Its in two posts now that I have been talking about the Belur and Halebeedu Hoysala temples so when I started this draft I decided to write about them right away. The Chennakeshava Temple at Belur and Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu are one of the most visited Hoysala temples in Karnataka. And no arguments there, if you had the choice of visiting just one temple of this architecture either one will be a great example of it. I would also put in the option of the Chennakeshava temple at Somanathapura into this just because this is my personal favorite and less crowded as compared to the other two. All these three temples are well maintained both the grounds and the temple itself, complexes are huge and the temples have more or less all elements that you can easily identify with the Hoysala Architecture.
I put in a small introduction to the Architecture in my earlier post on the Lesser known Hoysala temples, so just giving the link here rather than going into it here again.
My first foray into this architecture was way back in school when we were on a trip to Mysore and surrounding areas and we did the usual circuit of Belur, Halebidu and Shravanabelagola temples. And I was hooked. After this have visited these temples several times and everytime the beauty of the temple both the inner mantapas and the sculptures, the friezies on the outer walls along with sculptures decorating the walls is something I can admire on every visit with the same enthusiasm. Just to note that the shikaras on both these temples (the star shaped structures on the top of the temple) are missing, both these temples were plundered several times during the later invasions and in the late 19th century the collapsing towers were removed completely and never restored. In that sense Somanathapura temple is more intact with the shikaras.
Chennakeshava Temple, Belur : As the name indicates this is a Vishnu temple, Chennakeshava meaning “the handsome Kesava”. Its is a working temple and one of the main temples of the Vaishnava sect. Built in the 12th century, the temple was located in the capital of the early Hoysala dynasty and was commissioned by one of the famous Hoysala kings Vishnuvardhana.
Belur Chennakeshava temple complex
The main Keshava temple is in the center of the complex and is built in the ekakuta style (single shrine). The first thing you will note is the star shaped platform (jagati) on which the shrine stands. The mantapa is said to have been an open one when the temple was built so that everybody could admire the inside ornate pillars within the temple but later lattice like windows in stone were added making the interiors dark (I can see this effect in most of the pictures taken with my older camera as almost all have blurred).
The ornate pillars at the Chennakeshava temple, Belur
The exterior walls are much simpler in this temple with lesser layers in the friezies, with bottom layer of elephants believed to be the symbolic supporters of the structure. Above this could be an empty layer or a layer of lion faced animals called “yali”, above this could be a layer of horsmen in various poses. On the central part are the ornate sculptures of various gods and goddesses. Compared to this the Halebidu temple outer walls are more dramatic.
The outer walls, not as decorated as other temples, still beautiful, Belur
This part has the friezies of the temple , Belur
There are several other temple structures within this complex main among them being the Somyanayaki temple dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, prominent for its pillared mantapas. The Kappe Chennigaraya temple with two shrines inside it. The Viranarayana temple which is distinguishable by the large reliefs of Gods on the outer walls.
The pillar halls of th Somyanayaki temple, Belur complex
Kappe Chennigaraya temple at the Belur complex
The water tank of the temple called Kalyani, Belur
Hoysaleswara temple Halebeedu : This temple is dedicated to Siva built in the 12th century started by the same king Vishnuvardhana when he moved the capital to Halebeedu. This temple is in the dvikuta style (two shrines) both Siva lingas one dedicated to Hoysaleshwara and the other Santaleswara Siva lingas believed to be depicting the masculine and feminine aspects of the linga. There are two huge Nandi statues enclosed in a pillared structure facing both these lingas.
Hoysaleswara temple, Halebeedu,
The jagati of this temple is also very prominent. The interior has a big pillared mantapa with decorated ceilings.
The main mantapa of the temple, Halebeedu
The dancing apsaras on some of the pillars , Halebeedu
The outer walls are much more decorated with carved friezies and sculptures of Gods and Goddesses. The are several layers in the friezies with elephants, lions, horsemen, narration of legends, an animal called makara something resembling a goat, peacocks and then gods and goddesses in one layer or several layers.
The highly decorated outer walls of the temple, Halebeedu
Distinct sculptures of Brahma, Siva and Vishnu (left to right)
This set of Brahma, Vishnu an Siva is something that has signified Hoysala temple for me since my first visit during school days. The one sculpture that I so vividly remembered that the guide pointed out to us saying this is what the word GOD stands for, “G” — giver Brahma the creator, “O” — observer Vishnu the one who takes care of the world and “D” — Destroyer Siva the one who destroys evil. So the first time I revisited Belur Halebeedu I wasnt sure which temple had it and went looking for it. Found this depiction in two places at Halebeedu.
So these are two main temples. However equally beautiful are the lesser known and leser visited very closeby Jain temple and Kedareshwar temple.
Jain Basti, Halebeedu : This a set of three Jain temples dedicated to three Thirthankaras (teachers of the religion) Parshvanatha, Shanthinatha and Adinatha. The Hoysalas were initially followers of Jainism until King Vishnuvarhana converted to Vasihnavism under the influence of Hindu saint Ramanujacharya. Hence there are quite a few Jain temples built by the Hoysalas. Sharavanablogola is the most famous among them in this region.
Jain temples at Halebeedu, very close to the main temple
These temples are very simple without any decorations except for the lathe turned pillars in the temples and the ceilings having the lotus structures carved in.
I am not sure which of the three temples has the special pillars in black which have been polished into mirrors. One such shows a color image of yourself when you stand at a particular spot an the other has the concave, convex effect where your image can be seen in elongated and stunted forms. Basically effects of properties of light so you need to know where to position yourself. If you ask the caretaker of the temple he will help you experience this. The caretakers are very poorly paid, so they sometimes act as guides expecting a remuneration from you.
Getting to these temples, just follow the small road adjacent to the Hoysaleswara temple away from the highway for about 5kms or so and you will get to the Basti. Travelling further down the same mud road is the Kedareshwar temple.
Kedareshwar temple, Halebeedu : As you can see in the pictures its a pretty beautiful temple. There does not seem to have been any effort on restoration as you can see effect of time on the outer structure. I have never been inside this temple as usually the main door is closed and by the time I am here, we are usually in a hurry to drive back to Bangalore. Hence I have never gone looking for the caretaker and the village is a little off, so thats another reason that does not prompt me to do so either. Usually the main gate is open hence you can view the architecture of the outer walls.
Kedareshwar temple, Haleebedu,
Sculpture of Siva with Parvati on Nandi along with Krishna on the outer walls
The temple is a Siva temple according to the name, sitting on a jagati. The friezies on the walls are also pretty impressive along with the sculptures above it. Built in the 12th century this has three shrines making it a trikuta style temple.
Getting here : If you are driving down then from Bangalore the NH75 will be the best option . This road was made into a 4way highways a few years back and hence is in a really good condition till Hassan right now. I have never checked out the bus details to get here but these being well visited should have good connectivity atleast from Hassan. The other option if you are short of time is to opt for the KSTDC ( karnataka state transport ) day trip which will cover Belur Halebeedu and Shravanabelagola. Please do note these temples will sometimes have too much of a crowd during weekends especially during the summer and October school vacations.
Bangalore –> Belur (225 kms) –>Halebeedu (17 kms)