Belur (bElUr) (ಬೇಲೂರು) is one of the most celebrated places in Karnataka in the fields of architecture and sculpture. Belur along with Somanathapura and Halebeedu constitutes the abode of Hoysala sculpture. It is now a small town in the Hassan district of Karnataka nestling on the banks of the River Yagachi. It was one of the Capitals of the Hoysala Empire for a long time. Belur became the capital during the regime of Vinayaditya-2 (1045-1098 A.D.) who shifted his capital from ‘sosevUru’ to Beluru. It was later shifted to Halebeedu by the same king. However, it continued to be the second/third capital along with dOrasamudra and haLEbeeDu. It is situated at a distance of 222 kilometers from Bangalore and 40 kilometers from Hassan. (About 16 kilometers from HaLEbeeDu) Not much is known about Belur before it got associated with the Hoysala kings. After the erosion of the Hoysalas, it was ruled by various dynasties such as the Vijayanagar Empire, Vodeyars of Mysore, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan as also the pALeyagAras of Belur. Belur was also known as a military embankment during the regime of the Hoysala kings after it ceased to be the Capital. It is known in ancient texts by the Sanskritized versions of its name such as vElUru and vElApuri.
Belur is renowned for the Chennakeshava temple built in
1117 A.D. during the regime of Vishnuvardhana.
This temple, also known as ‘
The Chennakeshava temple is in reality a temple complex
with the Keshava temple occupying the pride f place. Kappe chennigarAya temple,
soumyanAyaki temple, ranganayaki temple and anDAL temple were built either
concurrently with the Keshava or at a later date. However an inscription found
in the temple itself vouches for the fact that the Keshava temple was built on
Chennakeshava temple is located in an area measuring 443 feet by 396 feet enclosed in a tall compound. (prAkAra) It has two entrances in the eastern wall, the entrance towards the South is known as the ‘Ane bAgilu’ (Elephant gate) another entrance has a five storied tower built with brick and mortar on its top. The tower is built in the Dravida style. The temple is built on a stellar foundation as is typical of most Hoysala temples. It measures 178 feet (East-West) by 156 feet (North-South) in area. It stands on a raised platform called ‘jagathi’ which is about 3 feet tall. It is built using light greenish soap stone (Chloritic Schist) which is as hard as granite but quite pliable. The whole edifice wears a freshly polished look. The temple contains an ‘inner sanctorum’, a ‘navaranga’ and a ‘sukanasi’. Navaranga which houses a number of pillars has three entrances with different names. The walls bordering these doors are decorated with exquisite statues of Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha, Garuda, Hanuman, Varaha and other deities. The exterior walls of the Navaranga have a series of horizontal friezes sculpted from the bottom moving upwards. These friezes are eight in number. The lowermost wrung consists of about 650 charging elephants in various postures. The succeeding tiers contain simhamukhas, (Lions) creepers, decorative necklaces, many figurines of women deeply involved in music, dance and amorous activities, many intricately carved women figures and finally another series of simhamukhas and human figures. The figures make maximum use of Indian mythology and literary epics. Some of them depict major incidents from Mahabharata starting from Adiparva to Shalyaparva. The seventh series contains some events from Ramayana.
The walls of the vimAna (Inner sanctorum) have a pattern and structure which are different from the Navaranga. Small two storied chariots are built almost attached to the outer walls of the vimAna. They are treated as separate temples and are adorned with intricate carvings. The walls of the vimAna are decorated with a multitude of carvings from the top to the bottom.
The region between these friezes and the ceiling standing on pillars was left blank in order to facilitate ventilation. However this space also was covered up during the regime of immaDi ballALa in 1185 A.D. This was done by erecting walls with pierced window screens. The window screens are on top of 2 m high walls. There are 28 such windows, with star-shaped perforations and bands of foliage, figures and mythological subjects.
The Navaranga of the temple contains forty two pillars other than those attached to the walls. Every one of them apart from the four pillars that support the Bhuvaneshvari on the ceiling has different shapes and decorations. At the center of the hall is a polished stone platform on which the queen Shantala used to dance, with total devotion to Lord Chennakeshava.
The Bhuvaneshvari on the ceiling at the centre of the Navaranga is extremely beautiful. This is dome shaped and has a circumference of 10 feet and depth of 6 feet. It contains 17 picture friezes and they have carvings of music, dance, wrestling bouts and sculptural depictions of scenes taken from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The sculptures of ‘Madanikaas’ (sAlabhanjikaa) that adore the outer walls of this temples under the eaves, as also on the pillars of Navaranaga are among the finest examples of Hoysala sculpture. They are called bracket sculptures because they are enclosed in box-like structures. The statues consist of celestial women who are involved in various activities, each one of them more charming than the other. One can find dancers, drummers; musicians and beautiful women caught unaware in routine activities. They are variously described as different postures of mOhini the female incarnation of Lord Vishnu and queens and courtesans of King Vishnuvardhana. The originals hardly matter, and the sculptures depict a particular way of life. In al, there are 42 ‘madanikaa’s. They are carved on soap stone plaques which are about three feet in height. They are placed at a height of approximately 12-15 feet and are slightly bent forward. ‘darpaNa sundari’, (Lady with mirror) shuka BASiNi, (Woman speaking to a parrot) kirAti, (huntress) shabara sundari, (another huntress) lAsyranjani and mOhini are some of the most well sculpted and popular madanikaas.
The icon of Chennakeshava the presiding deity of the temple is often described as the most beautiful icon in the entire range of Hoysala sculpture. It is about nine feet tall. The typical shankha, chakra, gadaa and padma are found in its four hands. It wears a ‘karanDa’ crown. Sridevi and Bhudevi are standing by the feet of the icon. The background has a ‘lataa tOraNa’ containing the ten incarnations of Vishnu, ashTa dikpAlakas and other familiar motifs.
Even though the pride of place is taken by the Chennakeshava temple in Belur a few words about other temples are not amiss. The Kappe Chennigaraaya temple was built by shAntalA a queen of Vishnuvardhana and a celebrated dancer. It is a dvikUTa temple with two sancta containing the icons of cennigarAya and vENugOpAla. It has a square shaped navaranga, stellar vimAna and a raised platform (jagati) which is about four feet tall. The main icons as well as the statues of sarasvati and mahiSAsuramardini are very beautiful.
Veeranarayana temple situated to the west of Chennakeshava temple was also built in 1117 A.D. and it contains fifty nine bass reliefs on the outer walls. The sculpture depicting the fight between Bhagadatta and Bhima as also the sculpture of three headed human figure are noteworthy.
About 85 inscripions are found in the vicinity of Belur.
They belong to the Hoysala dynasty, (21) Vijayanagara Empire, (19) the
paleyagaras of Belur (2) and the Odeyar dynasty of
Further Readings and Links:
1. Chennakeshava Temple (20) (Twenty Exquisite Photographs)
3. Hoysala Vastushilpa by S. Srikantha Shastry
4. The Hoysala Style of Temple Architecture and Sculpture 11th to 14th century, S. Settar, University of Cambridge-1970.
Masterpieces of Hoysala
Art: Belur, Halebid and Somanthapura by S.K. Maity, 1978, Taraporewala,
6. Epic Narratives in the Hoysala Temples, by Kristi Evans, published by BRILL, 1997.