Belur is a small town located on the banks of River Yagachi, in Hassan district of Karnataka. Belur was the early capital of the Hoysala Empire. Belur is considered as the Banaras of South and is thus also known as Dakshina Varanasi. The main attraction in Belur is the Chennakeshava temple complex dedicated to Lord ‘Chennakeshava’ (handsome Vishnu) temple.
It was built by King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala Dynasty in the Dravidian Style. It is about one hundred feet high and has a magnificent gateway tower. There are many subsidiary shrines around the main temple. They conceived their shrines as star-shaped structures and not the usual cubical form. In this concept of the stellate, the main temple at Belur, is a show-stealer.
From inscription it is learnt that Vishnuvardhana got the temple built in 1117 A.D., in memory of his victory against Cholas in Talkad. Other sources declare that Vishnuvardhana got built this temple when he embraced Vaishnavism, as advised by the Great Guru Sri Ramanujacharya.
Shantala Devi though a Jain by faith a noted dancer and on one of the temple’s brackets her dancing poses has been sculptured in the most ornate and in exuberant style. The art showcases the intricacy of the hair styles and ormanments during the Hoysala period.
The Hoysala dynasty originally had their capital at Halebid (about 17 kms from Belur) where they ruled for over 150 years. However, it was attacked by invaders, Mallik Kafur, a couple of times during the 14th century, plundered to poverty and ruins. Thus, the Hoysalas shifted their seat of power to Belur which stood proud as a powerful empire back then.
Chennakeshava Temple in Belur
The temple is a holy house for sculptures showcasing innumerable variety of ornaments, the doorways, the ceilings, the birds, the animals, dancers and other figures are fully decorated as if they are full of life and vigour with variety of actions and movements. The doorways are guarded on either side by the gorgeously decorated dvarapalaka (doorkeepers).
There are two more shrines here that are still in use by devotees and there is a Pushkarni or stepped well to the right side of the main entrance. The temple is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. The facade of the temple is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes with no portion left blank.
The main entrance is crowned by a Rayagopura built during the days of Vijayanagar empire. Within the temple complex, the Chennakesava temple is in the centre, facing east and flanked by Kappe Channigaraya temple and a small Lakshmi temple on its right. At Chennakesava temple daily pujas are performed.
A interesting sight with in the sanctum are the ancient jet-black Hoysala pillars, covered with bright vermilion smeared on by devotees. The main temple is surrounded by Temples of Soumyanayaki and Ranganayaki, beloveds of Sri Chennakesava.
Stories from the Puranas, Upanishads and other mythological stories have been carved in the most authentic way. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata also have been included . The bracketed figurines called the Madanikas or celestial nymphs are no doubt the highlight of the temple’s magnificent architecture.
The Madanikas are said to be inspired by the beautiful Queen Shantaladevi, epitomizing the ideal feminine form. There are about 48 pillars of various sizes, shapes and designs, bearing testimony to remarkable artistry. The main highlight of the temple is Darpana Sundari or “The lady with the mirror”.
Inside, even in the darkness, you can see the shining pillars, each unique in its own splendor. The most popular being, the Narasimha pillar in the Navaranga, unique in its filigreed splendor. It is said to have revolved on its ball bearings once. Shantaladevi, a dance legend herself, built a temple in similar fashion to the main temple, which was called the Channigaraya temple. The entire structure with its intricate Filigree gleams like metal. Chloritic Schist, a light greenish soapstone, hard as granite was used to create the complex.
Hoysala sculptors have broken this custom and signed their sculptures. They engraved their names, titles and even the place of their origin at the foot of their art work. Mallitamma was the most prolific of all known Hoysala artists and more than forty well-executed sculptures stand in his name. However, even after a lapse of eight centuries, the art lovers of the whole world can adore this heritage centre.
The Temple is not in a good shape still, you could spend hours studying the minute carvings on the exterior. The temple has lost its super structure but looks very imposing.
Belur Temple Timings: 7.30 a.m to 8 p.m Inner sanctum of main Deity closed from 10 to11 a.m, 1 to 3 p.m, 5 to 6.15p.m
Guide fee Rs 125 to 250 (many Government appointed Tour Guides are available to show around the temple)
Belur Geo Stats and Travel Tips
Town Area Size: 2.85 sq kms
Altitude: 975 meters
Summer: 20-35°C. Hottest Month: April
Winter: 25-28°C. Coolest Month: December
Rainfall: 110 cms
Clothing: Cotton clothes through out the year except December.
How To Reach Belur
By Road: Regular buses ply from Bengaluru (222 kms), Halebid (16 kms), Hassan (40 kms), Hospet (330 kms), Mangalore (124 kms), Mysore (149 kms) to Belur.
Nearest Railway: Hassan (about 40kms from Belur) Banavara and Arasikere are also near Belur.
Nearest Airport: BIA, Bangalore about 222 kms from Belur.
Where to stay in Belur
At Hassan: Hotel Amblee Palika. Phone: 66307 Hotel Hassan Ashok Phone: +91-8172-68731
At Belur: Hotel Mayura Velapuri Temple Street Belur 573115 Phone: +91-8177-722209