March 22, 2023

The 900-year old Belur Chennakeshava Temple is one of the greatest treasure-houses of Indian art, architecture and sculpture, all of which was accomplished by the motivation of Sanatana piety. 

The Belur Chennakeshava Temple, also known as the Keshava, Kesava, or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, is a 12th-century Hindu temple in Karnataka’s Hassan district. Belur Temple was built in 1117 CE on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, also known as Velapura, an early Hoysala Empire capital. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana. The Belur Chennakeshava Temple was constructed over three generations and took 103 years to complete. Throughout its history, it has been repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, and it has been rebuilt and repaired numerous times.

Chennakesava is a manifestation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The chennakesava temple belur is dedicated to Vishnu and has been a functioning Hindu temple since its establishment. It is described reverently in medieval Hindu texts and is still an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism. The architecture, sculptures, reliefs, friezes, iconography, inscriptions, and history of the temple are all noteworthy. Through numerous friezes, the temple artwork depicts scenes of secular life in the 12th century, dancers and musicians, as well as a pictorial narration of Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas. Chennakeshwara Temple Belur is a Vaishnava temple with many Shaivism and Shaktism themes, as well as images of a Jina from Jainism and the Buddha from Buddhism. The Chennakeshava temple reflects artistic, cultural, and theological perspectives in 12th century South India under Hoysala Empire rule.

Belur Temple History :

The Hoysala period of South Indian history lasted from around 1000 CE to 1346 CE. During this time, they constructed approximately 1,500 temples in 958 centers. In old inscriptions and medieval texts, Belur is referred to as Beluhur, Velur, or Velapura. It was the Hoysala kings’ first capital. In later inscriptions, the Hoysalas refer to the city as “earthly Vaikuntha” (Vishnu’s abode) and “dakshina Varanasi” (Hindus’ southern holy city).

The construction of the Chennakeshava temple in Belur took 103 years. Vishnuvardhana relocated his capital to Dvarasamudra (now Halebidu), where he began work on the Hoysaleswara Temple, dedicated to Shiva. Its construction lasted until his death in 1140 CE. His descendants carried on his legacy, completing the Hoysaleswara Temple in 1150 CE and the Chennakesava Temple in Somanathapura in 1258 CE. The Hoysalas employed many notable architects and artisans who established a new architectural tradition known as the Karnata Dravida tradition by art critic Adam Hardy.

Belur Temple Architecture :

The Chennakeshava complex at Belur consists of a 443.5 feet by 396 feet court surrounded by a wall with several Hindu temples and minor shrines. The compound is entered from the east via a Gopuram added during the Vijayanagar empire’s repairs. The following temples and monuments can be found within the walled complex:

The main temple is Chennakesava temple, also known as Kesava temple. It is located in the center of the complex, facing east and directly in front of the gopuram. It is 178 feet by 156 feet, including the later improvements. The temple is built on a three-foot-high platform terrace (jagati). The temple honors Vishnu in the form of Kesava.

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.

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.

The magnificent Chennakeshava temple was built in 12th century by the Hoysala ruler VishnuVardhana on the banks of Yagachi River. The temple is also known as Keshava temple, Vijayanarayana temple. Even though the temple was commissioned by Vishnuvardhana it took 103years and three generations to complete it. The temple is around 16kms from Halebidu temples and it is one of the important Vaishanava pilgrimage place for Hindus. Chennakeshava temple is an evidence to the architecture and culture of Hoysala rule during 12th century in South India.

The temple is at a height of 37 metre with outer walls is beautified with dancing girls posing in different postures. The original temple that was built by the Hoysala had no boundary wall; it was built later on in 13th century for the security reasons. Even the main mandapa was also covered with perforated stone screens. Inside the wall of the Chennakeshava temple there are many Hindu temples with small shrines.

The temple is facing towards east and it is built in ekakuta vimana style which is a combination North Indian Nagara style and South Indian Karnataka style of architecture. To the south of the temple is Kappe Channigaraya temple and to the right and left side of the temple is small shrine of Lakshmi and Andal temple. Andal temple is also known as Ranganayaki temple is beautifully decorated with artistic works of elephants and other animals and nature.

The temple has 31 images of deities from Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism. Kappe Channigaraya has two shrines of God Venugopal and Chennigaraya another name for Lord Vishnu.  Kappe chennigaraya was built by the queen is a smaller version of Chennakeshava temple. However the architecture of both the temples are excellent and quiet similar. Vijayanagara Empire further improved the temple by building many small shrines around Chennakeshava temple.

To the west of the Chennakeshava temple is a small temple of Viranarayana. It has garbha griha and also has 59 large images of deities on the outer walls. Near the Viranaryana temple there is a mandapa or dias known as vahana mandapa.  There are two main pillars or sthambha in the Chennakeshava temple complex which was erected by Vijayanagara Empire and the Hoysala Empire.

The one which is facing the main temple, the Garuda was erected by Vijayanagara Empire while the other pillar which is on the right of the complex, the deepa stambha or pillar was erected by Hoysala empire.

The pillars are the beauty of the Chennakeshava temple. There are 48 beautifully carved pillars inside the temple. The central four pillars are built and carved during the Vijayanagara period. Among all the pillars the Narasimha pillar is the most beautiful and has miniatures figures carved from top to bottom of the pillar.

It is believed that the pillar used to rotate earlier but not anymore. Another important pillar is the mohini pillar which has carvings of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the ten avatars of lord Vishnu. The pillars and the walls are beautifully carved with different poses of women, Gods and more scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. One can see the garbha griha after passing the pillars and the mandapa. Jaya and Vijaya dvarapalakas welcome the tourists at the entrance of the door.

The outer walls of the temple are beautifully decorated with different strips of carvings. The art work on the outer wall is the best part of the temple. The bottom strip of carving has elephants with different moods. The next strip is the row of horsemen in different riding positions

A visit to vibrant state of Karnataka would be incomplete without visiting Belur and Halebidu. The Hoysala dynasty has left immense art and architecture in the state which has now become an important tourists destination.

How to reach:

Belur is around 40 Km northwest of Hassan. The place is at a distance of 221 km from Bangalore which is around 4 hours drive. Other important places which are close to Belur are Chikamanglur which is 22 km, Halebidu is 16 km, Mysore is 149 km and Mangalore is 166 km. The nearest airport would be Bangalore and Mangalore. From there one can drive down to place. There are also frequent buses from the major cities of Karnataka and other South Indian places. The nearest railway station is Hassan. Getting to Belur should not be a problem at all. Ones visiting Belur one should also not miss to see Halebidu and other important places near Belur.

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