Updated May 26, 2023
Significance of Belur Temple
The ancient temples in Karnataka’s Hassan district are architectural marvels. The Chennakesava Temple in Belur is one of the most magnificent specimens of Hoysala architecture (Also Chennakeshava). The Hoysala prince, Vishnuvardhana, erected the Temple in the early twelfth century when Belur served as the capital of the Hoysala kingdom.
The Hoysalas dominated the region for over three centuries, and people from all over the area still travel to the Chennakesava Temple in Belur to appreciate the complex works of art and sculpture and to experience the site’s old-world spiritual allure.
The Chennakeshava Temple was a central point of the Hoysala monarchy. King Vishnuvardhana built it in 1117 AD, firmly tying it to his military successes. The monarch launched battles against the Western Chalukyas and vanquished the Cholas. After recruiting the top architects and artists in the country, the team erected the Temple and participated in creating new ideas and forms that became the complex’s trademark.
The Chennakeshava Temple in Belur and other architectural marvels in Hassan stand as a pinnacle of Hoysala-era achievement. A majestic raja gopuram or gateway arches above the entrance of this monumental structure, with the main shrine positioned in the center, facing east in alignment with traditional temple orientation.
The Kappe Chennigaraya shrine lies to the right of the Temple, while slightly behind both stands a smaller temple dedicated to the reincarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, Sowmyanayaki. On the left side of the Chennakeshava temple stands the Ranganayaki temple.
Within the temple complex, two intricately crafted pillars stand out—the Garuda pillar, believed to be from the Vijayanagara period, and the light pillar, crafted during the Hoysala era. The temple’s outer walls showcase intricate artwork depicting various poses of dancing females. The Chennakeshava Temple, made of soapstone, exhibits meticulous detailing in the distinct Hoysala-style architecture. It is considered one of the dynasty’s earliest and most remarkable works, towering at 37 meters.
The temple’s pillars showcase remarkable craftsmanship and exquisite sculptural artistry. Notably, the Narasimha pillar is renowned among visitors. The complex boasts 48 pillars, each uniquely carved and adorned. The central four pillars feature madanikas, celestial damsels meticulously chiseled by skilled artists. These madanikas depict different poses, capturing the fascination of art enthusiasts and visitors, including the lady with a parrot and the huntress.
For those interested in exploring the intricacies of the temple’s wall sculptures, a closer examination reveals depictions and references to significant events from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Keen observers may also uncover subtle expressions of eroticism intertwined within the elaborate representations. Wall sculptures often feature horses, elephants, and lions, further enhancing the artistic grandeur of the temple.
Historians note that the doors of the Temple’s mandapa depict a Hoysala ruler triumphing over a tiger or lion, symbolizing the decline of the Chola dynasty, known for their royal emblem of a tiger. The temple compound boasts numerous significant statues, including the Gajasura Samhara (sculpture of Lord Shiva), Ravana, Durga slaying Mahishasura, and many more.
Intriguingly, the sculptures also bear autographs left by the artists of that period, providing insights into the society and lives of the Hoysala era. The Hoysala Dynasty’s profound cultural impact on Karnataka is evident, and a visit to the Chennakeshava Temple, with its architectural grandeur and intricate carvings, completes the experience of exploring Karnataka’s history.
The Temple, constructed using soft soapstone for its detailed carvings, stands on a Jagati platform surrounded by a Prakara and a Vijayanagar-style Gopura. The craftsmanship and talent displayed in this masterpiece are truly astounding. In recent years, the Hassan region has emerged as a significant political and economic center in Karnataka. While Belur, located within a half-hour drive from Hassan, may seem neglected, it holds immense historical significance and should not be overlooked on the way to Chikmagalur.
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