A Weekend Drive to Belur and Halebeedu

It was a Sunday morning and our family outing was fixed. We decided to take a day trip to Belur, Halebeedu and Shravanabelagola. These are places that I can NEVER get bored of visiting and can go over and over and over again. I prefer to write less in this post because I choose the pictures to speak for themselves.

Karnataka- is One State, many Worlds’.

-KSTDC, Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation

As a part of an endless list of things that Karnataka has to offer to every traveler, are its unending list of historical and architectural monuments. With several kingdoms ruling over Karnataka at different points in history, the temple architecture in Karnataka doesn’t fail to get a ‘WOW’ even from a person not interested in art and history. And one such place that has always and always mesmerized me are the temples built by the Hoysalas. These temples are not as big in size as the grand Chola temples but aesthetically BRILLIANT and I run short of adjectives to describe their grandeur.

With the Hoysala style of architecture evolving over centuries, I take it quite seriously to visit and explore as many of these structures as possible.The erstwhile capital towns (now located in Hassan district) of the Hoysala empire hold the finest surviving examples of the Hoysala style today. Out of 900+ temples built across Central and South Karnataka, only around 400+ remain now many of which still need restoration and maintenance. Most of the now inexistent temples are believed to be destructed by the Delhi Sultanates in the 14th century and the remaining smaller ones bit into the dust due to apathy and negligence.

Our first place of visit for the day was Belur, or Velapura as it was called back in the time when it was the capital city of the Hoysalas. The Chennakeshava temple complex is a group of temples and the epitome of this style of art. This complex is located inside a walled fortress and has a tall Gopura at the entrance. For someone visiting it for the first time, the first look of the Gopura from the outside is quite deceitful of what is in store inside.

The Belur Chennakeshava temple complex
Hoysala structures within the Chennakeshava temple premises at Belur

Salient features of the Hoysala temples:
• Although the earliest Hoysala temples were made with the local sandstone, their finest temples are made by carving one of the hardest materials for making stone sculptures- the granite stone.
• The ceilings of the Hoysala temples have extremely intricate and multi-tiered mural designs.
• The pillars are lathe machined and mirror finished.

Murals at Chennakeshava temple complex
Friezes and murals at Chennakeshava temple, Belur

Fun Facts about the Hoysalas:
• Jakanachari is the revered master craftsman behind most of the marvelous temples of this era. Legend has it that he was however challenged by his own son, Dankanacharya about a possible flaw in the sculpture made by his father. Jakanacharilost the challenge when a toad and water emerged out of an idol made by him after which he cut-off his right hand as a symbol of submission to his son’s skill.
• Shantala, the wife of King Vishnuvardhana (One of the most prominent Hoysala ruler) was so mesmerised by the Sculptures of the dancing ladies carved here in different postures, it is believed that she used to dance with these Madalikes or ShilaBalikas in her dreams.

Art at Chennakeshava temple

The capital of the Hoysalas was shifted from Belur to Halebeedu, then called Dwarasamudra. The Hoysaleshwara temple is the most prominent among all. The monolithic statue of Nandi here, is the sixth largest in the world.

The Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebeedu
Hoysala sculptural Art at Halebidu

Although our next destination is not a Hoysala hotspot, we decided to include it in our itinerary as it was just around. We headed towards Shravanabelagola, one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the Jains. Shravanabelagola has two hills- Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri. The twin hills offer a panoramic view of the surrounding plains. Chandragiri hill gets its name from Chandragupta, one of the greatest emperors of India who converted to Jainism, gave up all his worldly pleasures and is believed to have passed away on this hill. The statue of Bahubali/ Gomateshwara located on the Vindhyagiri hill is the largest monolithic stone statue in the World.

The statue of Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola
The Gomateshwara Monolith statue

With this, I wind up with Part 1: of visiting the Hoysala temples. To put it in my words, I survived an ‘Art attack’ at Belur and Halebeedu.

Please do find a day to visit these places and you will not regret, trust me!

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