Belur Today's Belur is a small town in Hassan District. It was the Capital of a powerful Empire of Hoysala Kings. Hoysalas were initially under the control of Chalukyas only to build their own kingdom after the fall of Chalukyas. Among Hoysala Kings, Vishnuvardhana was the most well known and was the one who got rid of the Chalukya control. It is said that King Vishnuvardhana built the main temple of Channakeshava. Thousands of visitors from all parts of the globe come to see the magnificent architecture of the temple. Students of Art Colleges never miss to see this marvelous piece of work. Many come here and stay for weeks and months together to go through details and beauty of the sculpture. The innumerable variety of ornaments, the doorways, the ceilings, the birds, the animals, dancers and other figures are fully decorated as if they are full of life and vigour with variety of actions and movements.
From inscription it is learnt that Vishnuvardhana got the temple built in memory of his victory in Talkad against Cholas and other sources declare that Vishnuvardhana got built this temple as a sign of him having adopted Vaishnavism as advised by the Great Guru Sri Ramanujacharya. If a detailed study of the structure is taken, one may know the star-shaped Garbhagruha, Sukanasi and the Navaranga - the inside pillars, the outside work might have been done during the reign of Vishnuvardhana. The large niches, friezes and sculptures on the outside and also the beautifully designed inside pillars and ceilings including three doorways were carved during his time.
The Garbhagruha was surmounted by a high star-shaped tower of brick and mortar supported by woodwork and plated with gold gilded copper sheets. Standing on a high platform on the top of a raised ground, the structure has a commanding look. The beautiful image of Keshava called as Vijaya Narayana was installed in the sanctum in 1117 AD. At about the same time, Vishnuvardhana's senior Queen Shantaladevi though inclined to Jainism did not fail to take part in the Vaishnava temple work. She got the Channigaraya temple built similar in form to the main temple, though less elaborated and less decorated. The figure of Channigaraya installed by her is about the same that of Keshava in the main temple, but smaller in size. It bears the inscription of Vijayanarasimha the First, illustrious son and successor of Vishnuvardhana who made grants for the maintenance of the temple and for regular poojas. The remaining of the Durbar scene to the north of Navaranga doorway shows that some improvements might have been made at a later point of time.
Later, Veera Ballala II built a fine pond called Vasudeva Thirtha to the north east of the main temple in 1175 A.D. which is covered with perforated screens and three doors were provided with massive buttoned doors. Supporting towers were erected on either side of each doorway while in the interior of the temple; the Navaranga was separated from the Sukanasi by insertion of beautifully carved potstone doorway. Further, a shrine with charming sculptures like those at Kedareshwara Temple at Halebid was built in the premises of the temple for the God Veera Narayana. In the days of Veera Ballala II, one of his officers Somaya Danayaka got the central tower rebuilt with brick and wood.
When the Tugalaks invaded the Deccan, their officer Ganga Salar of Kalburgi lead seize to the temple and burnt its gateway. Shortly afterwards he founded the Bahamani Dynasty. The Vijayanagar Emperor took much pain and did all that was required for the temple. In 1397 A.D. Gunda, a General under Harihara II constructed the seven-storied gopuram in the place of Mahadwara, which was burnt by Ganga Salar. After sometime, three important buildings i.e. the Soumyanayaki Temple, the large Mantap on the West and the Andal Shrine were put up behind the main temple. It is learnt that materials from the ruined Hoysala buildings at several places were freely used.
A good part of Navaranga of Channigaraya Temple was also rebuilt during Vijayanagar period while a number of minor erections were done here and there in the compound of the temple like the Deepasthambha and the Yagashala where the Sacred fire in the temple is lit. During the 15th Century the materials of Shiva and Jain Temples were used for the construction of Naganayaka Mantap right in the front of the main temple.
The Tuluva Emperors of Vijayanagar had this deity as their family God. The Nayaka chiefs of Belur undertook several repairs and minor constructions. During 1879, the Vimana tower became so ruined that it had to be removed to save the main temple from collapsing. Beginning at east doorway and extending beyond the north and south doorway up to the outer wall of the Sukanasi, runs a jagati or railed parapet on which are sculptured in succession from the bottom of the following horizontal friezes.
Cornice with bead work surmounted by Simhalathas.
Scroll work with figures in every convolution.
Another cornice with bead work.
Small figures mostly female in projecting ornamental niches with intervening figures of Yakshas seated inward.
Delicately carved figures, mostly female between pedestals.
Caves with bead work a thick creeper running along the edge of the upper slope adorned with miniature turrets, lions and beautifully carved tiny figures.
Brief story of Mahabharatha, Ramayana.
Some important figures commencing from the right of the east doorway:
The durbar of King Vishnuvardhana who built the temple in 1117 A. D.
The story of Bali, the King of Demons, making gifts to Vamana, incarnation of Vishnu.
Vishnu with Hanuman and Garuda.
Shiva seated on Nandi.
The story of Prahalad (left of the east doorway).
The durbar of King Narasimha, the son of Vishnuvardhana.
The story of the churning of the milk ocean (Samudramathana).
Vishnu flanked as usual by Hanuman and Garuda.
Killing of Kamsa by Krishna.
A figure of Ranganatha reclining on a beautifully carved serpent.
Sri Lakshminarayana flanked by choury bearers.
There are 42 bracket figures on the corner out of which 38 are outside of the temple and 4 are inside. Every figure attracts the visitors on its own merits.
Beauty and mirror (Darpana Sundari): Lady holding a mirror in her left hand and looking at her beauty in it.
Pet Parrot: A parrot sitting on the fore palm of her right hand. It looks like conversation with her pet.
Lady holds the folded betel leaves in her left hand. Her maid on the right side holds colored water in vessel and the maid in the left is filling it to a syringe.
Lady in her make-up: She holds folded betel leaves in her left hand and writing to her lover. Her maids on both sides are rendering help.
A monkey is pulling the edge of her sari. She is going to beat it with a twig of a tree made out of the same stone. You can see the teeth in its wide opened mouth.
The huntress: You can see a bird sitting on the canopy behind; she is aiming her arrow at the bird.
Hair dressing: She is dressing her hair after the bath. The attendants are holding flowers and toiletry.
Thribhangi Nritya: A lady is dancing stylishly by bending her body into three portions, one from the waist downward, other from the waist to the chest and another upwards. This is said to be the most difficult one, so far no other dancer has been able to exhibit.
Drum Dance: She holds in her left hand a drum and she is playing upon it with her right hand. You can observe the rope how natural it appears.
The Flutist: She is playing on her flute. Her maid on the left side is sitting to the tune of the flute.
Musician: She is singing with time. You can see her teeth in her open mouth while singing.
World bewitching beauty: Her hands and legs are cut out very nicely. Look at the canopy above her left shoulder. You can see a jackfruit and a fly on it. A lizard is planning to catch the fly. You can see the natural pose of the lizard.
Violinist: She is a violinist. She is standing holding the instrument in her left hand. Her maids are arranging for a concert.
A curly haired beauty: She holds a mirror having a handle. She is arranging the curls on the forehead with her right hand finger.
The huntress: She is plucking a mango with her right hand.
A heroic huntress: She is dressed up as a hunter and aiming at the birds sitting on the creeper above.
Masculine woman: She is wearing a beard and a moustache like a man and is playing on her drum.
A sham, She Saint: She is in disguise as a saint. She holds a rod with skull at the top in her left hand.
Before commencement of the 19th bracket figure you can see the following;
Shiva-jalandhara: In the corner, Shiva is holding a fork like a spear. He is trampling a demon under his feet.
Poothani: There are varieties of arms in her hands. You can see a scorpion and a snake cut on her stomach to show that she has much venom.
Bali-the demon emperor: Look at the wall. Vamana is begging for three feet of Earth before Bali. The demon Guru Shukracharya is also seen.
Ravana lifting the Kailas mountain: Ten-headed demon King Ravana is holding up Kailas mountain. You can see Lord Shiva is sitting with his beloved Parvathi on the top of the mountain.
Chamundi: The Goddess Chamundi is killing the demon Mahishasura.
Brahma: The artist shows skill by carving the chain; it is highly natural and realistic.
The Sun God: The Sun God is coming upon his seven-horsed chariot.
20th Century Lady: Latest fashion, having dressed herself in fine clothes and tied her hair in the latest fashions with ribbons. She is ready to go for evening walk. You can see even a bulldog with chain.
Arjuna is shooting the fish target: Arjuna is shooting the fish by looking at the shadow reflected in a bowl of oil, placed just below the target pillar.
Beginning of the 19th dancing pose:
19. The Arch Dancer: You can observe the natural and artistic facial expressions on her face. The maids are playing upon the musical instruments.
20. The Songstress: The Songstress holds metallic timekeepers in her hands.
21. The Divine Dancer: She is dancing cheerfully. Her maids are playing upon the musical instruments.
22. The Hunters: She holds in her left hand a fork like spear with skull at the top.
23. Successful Huntress: She is returning from a successful hunting. Look at the decoration of the bow on her left shoulder. Her maids are carrying the prey of their hunt. On the right side, one maid is removing the thorn, which is plucked to other maid's leg.
24. Beauty Dance: She is practicing her dance. Her maids are helping her by playing on their instruments.
25. Bhasma Mohini Dance: The figure illustrates the epic story of God Vishnu who took the form of Mohini. This figure is carved geometrically. The right hand, the tip of her nose, the left breast, and the right thumb is all in a straight line.
26. Beauty and the Scorpion: The lady after finishing her bath and while dressing she looks at a scorpion under the folds of her sari. She is frightened and shakes her sari. The scorpion falls down. See the natural face of the inscription.
27. A beauty in wall: She is fully dressed and is waiting for her lover.
28. A Gypsy Girl: She hold in her left hand palm leaves and holds the right hand in speaking pose. Look at the styled hair.
29. A Beauty after Hearty Meal: She is returning from her dinner and is about to retire for rest. She is holding betel leaves in her left hand.
30. Nagaveena Dance: The expert musician is playing on her violin, which is in the form of a snake. The left side of the violin resembles the head of a snake.
31. Proud Lady: She is fully dressed and has put on all sorts of ornaments on her body. She is looking at her beauty in proud through a mirror. Her maid is thinking that she is the only beautiful woman in the world.
32. A Fortune Teller: See this gypsy girl. She holds in her left hand a small drum and a timekeeper set in her right hand. She is foretelling the future to the world.
33. A Kite Dancer: She is dancing imitating the play of flying a kite. Look at her standing pose. She is standing as if she is pulling the string of the kite using both her hands. You can see the ear ornaments like star shape and hairstyle like a peacock.
34. A Beauty with her hair: She has tied her hair into a fine knot. This is up-to-date pony-tale.
35. A Beauty in perfect make-up: The lady has put on her best dress and ornaments and is ready to go for a dance. A small attender is putting on her the ring. She is holding a creeper in her left hand for support.
36. Drum Dance: She has a beard and moustache like a man. She looks neither male nor female. She is dancing holding a drum in her left hand.
37. A Songstress: She is singing with the help of timekeeper sets. You can see the open mouth. Her maids are helping her with their instruments.
38. An arch dancer: She is dancing to the tune of the fun of her accomplice on both her sides. Now you have to enter inside the temple to see the remaining four brackets along with other carvings and darshanam of Lord Channakeshava.
39. Beauty with her pet parrot: A lady holds a creeper in her right hand. A parrot is sitting on the fore palm of her left hand. She looks as if she is having a conversation with it. She is having a bangle on her right hand and can move up and down.
40. Shantaladevi: She is dancing. See the canopy behind. She is wearing a gem just above the middle of the forehead.
41. Gandharva Dance: She wears on her fore arm, a good number of bangles, which give an impression of moving to and fro.
42. Kesha Shrungara: She is wringing her hair to squeeze the water after her bath. You can see the drops of water collected at the tip of her hairs.
The work inside the temple is even finer in several respects than that of outside. The image of Sri Keshava or Vijayanarayana as it is named, is a very handsome figure about 6 ft high with Prabha standing on a pedestal about 3 ft high. It has four hands, the upper two holding a Discus, a Conch and the lower two holding a Lotus and Mace. There are ten incarnation of Lord Vishnu sculpture on the prabha. The sukanasi doorway flanked by dwarapalakas is elegantly executed. Its pediment with a figure of Lakshminarayana in the center shows excellent pose.
The pillars all differ from one another in design. Especially two pillars in the Navaranga deserve special interest. The well-known Narasimha pillar used to formerly resolve. One of the figures is a tiny bull, which is known as Kadale Basava. A small space is left by the artist who carved this pillar as a challenge to any artist. Another Mohini Pillar is carved proportionately. The ceilings over the verandas show better work.
Kappe Channigaraya is situated to the south of Sri Keshava Temple. The cells have the figures of Ganapathi, Saraswathi, Lakshminarayana, Chamundeshwari and Venugopala. The Temple of Soumyanayaki and Ranganayaki, beloved of Sri Channakeshava, may also be seen.
There is a Garudagambha and Garuda statue facing towards Sri Channakeshava.
It is about 42 ft high of single stone and it is standing on its own weight.
Other small temples are Ramanujacharya, Krishna, Narasimha, Anjaneya and Ramachandra. In the courtyard near the pond there is a pavilion wherein the statues of Vishnuvardhana and Krishnaraja Wodeyar are kept.
222 km from Bangalore.
Distance from Hassan: 37 Kms