The historic town Belur, one of the monuments of Karnataka, is beautifully set on banks of Yagachi river, amidst lush surroundings, in Hassan district of Karnataka. It was formerly known as Velapuri and was chosen as the alternate capital city by the Hoysala’s after the ransacking and destruction of their then capital Dwarasumudra (now known as Halibeedu or Halibidu) by the sultans of the Northern India.Hoysalas ruled the Deccan and the parts of present day Tamilnadu, between 11th and 13th Centuries. The Hoysala dynasty is said to have been named after the words ‘Hoy Sala’- Hoy means ‘Strike’, Sala is the name of a legendary leader called ‘Sala’. Sala is said to have killed a lion which was ready to pounce on a meditating Guru Sudatta Muni who in turn blessed him by giving him the power to rule. By virtue of this heroic act he becomes the leader of the tribe and gradually emerges as the king. The Sala symbol was King Vishnuvardhana's creation and became the Hoysala symbol or crest, from his time.
The main entrance to the Chennakesava temple complex is crowned by an ornate gopuram or tower, built in the Vijayanagara style. Within the complex, the main temple of Chennakesava lies in the centre, facing east, flanked on its right by the Kappe Chennigaraya temple, and a small Lakshmi shrine. Set back on its left is an Andal or Ammanavara temple. There are two graceful Garuda sthambhas, or pillars, in the main courtyard. The sthambha facing the main temple was built in the Vijayanagara period, and the one to the right of the temple was built by the Hoysalas.
Being patrons or art and architecture, during their 300 year reign Hoysalas have built numerous temples and monuments. Belur is the best of the Hoysala creation. The magnificent monument of Belur, the awesome architecture and splendid sculptures makes it heaven on earth, therefore called the ‘modern Vaikuntha (heaven) on earth’
Belur and Halibeedu are Jewels in the Indian cultural heritage.
Myths and Legend:
King Vishnuvardhana is supposed to have dreamt about Lord Chennakesava while on a night stay in Baba Budan Forest decided to construct the temple at Belur. By doing so he unwitting separated the Lord from his consort living in the forest of Baba Budan. It’s believed that the lord visits his consort daily, therefore the local cobbler community presents s fresh pair of sandals daily and it disappears by night after being presented to the lord.
A number of languages are spoken around here that reflects the cultural diversity of Karnataka. Kannada is the official state language but English and Hindi are also widely spoken, so communication shouldn't be much of a problem.
By Air: The nearest airport is Mangalore (154 Km.
By Road: Well connected to all important cities of Karnataka. Regular buses connect Belur to Hassan (37 Km) Halibeedu (16 Km) Arsikere (60 Km) Dharmastala (98 Km) Bangalore (224 Km) Belgaum (424 Km) Chickmagular (27 Km) Madikeri (136 Km) Mysore (155 Km) Shimoga (122 Km) and Shravanabelagola (87 Km). I traveled by road from Mangalore via Dharmastala- Mudigere to Belur- it’s a very beautiful ghat road, with many water falls, lovely hill side views and numerous tea estates. This route is a windy mountain road and appropriate time should be budgeted for it. Be advised that the above can pose a safety risk, so when driving, stay alert and focused throughout the ride
There is a parking fee to park your vehicle (or taxi) in front of the temple - which is valid for the day (true for both temples- Belur and Halebedu).
The KSTDC Belur, Halebid, and Sravanabelagola tour runs daily in season (April to June and Sept to Nov) and four times a week the rest of the year. There are also tours run by private operators departing almost every day. It is better to use the KSTDC tour if possible, as they use a luxury four-seats-across bus while the private companies use small, bumpy (especially if sitting in the back) minibuses. Both the private company and KSTDC tours pick you up at your hotel. This is a good way to see the sites, as they are difficult to reach by public transportation.
If you are returning back from Belur/Halebid back to Bangalore, then you can consider stopping over at Shravanabelogala to see the giant Bahubali statue.
By Rail: Nearest Railway Station is Hassan (37 Km) which is connected to Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore.
If you want to book the KSTDC tour make sure you book on a weekend as the volvo buses are only available on Sat and Sun. On all the other days Non AC buses ply to these places.
Chenna Kesava Temple:
This magnificent temple of Chenna Kesava (literally meaning ‘Handsome Kesava’ in the Kananda language) is dedicated to Lord Vijayanarayana, one of the twenty four incarnations of Vishnu. King Vishnuvardhana and the Hoysalas built the temple to commemorate the victory of the Hoysalas over the Cholas in the battle of Talakkad or he may have had a specific purpose in mind in constructing this temple. He was a subordinate of the western Chalukyas who later declared his independence from them. By liberating himself from their political authority, he also wanted to excel them in their own field. The result was the remarkable temple which certainly overshadowed the Chalukyan achievements in the field of arts.
The famous Belur and Halibidu Temples were built by him. During his reign a baffling 1500 temples were built in 958 locations out of which only 100 survive today. Vishnuvardhana was also known as “Bittideva”. In one of the first inscriptions engraved in this temple, Vishnuvardhana says that he has "built it from the wealth which he amassed from the sword". He says that the main temple was built to celebrate his liberation from the Chalukyas. It was a declaration of his sovereign status.
That is why he called the deity Vijayanarayana, a name later changed to Chennakesava. Later myths suggest that he built this temple after he was converted back to Hinduism (Vaishnavism) by Sri Ramanujacharya. But the records do not support this. He built three temples in this complex - the Vijayanarayana, the Kesava and the Lakshmi Narayana.
The construction of the of the visually stunning Chennakesava temple was commenced in 1116 A.D. by the greatest ruler of this empire the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana Raya, furthered by his son Narasimha Raya and later on completed by his grandson- Veera Ballala. During the time of Veera Ballala, the Vasudaeva, a pushkarani the grainary (Dhanyaagaara), and the sacred kitchen (Paka saalaa) were constructed. It took 103 years to complete this spectacularly sculptured temple. The temple is about 100 feet high and has a magnificent threshold or Gopuram. Its inner walls are adorned with sculptured stories from the Puranas, the Upanishads and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Belur is the first temple built after the Hoysalas became an independent dynasty. The artistic vocabulary is still Chalukyan because the artists are Chalukyan. The walls are still not over-decorated, but in later temples this changes. Since the Hoysalas wanted to better the Chalukyas they did this in diffrent ways. Over-decoration may be the result of this.
Darpana Sundari (Lady with the mirror) carved on walls of Belur temple is one of the major attractions. A number of bracket figures, portraying celestial nymphs or Madanikas singing and dancing, are sculpted on the walls of this temple. All these nimble figures are said to have been inspired by the sublime beauty of Shantala Devi, Queen of King Vishnuvardhana.
The madanika or the salabhanjika concept is very old, going back to Sanchi and the Buddhist legends. There is a fascinating symbolism that links the chaste maiden with the sala tree through the rite called dohada, or the fertilisation of plant life through the contact with women.
The madanika concept drifted away from the main theme, and in course of time the madanikas became decorative pieces, put at an angle in the temples, so that those who circumambulate the temple could look at them and enjoy them. They served a specific architectural purpose as bracket figures. We rarely come across erotic madanika figures, but there may be nudes here and there. They also exhibit artistic skill, for example, as musicians, instrumentalists, drummers and dancers.
This elaborate temple complex is enclosed by the high walls; it has a garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), a Sukhanasi (vestibule) and navaranga mandapa. The complex has many small shrines, mandapas and other structures. There are two thresholds or gateways, but only one has a gopuram and it was built during the time of Harihara Raya, (1935 AD) that one general by name Gunda Danda Naayaka. He raised the beautiful seven storeyed Gopuram (the top above trushold) to the temple out of stones and burnt bricks, bound by lime mortar, after the original Mahadwara was burnt by Ganga Salar, an officer of Tughalak during the invasion and seizure of the shrine.
Like all typical Hoysala temples, the Chenna Kesava has a star shaped structural plan set on an elevated platform, in the center of spacious paved courtyard surrounded by subsidiary shrines and colonnades. The towering vimanam above the sanctum was built by brick and mortar, supported by word work and covered with copper plates, gilded with gold. The crumbling Vimanam had to be dismantled in 1879 to protect the main sanctum.
The squat structures of the Chenna Kesava are more humanly conceived in scale than those other soaring south Indian temple. The intricate carvings and sculpture indicate that the Hoysalas loved music and dance and used it to express religion and spirituality. The temple is still in active and you can actually worship in the temple. Pooja’s are performed in the morning and evening- a tradition being practiced for over 887 years.
Since it took three generations and 103 years to complete the structure, there were many sculptors involved and credited with the completion. There are some inscriptions that mention names- and the most well known amongst them are Dasoja, Malligna, Padari Malloja, Chikka Hampa, Nagoja, Kencha Malligna and Dasoja’s son Chavana.
The temple of Belur and Halibeedu were carved from what’s called as the soap stone (steatite) quarried from present day Tumkur some 200 Km away. Steatite stones are extremely versatile and easy to chisel, but attain iron like qualities when exposed to atmosphere. The Belur structures are chemical washed and wax polished to maintain them once every ten years.
Kappe (Frog) Chennigaraya Temple:
This small shrine resembling the main temple is located south of the main sanctum. It is dedicated to Kappe Chennigaraya and was consecrated by Shantala Devi, the queen of King Vishnuvardhana. The impressive idol of Lord Kappe Chennigaraya was installed about the same time, when Kesava idol was installed in the main temple.
Chennigaraya idol is associated with an interesting legend. It is said that the famous sculpture, Jakanachri from Kaidala (Kridapura) Village of Tumkur district was given the responsibility of sculpting this shrine. According to the legend, Jakanachri left his village to build the temple before his son Danakanachri was born. Danakanachri grew up to a young man and realized that his father was engaged to sculpt the Chennigaraya Temple by the King. So he went to see him, Jakanachri was found sculpting the presiding deity.
Danakanachri interrupted his father and informed him that the stone he was working on was defective. The master sculptor was taken aback and was furious at the young stranger, not realizing that it was his son. Jakanachri wowed that he would cut his hand if the young man proved that the stone was defective.
The young man smeared sandalwood paste all over the image and when it dried, a small portioned remained moist at the navel. When that portion was tapped and chiseled, some water, sand and a frog trickled out. Humbled the sculptor cut his right hand before the stranger (his son) could stop him. Danakanachri revealed his identity as the son who came in search of his father. It is believed that since then main idol is known as the Kappe (Frog) Chennigaraya.
The story further goes thus. Jakanachri was directed by a vision to build a shrine to Lord Kesava in his native village. When he followed his divine vision and returned his village his right hand got restored and therefore his native village was known as Kaidala or the restored hand.
The Kappe Chennigaraya has two sanctums, one for Chennigaraya and other for Venugopala. Other features are that it has five niches in the hall and enshrines sculptures of Ganesha. Saraswati, Lakshmi-Narayana, Lakshmi Sridhara and Durga.
The Gravity Piller or The lamp Post:
A few more special additions were accommodated during the reign of the rulers of Vijaya Nagara following the decline of the Hoysalas. And then during the reign of king Devaraaya his commander Bice Dandanaayaka (1414 AD) prepared and installed the unique 42 feet tall lamp post, the Kartika Deepotsava Stambha. The fountation less or baseless post is simply placed over a stone platform, this tall monolithic granite column is symbolic of the excellence of architectural science possessed by the Vijaya Nagara reign architects. Even today this column, by its stature and stability, baffles the visitors from all the world over. It is suppoed to be standing on its own dead weight, therefore it is also called "The Gravity Pillar"
Chenna Kesava Temple is surrounded by Kappe Chennigaraya Temple on the south and Veera Narayana temple on the west and other shrines and mandapas within the main temple complex:
Veera Narayana Temple:
The small but beautiful shrine is located to the west of Chenna Kesava temple and is dedicated to Veera Narayana or Lakshmi Narayana. Its outer walls are decorated with large images, the most impressive is an image on the western wall showing three crowned heads believed to be the three divinities- Vijaya Narayana (old name for Kesava image) Chenna Kesava or Chennigaraya and Lakshmi Narayana (the old name for Veera Narayana image)
The Big Tank or Vishnu Samudra:
The Big tank of Belur is known as Vishnu Samudra. It was built during the time of Narasimha Raya under the circumspection of Padmarasa. Later in the so called goldenage ot the Vijaya Nagara regin Viz. the time of Krishna Devaraya, a chief by name Basappa Naayaka of Utpatanahalli made the north end of Vishnu Samudra quadrangular, arranged comfortable steps on all three sides to climb down to edge of the water, and thus converted it into a comfortable Pushkarni for the devotees to use the sacred water in it in a sacred way for the daily austerities. He also built an Island Mantapam in the midst of the Pushkarani for the sake of the sacred Float Festival, and choultries too on the banks of the tank for the camping facilities of travelers that would visit for partaking in the different festivals and pooja of the place. These can be found even today.
Main thing to see are the temples. No other major activity to do here though. The temple it self takes up most of your time.
Make sure you take a camera along, these historic monuments and sculptures make interesting visual delights and are worth capturing. The guides that you get at Belur and Halibidu are ok. Some part of what they tell you is made up but the other part is actual history.
As you exit the temple you may be approached by vendors stalking you to try and sell various books, trinkets and other souvenirs.
You get some nice bronze and stone statuettes that you can buy as souvenirs. There is nothing much to shop about in this temple town.
Indian Native Food From Hassan- Central Karnataka's Favorite Food:
Hassan Is now one of the major travel destination in Karnataka and that means it has large variety of foods served from the highway restaurants to the multi cuisine eateries. Coffee is the main crop of this region, and also farmers grow black pepper, potato, raagi, paddy and sugarcane.
There are few delicious food which are unique to Hassan- Raagi Mudde or the Raagi Ball meal is a hot favorite dish of Hassan. Some of the rice items like Puliyogare, Sakre Pongal are very common in this region.
Drink Filter Coffee in South India:
There is no such thing as black coffee or tea in South India. Or it’s not generally served in restaurants. It’s a made to order thing. South Indian Coffee is in unlike coffee in the west with whitener or cream.
They call it Filter Coffee or Filter Kaapi in South India and instead of whitener they add cow’s milk. It’s such a favorite drink and a cultural icon in Tamilnadu, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka, mostly served in a tumbler set called dabarah. The coffee is drunk from the tumbler, but is often cooled first with a "dabarah" (also pronounced in some regions as 'davarah')- a wide metal saucer with lipped walls.
It is customary to serve coffee to visitors. The best coffee beans in India are grown in Karnataka and in Hassan District.