Belur Temple and Belur Chennakeshava Temple
Sri Chennakesava temple, in Belur, is famous for its sculptures, and is a celebrity in its own right. Over the year it has been a favourite backdrop for flim-makers in their song and dance sequences. Sri Chennakesava temple is not the usual ASI-run temple: abandoned by the locals, but a favourite of tourists. It is in worship, with large-scale local involvement.
Belur, then known as Velapuri, was the capital of the great HoysalaEmpire (1000-1346). It was central to their temple-building activities, for the Hoysala kings, like other great south Indian monarchs, were not only great conquerors, but, perhaps, greater temple builders. Emperor Vishnuvardhana began building Sri Chennakesava temple in 1117 to commemorate his victory over the Cholas at Talakad. The shrine is dedicated to Sri Vijayanarayana or Kesava, one of the 24 aspects of Vishnu. An inscription on the pedestal of the presiding deity says that the idol was got to be made by King Visnu(Vardhana). It is a huge temple complex said to have taken 103 years to complete, with additions in the 14 century (by the Vijayanagar Monarchs).
The temple is built in soapstone, on a raised platform, and resembles a casket. It consists of the sanctum, a vestibule and a navaranga pavilion. The small vimanas that we see here are in the Chalukyan style. The five-tiered Rajagopuram, at the entrance, is a 14th century addition. It is filled with figures of gods and dancing girls. The ground-plan of the sanctum is star-shaped, while the navaranga pavilion is a large hall, with polished pillars. It has entrances on the east, north and south. The Mohini pillar, in the navaranga hall, depicting Vishnu and Mohini, is decorated with a narrow band of filigree work, and is one of the finest examples of Hoysala art. The hall's central square has four pillars with elegantly crafted bracket figures, one of whom is identified as Vishnuvardhana's queen, Shantala Devi, an accomplished dancer. The walls of the sabha mandapam have perforated screens, belonging to a later period, which depict puranic scenes, and the durbar of the Hoysala emperors, from Vishnuvardhana to his grandson, Vira Ballala II, during whose reign the temple is said to have been completed. Angled bracket figures of mandanakai or female figures in various dancing postures, unsurpassed for their detail and artistry, can be seen on the 42 pillars of the mandapam. The ceiling is a maze of sculpture. A feature here is that the sculptors have carved their names at the bottom of the pedestal, in sharp contrast to the ancient Indian tradition.
The outer walls of the sanctum are no less noteworthy. There are figures of 80 gods, of whom 19 are goddesses. Vishnu in His various manifestations, Shiva and Parvati, Brahma, Mahishasuramardhini, Rati and Manmadha can be seen here in the richest Hoysala representation. There are also three chariot-like niches, attached to the sanctum, with the idols of Vishnu.
Sri Chenna Kesava Perumal
Sri Chenna Kesava Perumal, in the Sanctum, is tow-metres tall. The sanctum is crowded with figures and figurines. There is scarcely any place which the sculptors have let pass. If there is a goddess, the sculptor is not merely satisfied in depicting Her in detail; he rings Her with a filigreed arch in stone. The minute carvings on the tiered pillars are mind-boggling. The bottom tier depicts a series of elephants, above it yazhi, that lion-like beast seen in our temple sculptures, and horses with riders on the top tier. These are small figurines, but you can see the minutely-carved embellishments. At the plinth level, are the taller figures, the gods: Shiva in his full regalia, Narasimha disemboweling Hiranyaskasipu, Varaha slaying Hiranyaksha, and so on, with Vishnu depicted in His 24 manifestations. In the corridor, is a panel, in which minute figures worship a Lingam, a woman with a child, Ashta Lakshmi, etc. Bigger images here include Vinayaka and a snake goddess. The top of the entrance to Sri Chenna Kesava Perumal's shrine is a connoisseur's delight. Garuda, flanked by guards, is topped by Narasimha, over whom is a ferocious yazhi's head.
At the lintel level is the image of a woman looking herself in a mirror (festoons) with leaves and fruits. In another section are dancing girls, each within a filigreed arch, while at the bottom, in snake-like coiled circles, are common people and animals. Also provided her is a broad walkway, pradikshanapadha, to facilitate circumambulation.
Sri Kappe Chennigaraya temple
To the south of the main shrine is Sri Kappe Chennigaraya temple, Queen Santala Devi's answer to her husband's masterpiece. It is a smaller replica of Sri Chennakesava temple. Her name is inscribed on the pedestal. Other shrines which were added later,include Sri Veeranarayana temple, to the west of Sri Chennakesava temple. Some of the finest carvings of the Hindu pantheon can be seen in this temple, which is ringed by shrines for Sri Soumyanayaki, Sri Andal (locally refereed to as Sri Ranganayaki), and the Vaishnava Alwars. The popular conception is that the famed sculptor, Jakanachari, built the temple. No less great are the master sculptors, Dasoja, and his son, Chavana, and other craftsman, whose names are etched here.
In the central courtyard, in front of the flag staff, is garuda, with his hands folded. At the extreme northeast is the temple tank.
How to Reach Belur
Belur is 38kms from Hassan, the district headquarters, and 223 km from Bangalore, the nearest airport. Hassan is the nearest railway station. Accommodation: Quality hotels and budget lodges can be found in Belur itself.