Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

This is the beautiful golden coloured gopuram at the entrance of the temple at Belur,Karnataka
The imposing gopuram at the entrance of chennakeshava temple,belur,karnataka
Gopuram  at the entrance of the temple,Belur

So, here I am back to writing about one more historical and architecturally unique place in Karnataka. You guessed it right. I shall take you to,Belur, situated in Hassan district of Karnataka.

What to see in Belur,Karnataka

While there might be many things to see in Belur, the Chennakeshava temple is the most popular and must see one. Built in the 12th century on a star shaped platform, the temple is in the form of ekakuta vimana design meaning it has a single shrine and combines the North Indian nagara style and south Indian temple architecture. The temple faces East with a beautiful gopuram in the front. Inside the temple complex, you will come across three shrines. The first one is the main Chennakeshava temple, the other two being the Kappe Chennigaraya and Ranganayaki temples. There are also many smaller shrines.

What to see in Chennakeshava temple,Belur

One will be spoilt for choices to see in this temple. Although it is a single shrine, it’s architecture itself is unique, unlike other Hindu temples. It has countless friezes, relief sculptures, figurines, ornate and intricate carvings on the ceilings, exquisitely carved pillars which hardly resemble pillars with madanikas and celestial damsels, narration from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata both inside the temple and on the outer walls of the temple. Let me begin by taking you inside the temple.

1.Inside the temple

Inside the temple, it is a little dark as once upon a time, the central hall of the temple was open on three sides which was later enclosed with jali and perforated walls. So, it is a little dark inside. The hall has 48 pillars with a domed ceiling. The center four pillars are a later addition and were hand carved while the rest were lathe turned meaning a machine was used to carve and cut them. Two of the pillars with Narasimha and Mohini friezes are particularly noteworthy. On the eves of the pillars are exquisitely carved figures of madanikas or celestial damsels. It is said that the jewelry of the ladies are free standing and can be removed.

The ceiling inside chennakeshava temple,Belur. It is intricately carved with a rendition of Narasimha avatar of vishnu in the center
carved ceiling inside the temple

In the center of the ceiling is a lotus bud with the three lords, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva carved on it. There are mandala designs and, in the center, there is a rendition of Narasimha avatar of Vishnu and towards the end of the circular pattern, there are sculptures in relief of dancers, singers and musicians playing the drum.

2.Sanctum

just outside and above the door of the sanctum of chennakeshava temple in Belur,we come across this intricately carved panel
ornate panel above the door of the sanctum

The hall leading to the sanctum has a doorway with a huge relief panel. In the center of the panel is the pair of Lakshmi Narayana in a seated pose. In the bottom row, musicians are playing instruments. The deity is flanked by mythological figure of makaras and the whole panel is a continuous rhythmic movement of lines and contours.
From the inscriptions, it has been deciphered that many of the artists left their signatures including their village name in the sculptures.

3.Outer walls

At the back of the temple in Belur, Karnataka,row of horses and lions in procession
procession of horses and lions on the walls of the temple

As we go around the temple at Belur,Karnataka,along the circular path, we come across numerous sculptures and friezes. One has to observe carefully to identify them. The bottom row consists of elephants in different movements as if supporting the entire structure. There are different bands which have been left sometimes empty and at other times filled with cornice work and in one band, lion faces appear repeatedly. In one of the bands, we have salabanjika (lady touching a tree) figures in various poses with yaksha figures in between. While in other bands, we have many secular figures and people playing musical instruments. At the back of the temple, a row of horsemen in various positions have been depicted. Along the walls of the temple, we find numerous sculptures and friezes depicting stories from the epics. Even the smaller shrines have intricate sculptures carved on them.

4.Relief of Ravana

on the outer wall of the chennakeshava temple in Belur,karnataka,we find this interesting depiction of ravana lifting mount kailasha
ravavna lifting mount kailasha

Of particular mention is a beautifully carved relief sculpture of the demon Ravana lifting Kailasha hill on one of the niches on the outer wall. On top, we can see Shiva and Parvati.

5.Garuda pillar

The Garuda stamba which was erected during the Vijayanagar empire faces the main temple.

6.Gravity pillar


The gravity pillar inside the complex is 42 feet high and stands on a single stone platform. As guides say it is held there by sheer gravity and has been there since the 15th century. It is also known as Deepa stamba.

7.Temple Water tank

the temple  water tank at chennakeshava temple,Belur,karnataka
Temple water tank

There is a temple tank in Chennakeshava temple also as in other Hindu temples. It has steps leading down and has a structure with intricate carvings.

Thus, you can enjoy this temple from the inside, the outside and also visiting the other shrines.

Who built the temple

This temple in Belur,Karnataka, was built during the Hoysala period by King Vishnuvardana who commissioned the building after a historic win over the cholas in 1116 CE. It is dedicated to the God  Vijayanarayana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.However, it took more than 100 years for the temple to be completed as it was repeatedly attacked by invaders like the Delhi sultanates. Several noted Chalukyan artists and architects were involved in the construction of this temple wherein they developed a unique Hoysala style using gridlocks and interlocks.

The temple has been built with soapstone which is very soft and easy to carve. Hence, we find intricate and ornamental carvings throughout the temple.

How to reach Belur, Karnataka

Belur is in the Hassan district of Karnataka. So, once you reach Hassan, regular buses ply to Hassan. We can also reach Belur from Bangalore (distance-220 KM or Mysore(distance-155 KM).The nearest airport is Mangalore airport which is 130 KM away from Belur. The nearest railway station is in Chikmagalure, 22 KM from Belur and Hassan which is 32 KM away.

Places to see nearby Belur

If you are in Hassan district, you should not miss seeing the Halebeedu temple,about 14 KM from Belur, which is another wonder of Hoysala architecture.

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