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Belur and Halebidu: The Twin Ancient Marvels of Hoysala Dynasty

+Belur temple, officially known as the Chennakeshava temple and commonly called the Belur math (cloister)  is a marvel of ancient Hoysala architecture. If you go deep into the etymology of the Belur temple, it means ‘beautiful Vishnu’ Chenna means beautiful while keshava means vishnu (one of the principal deities of Hinduism). The name itself implies the allure of this sacred place.

Belur temple is roughly a four hour ride from the capital city of Karnataka – Bangalore. It is also a good weekend getaway for inhabitants of the IT city. However, even today the Chennakeshava temple at Belur is an underrated travel destination. It is yet to be explored fully.

In the year 2017, Belur temple successfully complete 900 years of origin.

The city of Belur is known for its temples and mystique. Located on the banks of the Yagachi River in Karnataka’s Hassan district, Belur temple is known for its cultural richness.  The Chennakeshava temple is crafted with elegant carvings depicting scenes from the Upanishads, Mahabharata and Ramayana. 

Hoysaleswara Temple is one of the the largest shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva in Southern India. In the 12th century, the temple was built during the 12th century by Hoysala rulers. it is known for its majestic outer sone carvings which depict different scenes from Hindu mythology. The Halebid Temple Hoysaleshwara can be easily reached from Belur (16 kms)

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The temples at belur and Halebidu are culturally and historically rich. Photography by Pravas Shetty

Belur Temple & Halebidu Temple: An Overview

Location Hassan district, Karnataka, South India
Date of origin 12th Century
Distance from Hassan & Bangalore Around 35 Kilometer to the Northeast of Hassan and approx. 200 kms from Bangalore
Best time to visit October – April 
Mode of transport By road. Frequent buses connecting through major cities -KSRTC (state buses) and private travel agents).

Or

By train to Hassan. Hire at taxi from the station.

Basic necessities  Hats and water bottles
Guide fees at the temple 200-250 INR per person
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The entrance of Chennakeshava temple, Belur. Photography by Akshay Patil

 

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The premises of Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebid. Photography by Hari Kishore

Belur Temple & Halebidu: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The temples at Belur as well as Halebidu (Belur’s twin town) are now UNESCO world heritage sites. This signifies the  exquisiteness of these places culturally and historically.

The moment you enter the premises of temples at Belur and Halebidu, you can easily observe the historic richness. It fills your mind with questions –

“How could they create such a beauty?”

“With what Science and Architecture which is beyond perfection?”

“Which dynasty encouraged such fine arts in Indian History?”

It is quite evident from their history that this majestic Art took 103 years to complete and approximately three generations.



While a Belur, Make Sure to Visit Halebidu

Everybody who visits Belur definitely visits Halebidu. It was the former capital city of the Hoysala dynasty. The temple of Halebidu was build first and then started the construction of Belur temple. One can see similar sculptures in both the temples and lot of stories carved which connects both the temples.

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The Belur math has been built by using soapstone. Photography by Natasha Skvortsova

 

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The Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebid is dedicated to the Hindu God – Shiva. Photography by Bhavya Murthy

Top Reasons to Visit Belur Temple Chennakeshava & Hoysaleswara Temple Halebidu

There are 7 reasons for any traveler to visit the Belur temple –

1.Beauty of the Sculptures & Carvings 

The sculpture of  Lord Chaluka Narayana (Vishnu) is carved with intricacy and fine details. You can notice the charm imbibed in the sculpture. The jewelry carvings are the most eye-catching piece of Art.

The inner premise of the temple is filled with pillars all around and great delicate carvings on the ceiling. Each pillar is unique in design which inspires any modern jeweler’s art. The carvings around the pillars are like necklace and bangle designs, measuring geometrically perfect.

Don’t miss out on one of the pillar which is believed to serve as blueprint of all the carvings in the temple in a miniature form.

A question that pops up in your mind immediately after witnessing such elegance is ,”How could they install such huge pillar back in 11th century and what was the mode of transport?”

Well, the Hoysalas were profound when it came to intelligence in architecture and science.

Inside the Hoysaleswara complex lies an open archaeological museum. It has sculptures, coins, inscriptions and wood carving idols on display. Among them is a giant sculpture of a sitting Nandi and Lord Ganesh. The museum is open to all from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It remains closed on Fridays.  Photography is prohibited inside.

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Elephant and horse carvings on the walls of Chennakeshava temple. Photography by Pushpak Chakroborty

 

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Inscriptions on the inner walls of Hoysaleshwar Temple. Photography by Arun Ganeshan

2.Culturally Superior Beauty and Art

All the sculptures and pillars inside Belur temple premises  are built using a peculiar featured stone known as “Soapstone.” It is soft to shape and carve and eventually hardens after certain time.

One can’t miss hearing the name of “Natyarani Shakuntala, who is believed to be most graceful dancer of the dynasty. Most of the sculptures on the ceiling of the inner part of the temple portrays her elegant and graceful dance moves (Bhartanatyam mudras).

These stones even depict the various human emotions through her body language and facial expressions. You will be awestruck to notice that her bangles have movement, as if they were detached from her hand.

The Hoysaleswara temple is a masterpiece adorned with rich carvings of thousands of mythological figures. The basement of the temple comprises sculptured friezes. 

Garuda Stambha is among the key highlights of this temple. In adition to it, there are   inscriptions of epic heroes carrying knives and cutting their own heads.

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The carving of Natyarani Shakuntala. Photography by Rakesh R

 

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The many facets of human beings. Photography by Pavan Misra

3.Ravishing Depiction from Great Indian Epics

The whole of exterior part of the Belur temple depicts various stories from Ramayana, Mahabharatha and other Indian mythology.

Make sure you invest a lot of time and patience to observe such mystical fine art. Do your home work i.e read about the Belur temple before you get there. It will create a flow with what the guide is explaining and you would not miss out any part of the temple unseen.

Must observe Aspects at Belur Math

Lord Narasimha killing the demon. (The guide narrate the short story behind the carving)

Shiva in his fierce avatar (Bhairava pose)

Unique imaginary animal on the entrance exterior ceiling.

Graceful dancer -holding parrot, grooming herself holding a mirror, playing instruments on the exterior ceiling.

Lord Indira (Hindu Mythological deity – king of heaven) on his elephant.

Pillar outside the temple is epic example of magnetic science. 

Must Observe Aspects at Halebidu Math

Outer walls of the shrine adorned with rich carvings from mythology.

The two beams present over the southern and the eastern entry.

The gigantic Nandi statue which is monolithic in nature.

Garuda Stambha, a rare pillar depicting the story of king’s bodyguards

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Man killing lion symbol of Hoysala dynasty. Photography by Shijin

 

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The giant Nandi statue at Hoyasaleshwara temple. Photography by Amit Belkud

4. Re-live History at Belur Temple & Halebidu

One can’t get a better chance of re-living History than by visiting Belur temple Chennakeshava as well as Halebidu (approximately 30 minutes drive). It too is another capital city of Hoysala dynasty.

Halebidu was build at the same time (11th century) as Belur math and is a gigantic Shiva temple with excellence in architecture on the exterior part of the temple.

Every Shiva temple in the world is incomplete without Nandi – the holy bull of lord Shiva  believed to be his vehicle according to Indian Mythology. Halebedu has the most beautiful Nandi sculpture in the world.

 The most stunning fact about the Nandi sculpture is its high polish on the stone that you can actual look at your reflection as though on a mirror.

 

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Belur is the ideal place to re-live history. Photography by Sanjeevani Keshav

 

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The rock carvings are intricate at Halebidu. Photography by Harikrishan Panjani

Feed Yourself with Traditional South Indian Food

After feeding you eyes with beautiful art and lot of historical knowledge, it’s time to feed your stomach. Just walk down the temple street, which is filled with fresh food servings in local mess and hotels.  They offer you home-style delicious vegetarian food on banana leaf.

One can choose between – complete south Indian meal with huge variety of dishes, like hot rice, sambar (dal), rasam (dal) and playa (cooked vegetable salad).

or

Hot akki roti (Rice cooked in the form of baked bread, using rice floor) with a spicy traditional curry (using chickpeas or vegetables) and some garlic chutney.

Don’t miss out on the chance to try it when you are at Belur!

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A traditional south Indian meal. Photography by Syahlin Khan

 

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Akki roti served with chutney. Photography by Pravedi Shedbale

6. Camping Near Belur Temple & Halebidu

After you undertake the history tour, it is time to fill the trip with some adventure.

One can take a camping stays near the Belur Temple. Recommended options are –

Japavathi river camp – On the bank of Japavathi river

Bagmane heritage – British bungalow

Beanstack homestay – cottage on hill top

After  a long day at this heritage site of Belur math, rest in a cozy, tidy home-stays with some bonfire in the evening and a glass of classic home made wine. It comprises exotic Indian flavours like figs, beetle-nut leaves and rose. Savor hot chicken dishes cooked using pepper grown in their own estate.

Early next morning is the best time to go for camping on Mullayanagiri hills (which would be few minutes away from any home stay in Chikmagalur ) or Yettina Bhuja. The misty hills covered with fog and chirping birds in the morning are good for the senses.

One can’t stop praising this beautiful site of lush green coffee plantations with red cherry coffee beans all around.

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Mullayanagiri Hills. Photography by Ganesh M H

 

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Yettinabhuja. Photography by Abhishek Acharya

7.Interesting Places Near Belur Temple & Halebidu 

Shettihalli Church

If you choose to travel from Banglaore or Mysore on the way to Hassan road , around 1.5 hours (200 kms) from Bangalore explored a less discovered place “Shettihalli Church”, a ruined old church covered with 1-5 inch of river water. This beautiful location feels like you are living in a painting.

Shravanabelagola

On the way from there towards Belur temple, definitely stop at Shravanabelagola. This place is sacred to the Jain religion. It consists of a huge monolithic structure of Gomateshwara (Jain deity) and is flocked with lot of travelers.

Deveramane

Sri Kalabhairaveshwara Temple at Deveramane is another less discovered temple which was built prior to the Halebidu and Belur temple. It is devoted to Lord Shiva (An important Hindu deity) and also has the deity crafted on a hill.

 

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Ruins of Shettihalli Church. Photography by Hema

 

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Feet of a huge monolithic structure of Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola. Photography by Rahul Baxi.

A trip to Belur and Halebidu is a time defying experience that enables one to re-live history. The passage of time is insignificant to these places of ‘art beyond perfection’.

Happy wayfaring 🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Belur Temple

Megha Katokar

Megha Katokar, a compliance professional (currently working in KPMG), a Musician, a hand writing analyst and a travel addict is a 20 something, ambitious and a fun loving free soul. A creature of her own kind, Megha is set up to document her wanderlust adventure and the amazing people and places she has come across all of her nomadic journey.

The amateur musician is not shy to flaunt her unorthodox aboriginal instrument Didgeridoo. She is been an active part of the International Thar Music Festival at Jaisalmer. She also lusts for raw and local cuisine and never misses an opportunity to taste what the locals have to offer.

A true Bangalorean by heart and a nomad soul, she wishes to inspire all her fellow travelers and pursues her dream career in travel.

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