Friday, April 5, 2013

Revisiting the heritage of Hoysala Architecture - The Chennakeshava Temple, Belur


The drive from Shravananabelagola (read about this trip here) was relaxing. Even the afternoon sun could not take away the soothing feel the wind brought along after a tiresome trek. We reached Hotel Mayura Velapuri at around 1 in the afternoon. Mayura Velapuri at Belur is located within a close proximity to the Chennakeshava temple complex and is run by Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation. For a non kannadika like me, the lunch was a north karnataka feast! I wonder how many kannadikas would agree that Mayura served authentic kannadika food. I remember every time I visit Hyderabad House in Bangalore, I used to fight with my friends that they do not serve "hyderabadi biriyani" - call it arrogance of some one who has stayed in Hyderabad for 5 years and have had the honor to taste authentic Hyderabadi Biriyani!

We had our lunch and was back in bus by 2 and thus began the journey to one phase of my life which I would always want to re-live! One breathe taking architectural masterpiece waited to greet us. 



The Chennakeshava temple is a supreme example of Hoysala temple architecture that leaves one spell-bound with its incomparable structure. It was built on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, by the Hoysala Empire King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE. A culmination of over hundred years of painstaking craftsmanship, the Chennakeshava temple is decorated with stories from the Puranas, the Upanishads and the epics of Ramayana and the Mahabharata.


Chennakesava means “handsome Kesava”. Lord Vishnu is worshipped in this temple. The temple entrance itself speaks for the grandeur of the Hoysalas. The sacrosanct platform of the temple has a golden horse along with the temple chariot. Lord Vishnu’s carrying the Garuda is at the entrance and faces the temple. The temple structure has exclusive filigree gleams which shine like metal. Soapstone which is light greenish in colour has been used to create the Chennakesava temple. 

Smaller temples of Ranmaganayaki and Soumyanaki, the beloved of Lord Chennakesava lie within the temple premises. 



The Legend

Jakanachari a famous sculpture leaves behind his wife and unborn child and travels far and wide to gain name & fame. Sculpting beautiful statues, constructing temples over a long period of time he forgets his family. He reaches Hoysala kingdom where he agrees to sculpt deity Lord Channakeshava.

His son, Dankanachari leaves home in search of his father. On the day before the Channakeshava idol has to be installed  in Belur, Dankanachari reaches the place & claims that there is a flaw in the idol, Jakanachari refuses to accept that there could be a blemish and proclaims that he will cut off his own hand if a flaw is found.

A test was conducted and the statue was covered with sandle paste, and for his surprise the paste dried up everywhere except in the navel area.They find a live frog living in the sand and water nestled inside the cavity. Jakanachari cuts his hand after his son finds the flaw. Hence the statue become famous as ‘Kappe Channigaraya’ (Kappe means Frog in Kannada).

Later Jakanacahri gets a vision to construct a temple at his home town.  Both father-son duo move to Kaidala where it is said that Jakanachari got back his hand after he completed the Chennakeshava statue.


The worshipped deity of the temple is Chennakeshava or Vishnu and the sanctum contains a 2 metres high Keshava image of touchstone. The star-shaped temple also has images of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu accompanied by those of his two wives- Bhu (earth) and Lakshmi (goddess of wealth). Friezes of charging elephants, mythological figures, military scenes, musicians, and elaborate decorative motifs adorn the walls of the Chennakeshava temple.

Hoysala dynasty is believed to be named after the words ‘hoy Sala’ meaning ‘Strike Sala’, which were called out to Sala, the legendary head of this dynasty. When he was combating a tiger single handedly. Sala killed the tiger and this act of bravery was immortalised in the royal emblem of the dynasty. The Hoysalas ruled the Deccan and parts of Tamil Nadu between the 11th and 13th centuries. They had their origins in the hill tribes of the Western Ghats converted to Jainism in 10th century.

The Huntress

The most popular among the pillars inside the temple is the Narasimha pillar which at one time could have revolved on its ball bearings. According to the historian Kamath, there is a rich diversity about the pillar styles here. While all the forty eight pillars are unique and the many ceiling sections are well decorated, nothing surpasses the finish of the four central pillars and the ceiling they support. 


These pillars may have been hand chiseled while the others were lathe turned. All of these four pillars bear madanikas (Salabhanjika–celestial damsels). There are 42 of them in the temple complex. They are also called shilabalika and represent the ideal female form. They are depicted in various forms, such as dancers, musicians and drummers, and are rarely erotic in nature. 





This is a lady holding a mirror admiring her beauty. There are attendants on her either side. The one on the left is offering her vermilion to apply on her forehead and the one on the right carries a monkey and a bunch of grapes to lure it. The poor monkey is disappointed and is licking its finger with a sad face. All this has been carved on a single stone. 
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It was a feast for the photographic eye in me. If you want to learn how to exploit your camera and your creativity, visit this place during morning or evening. I could not play with shades of light since it was afternoon that I visited this place and the Sun God was not at his best mood :)







I left the place by 4 in the evening. I just got 2 hours here and the 2 hours was worth every second! I took the "prasadam" offered and walked back to the bus making a mental note to spend some more time at this place some other day. Next visit - Halebidu. More about that coming up :) 

For more photographs I took on this trip, please visit this link: Chennakeshava Temple


Disclaimer: Data used here has been taken from couple of books sold there and from word-of-mouth knowledge. I do not take any responsibility or claim on facts presented. In case of a dispute, kindly mail me and the data shall be removed/corrected.



4 comments:

Anwesa said...

A good read ! Bon voyage for your next trip :)

Anil Sawan said...

@anw, thank you ji :)

Poet Laundry said...

Spectacular photography Anil!

Anil Sawan said...

Jennifer, thank you very much :)