India is a home to different architectural marvels, and there are many different styles of architecture of different structures and temples that still exist to date. The Belur temple is one fine example of the Hoysala architectural design temples. Famously known as Belur Temple, its original name is Chennakeshava Temple which is also known as Vijayanarayana Temple or Keshava Temple is a renowned Hindu temple in south India. It is also referred to as Kalasagar (locally) for its fine sculptures and breathtaking carvings. It is located in the district of Hassan in Karnataka. This 12th-century Hindu temple was commissioned by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE. This temple was built on the banks of river Yagachi (a tributary of Hemavati River) in Belur (also called Velapura).
The temple's construction took about 103 years to finish and was built over three generations as it was plundered and damaged repeatedly during wars and it was repaired and rebuilt again and again. This temple is 200 km away from Bengaluru and 35 km away from the city of Hassan.
The name Chennakesava means Handsome Kesava, which is a form of God Vishnu. Since its founding, it's an active Hindu temple and is described in many Hindu medieval texts and remains an important site for Vaishnavism pilgrimage. The temple is famous and renowned for its sculptures, architecture, friezes, reliefs, inscription, iconography and history.
The artwork of the temple depicts different scenes from the life of the 12th-century musicians and dancers. It also has a pictorial narration of Hindu Epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are also numerous friezes that are dedicated to the Puranas. Though it is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it has many themes related to Shaktism and Shaivism. It also includes images of Buddha and Jija from Jainism.
In old inscriptions and medieval text Belur is mentioned as Beluhur, Velur, or Velapura. This city was the early capital of the Rulers of the Hoysala Empire. Hoysala esteemed this city that, in later inscriptions, it was called Earthly Vaikuntha (Abode of Vishnu) and Dakshina Varanasi (Hindu's holy city in the south).
In the history of south India, the Hoysala rule began in 1000 CE and lasted till 1346 CE. During this Hoysala period, the rulers built about 1500 temples and 958 centers. In 1110 CE Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan sat on the throne and commissioned a Vishnu Temple, the Chennakesava, in 1117 CE. This temple is considered one of the five foundations of his legacy. The temples reflect different aspects of that period, such as political power, rising opulence, and deep spiritual dedication to Sri Vaishnavism (started by Ramanujcharya).
In the 12th century inscriptions, the main temple of the complex was known as Vijaya Narayana. Later queen Santala Devi ordered to build smaller temples next to it which were called Chennakesava. But over some time, the main temple is called Chennakesava, and the other smaller temples are called Chennigaraya temple. The expansion of the complex of the temple continued for over 100 years.
Later the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan shifted his capital from Belur to Devaramudraj, also known as Dorasamudra (now known as Halebidu) is famous for its Shiva Temple Hoysaleswara. Its construction was ongoing till he died. The descendants of the king continued his legacy of building beautiful temples. The rulers of Hoysala rulers employed many renowned artisans and architects of that period, and they, in turn, developed a new tradition of architecture which is called Karnata Dravida Tradition.
After the establishment of the Delhi sultanate in the north, the Khalji ruler Alauddin Khalji sent his commander Malik Kafur who invaded, destroyed and plundered the capital and the important temples. The Hoysala-style state came to an end in the mid-century, and Vijayanagara Empire took over the territory.
There is two belief regarding the construction of the temple. According to some historians, King Vishnuvardhan built this temple to commemorate an important military victory against the Empire of Cholas. In contrast, according to the local belief of the people, the king built the temple after his conversion from Jainism to Hinduism to honor Lord Vishnu. He was influenced by Shri Ramanujacharya and decided to convert to Hinduism.
Construction and Architecture
The Chennakesava Temple complex at Belur has 443.5 feet by 396 feet of the court. The temple complex is a walled compound that consists of different minor shrines and numerous Hindu temples inside. The entry into the complex of the temple is from the east through a Gopuram that was added by the Vijayanagara Empire while repairing and restoring the temple. The main temple is situated in the middle of the temple complex facing the east in front of Gopuram. The temple is built on a Jagati (wide platform terrace), which is three feet high and has a Pradakshina Path for devotees.
The temple has mixed elements of Nagara Style of North Indian temples and Karnata Style architecture of South India. The material used for the construction is Soapstone, also known as Chloritic Schist. It was chosen so that artists could carve details more easily. There is three entrance in the Chennakesava temple, and it has decorated sculptures on the doorways called Dvarapalaka (doorkeepers) on either side.
Kappe Chennigaraya Temple is to the south of the main temple inside the temple complex. There are two sanctums one is dedicated to Chennigaraya, and the other one is dedicated to Venugopala. To the west of the temple is the Viranarayana temple. It is a small temple with a nine square hall called Navaranga and a Garbha Griha with 59 large reliefs on the outer wall. These panels depict the story of Bhima, one of the important characters of Mahabharata, along with other Hindu gods like Vishnu, Lakshmi, Shiva, Parvati, Bhairav, etc. The Navaranga Hall has 48 pillars, and all of them are carved in their own unique way except the four central pillars, which were added later.
The southwest of the Kesava temple is a temple dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi called Somyanayaki. To the northwest of the main temple is the Ranganayaki shrine, also known as Andal Temple. The outer wall of this temple is decorated with artwork like nature and elephants, and it also displays 31 images related to Shaktism, Shaivism, and Vaishnavism traditions of the Hindu religion.
There are two main pillars in the complex of the temple. The Garuda Sthambha faces the main temple. This pillar was erected by the King of the Vijayanagara Empire. The Deepa Sthambha on the right was erected by the ruler of the Hoysala Empire. There are also two Mandapam in the complex called Vahana Mandapa and Kalyan Mandapa, which were added in the 17th century.
There is a festival that is held yearly known as Rathotsava. It is the main festival of the temple in Belur and is generally organized in March or April. It is generally Kannadiga New Year or 12 days after Ugadi. During this festival, a huge wooden chariot with Utsava Murti is commemorated for two days. On the first day of the festival, the chariot covers the eastern part of the temple, and on the second day, the other parts of the temple are being covered. During this festival, there is also Jaatre, or fair around the temple, that lasts for ten days.
It is one of the important historic sites in south India, which is inspired by Shri Ramanujacharya, who was a Vaishnava guru. It is also an important center of pilgrimage for the devotees of Lord Vishnu. Apart from its religious significance, it also has a historical, cultural, and architectural significance that showcases the rich culture and different architectural structures with beautiful carvings and sculptures from the medieval period. It has also been proposed to be listed under the World Heritage UNESCO Site.