Chennakeshava Temple, Belur also known as Keshava, Keshava, or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, is a 12th-century Hindu temple in Hassan district in the Indian state of Karnataka. It was built in 1117 CE by King Vishnuvardhana, on the banks of the Yagachi River at Belur, also known as Velapura, the capital of the early Hoysala Empire. The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to complete. It was repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, rebuilt and repaired repeatedly over its history. It is 35 km from Hassan city and It is about 200 km away from Bengaluru.
Chennakeshava (means “beautiful Keshava”) is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and has been an active Hindu temple since its inception. It is reverently mentioned in medieval Hindu texts and remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism. The temple is notable for its architecture, sculptures, reliefs, and friezes as well as its iconography, inscriptions, and history. The temple artwork contains scenes from secular life in the 12th century, with dancers and musicians, as well as an illustrated description of Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas.
It is a Vaishnava temple that reverently contains many themes of Shaivism and Shaktism, as well as images of a Jinn from Jainism and a Buddha from Buddhism. The Chennakeshava Temple, Belur is a testimony to the artistic, cultural and religious outlook of the 12th century in South India and the rule of the Hoysala Empire.
Artwork at Chennakeshava Temple, Belur.
The Hoysala period of South Indian history began around 1000 AD and continued till 1346 AD. In this period, he built about 1,500 temples in 958 centers. Belur is called Belur, Velur, or Velapura in old inscriptions and texts from the medieval era. It was the early capital of the Hoysala kings. The city was so revered by the Hoysalas that it is referred to in later inscriptions as “Samsaraika Vaikuntha” (abode of Vishnu) and “Dakshina Varanasi” (the southern holy city of the Hindus).
One of the Hoysala kings was Vishnuvardhana, who came to power in 1110 AD. He established the Chennakeshava temple dedicated to Vishnu in 1117 AD after a significant military victory in 1116 AD. A great devotee of Lord Vishnu, who is also a pious king, in which Lord Vishnu is named, Sri Vishnuvardhana built this temple to mark his conversion to Sri Vaishnavism after coming under the influence of Ramanuja. But the historical records do not support this theory, says Shadakshari Setar.
The Chennakeshava Temple, Belur took 103 years to build. Vishnuvardhana moved his capital to Dvarasamudra (now called Halebidu), where he started the construction of the Hoysaleswara temple dedicated to Shiva. Its construction continued till his death in 1140 AD. His legacy was continued by his descendants who completed the Hoysaleshwara temple in 1150 CE and the Chennakeshava temple, Somanathapura in 1258 CE. The Hoysalas employed many eminent architects and craftsmen who developed a new architectural tradition, called the Carnatic Dravidian tradition.
Malik Kafur, a general of Alauddin Khilji, the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, invaded, plundered, and destroyed the Hoysala kingdom and its capital in the early 14th century. Belur and Halebidu became the target of plunder and destruction by another army of the Delhi Sultanate in AD 1326. The region was annexed by the Vijayanagara Empire. The Hoysala style ended in the middle of the 14th century when the king was in battle with a Muslim army led by Malik Kafur. Ballala II was killed.
Example Belur temple inscription in Sanskrit, written in old Kannada script.
Historians have found 118 inscriptions in the temple complex from 1117 AD to the 18th century, which provides the history of the temple, and grants given to the Chennakeshava temple for its maintenance and repairs in later times.
An inscription found on the eastern wall near the northern entrance of the main mandapa (hall) of the temple states that Vishnuvardhana founded the temple for Lord Vijayanarayana in 1117 CE. Some historians have interpreted this inscription as saying that the Chennakeshava temple was completed in 1117 AD.
The Chennigaraya temple was built side-by-side with the main temple and was sponsored by the queen.
Narasimha I of the Hoysala dynasty gave grants for the maintenance and operation of the temple.
In 1175 AD Ballala II added the temple buildings for kitchen and grain storage in the southeast corner. A water tank in the northeast corner of the temple also added .
The original temple was without a boundary wall. The main mandapa was also open for the devotees to see and appreciate the intricate carvings inside the temple. To protect the temple, a high wall built around the temple, covering the wooden and brick entrance as well as the open pavilion, added by Somaiya Danayaka during the rule of Veera Ballala III (1292–1343). Perforated stone screen installed. The new screen darkened the inside of the temple making the artwork difficult to see but allowing enough light to see the sanctum sanctorum.
The temple raided and damaged and its entrance burnt in a raid by Salar, a Muslim general working for Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1324–1351) and his army.
The temple repaired by the Vijayanagara Empire under the sponsorship of Harihara II (1377–1404). In 1381, he added four granite pillars; In 1387, a gold-plated kalasa added to Malagarasa for a new tower above the sanctum; It replaced the destroyed entrance gate with a new seven-story brick gopuram in 1397.
An Andal temple, Soumyanayaki temple, Deepa-pillar at the entrance, and Rama, and Narasimha temples added during the era of the Vijayanagara Empire.
The main temple had a shikhara (superstructure tower), but it is now missing and the temple looks flat. Inscriptions suggest that the original minaret made of a combination of wood, brick, and mortar. It destroyed and rebuilt several times.
The Vijayanagara Empire sponsored the addition of smaller temples dedicated to gods and goddesses and the Naganayaka mandapa within the temple complex. These were constructed by collecting and reusing the war ruins of other demolished temples in the Belur region.
The temple complex again damaged after the destruction of the Vijayanagara Empire by an alliance of the Sultanate. The first repairs made in 1709, followed by additions in 1717 and 1736. The temple repaired in 1774 by an officer of Hyder Ali, when Hyder Ali the de facto ruler on behalf of the Wadiyar dynasty.
In the late 19th century, the collapsed tower over the sanctum removed to protect the lower levels and never replaced. In 1935, parts of the temple cleaned and restored with funding by the Government of Mysore and a grant from the Wadiyar dynasty. The Chennigaraya temple rebuilt, and new images of Ramanuja and Garuda added along with improvements and repairs to the complex, among many other features. These repairs inscribed in stone for a historical record, just like the earlier inscriptions.
The Chennakeshava complex at Belur has a durbar of 443.5 feet by 396 feet with several Hindu temples and smaller shrines inside a walled complex. The complex entered from the east through a gopuram added during repairs of the Vijayanagara Empire era. The temples and monuments found inside the boundary wall are:
Chennakeshava Temple, Belur, also known as Keshava Temple, is the main temple. It is in the middle of the complex, facing the gopuram towards the east. Incorporating improvements added later, it is 178 feet by 156 feet. The temple is about 3 feet high on a wide platform terrace (jagati). The temple dedicated to Vishnu in the form of Keshava.
To the south of the Keshav Temple is the Kappe Chennigaraya temple which measures 124 feet by 105 feet. Inside it there are two sanctums, one dedicated to Venugopal and the other dedicated to Chennigaraya (Chennakeshava, the local popular name of Vishnu). The temple called Kappe Chennigaraya because, according to a local legend, a kappa (frog) once found near its navel. This smaller temple built by the queen along with the main temple, and believed to be a similar smaller version.
A stone slab with a couple in a namaste posture under an umbrella. The monument damaged.
The Chennakeshava Temple consists of several smaller temples and monuments.
To the west of the Keshav Temple is the Veeranarayana temple, which measures 70 feet by 56 feet. It’s a short but complete slumpIt has a navaranga (nine square halls) and a sanctum (sanctum) with 59 large reliefs on the outer walls. These reliefs dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Bhairav (angry Shiva), Lakshmi, Parvati, Saraswati, and others. Some panels depict the story of Bhima from the Mahabharata. This temple also dates back to the 12th century.
To the southwest of the Keshava temple is a small shrine of Somyanayaki (a form of Goddess Lakshmi), which also dates back to the 12th century. However, later the temple expanded and expanded. The temple is notable because local tradition holds that its minaret is a miniature of the main tower that once rose above the main Keshava temple.
The Andal Temple, also known as the Ranganayaki Temple, is to the northwest of the Keshava Temple. Its outer wall decorated with artwork like elephants and nature. It also displays 31 large images of deities from the Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism. It also has friezes depicting legends in the Puranas as well as those of Venugopal, Mohini, and Lakshmi.
There are many small temples in the complex. To the east of the Kappe-Chennagaraya temple are temples to Narasimha, Rama, Jiyar, and Alwar of Bhakti movement fame. To the east of the Andal temple are shrines to Krishna, and Vaishnava scholars Desikar, Bhashyakara, and Ramanuja of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta fame. At the base of the temples of Alwar are friezes depicting stories from the Ramayana. Some of these temples added later as some of these scholars like Desikar lived after the 12th century.
Two main pillars (pillars) found in the temple complex. The pillar facing the main temple, the Garuda (eagle) pillar, built in the Vijayanagara period, while the pillar on the right, the Deepa Stambha (pillar with lamp) dates from the Hoysala period. The Veeranarayana temple has a pavilion where traditionally the annual procession chariots and temple vehicles are stored. This is called the vehicle pavilion. The complex also has a wellness pavilion in the southeast corner for ceremonies. It was added in the 17th century.
A granary for storing food stocks is found in the northwest corner of the complex. The complex has a small northern entrance, near which is a pakasale or community kitchen built in the 13th century. In the inscriptions, a terraced water tank called Kalyani or Vasudeva-Sarovar is found with two stone elephants in the northeast corner.
There are many other smaller monuments and features in the complex, such as the Ane-bagilu or “Elephant’s Gate” to the south of the gopuram and a monument to past destruction in the form of pillars and sculptures in the north-western part of the complex.
Main Temple of Keshav
The temple is an ekkoot vimana design (single temple) of size 10.5 m by 10.5 m. It combines elements of North Indian Nagara and South Indian Carnatic styles of architecture. The temple stands on an open and wide platform designed as a circumambulation path around the sanctum. The temple and the platform were without walls and the platform surrounded an open mandapa following the outline of the temple.
A visitor could see the ornate pillars of the open pavilion from the platform. Later walls and stone curtains were added, creating an enclosed vestibule and mandapa, providing protection but creating too much darkness to appreciate the artwork inside. The vestibule connects the parikrama platform to the mandapa (hall). There are intricate and abundant artifacts both outside and inside the temple.
The temple has a simple Hoysala plan and a sanctum sanctorum. The building material used in the Chennakeshava temple is chloritic schist, commonly known as soapstone. It is softer when excavated and allows artists to carve out details more easily. The material hardens over time.
This Hoysala temple, according to art critic and historian Setar, deployed Western Chalukya artists and their tradition that originally developed in Aihole, Badami, and Pattadakal. This is easier than the later Hoysala temples (including the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu and the Keshava temple at Somanathapura).
The temple is built on a jagati (means, “worldly”), a symbolic earthly platform with a wide walking space for parikrama (pradakshina-patha). There is one flight of stairs leading to the Jagati and another flight of stairs in the mandapa. Jagati provides the devotee an opportunity to do Pradakshina around the temple before entering it. Jagati follows the carefully staggered square design of the mandapa and the star shape of the temple.
The visitor sees several artifacts in horizontal stripes on the Jagati platform during the circumambulation of the temple. The lower bar is of elephants with different expressions, which are symbolic supporters of the whole structure.
There is a blank layer on top of it, followed by a cornice with a periodic lion face. Above this is another band of scrolls except at the rear of the temple and then the cornice band, which depicts a row of horsemen in various riding positions.
The fifth carved band is of small sculptures, mostly women with various expressions facing the viewer, while from time to time the band includes yakshas who are on the inside of the temple. Huh. There are also many dancers and musicians in this layer, as well as professionals with their instruments.
The upper band has pilasters, some of which are carved between secular figures mostly women and couples. In this band incorporating scenes from the epic Ramayana, a nature and creeper band wraps the temple over the pilaster band. Above this layer are scenes from ordinary life depicting Kama, Artha, and Dharma. These include courtship, eroticism, couples in sexual scenes, followed by couples with children, and economic and celebratory activities. Towards the outer wall of the north, the frieze is painted with scenes from the Mahabharata.
Two styles of light screens are used in the Keshava temple: geometric artwork (left) and mythological stories.
These bands have been constructed later with 10 perforated stone windows and screens on the north side and 10 on the south side of the temple. Later artists carved Puranic scenes in ten of these later additions, and the other ten have geometric floral designs show screen punched with characters:
View of the Hoysala court, the king, queen, officers, attendants, and two gurus with their students Keshav with Hanuman and Garuda, Vamana Dwarf, Bali, and Trivikram Katha, Krishna Kaliyamardan legend, Shiva on Nandi with Ganesha and Kartikeya, Prahlad, Hiranyakashipu and Narasimha legend (notable for Thenkalai Naman style, Urdhava Pundra symbol on Prahlad’s forehead), Yoga-Narasimha with Hanuman and Garuda, ocean churning legend, Krishna killed the story of Kansa, Ranganatha lying on Shesha,
Above the perforated curtain, on the capitals of the supporting pillars are figures of Madanakai (Salbhanjika). Originally there were 40 madankai, of which 38 have survived, are damaged, or are in good form. Two of these are Durga, three are hunters (with a bow), the other are dancers in the Natya Shastra Abhinaya mudra (acting posture), musicians, women wearing clothes or make-up, a woman with a pet parrot, and men making music. Most of these Madanakai figures are also carved into miniatures in the sixth band of the outer wall around the circumambulatory path.
The wall also has 80 large reliefs surrounding the temple. Of these, 32 are of Vishnu, his 9 incarnations (Narasimha, Varaha, Vamana, Ranganatha, Balarama); 4 of Shiva in various forms including Nataraja (with or without Parvati); 2 of Bhairav (Shiva); 2 Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu); 4 of Surya (sun god); 5 Durga and Mahishasurmardini; 1 of Kama and Rati; 1 Ganesha, Brahma, Saraswati, Garuda, and Chandra. Other major reliefs are Arjuna shooting an arrow to conquer Draupadi; Ravana lifting Kailash; Daksha, Bali, and Shukracharya.
Some sculptures feature extraordinary details. For example, a Madanakai figure is shown with a canopy of a fruit tree, where a small fly is shown sitting on the fruit and a lizard nearby is preparing to pounce on the fly. In another, an eagle is shown attacking a sarabha, which in turn is attacking a lion, which in turn is pouncing on an elephant, which is itself clutching a snake, which in turn is attacking a snake. The rat is depicted in the act of swallowing – a vision involving a thinker sage. These images depict secular life, such as an artist making a portrait or musicians lost in their music. A notable image is a 12th-century depiction of the Rudra-veena and a Lasya dance posture. It also contains the image of a Jin of Jainism.
The outer wall of the eastern entrance inside the temple depicts Bhairav and Durga. The southern entrance outer wall of the temple depicts Tandaveshwara and Brahmani. The outer portions at the northern entrance of the temple depict Vishnu and Mahishasuramardini.
The Chennakeshava temple has three entrances and its gates have idols called Dwarapalakas (gatekeepers) on either side. The central hall (navaranga) was originally open on all sides except the west where the sanctum is located, but later all sides were closed with perforated screens. This greatly reduced the amount of light and it is difficult to appreciate complex artwork without secondary lighting. The artwork begins at the entrance to the hall’s three entrances. Each lead to a raised veranda on either side. The hall has carved pillars with a large vaulted ceiling in the center. The pavilion has 60 “bays” (compartments).
The Kesava temple at Navaranga Belur, the largest of any Hoysala temple, has a triratha diamond-shaped layout, according to James Harley.
Pillar and Roof
There are forty-eight pillars in the Navrang Hall. All carved in a unique way except for the central four. The central four added later, in 1381 CE during the Vijayanagara Empire era, to support the internal structure of a damaged temple. The pillars are of three sizes. Two pillars are particularly noteworthy. There is a so-called Narasimha pillar carved from top to bottom with miniature figures, such as a small bull (kadale basava). Local legend says that this pillar may once rotated, but now it cannot be turned.
The second pillar is the Mohini pillar. In addition to the female avatar of Vishnu, the pillar has eight bands of carvings, including Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, the ten avatars of Vishnu, the eight-headed god, mythical beasts with the body of a lion, but the face of other wildlife. The four central pillars are notable for having been carved by hand while the others were turned with a lathe.
The temple is special for its rendering of Mohini, the female avatar of Vishnu.
In the center of the hall is a large open square, over which is a vaulted ceiling about 10 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep. At the top is a lotus bud with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva engraved on it. Underneath the dome is a series of friezes with the story of Ramayana. The four pillared capitals have madanikas (salabhanjikas).
One dance represents Saraswati, the Hindu god of knowledge, arts, and music. Others are regular dancers, all having different expressions. One is getting his hair done, the other in the theatrical posture, and the fourth is holding a parrot in his hand. The head and neck ornaments made of rock freely attached and can be moved. The bracelets going like this. The design of the ceiling follows Hindu texts and a modified Utkita style with images in concentric rings.
One of the four-roofed domes Madanika, with an inscription on the pedestal.
Other reliefs inside the hall include large images of Vishnu incarnations, frescoes of Vedic and Puranic history, and more scenes from the Ramayana.
Behind the mandapa pillars and a doorway leads to the sanctum. At the door are the gatekeepers, Jaya and Vijaya. Its pediment has Laxminarayan in the center.Below it is musicians playing musical instruments from the 12th century. Besides, there are two Makaras on which Varun and Varun are riding together. Inside the square sanctum is the image of Keshava, or as the inscriptions call it “Vijayanarayan”. It stands on a pedestal 3 feet high, with a halo about 6 feet high. It has four hands, the chakra and conch shell in the upper hands and the mace and lotus in the lower hands. The halo has circular carvings of the ten avatars of Vishnu – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki. The temple is an active worship house, with Keshav dressed and decorated, priests present and devotees paying obeisance.
The temple had a minaret, which repeatedly damaged and destroyed, rebuilt and restored. In 19th-century restorations, the temple left without a minaret. According to Phokema, when this tower existed, it was of the Bhumija style and not the regular star-shaped tower that followed the shape of the vimana. The Bhumija towers, which retained on the miniature shrines at the entrance of the hall, actually a type of Nagara (North Indian) tower, being curvilinear in shape. This shape of the tower quite unusual in pure Dravidian architecture.
Creators and Artists
Some Hoysala artists signed their work in the form of inscriptions. In doing so, they sometimes revealed details about themselves, their families, associations, and place of origin. Stone inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions provide further information about them. Ruvari Mallithamma was a prolific artist to whom more than 40 sculptures credited.
Dasoja and his son Chavana who were from Balligavi contributed significantly to the modern Shimoga district. Chavan credited with working on five madanikas and Dasoja completed four of them. Mallianna and Nagoja made birds and animals in their sculptures. Some of the sculptures in the pavilion attributed to artists such as Chikkahampa and Malloja.
How To Reach Chennakeshava Temple, Belur:
Air: Bangaluru Airport – 47.8 km
Train: Bangaluru Station – 17 km
Road: Bangaluru Bus Station – 220 km
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