Incredible India – Chennakeshava temple of Belur, A Religion In Stone

Belur and Halebid are two tiny, but beautiful temple towns 16 km apart in the southern state of Karnataka. Once at the centre of a great empire ruled by Hoysalas in the 12th century, Belur and Halebid are heritage towns and are home to several exquisite temples which reveal the artistry of Indian sculptors and the mastery of the temple builders of yore. The temples of Belur & Halebid are magnificently done up with intricate carvings and fine architecture.  

Today I want to take you on a trip to the Chennakeshava temple of Belur.

The sage Ramanuja converted Bittiga, the fourth and mightiest monarch of the Hoysala dynasty, from the Jain faith to the Vaishnava faith. The king changed his name to Vishnuvardhana and built temples with great vigor and dedication.

In order to commemorate his victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talkad, he built Belur Temple in 1117 A.D. It took 103 years to complete. The facade of the temple is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes-with no portion left blank. Elephants, episodes from the epics, sensuous dancers nothing was left without being carved.

The main temple, surrounded by a group of subsidiary shrines, stands in the center of a rectangular, paved courtyard along the perimeter of which are ranges of cells fronted by a pillared veranda. The temple has lost its super structure but looks very imposing. It has a pillared hypostyle hall, a square vestibule, and a solid, stellate vimana.

Three entrances lead into the hall, each being flanked by a shrine.

The gorgeously decorated doorkeepers guard the doorways on either side. Forty-six pillars support the extensive hall, each of a different design. Historians find a tradition that the ancient and medieval Indian artists rarely sign their work of art. However, the Hoysala sculptors have broken this custom and signed their sculptures. They engraved their names, titles and even the place of their origin at the foot of their art work. The stone inscriptions and copper plates of the period give some more details about these artisans.


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