Of Monoliths and gateways to the sea! Belur, Halebidu and Shravanbelagola

belur1The hoysala dynasty ruled the Southern part of Karnataka from the 11th to the 14th century. During their reign, they constructed many exquiste masterpieces and sculptures, mainly in the Chalukyan style. A one-day tour to the Hoysala period temples of Belur (Chennakesava Temple), Halebeedu (Hoysaleswara Temple) and Asia’s tallest monolithic stone statue (18m high) of Gomateshwara, at Shravanabelagola which is a prominent Jain pilgrimage centre is a worthy weekend trip from the town of Bangalore.

The temples are famous for the Hoysala architecture, which has been used exclusively in these temples, as well as the Somanathapura temple in Karnataka

Belur or the Chennakesava Temple:


Originally called the Vijayanarayana temple, this was built on the banks of the Yagachi river in Belur by the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana. An early Hoysala capital, the little town of Belur enjoys a prominent position from a historical and archeological viewpoint. Located in the Hassan district of Karnataka, it is 220 kms from Bangalore and 40 kms from Hassan city. This is a temple decidated to the Hindu God Vishnu. ChennaKesava, which literally translates to ‘handsome Kesava’ is also a UNESCO world heritage site. According to scholars of history and archeology, this temple was summoned to celebrate the military successes of the King Vishnuvardhana.


The main entrace of the temple is crowned by a super structure over the entrace called a Rajagopura. Within the complex, the Chennakesava or the main temple is in the centre, facing east, and is flankd by the Kappe Channigraya temple on its right and a small Sowmyanayaki temple, a form believed to be a reincarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi. This temple is set slightly back from the main Chennakesava temple, in keeping with the hindu matrimonial tradition. On the left of the Chennakesava temple is the Ranganayaki or the Andal temple, devoted ot a courtesan of Vishnu, also set slightly back. Two main pillars face the main temple, the Eagle pillar and the pillar with lamp, both dating back to different historical periods. Since this temple dates to the early Hoysala era and hence lacks the over decoration seen in the latter Hoysala temples such as the one at Halebidu and Somanathapura.


The main temple has three entrances with doorkeepers carved on both sides. The Kappe Chennigraya temple, though smaller than the main temple, is architecturally significant. It is a two shrined temple with the original shrine in a star shaped plan and the additional shrine a simple square. This temple is also devoted to Kesava, a form of Krishna. Shivabalika, the celestial maiden is found mirrored in pretty much every temple of the Hoysala era.

The main shrine has a mantapa, or hall, which has 60 bays or compartments. The superstructure or the tower on top of the mantapa has been lost over time. The temple is build on a platform to facilitate circumabulation or pradakshina. The shrine itself has an ornate doorjamb, lintel and guardians (Jaya and Vijaya statues).

The annual car festival at the Chennakesava temple takes place between the month of March and April.


The Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu


A Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva, this majestic structure stands in the Halebidu town of Hassan district, only a short distance of 22 kms from Belur. Built during the rule of King Vishnuvardhana, this temple has withstood the test of a millenium as well as that of sacking and looting by Islamic invaders. After that, the temple fell into ruin and neglect.

This temple was previously knows as Dorasamudra or Dwarasamudra, or the entrance to the sea. Once the seat of the Hoysala empire, Halebidu has two temples under a single platform, hence also sometimes referred to as the double temple. The main shrine follows a star shaped architecture. While the temple is believed to derive its name from the Hoysala ruler King Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleswara, the construction was initiated and financed by the wealthy Shaivite or the Shiv worshipping sect of Hinduism, who were prominent citizens of the city. The construction competed with the Chennakesava temple at Belur, a Vaishanava sect temple.


This temple is surrounded by numerous tanks, ponds and mantapas or halls, and the temple is built in the vicinity of the Dorasamudra lake. The lake preceded the temple by about 75 years.

The two superstructures in the temple are the Hoysaleswara (for the king) and Shantaleswara (named for Shantala Devi, the queen of King Vishnuvardhana). Both the shrines face east and have a mantapa or hall in front. The two halls are connected. The temple has four porches for entry and the one normally used by visitors as main entry is actually a lateral, north entrance. There are entrances on east, west and south side as well and each entry porche has miniature shrines as flanking. There is also a sanctuary for the sun God Surya, whose image stands at 7 ft tall. The pavillions facing the entrances enshrines large images of Nandi, the bull attendant of Lord Shiva. The temple is most well known for the sculptures that run all along the outer wall, starting with the dancing image of the Lord Ganesha on the left side of the south entrace and ending with another image of Ganesha on the right side of the north entrance. There are two hundred and forty such images. This is perhaps the most articulate Hoysala temple in terms of sculpture and these are second to none in all of India. In this temple, the architects have also broken from the tradition of using five moldings at the base of the temple and instead, the outer walls have two eaves that run around the This type of work is called the horizontal treatment.


Shravanabelagola- The temple city


Nestled by the Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri hills, and protected by the monolith BhagawanBahubali and home to 2300 years of Jain heritage, the town of Shravanbelagola is at a distance of 51 kilometers from the town of Hassan, Karnataka. The green natural beauty that surrounds Shravanbelagola with the swinging coconut trees and natural water bodies bear testimony to the legendary mental strength of Tyaga (renunciation) and the tender message of Ahimsa (non-violence) that embody the Jain way of life. Over the centuries, this has become the Tapobhoomi or the place of penance and meditation for kings and monks alike. Literally meaning the white pond of the Shravana, the Belagola is an allusion to the pond in the middle of the town. The Sanskrit equivalents Svetasarovara, Dhavalasarovara and Dhavalasarasa used in the inscriptions also support this meaning.

belagola3This place is well known for the 57 feet tall monolithic statue of GmmateshwaraBahubali, magnificent and munificent alike. The closest man ever got to sculptingManmatha or the mystical lord of love. Magnificent in form and valour, munificent in prayer and deed, this shrine is devoted to the son of the first of the twenty-four Jain serene, and is worshipped for his many great qualities that he lived throughout his life.

The village is a photographers’s delight for the capturing of the monolith or the more than 800 inscriptions on the surrounding rocks and hills that date back to the Indus valley civilization. A large number of these are found on the Chandragiri hill and the rest are on the Vindhyagiri. The mahamastakaabhisheka or the head anointing ceremony of the Lord Gomateshwara is observed every 12 years in the Jain religious cycle and is an integral part of the ancient and composite Hindu tradition. The ceremony of 2016 was the 87 of the series that commenced in the year 981 and the next will be held in 2018. The ceremony is held over a span of 12 days.

Getting there

Road: Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation as well as many private operators ply buses to the three temple towns in Karnataka.

Drive: The most convenient method of getting to all three of these towns in the Hassan district of Karnataka is driving there. Situated about 196 kilometers from Bangalore, Hassan district is conveniently connected by State highways to Bangalore and it takes about four hours driving.

The temples are open from 10 am to 5 pm and are closed on Sundays.

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