephants are the same.
Inside the temple hall, to the left of the main entrance, is an intricately carved pillar with many small carvings of Lord Narasimha. This pillar used to rotate. There is one panel left blank on the pillar. It is said that the carver wanted to challenge anyone to carve a more beautiful image of Lord Narasimha than the ones already on pillar.
There are ten perforated screens on either side of the eastern entrance of the assembly hall. The screens to the right include the story of Vamana (Trivikrama) and Bali, the killing of Hiranyakasipu by Narasimha, and the killing of Kamsa by Krishna. The panels on the left side depict the churning of the ocean by the demigods and demons, and Krishna’s pastimes (fighting with the wrestler Canura, killing the elephant Kuvalayapida, and the slaying of Kamsa). Other scenes depicted are from the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
There is an inscription recording the date of erection of this temple in commemoration of Vishnuvardhana’s victory over the Chola viceroy of Talkad. It is said that about this time, Vishnuvardhana was converted from Jainism to Vaishnavism by Ramanujacarya.
One interesting thing is that there is a large pair of chappals in a glass case in the front mandapam hall. The local cobblers believe the Lord walks to Bababudangiri hill daily to visit Lakshmi who resides there. It is said that the Lord appears in the dreams of the cobblers when the chappals need replacing. They spread red kumkum on the ground so that His footprints appear when He walks through it. Then they prepare new chappals according to the size.
Outside the temple is a sculpture of a man fighting a lion. This is considered to be Sala, the leader of the Hoysala dynasty. The name Hoysala is interpreted as “Strike Sala ‘ meaning that Sala should strike. The men shouted this at the king while he was fighting the beast, which is now depicted in this sculpture of the king fighting the lion, which he killed single-handedly.
Belur is 222km west of Bangalore,16km from Halebid, and 38km from Hassan. It takes about 90 minutes to get to Belur by bus from Hassan. There are frequent buses to Halebid (35 min), Hassan (90 min), Bangalore (4 hr), Mysore (3 hr).
• HALEBID – Hoysaleswara Temple
This town was the capital of the Hoysalas. It was known then as Dwarasamudra, and was founded in the 11th century. The Delhi Sultanates armies sacked Halebid in 1311 and 1327. It is now a small village.
Construction of the Hoysaleswara Temple, dedicated to Lord Siva, was begun in the mid-12th century. It is covered with intricately carved sculptures. Even after 87 years of building, it was never completed because Halebid was sacked by the Delhi Sultanate. This star-shaped temple is actually a pair of two identical temples with separate sanctuaries (altars) and mandapams (halls) next to each other. One of the temples has active worship and the other does not. There are also two Nandi bulls. One of them is 5m (16 ft) long and is said to be the seventh largest in India.
There are about 20,000 sculptures on this temple. There are six rows of carvings around the base of the temple: elephants, lions,horsemen, scrolls, scenes from the Puranas,and geese. The base of the temple has the emblem of lions and elephants carved around it, seemingly supporting the temple and signifying stability. There are 1,200 elephants carved on the outer walls, none alike.
The upper parts of the temples exterior have carvings depicting Lord Siva’s pastimes. There are also carvings of Lord Krishna and Vishnu on the temple and scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, carved in intricate detail. There is an interesting carving of Lord Narayana in the back right corner. Krishna is seen lifting Govardhan Hill and Rama is seen defeating Ravana. There is a carving of Chamundi killing Mahishasura, the buffalo demon, and an excellent carving of Ravana lifting Kailash, Lord Siva’s abode.
The temple is open daily 7.30 am to 7.30 pm.
The Archaeological Museum, next tothe temple, has a good collection of ancient sculptures. Open daily except Fri 10am to 5 pm.
The temple at Somnathpur (40 km east from Mysore), which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is one of the best preserved of the Hoysala temples. It was erected by a Hoysala general, Somnatha, in 1268, and was created by the artist Janakachari, who had a part in the construction of other Hoysala temples. It was said that this temple was so perfect that even the demigods thought of stealing it. This temple is shaped like a star in the center of the courtyard. In the temple arc three shrines: the stone deity of Keshava is in the center, Janardhana is to the north, and Gopala is to the south. All around the temple exterior are carvings of the various incarnations of Vishnu, such as Narasimha, Varaha, Venu Gopala, etc., as well as demigods like Brahma, Shiva, Ganesh, Surya, Lakshmi, and so on. This is another small but beautiful temple that clearly exemplifies how much regard the Vaishnava Hindus gave to the worship of Sri Vishnu and to the construction of the temples they built for Him. Even though it is no longer a functioning temple, many people still visit it as a sign of their devotion and pay their respects to the three deities of Vishnu within.