July 30, 2015

Sri Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur, Karnataka

“Places all have their own characters, and returning to a city where you have lived before is like coming home to an old friend. But the people begin to look the same; the same faces recurring in cities a thousand miles apart, the same expressions. The flat, hostile stare of the official. The curious look of the peasant. The dull unsurprised faces of the tourists. The same lovers, mothers, beggars, cripples, vendors, joggers, children, policemen, taxi-drivers, pimps. After a while one begins to feel slightly paranoid, as if these people were secretly following from one town to another, changing clothes and faces, but remaining essentially unchanged, going about their dull business with half an eye slightly cocked at us, the intruders. At first one feels a kind of superiority. We are a race apart, we the travellers. We have seen, experienced so much more than they. Content to run out their sad lives in an endless round of sleep-work-sleep, to tend their neat gardens, their identical suburban houses, their small dreams; we hold them in a little contempt. Then, after a while, comes envy. The first time it is almost funny; a sharp sudden sting which subsides nearly straight away. A woman in a park, bending over a child in a pushchair, both faces lit by something which is not the sun. Then comes the second time, the third; two young people on the seafront, arms intertwined; a group of office-girls on their lunchbreak, giggling over coffee and croissants..before long it is an almost constant ache. No, places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart which begins to erode after a time.”
– Joanne Harris, “Chocolat”

Poetry in stone - Sri Chennakesava Temple

Blessed with vast verdant, foliage enshrouded plains scattered with moderately-sized gentle hills strewn with staggeringly massive boulders and carpeted by vivid green grass that flamboyantly flaunts its lushness under cover of near-perennial dark, rain-bearing clouds, the township of Belur (also spelled Belooru) in Hassan district of Karnataka, teeming with an unbelievably idyllic laid back life composed of numerous small bazaars and marketplaces sprinkled with hundreds of brilliant hues in the form of fruits and vegetables and sweets for sale and the attires donned by the locals, would have been no different from the thousands of other villages that dot the Indian subcontinent were it not for an evocatively ethereal architectural gem that crowns its meager existence and unquestionably confers upon it an extremely enviable position in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites – the highly embellished Vijayanarayana aka Sri Chennakesava Temple (literally translating to “Handsome Long-haired Lord”), commissioned by the Hoysala Dynasty Emperor Bittideva Vishnuvardhana (reign AD 1108-52) in AD 1117 to celebrate the first of his numerous military victories against the Viceroys of the formidable and expansive Chola Dynasty (reigned the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and the islands of Sri Lanka and Maldives, 300 BC – 1279 AD) of whom he was a vassal, is dedicated to the mythological Lord Keshava/Krishna, an ostentatious playboy-strategist-statesman-cow herder-warrior-philosopher who supposedly lived some 5,000 years ago and is regarded as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and nourishment. In their literature and folktales, the Hoysalas traced their historic lineage to the Yadava clan of north India which claims genealogical descent from Lord Krishna himself. Despite its unostentatious appearances and near village-like atmosphere, Belur, geographically located on the peaceful banks of the river Yagachi, is not just any other miniscule town next door – though its medieval prestigious impressions are presently indiscernible, it was originally referred to by the name “Velapuri” and was the capital of the Hoysalas, one of the most prominent dynasties of southern India!


After setting eyes on the immaculately magnificent temple seated on its 3-feet high perfectly symmetrical 32-vertexed star-shaped platform (“jagati”) and its numerous exceedingly decorated features, one would not be resorting to hyperbole in stating that the grand structure is literally an epitome of sculptural art – the sheer variety and noteworthy ornamental nature of the artworks and sculptures adorning every conceivable surface of the shrine is unmentionably vast and beyond description – moreover, such is the attention to the minutest of ornamental details that the extraordinarily accomplished artists introduced in their craft that one can be forgiven for believing that the patterns and mythological lores are carved not in stone but in wax or wood! The entire superstructure is composed of dark-green/blue-black hued chloritic schist (soapstone) which is extremely easy to chisel into ornately detailed patterns in its original form but transforms to tremendously resilient, unmalleable stone once exposed to the elements for years. My visit to the colossal temple complex a week back coincided with the sacred occasion of the beginning of the annual ceremonial “Rath Yatra” – an event when temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu all over the country resound with the prayers and devotional chants of hundreds of thousands of devotees – and thus the photos I clicked are crowded with the absolutely incalculable numbers of pilgrims. In fact, the first photo that I have posted here, clicked from near the “Garuda Stambha” located in the courtyard opposite to depict the imposing shrine’s spatial span, is actually a stack of 120 photos which were continuously clicked and later assembled in Photoshop (the latter itself took me over almost four hours!) in order to eliminate the perennial flow of pilgrims and families out for sightseeing!

Stellar - One word, two meanings, spatial and artistic description

The impeccably flawless temple, an exemplar of ancient Dravidian architecture and a testimony to the unequaled skill of the architects and artists who painstakingly toiled for its construction, is surrounded by a vast courtyard flanked at its peripheries by simplistic colonnades also inset with several Kannada inscriptions inscribed in stone and dozens of fascinating sculptures of mythological deities and anthropomorphic entities. The entrance to the enormous complex is via a massive seven-floored pyramidal towering gateway (“Gopuram”), chronologically dated to AD 1397 (reign of the Vijaynagara Empire (ruled AD 1336-1646)), painted sunshine yellow throughout and lined with sculptures of various incarnations and aspects of Lord Vishnu along with fierce servants attending to him and several other mythological deities and mythical creatures. The beyond belief splendid shrine itself is accessible through entrances built along three of its sides, each reached by wide staircases bordered by elegantly sculpted smaller shrines (“Bhumija”) surmounted by pyramidal spires and housing within their small alcoves meticulously detailed stone sculptures of deities so finely polished that they appear to be composed of brass! The incredible magnitude of the innumerable sculptures that are employed in the construction of the gigantic shrine is fantastic – the superstructure’s (and not the platform’s) base itself is composed of three individualistic layers depicting charging elephants, fearsome lions and mounted horses respectively symbolizing insurmountable stability, formidable strength and matchless agility – visually bewilderingly, each of the 600+ beasts is uniquely distinctive from the others in its row!! These are vertically followed in an upward fashion by scroll bands of numerous perceptibly different geometric and floral patterns, smaller inconsequential deities, dancers and temple guards followed in their turn by massive circular or star-shaped pillars supporting in their midst a mesh work of small arched alcoves inset with tens of thousands of crafted deities, celestial dancers and divine devotees.

Sculptural orgasm!

The smaller images give way to larger sculptures, each an exemplar not only of unparalleled sculptural art, but also of excellent ancient mythological fables that even precisely specify how a deity is to be visually depicted and which weapon and which facial expression and bodily movement symbolically represents what action and which boon-bestowing capability! On the walls are carved massive sculptures of numerous Hindu deities in their numerous different incarnations, most prominent being Lord Vishnu, the God of life and nourishment, and Lord Shiva, the God of death and destruction – thus there is the anthropomorphic, boar-faced mighty Varaha lifting the Earth Goddess Bhudevi from the sea of ether after defeating the demons who had imprisoned her; the terribly fierce and unimaginably powerful semi-lion, semi-human Narasimha furiously tearing apart the body of the demon Hiranyakashyipu; the benevolent, boon-bestowing, omniscient aspect of Lord Vishnu flanked on either side by his wives Bhudevi and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity; the winged, muscular, multi-armed falcon-faced bird deity Garuda; the ten-faced, twenty-armed intellectual demon King Ravana of Lanka attempting to physically lift the massive Kailasha mountain, the abode of Lord Shiva; the supremely gifted archer-warlord Arjuna; the ten-armed Goddess Durga, a fierce manifestation of primordial feminine energy, piercing the body of buffalo-demon Mahishasura with her intimidatingly long trident; and a representation of Lord Shiva furnishing his terrific trident and celestial drum and indulging in “Tandava” (the destructive dance of universal obliteration). My personal favorite remains “Gajasurasamhara”/“Gajacharmambaradhari” – a sixteen-armed combative Lord Shiva wielding numerous weapons of death and devastation while dancing blissfully upon the decapitated head of the slain elephant-demon Gajasura whose flayed hide he triumphantly raises and brandishes as an enormous cloak while his family and followers gaze wide-eyed terrified and deferential.

"Gajasurasamhara" - The ecstasy of a triumphant God

But the vivid blossoming of poetry in stone does not cease here – punctuating the rows of deities and their attendant guards and followers are exceedingly skillfully finished floral scrolls, exquisite friezes and intricately perforated stone latticework screens which convolute and twist into a sculptural rococo depicting entire tales from ancient Hindu epics like the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the various Puranas. And then there are the unmistakable graceful emblems of Hoysala Dynasty – a young man battling a huge aggressive lion (some say a tiger) either with his bare hands or with a sharp-edged sword. Legend goes that the dynasty’s mythical progenitor, Sala, was indulging in ritualistic ceremonies with his Jain monk Guru Sudatta Muni when a fierce lion (or tiger) pounced upon them prompting the terrified mendicant to pronounce “Hoy, Sala!” (“Strike, Sala!”) and later, following the gruesome battle and the slaying of the lion (or tiger), blessing the courageous disciple with vast territorial sovereignty that would soon flourish. Contemporaneous historical accounts note that Hoysala Dynasty sovereigns preceding Vishnuvardhana were followers of Jainism and he was the first to convert to Vaishnav Hinduism under the influence of the 12th-century Tamil Vedanta saint Acharya Sri Ramanuja and soon thereafter, considering his military victories to be benedictions from Gods, conceived and commissioned this splendid temple complex. Most architectural historians and wildlife experts however doubt that lions ever existed in this part of the country and that might explain the ill-conceived stone figurines that mark Hoysala temple complexes for they might have been envisioned by the otherwise superiorly talented artists on the features of tigers that are still abundant here. Other historians also point out that this mythical tale and its sculptural depiction gained credence following Vishnuvardhana’s vanquishing of the Chola armies from his territories and the lion in the sculptures is probably symbolically representative of the Chola insignia.

"Hoy, Sala!"

The massive panels that grace the three entrances of the temple, besides being flanked by exceptionally realistic celestial guards, transform along the doorjambs into tremendously well-conceived mythological scenes composed of an array of mythical creatures and incarnations and celestial followers of Lord Vishnu – thus there is an incarnation each on each door – Lord Vishnu himself on one, Lord Narasimha on the second and Lord Varaha on the third – with an assortment of heavenly followers and musicians, altogether mounted on a cavernous platform sheltered within the vicious jaws of a “Kirtimukha” (the ferociously wide fanged, lion-like face of an all-consuming demon conceived and originated out of thin air by Lord Shiva to destroy other, mightier demons) and supported upon the mighty wings of a Garuda preparing to fly off – lastly the entire scene emerges from within wave-like flourishes eventually culminating in an elephantine mythical “Makara” (entities possessing the body of a fish, the face and tusks of an elephant, the limbs of a lion and the tail of a peacock) on either side of the lintel. Immediately below each of these fascinatingly vast visual compositions is observable the simplistic portrayal of “Gajalakshmi” – Goddess Lakshmi being showered with milk and honey by huge elephants.


But the most adored and acclaimed sculptures that adorn the temple’s superstructure are the voluptuous, finely proportioned celestial damsels crafted to perfection and surmounted on brackets crowning 38 of the pillars that support the substantial roof of the shrine – referred to as “Madanika” or “Salabhanjika” (literally translating to “breaking a Sala tree (Shorea robusta) branch” – the reference to the legendary Sala is coincidental), the heavenly maidens, each attired in fine thin draperies that barely cover their large breasts and hips, adorned with jewels and ornaments and surrounded by followers and highly intricate foliage and often unusual creatures such as lizards arching to capture flies, depict either feminine mythological divinities such as the beautiful Goddess Natya Mohini (a delicate incarnation of Lord Vishnu postured dancing with a hand on her head – drawing from the tale where she entreated the demon Bhasmasura, who was bestowed with the boon to reduce to ashes every living entity he touched, into touching his own forehead after flirting with and prompting him to dance as she did), or tremendously animated seductive dancers, musicians, huntresses or simply pretty maidens illustrated adoring themselves in mirrors (“Darpana Sundari”), rinsing their hair with water, conversing with their pet parrots (“Shukabhashini”) or even being harassed by monkeys! Most historians concede that the outstanding, ethereally beautiful maidens were inspired by King Vishuvardhana’s wife Shantala Devi who, although professing to Jain faith despite her husband’s conversion, did have constructed within the temple complex’s peripheries a smaller side-shrine also dedicated to Sri Chennakesava and christened as “Kappe Chennigaraya temple” (more on that later). The photo posted here is that of the "Shikarika" (“Huntress”) and besides the extraordinarily vivid detailing of her own being, one can also notice and be awed by the thought process that went into fashioning the superlative nature of the two small sculptures adjacent that respectively portray her with a prey (resembling a dragon!) slung over her shoulder and being helped by a servile maid in plucking a thorn that had got embedded in her foot.

"Shikarika" - The celestial huntress

Similar sculptures exist inside the shrine as well, however, owing to the occasion of the advent of the Rath Yatra, the explicably crowded dark interiors unbelievably stuffed to the seams with devotees repetitively loudly chanting “Govinda, Govinda” (one of the names of Lord Krishna) rendered photography impossible. That the massive sanctum is even more exquisitely ornamented than its exteriors can be gauged from the fact that the patterned pillars here are so painstakingly chiseled and polished to achieve such a remarkable degree of shimmer that several historians and writers mistakenly regard them as being lathe-turned (that is, they weren't sculpted by hand, but the roughly crafted pillar was mounted on a wheel and rotated so that its edges sweeped against a fixed blade/chisel that smoothly shaped its surface). Garlands of fragrant red and yellow flowers adorned the doorjambs and the sculptures and glittering glimmering tinsel stretched from the edges of the shrine to conceive a bejeweled canopy sparkling in the rays of the minutest of streaks of sunlight that escaped the cloudy atmosphere and the exhaustive stone lattice screens only to be caught in the spider web of tinsel. The handsome 6-feet tall sculpture of Lord Chennakesava, attired with silver ornaments and colorful garments, appeared translucently otherworldly while the thoroughly crowded darkness around the sanctum dissolved into whiffs of color and noise as hundreds of devotees pushed and strived to appear in front of the Lord and present to him their aspirations for worldly prosperity and heavenly redemption. Within a glass case adjacent the central shrine rest two considerably massive sandals that are said to belong to the Lord and are worn by him every night when he departs to frolic with his friends and damsels – belief is that a pair of these hallowed sandals disappears each night and the local cobblers reverentially prepare one for consecration every morning and present it to the shrine without fail – to every 21st-century youngster’s delight, the practice of chilling and freaking out with buddies every night thus finds reverberance in the most ancient of our religious and literary traditions as well! The most acclaimed of the numerous ornate pillars that line the sanctum is the exquisite Narasimha pillar that could originally even rotate around on its ball bearing and still prominently flashes the unadorned space on its surface which the sculptors intentionally left blank as an open challenge to any contemporaneous or later craftsmen to engrave and display an artistic flair as resplendent as theirs – that it still remains blank does wordlessly declare something about the consummate skills of the Hoysalas!

Bewilderingly detailed! - King Vishnuvardhana's court

Hindu mythology states that time nearly came to a halt while Lord Krishna recounted the ancient knowledge embodied in the epic scripture Sri Bhagavadgita to the archer-warlord Arjuna in the middle of the battlefield of Kurukshetra during the ruthlessly gory 18-day Mahabharata war. Islamic mythology too states that while the blessed Prophet Muhammad ascended the stairs of heaven to reach Allah’s throne, he spent a lifetime in each of the seven heavens and yet returned before the sweat that he had wiped off his face on the stairs of the first heaven could fall to the ground underneath. Gazing at the unparalleled sculptures embossed on the exterior walls of the shrine, one can literally believe that time is slowing down to a near-halt and the images are beckoning the visitors and coming alive to recount the numerous stories they carry in their stone bosoms, while the tales thus told are themselves merging into each other to portray an entire universe of deities, demon lords, mythical creatures and mighty anthropomorphic warlords. The multitudes of sculptures and scroll work lend testimony to the incomparable skill of the architects and artists who were themselves so impressed and overjoyed by their own creations that they disregarded ancient Hindu architectural customs that prohibit artists and sculptors from signing their work – thus come to light the names, sovereign-bestowed titles and places of origin, but not the achievements and lives, of Ruvari Mallitamma, Malliyanna, Kenchamalliyanna, Malla, Eechana, Chikkahampa, Nagoja, Malloja, Dasoja and his son Javana. The exquisite artworks and the years of toil that must have gone into their execution also give credence to the unforeseen span of time – nearly 103 years – involved in the shrine’s completion – it was eventually consecrated during the reign of Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Veer Ballala II (reign AD 1173-1220).

Divinity framed - Lord Vishnu, the God of life and nourishment

Back in the colossal courtyard, the enormous, 42-feet tall “Deepa Stambha” (“Pillar of Lights”) erected on another considerably smaller star-shaped pedestal is a scientific wonder in itself – a gravity pillar balanced only by its own weight, it touches the pedestal at merely three pinprick points and sheets of paper and cloth can be passed uninterruptedly from one end to another underneath its stone enormity!

The colonnades comprising the enclosing walls of the temple complex bear Kannada inscriptions mentioning the construction of the shrine, later additions commissioned by the sovereigns of several succeeding dynasties, the artists and sculptors involved in the building and ornamentation and also several of the battles and religious conversions that took place in medieval Karnataka. Dozens of sculptures embedded within the walls of the colonnade are arranged in patterns pertaining to the deity they represent or the mythological tales they portray – what is fascinating is that in several of these sculptures, the deities invoked, thoroughly embellished with weaponry and lavish ornaments, bear what appears to be corn cobs! Historians state that corn first appeared in India in late 16th-century accompanying the advent of Portuguese seafaring merchants – then what is it doing in statues and idols envisioned and constructed over 400 years before that?! Worth pondering over.

Stone sentinels

A corner of the courtyard is dedicated to the “Vasudeva Sarovar”, a large rectangular stepped water tank (“Kalyani/Pushkarni”) filled with murky dark green water and flanked on the sides with small shrines surmounted by pyramidal spires nearly identical to the ones that exist along the main temple’s staircases – it is said that the central shrine too was originally crowned with a vertically massive tapering pinnacle which was however over the years lost to the vagaries of time and nature – to my untrained eyes at least, the shrine, in its present form, appears so considerably unique and unusually interesting when juxtaposed against the rest of the architecturally identical Dravidian temples. The restoration and conservation efforts undertaken by the Karnataka division of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are undeniably commendable and need be emulated throughout the vast country – it is heartening to note that the usual excuses, such as a shortage of funds and experienced manpower, so often advanced by the ASI to explain its lackadaisical attitude, did not become an obstacle in preserving this bewilderingly superlative architectural exemplar for future generations.

In the corner opposite the Kalyani on the far side of the gigantic rectangular complex sits a relatively moderately-proportioned and less densely adorned shrine referred to as “Ranganayaki Temple” and dedicated to the poetess-saint Kodhai Devi Andal of Srivalliputtur (Tamil Nadu) – said to have been raised from the remains of several earlier, individual temples, the shrine, surmounted by an assortment of crown-like domes possessing pointed finials vertically protruding from them, boasts of a large raised courtyard supported upon highly symmetrical, flawlessly chiseled pillars. The walls bear friezes and sculptures that actually look as if they have been drawn from other geographic sources and embedded herein like stickers on a child’s notebook to render it more attractive without necessarily dispelling the overall appearance of a cutout, a jigsaw conceived from numerous unmatched, unassociated fragments.

Stitched together - The Ranganayaki Temple

Besides friezes of tiny mounted elephants bedecked with jewelry running along the base of the Ranganayaki shrine’s exterior walls, several deities including Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Varaha too have been portrayed on the walls – the sculptures here too have been signed by their originators, most prominent of them being Bechama and Madhuvanna. Mesmerizingly, as verifiable from the photos that I clicked of the shrine’s stone jewels, none of the foliage and line-pattern canopies that surround the divine figurines are identical! This unquestionably goes on to corroborate the unquestionably noteworthy sculptural proficiency demonstrated by the artist-craftsmen of medieval India.

Separated from the Ranganayaki shrine by an enthrallingly ornate but relatively simplistic subsidiary shrine (“Soumyanayaki Temple”) which had been on that particular day temporarily fitted with large television screens and recording instruments to broadcast the proceedings of the religious ceremonies under progress in the central shrine to news channels, exists the squat Veera Narayana temple that is contemporaneous of Sri Chennakesava temple and is similarly wreathed with sculptures of deities, celestial damsels and mythological battle scenes – my favorite is the one depicting a physical combat between a massive mounted and caparisoned elephant and the extraordinarily strong Pandava prince Bhima from Mahabharata who is said to have been mighty enough to devastate several armies in a single day of warfare and fling elephants away like toy figurines.

Destruction personified - Prince Bhima

Adjacent the Veera Narayana temple is the aforementioned Kappe Chennigaraya temple – according to an inscription engraved within its sanctum, this smaller shrine, one of the most prominent exemplars of Hoysala architecture and internally spatially almost a smaller replica of the interiors of Sri Chennakesava temple, was commissioned by Queen Shantala Devi. The sanctum boasts of two adjacent shrines, dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort Soumyanayaki, slightly offset from each other and each accessed via inspiringly ornate entrances possessing proficiently carved doorjambs and lintels not very different from those leading within Sri Chennakesava temple; the pillars too boast of brackets supported on the shoulders of divinities and inset with beautiful dancing Shilabalikas only slightly less competently sculpted than those of Sri Chennakesava temple. The nomenclature of the shrine is said to have its origins in an exciting medieval legend (not resonated by literary and historical records) concerning the beyond belief interesting tale behind the shrine’s consecration – it is said that the master craftsman Amarashilpi Jakanachari who hailed from the village of Kaidala was enviably entrusted with the sculptural creation of the exceptional 6.5-feet tall, profusely ornamented representation of the deity that was to grace the central shrine, but for years he became so engrossed in the arduous task assigned to him that he forgot all about his family and children, thereby prompting his eldest son Dankachari to journey from the village to Belur to confront his wayward father.

Straightforward symmetry - The Kappe Chennigaraya Temple

However Jakanachari refused to identify or even acknowledge his son's presence and as a last resort the boy, himself an outstanding sculptor, publicly challenged his father that he can identify flaws in the divine idol he was constructing. Enraged, Jakanachari pledged to saw off his own hands if any imperfections were determined. Sandalwood paste was applied to the massive idol and it dried everywhere except in the navel area where a frog was found nesting in a small cavity – as proclaimed, Jakanachari did cut his own hands and the defective idol was relocated to the subsidiary shrine sanctified as “Kappe Channigaraya”, “Kappe” being “frog” in Kannada. The tale of course does not end immediately at this point but juxtaposes on a happier ending where Jakanachari is commanded by the Lord himself to return to his family and construct a similar idol in his village following the completion of which his hands will be restored to him – of course, like all oral folk lore, this one too does not explain how Jakanachari sculpted the second idol without his arms!

The allure of the magnificence of Sri Chennakesava Temple drew me from hundreds of kilometers away and the gracefulness of its unsurpassably delicate sculptures and commendable architectural highlights literally prove to be irresistible amongst all the monuments and shrines I have come across so far in my sojourns – in fact, although the temple not at all condescendingly allows the famed Akshardham of Delhi and the numerous splendid ISKCONs scattered all over the country to garner in the reputation and renown (refer Pixelated Memories - Akshardham Temple, Delhi and Pixelated Memories - ISKCON Temple, Delhi), it stylishly proves to be far grander than all of them combined and lives up to its promise of being an overwhelming site of tranquil solace and reverence, both visual and spiritual – the Hoysalas must be contentedly looking at it and experiencing unadulterated pride in the fact that even though their dynasty never survived, the little architectural jewel they embedded in their erstwhile capital has blossomed and garners tourists, spiritualty seekers and travelers from all over the globe.


How glorious it would have been to read about these architectural marvels in school textbooks that indisputably almost always glorify north Indian kingdoms, histories and edifices – one would be surprised to note that the Sultanate of Delhi that built the towering Qutb Minar, another World Heritage Site, was still almost a century away from coming into being and the dynasty that conceived and constructed the ethereal Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was still over 400 years away when this imposing shrine was raised. But unbelievably, it is said that the other major temple that the Hoysalas commissioned in their other twin capital Halebidu (Dwarasamudra) incredibly even surpasses this one in terms of sculptural artwork and ornamentation! Off I go again with the wind to locate the tales engraved in stone!

Here myths come alive!

Location: About 500 meters from Belur Bus stop, Hassan district
Open: The temple complex remains open every day from 7 am – 6 pm for people of all faiths, belief systems and genders. The sanctum is closed from 10-11 am, 1-3 pm and 5-5.30 pm.
How to reach: Hassan is accessible from different parts of Karnataka by regular KSRTC bus and Indian Railways train services. It is approximately 180 kilometers or five hours away by road from Bangalore. From Hassan, Belur is located about 42 kilometers or roughly one hour away by bus at the end of a journey that does take one on certain thoroughly pockmarked stretches of road winding through hill-flanked barren plains and fields. Regular buses ply between Hassan and Belur throughout the day.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 3 hrs
Remarks – Footwear is not allowed inside the temple complex and shoes can be left at the counter near the entrance and retrieved afterwards following the payment of a modest sum (usually Rs 10 for two pairs of footwear).
Suggested reading -
  1. Econ.ohio-state.edu - Maize in Pre-Columbian India 
  2. Gops.org - Face to face with history :: Belur & Halebid 
  3. Karnatakatravelogue.blogspot.in - Interiors of Chennakeshava temple, Belur 
  4. Rcmysore-portal.kar.nic.in - History of Sri Chennakeshava Temple 
  5. Wikipedia.org - Hoysala Empire 
  6. Wikipedia.org - Chennakesava Temple


  1. Hi Sahil,

    nice to see you on the Hoysala trail! But the downside is after seeing Hoysala scupltures everything else pales in comparison. Karnataka has mindboggling offerings which will keep you busy and not let you think of heartbreaks! I was always impressed with your writings about Islamic architecture detailing and now your iconography descriptions are as impressive. Keep writing and travelling!



  2. Nirdesh Sir,

    Indeed Karnataka has some of the most scenic landscapes and fascinating sculptures to offer. I visited Halebidu too this past weekend and one can chronologically mark the development of Hoysala art and architecture in these different sites.

    And of course, as you stated in your blog, Karnataka also has some of the most well-maintained public transport facilities as well which makes travel even easier and accessible.
    Thank you for taking the time out to read :)

  3. Rakesh RanjanMarch 16, 2016

    Thanks for sharing this beauty! :)