Chennakesava Temple, Belur – Hoysala Architecture excellence

It was sheer chance that I was planning a trip to Chikmagalur and one of my friends recommended to visit Hoysala temples which are famous for their intricate art work. Initially, I was sceptical as I had never heard about these temples. However, after doing some online research, I realised what opportunity awaits in Hoysala temples and I could visit five major temples at Belur, Halebidu, Belavadi, Arkisere and Doddagaddavalli.

In this post, I will be covering my visit to Chennakeshava temple, Belur.

Chennakeshava Temple, originally known as Vijayanarayana Temple is located on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, Hassan district, Karnataka. Belur is located 40 km from Hassan city, 22 KM from Chikmanglur and 236 km from Bangalore.

The Hoysala dynasty shifted their capital to Belur after the attack and subsequent destruction of their capital Dwarasumudra (now known as Halibeedu) by the sultans of Northern India.

The temple was built by the Hoysala Empire King Vishnuvardhana to commemorate the Hoysala victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talakad. It is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture.

Chennakeshava means handsome Kesava which is another name of Hindu God Vishnu. Unlike other Hoysala temples which are incomplete, the Chennakeshava temple is a living temple which is still used for worshiping . All Hoysala temples, especially Belur and Halebidu temples are famous for detailed art work done by Hoysala.

Temple Entrance

The doorways to the temple mantapa have on both sides an image of “Sala” slaying a lion.

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Entrance view of temple with image of Sala slaying the lion on both sides

Temple Pillars and sculptures

The temple is constructed on a star shape platform which gives a beautiful look overall. The temple has 42 ornate pillars with 4 central pillars and  38 pillars outside the temples. All pillars have unique carvings distinct from other.

What not to miss:

  1. Narasimha pillar: The Narasimha pillar inside the hall is a the most intricaltely carved pillar and it is said that at one time it could revolve on its ball bearings. It’s carving are so striking amongt other pillars that one simply cannot miss this.

 

2. Mohini Statue: One cannot miss the beautiful statue of Mohini, the female avatar of Vishnu, inside the temple.

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Mohini statue

 

3. Hoysala Royal emblem: The legend has it that the lion was attacking a saint and the saint called Hoy (Strike) to Sala, hence the name Hoysala.Sala brave act of killing the lion become the royal emblem of Hoysala dynasty. There is also a belief that the emblem may have gained prominence after King Vishnuvardhana’s victory over the Chola dynasty in the battle of Talakad, the tiger being the royal emblem of the Cholas.

 

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Hoysala Royal Emblem – Sala slaying lion

4. Carving on lower exterior walls : The lower walls of temple are decorated by elephant (signifying strength), lion ( signifying courage) and horses (signifying speed ) and circular carving (for artistic supremacy) of Hoysala dynasty. It is said there are 650 elephants in different moods.

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Carving on the external walls of temple

5. Narasimha avatar on temple ceiling:

The temple ceiling is intricately carved with ornate circle. At the center is the carving of Hindu God Vishnu in the Narasimha avatar.

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6. Madanikas : Each 42 pillar are adorn with a bracket figure of Celestial damsels (Shilabalika) sculptures with 38 outside and 4 inside the temple. It is said that Shantaladevi,queen of king Vishnuvardhana herself danced in front of the main shrine during its installation and her dance inspired the poses of the Shilabalika figures on the temple walls.

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Darpana Sundari (Lady with a mirror)

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Shilabalika (Lady) with her pet parrot

 

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Monkey pulling saree of Shilabalika

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Shilabalika – the archer

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The dancing Shilabalika

7. Gravity Pillar: King Devaraya, Vijayanagara dynasty’s commander Bice Dandanayaka install the unique 42 feet tall lamp post, the Karthika Deepotsava Stambha. It is carved out of single rock and mounted over a star shaped platform and stands on it’s own weight without any support since centuries and is subject of wonder for visitors.

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The Gravity Pillar

Some interesting things to know:

  1. Artist signature: Unlike other artist, Hoysala artists preferred to leave their signature with details of  details about themselves, their families, guilds and place of origin. The signatures are visible below the Shilabalikas.
  2. It took 103 years  and three generations to complete this masterpiece and was completed under Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Veera Ballala II in 1117 AD.
  3. The temple is built of soapstone which helped in creating intricate carvings and sculptures.

Gallery of temple exterior:

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Front view of temple

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Star shaped design of temple

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Detailed carving of elephant, lion and horses

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Carving at the entrance of temple

Tips:

  1. Best time to visit: October – February
  2. Must visit the following Hoysala temples:
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