Thursday, June 03, 2021

Belur Chennakeshava Temple: The Grandest of all Hoysala Temples

The famous pillars of Hoysala architecture at Belur, Karnataka

The temples built during the reign of the Hoysala kings of Karnataka happen to be some of the most intricately designed temples in all of India. Their lathe turned pillars, beautifully carved sculptures, ceiling work, reliefs, friezes, iconography, inscriptions and history are some of the best in the business. Out of the 1500 temples that were built during their reign, the 12th century Chenna Keshava temple at Belur happens to be the grandest of them all.

Dedicated to the handsome lord Keshava, this 12th century temple marvel and an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism was built over three generations and took 103 years to finish. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE on the banks of the Yagachi river in Belur, also called Velapura, an early Hoysala empire capital.

A colorful moment from Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

It was attacked and plundered many times by Muslim invaders and was always rebuilt. The Vijayanagara kings took over the mantle of temple management and restoration upon the end of the Hoysala era. The large gopuram, a gold kalasa, smaller shrines and other elements were added during the reign of the Vijayanagara kingdom. But, the main temple, its sculptures and design elements are still from the original Hoysala era. And boy are they are a treat for the eyes.

Photographs and videos hardly do any justice to this temple. While the large sculptures, the relief panels and the friezes on the external walls of the temple are simply outstanding, it is the different design elements of the temple interiors that make your jaw drop. May be, that is why they don’t allow you to take photos of the temple interiors. You have to come and see for yourself.

Side view portrait from Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka

This ekakuta temple that is built using soapstone started with the temple architecture template of Western Chalukyan artists and then added the Hoysala flavour to it. As with temple architecture, things get more intricate and ornate with time. So it is simpler when you compare it the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid and the Chenna Keshava temple at Somnathpura, but what Belur enjoys is size that is matched with intricacy and design. It has the largest navaranga of all Hoysala temples and nearly all of the famous Hoysala artists have left their mark here.

The three pillars of Belur Chennakeshaava temple - elephants, lions and horses

The ideal way to visit this temple is by making yourself free for at least three hours. Sunrise or sunset would be perfect to see the temple sculptures dazzle in the golden light. You start with a simple pradakshina of the external wall before heading inside to admire the real beauty. And once you are done with all your history, art and culture exploration, you can find a nice comfortable place and watch the devotees, tourists and temple priests go about their visit. I always find this interesting and sometimes it makes for great photographs. Finally, you can head out of the temple, search for a good local restaurant and top your visit with some local food and coffee.

There are many ways to explore and enjoy this temple, but irrespective of who you are and where you are from, you will end up being dazzled by the prospective UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best examples of Hoysala temple architecture.

A selfie moment at Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka, India

How to reach there:

There are two routes to reach Belur. One is via the Bangalore – Hassan highway and the other is via the Bangalore – Shimoga highway. Below is the full route map.

1) Route 1: Hassan highway: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Channarayapatna –> Hassan –> Belur

2) Route 2: Shimoga highway: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Yediyur –> Turuvekere –> Tiptur –> Arsikere –> Banavara –> Javagal-> Halebeedu –> Belur

The nearest railway stations are Kadur and Birur. The nearest large bus station would be either Banavara or Hassan.

The nearest airport would be Mangalore international airport, but the one with the best connectivity would be Bangalore international airport.

Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu as a sculpture at Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Temple timings:

The Belur Chenna Keshava temple is open every day between 7: 30 AM and 7: 30 PM. Mangalaarti is held once every morning and every evening. If the garbha griha is closed during lunch hours, you might want to wait or call the priest beforehand for darshan. Darshan and mangalarti timings might vary on certain festival days or other events.

Stories of epics picturized on the walls of Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Best season to visit:

The Belur Chennakeshava temple is open all year round, but it looks the prettiest during the rains and right after it as this is the time when all the sculptures are freshly washed in the rains, the surroundings are lush green and there is drama in the skies above.

Ornate elephant sculpture at Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka

Where to stay:

KSTDC and a few other hotel properties offer good quality budget accommodation in close proximity to the temple campus. If you seek a luxurious stay, head to the Hoysala village resort on the Belur-Hassan highway.

If you are looking for farm stays or plantation stays, you should head to the coffee estate town of Chickmagalur.

Deep in thought - a Devotee at Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Where to eat:

Belur has a lot of eateries, shops and restaurants to choose from. While none of them offer any premium services, one can definitely find a wide variety of food. If you wish for a luxurious dining experience, you should head to Hoysala village resort on the road from Belur to Hassan.

Stunning carvings on the external walls of Channakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Other nearby Hoysala temples:

1) Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid

2) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Javagal

3) Veeranarayana temple at Belavadi

4) Lakshmi Devi temple at Doddagaddavalli

5) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Nuggehalli

6) Sadashiva temple at Nuggehalli

7) Brahmeshvara temple at Kikkeri

8) Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli

9) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Hosaholalu

10) Chenna Keshava temple at Somnathpur

11) Chenna Keshava temple at Aralaguppe

12) Chenna Keshava temple at Turuvekere

13) Ishvara temple at Arsikere

14) Chenna Keshava temple at Anekere

15) Mallikarjuna temple at Basaralu

16) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Haranhalli

Side entrance to the Belur Channakeshava temple, Karnataka

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Shettihalli rosary church ruins in the Hemavati reservoir

2) The hill station and coffee estates of Chickmagalur

3) The wide Hemagiri falls on the Hemavati river

4) The temple town of Melukote famous for its Iyengars and puliyogare

5) The Jain pilgrimage site of Shravanabelagola that is home to the mighty Baahubali statue

6) The hill station of Kemmangundi

7) The beautiful Hebbe Falls surrounded by coffee estates

8) The absolutely photogenic Mysore palace

9) The butterfly forest of India called Bisle Ghat

10) Bhadra tiger reserve known for its tigers, river terns and leopards

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