“Belur is situated on the banks of Yagachi River and was one of the capitals of the Hoysala Empire. The Chennakeshava Temple (also called Vijaya Narayana Temple) at Belur, built by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in 1116 AD, is a star shaped temple believed to have taken around 103 years to build. The temple stands on a platform and has exquisite artwork on its outer walls adorned with bracket figures depicting the Puranas and Epics.”
– From the Karnataka tourism website
My civil engineering batchmate who works in a company that makes luxury hotels and apartments has been urging me to go and visit Belur. He has travelled extensively in India and abroad and claims that he has seen nothing as spectacular as the Belur temple. I got a chance to go there recently and the dominant memory is of the densely and intricately carved figures on the temple walls. Figures that depict an unbelievable level of detail covering both earthly and divine themes.
– There are numerous women figures in various postures, dancing, singing, hunting, combing their wet hair, looking at a mirror etc.
– The women have details like carved necklaces that hang in front of them and, in one figure, a bangle that moves freely on an arm.
– The divine themes include Ravana lifting mount Kailasha, Narasimha killing Hiranyakashyap etc.
The inner sanctum is a large hall with 42 unique, apparently lathe-turned, pillars. The Narasimha pillar and the Mohini pillar are special. There is a story that the Narasimha pillar, covered from top to bottom with carved miniature idols, has stone ball bearings that allowed the pillar to be rotated at some time in the past. The Mohini pillar has a five-foot image of Mohini wearing a crown through which light can pass. The magnificent main statue of Lord Vishnu in black stone is around 14 feet tall from the bottom of the pedestal to the top.
The well-informed local guide who showed us around said two very interesting things:
– That the temple and its figures frozen in time were not only a sacred place of worship but also of education. Walking around and telling stories that were depicted on the walls was a deeply immersive learning experience.
– That the Belur temple was buried under sand by the local people when Islamic invaders were sweeping through breaking temples. The statues are largely intact because of this precaution, the guide said.
I don’t know if the second story above is true or just something that the guides make up to add spice to their stories, but I am glad that so much of this exquisite temple is left untouched, that the temple is still fully functional and that we can go and get a glimpse into the minds of our ancestors who could dream something like this into existence.
There is a lot of information about the temple available online. Here are some links you may find useful:
Karnataka tourism page on Belur is at: https://www.karnatakatourism.org/tour-item/beluru/
The Wikipedia article is at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chennakeshava_Temple,_Belur
A brief video tour of the temple is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfFjuTuIj2g