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Chennakeshava Temple of Belur in Karnataka : The marvels of Hoysala architecture

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Chennakeshava Temple, also referred to as Keshava, Kesava or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, is a 12th-century Hindu temple in the Hassan district of Karnataka state in India.

Beautiful Hoysala Architecture at the Chennakeshava Temple at Belur Stock  Photo - Image of history, belur: 153282812

It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE, on the banks of Yagachi River in Belur also called Velapura, an early Hoysala Empire capital.

The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to finish. It was repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history.

It is 35 km from Hassan city and about 200 km from Bengaluru.

Chennakesava (‘handsome Kesava’) is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and has been an active Hindu temple since its founding.

It is reverentially described in medieval Hindu texts, and remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism

Chennakesava Temple in Belur: Chennakeshava Temple History

The temple is remarkable for its architecture, sculptures, reliefs, friezes as well as its iconography, inscriptions and history.

The temple artwork depicts scenes of secular life in the 12th century, dancers and musicians, as well as a pictorial narration of Hindu texts such as the  Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas through numerous friezes. 

It is a Vaishnava temple that reverentially includes many themes from  Shaivism and Shaktism, as well as images Jainism & Buddhism.

The Chennakeshava temple is a testimony to the artistic, cultural and theological perspectives in 12th century South India and the Hoysala Empire rule.

Elephants, Chennakesava Temple (Illustration) - World History Encyclopedia

The Belur temple complex along with the nearby Hindu and Jain Temples at Halebidu have been proposed to be listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Location

The Chennakeshava Temple is located in Belur taluk in Hassan district of the Indian state of Karnataka. It is about 35 kilometres northwest of Hassan. The temple is about 16 kilometres from Halebidu temples. 

Belur has no nearby airport, and is about 200 kilometres west of  Bengaluru, about 3.5 hours drive. Hassan is the closest city near Belur that is connected by railway network to major cities of Karnataka.

The Chennakeshava Temple is an active Hindu temple and a major Vaishnava pilgrimage site. It is located on the banks of Yagachi river also called Badari river in historic texts), a tributary of Hemavati river.

History

The Hoysala period of South Indian history began about 1000 CE and continued through 1346 CE. In this period, they built around 1,500 temples in 958 centres.

Belur is called Beluhur, Velur or Velapura in old inscriptions and medieval era texts. It was the early capital of the Hoysala kings.

The city was so esteemed by the Hoysalas that it is referred to as ‘Earthly Vaikuntha‘ (Lord Vishnu’s abode) and ‘Dakshina Varanasi‘ (Varanasi od south India) in later inscriptions.

One of the Hoyasala kings was Vishnuvardhana, who came to power in 1110 CE. He commissioned the Chennakeshava temple dedicated to Vishnu in 1117 CE, a temple considered as one of five foundations of his legacy.

This temple reflects the rising opulence, political power, deep spiritual dedication to Sri Vaishnavism of Ramanujacharya.

The main temple is called Vijaya-Narayana and the smaller temple next to it built by his queen Santala Devi is called Chennakesava in the inscriptions of his era. But these two temples are now called the Chennakesava temple and Chennigaraya temple respectively.

The main Chennakeshava temple at Belur was complete and consecrated in 1117 CE, though the complex continued to expand over around 100 years. 

Vishnuvardhana moved his capital to Dorasamudra, (also referred to as Dvarasamudra, now Halebidu), famous for the Hoysaleswara Temple dedicated to Shiva.

Its construction continued till he died in 1140 CE. His legacy was continued by his descendants who completed the Hoysaleswara Temple in 1150 CE, and other temples about 200 kilometers away such as the Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura in 1258 CE.

The Hoysalas employed many noted architects and artisans who developed a new architectural tradition.

The Hoysala Empire and its capital was invaded, plundered and destroyed in the early 14th century by Malik Kafur, a commander of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji. 

Belur and Halebidu became the target of plunder and destruction in 1326 CE by another Delhi Sultanate army. The territory was taken over by the  Vijayanagara Empire

The Hoysala style of architecture came to an end in the mid 14th century, when Hoysala king Veera Ballala III was killed in a war.

Description of the temple complex

The Chennakeshava complex at Belur consists of a 443.5 feet by 396 feet court with several Hindu temples and minor shrines inside a walled compound.

The compound is entered from the east through a Gopuram added during the repairs of the Vijayanagar empire era. The temples and monuments found inside the walled complex are:

  • Chennakesava temple, also called as Kesava temple, is the main temple. It is in the middle of the complex, faces east, in front of the gopuram. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu in the form of Kesava.
  • To the south of the Kesava temple is the Kappe Chennigaraya temple measuring 124 feet by 105 feet. It has two sanctums inside, one dedicated to Venugopala and the other to Chennigaraya (local popular name of Chennakeshava, Vishnu).
  • A stone slab with a couple standing side by side in a namaste posture under a canopy. The monument is damaged.
  • To the west of the Kesava temple is the Viranarayana temple measuring 70 feet by 56 feet. It is a small but complete temple with a Navaranga (nine square hall) and a Garbha Griha (Sanctum) with 59 large reliefs on the outer walls. These reliefs are dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Bhairava, Lakshmi, Parvati, Saraswati and others.
  • To the southwest of the Kesava temple is a small temple to Somyanayaki (form of the goddess Lakshmi), also dated to the 12th century.
  • The Andal temple, also called Ranganayaki shrine, is to the northwest of the Kesava temple. Its outer wall are decorated with artwork such as elephants and nature. It also displays 31 large images of deities from the Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism. It also has intricately carved Venugopala, Mohini and Lakshmi, as well as friezes showing legends in the Puranas.
  • The complex has a number of small shrines. To the east of Kappe-Chennigaraya temple are shrines for Narasimha, Rama, Jiyar and Alvars of the Bhakti movement fame. To the east of Andal temple are shrines for Krishna, and Vaishnavism scholars Desikar, Bhashyakara and Ramanuja of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta fame. On the base of the shrines for Alvars are friezes showing stories from the Ramayana.
  • Two main Sthambha (pillars) are found in the temple complex. The pillar facing the main temple, the Garuda (eagle) Sthambha was erected in the Vijayanagar period while the pillar on the right, the Deepa Sthambha (pillar with lamp) dates from the Hoysala period. Near the Viranarayana temple is a mandapa where annual procession Ratha and temple vehicles have traditionally been stored. It is called Vahana Mandapa. The complex also has a kalyana-mandapa in the southeast corner for ceremonies. It was added in the 17th century.
  • A granary for storing food reserves is found in the northwest corner of the complex. There is smaller northern gate to the complex, near which is a Pakasale or community kitchen built in the 13th century. A stepped water tank, called Kalyani or Vasudeva-Sarovara is found in the northeast corner with two stone elephants on its side.

The complex has many other small monuments and features, such as the Ane-Bagilu or ‘Elephant’s Gate’ just south of the Gopuram and a memorial of past destruction in the form of pillars and statues in the northwestern part of the complex.

Main temple : Kesava

The temple is a Ekakuta Vimana design (single shrine) of 10.5 m by 10.5 m size. It combines elements of North Indian Nagara and South Indian Karnata style architecture. 

The temple stands on an open and wide platform designed to be a circumambulatory path around the Sanctum.

The temple and platform were without walls and the platform surrounded an open Mantapa, following the contour of the temple.

A visitor would have been able to see the ornate pillars of the open  Mantapa from the platform. Later walls and stone screens were added, creating an enclosed vestibule and Mantapa, providing security but creating too much darkness to appreciate the artwork inside.

The vestibule connects the circumambulatory platform to the Mandapa (hall). There is intricate and abundant artwork both on the outside and inside of the temple.

The temple has a simple Hoysala plan and features one Sanctum. The building material used in the Chennakesava temple is soapstone. It is soft when quarried and allows artists to more easily carve details.

It is simpler than later Hoysala temples (including the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu and the Keshava temple at Somanathapura).


Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Though academically trained in modern Western Sciences, Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar is a crazy maniac of India's ageless, timeless ethnic arts, crafts & textiles. The rich & glorious cultural & spiritual heritage of India is a subject extremely dear to her heart, and the whole of this Blog has been dedicated to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide, to every nook & corner of the globe, through these simple Blog-posts. Any constructive criticisms & suggestions in this regard for improvement of the Blog 'MOST WELCOME'. Also, High-Quality Guest Blog-posts 'MOST WELCOME". LinkedIn Profile : https://in.linkedin.com/in/mala-chandrashekhar-04095917a

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