I pooh poohed the idea when my daughter told me that we should include Belur, only 40 kms from Manjirabad fort in Karnataka in our itinerary. The reason? I had visited the famous ‘Belur Math’, headquarter of Ramakrishna Mission, in West Bengal decades ago. Teeming with hordes of devotees, the place had left me unimpressed. You are not spiritually inclined when you are 20-something (not that I am so inclined now). This Belur in Karnataka would only be an extension of the other Belur, I argued. ‘No, Papa’, Pramiti said. ‘It has nothing to do with the Mission. It is an ancient monument, built 1000 years ago, when the Hoysala empire was at peak in South India’. Not entirely convinced, I grudgingly agreed. Thus, on 26th of June, the third and last day of our excursion I found myself facing Chenna Kesava temple in Belur. ‘Chnenna Kesava’ literally means ‘Handsome Vishnu’, I am glad we came. Otherwise I would have missed the experience of a life time.

Once again, we had got some food packed before checking out of Hotel Durga International, Sakleshpur after breakfast. The 40-km drive through light rain was pleasant. It was still raining when we reached Belur an hour later.

Legend has it that Sala, a student of Jain Muni Sudatta duelled with a tiger who had attacked when the two were performing a ritual. During the dual, the muni shouted ‘hoy, Sala’ meaning ‘strike, Sala’. Sala killed the tiger with a single blow on its head. ‘Sala fighting the tiger’ became the Motif of ‘Hoysala Empire’ Sala founded.

 

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The Hoysala Motif

 

The Hoysalas ruled most of South India for the next three centuries. It was a flourishing empire with fine arts and architecture attaining new heights under the patronage of Hoysala kings.

King Vishnuvardhana was a great builder. More than 1500 temples were built during his reign. Of the nearly 100 surviving temples Belur and Halebidu are the best examples of Hoysala architecture.

Halebidu, the capital was raided by forces of Delhi Sultan causing widespread destruction. Hoysalas then made Belur, 16 kms away, their capital. King Vishnuvardhana laid the foundation of Chenna Kesava temple at Belur in 1116 AD. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vijaynarayana, one of the twenty four incarnations of Vishnu. The temple is completely covered with delicately carved statues and statuettes of gods, demigods and apsaras (divine dancers)depicting various scenes from Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata etc. It is said that many statuettes of dancing figures were inspired by the Queen, an accomplished dancer herself. Statuettes of commoners going about their everyday chores can also be identified in the innumerable statuettes covering the exterior of this magnificent monuments. It took 103 years of continuous activity to complete this magnificent temple. It is carved out of green soap stone which becomes as hard as steel when exposed to atmospheres.

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Main Entrance to the temple complex
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The Main Temple
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Entrance to the Main Temple
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Detail of carving above the Main Entrance

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Ornate pillars in the sanctum sanctorum

Ceiling of the sanctum sanctorum

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Images from exterior of the temple
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Brahma, the creator
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Narasimha, killing Hiranyakashyapa

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