Chennakesava Temple Complex Belur: Remarkable Hoysala Architecture

Chennakesava Temple Belur
           Chennakesava Temple Complex (Belur District Hassan)


Visiting Hours: 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM (Everyday). It’s recommended to attend morning or evening prayer.


Belur referred to in inscriptions as velapuri was the first capital of the hoysalas. Hoysala vishnuvardhana (A.D 1108-1152) caused to be built a temple for Vijayanarayana in the capital in the year 1117 A.D. in commemoration of his victory against the chola viceroy of talkad. The temple is popularly known as the chennakesava temple. An inscription on the pedestal of vijayanarayanan image states that the image was caused to be made by king Vishnu( Vishnuvardhana). It is actually kesava one of the 24 forms of Vishnu.

Raised on platform the temple made of soapstone, consists of a garbhagriha (sanctum) a sukhanasa (vestibule) and a navaranga. It is particularly noteworthy that ground plan of the garbhagriha is star-shaped. The navaranga pavilion is a large hall with beautifully designed lathe turned and polished pillars and ceiling and has entrances on the east south and north.
Mohini Pillar Chennakesava Temple
                                   Mohini Pillar Chennakesava Temple
The Mohini pillar in the navaranga is one of the finest specimens. The pillar is cut vertically on a sixteen pointed star plan. It is decorated with a narrow band of filigree work. A creeper scroll and figures inset in convolutions. The eastern face of the pillar has a large beautifully carved image of vishnu as mohini exceedingly graceful with a chauri bearer and garuda on the other. The central square of the navaranga has four pillars decorated with bracket figures atop. These bracket figures are remarkably of superior workmanship in conception and execution the central Vimana is elegantly carved with frieze of varied sculptures some being mythological.

The door jambs of the sukhanasa and garbhagriha carry across intricately carved makara toranas. On the exterior, the walls have a jagati or railed platform sculptured with horizontal row of friezes comprising elephants. Cornice surmounted by simhalatas or lions, scroll work. Small female figures in ornamental niches, etc the walls of the front part of Sabhamandapa have perforated screens of later period surmounted by the eaves. These screens are sculptured with puranic scenes and durbar scene of king vishnuvardhana Narasimha 1 (A.D.1152-1173) and Ballala 2 (A.D. 1173-1220).
Southern Gate of Kesava Temple
                                     Southern Gate of Kesava Temple
The pillars on either side of these have bracket figures of superb workmanship on their capitals in all 42 in number. They are popularly called as "madanika" images. They are finely proportioned and exceedingly ornamented yet highly expressive. Of the bracket figures Mention may be made of darpanasundari, sukhabhashini, modesty and the monkey Huntress, Natya mohini etc. Most of these images have inscriptions on the pedestal mentioning the names of the sculptors who carved them.

The outer face of the walls of the garbhagriha and the antrala has been adorned with beautiful images of deities 80 in the number of which only 19 are goddesses. The sculptural depictions of vishnu as lakshminarayana, vamana, narasimha, varaha, balarama, siva and parvati. Siva as andhakasura and gajasura, harihara, surya, durga and mahishasuramardini, bhairava, brahma, rati and manmata could be considered as the best representations of the hoysala sculptural art.
Narasimha Image Kesava Temple
                                      Narasimha Image Kesava Temple
Attached to the outer wall of the Garbhagriha are three elegantly executed chariot like niches in the two storeyes enshrining vishnu images facing the cardinal points.

The high platform with pradakshinaptha had flight of the steps on east, north and south flanked by a small tower on either side.

When king vishnuvardhana got the keshava temple constructed, Santaladevi the chief queen made her contribution by causing kappe-chennigaraya temple to be built to the south of the main temple similar to the form of it.
Miniature Shrine at Kesava Temple
                                      Miniature Shrine at Kesava Temple
Kappe chennigaraya image which is exactly like that of kesava in the main shrine though small in size bears the name of the queen on the pedestal. The other temples which are added in the later period within the complex are vira narayana, saumyanayaki, andal the goddess and alwars the vaishnava saint. The whole complex is enclosed by a high raised wall with the main towered entrance on the east.

Undoubtedly, the kesava temple of the hoysala style occupies a distinct place amongst the architectural wonders of subcontinent. There is a strong tradition and popular belief in the region that the architecture of this temple is jakanchari about who is an interesting story for which so far no historical evidence has been found. Be that as it may, the temple may be sculptural poetry immortalizing the achievements variously of vishnuvardhana and the sculptors like dasoja, chavana his son, chikkahampa, malliyana, padari malloja, masada and nagoja who bestowed their best in creating this masterpiece,
Lord Garuda facing main shrine
                                         Lord Garuda facing main shrine
Apart from the list of monuments described below, Some other conspicuous features of Chennakesava temple Complex are
* Panel of elephants in procession in the outer walls of the temple.
* Lord Krishna Playing flute.
* Lord Garuda facing main shrine

Chennakesava Temple
Chennakesava temple:

Belur was the capital of the Hoysala dynasty which made solid contribution to the field of art. The Chennakesava temple here, a wonderful artistic creation of eternal beauty was built by king Vishnuvardhana in 1117 AD, and inscriptions speak of its master builders as Dasoja and his son Chavana (though legends assign it to one Jakanachari). Standing on a wide elevated platform, the temple looks like a casket and is 178 feet long (east-west wise) and 156 feet broad (north-west wise). The shikhara surmounting its sanctum is now gone.

The temple is built using the the soft soapstone with very intricate carvings, and its sanctum is of the stellar shape with zigzag wall arrangements, but the frontal Navaranga and other adjuncts are rectangular.
Western Gate Chennakesva Temple
                                     Western Gate of Chennakesava temple
The rows of friezes on the outer wall have a row of elephants, a series of lion's faces above that, the third row being of artistic foliage and a row of bead garlands following it above this. This fifth row has small figures of men and women engaged in dancing and playing musical instruments etc. The sixth row having damsels in various poses in between small niches created by miniature pillars, and thus there are artistic rows of friezes at the base. Above this on the Garbhagriha walls, there are taller figures of 24 manifestation of Vishnu like Keshva, Narayana etc. In addition, all along the outer walls are series of Puranic episodes engraved in relief in profusion. There are 40 pillars on the outer walls, and they have bracket figures of dancing girls, etc. of perennial beauty.

The tall monolithic pillars in the Navaranga (inner pavilion) are stellar in shape or circular in outline with motifs like flower vase, water vase, kumbha etc. artistically combined perpendicularly creating a unique architecture. The four bracket figures of damsels on the four pillars in the Navaranga are remarkable creations and one of them is identified as of Queen Shantala, noted accomplished dancer. The Keshava image in the sanctum is more than two meter tall. There are other temples like the Kappe Chennigaraya, Vijayanarayana, Saumyanayaki, Andal etc., in the precincts of the main temple.

Kappe Chennigaraya Temple Belur
Kappe Chennigaraya Temple:

The Kappe Chennigaraya temple situated to the south of the Keshava temple in the complex has two cells. The main cell has a beautiful sculpture of Chennakeshava. 6.5 feet high over a pitha The Prabhavali has Dasavatara Sculptures The pitha has an inscription of Shantala the senior queen of Hoysala King Vishnuvardana stating that it was consecrated by her in the year 1117 AD. The temple rises over an elevated platform. The perforated jalandras of the temple were got executed by Hoysala Ballala-2 in 1206. The Sukhanasi doorway is beautifully executed and has a figure of Lakshminarayana flanked by makaras on the lintel. The doorway of the Venugopal shrine has the figure of Narasimha killing Hiranyakshipu The niches of the outer walls of the Sukhanasi nas the beautiful sculptures of Laksminarayana Ganesha, Saraswathi and Mahishamardini. The four pillars ot the navaranga, are lathe turned and have bracket figures on them. 1 ne central ceiling has Hoysala emblems and lotus medallions.

Saumyanayki Temple Belur
Saumyanayaki Temple:

To the south-west of the Keshava temple is the temple of Saumyanayaki. It has a Garbhagriha, surmounted by a tower. According to an inscription the original tower which was damaged was got repaired in 1387 by Muddappa a minister under the Vijayanagara King Harihara II - and a metal Kalasa or finial was fixed on it. The front portion of this temple is a later addition built by the Dalavayi family of Kalale.

Andal Temple Belur
Andal (Ranganayaki temple):

The temple of Goddess Andal situated to the northwest the Keshava temple. It is also locally known as Ranganayaki temple. The basement has friezes of elephants in procession and puranic scenes.

Veera Narayana Temple Belur
Veera Narayana Temple:
The Veera Narayana temple to the west of Keshava temple is a small and compact structure with the outer walls containing beautiful sculptures of vaishnava and Shiva faith consist of a Garbhagriha, a Sukhanasi and a Navaranga. The 59 large images on the outer wall surface consists of Vishnu, Siva, Brahma, Parvati, Saraswati, Bhairava, Bhima, Ganesha, The temple is raised on an elevated basement and is contemporary to the Chennakesava temple.

Kalyani Tank
Kalyani (Tank):
Kalyani (tank) is situated on the north east corner of the complex. This tank known as Vasudeva Sarovara (Vasudeva tirtha) is an inscription was built by Hoysala Ballala-2 in 1175 AD. At the entrance to this pond are two Elephants at the sides and two pavilions to the north and south it has receding steps from all the four sides Periodical temple rituals ore carried out in this tank.

Courtesy: Archeological Survery of India



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