Belur Halebidu

Since we reached Badami instead of Belur the previous weekend, I decided to go to Belur (Hassan) in the coming weekend. Swati informed me that she was coming to Bangalore for Munmun’s counselling in PESIT college that weekend. I wanted to meet her too so I booked a ticket for Friday night and return ticket for Saturday night instead of Sunday. I had already read that Belur and Halebidu places can be covered in 1 day.

While researching, I read the history of Hoysala Empire. The Hoysala Empire was a Kannadiga power originating from the Indian subcontinent, that ruled most of what is now Karnataka, India, between the 10th and the 14th centuries. The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu. There is an interesting story associated with how the Hoysala dynasty was named. It is said that a young boy named Sala and his teacher were in a temple in Angadi when a tiger approached them menacingly. The teacher handed Sala an iron rod and said “Poy Sala” which translates to ‘strike Sala’. Sala took the rod and kill the Tiger with a single blow. Sala went on to set up a vast kingdom and took his teacher’s cry as his family name. The Hoysala rulers were originally from Malenadu, an elevated region in the Western Ghats. In the 12th century, taking advantage of the internecine warfare between the Western Chalukya Empire and Kalachuris of Kalyani, they annexed areas of present-day Karnataka and the fertile areas north of the Kaveri delta in present-day Tamil Nadu. By the 13th century, they governed most of Karnataka, minor parts of Tamil Nadu and parts of western Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the Deccan Plateau. The Hoysala era was an important period in the development of art, architecture, and religion in South India. The empire is remembered today primarily for Hoysala architecture. The Hoysala Empire and its capital Dvarasamudra was invaded, plundered and destroyed in early 14th century by the Delhi Sultanate armies of Alauddin Khilji, with Belur and Halebidu becoming the target of plunder and destruction in 1326 CE by another Delhi Sultanate army of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq. The Hoysala style came to an end in mid 14th century, when King Ballala III was killed in a war with the Muslim army led by Malik Kafur. Dvarasamudra and its temples became ruins, the capital abandoned and the site became known as “Halebidu” (literally, “old camp or capital”).

Our bus was at 11:30pm and we reached the bus stop by 10pm. We had our dinner there and inquired about our bus. When our bus was ready, we boarded it. The seats were good but not as comfortable as the Badami bus.

1 June 2019

We reached Belur at 4:15am. I had already booked Hotel Guru Comforts via Oyo Rooms. The hotel was walking distance from the bus stop. When we reached the hotel we found that the shutter was down so we called them. 10-15 minutes later, some guy opened the shutter from inside and let us in. I had booked the hotel for Friday since they said that early check in starts from 6am. So either I could pay for 2 days or I had to leave the room by 11am. So we chose the later while booking. According to the booking call, we had to pay ₹900/-. The reception guy gave us the option to use our Friday booking and check-out at 11am or cancel our booking through Oyo room and make a fresh booking for Saturday and pay ₹1200/-. After some deliberation we decided to go for the second option so that we would have a place to stay and rest after our visit. When we got our room, we went to sleep and woke up at 8am. We got ready, had breakfast and inquired about the places to visit from the reception guy. He gave us a list of places and told us he could book a cab for us for ₹1800/-. We searched and booked an Auto for ₹1000/- outside our hotel. The weather was pleasant throughout the trip. We had expected less heat than Hampi trip but we had not expected the weather to be as pleasant as it was. It made the trip less tiring and more enjoyable.

The auto guy said that he would take us to Lakshmi Temple if we paid ₹500/- more. Since we agreed to pay more, he took us to Lakshmi Devi Temple at Doddagaddavalli Village which was 10km away from Belur. Doddagaddavalli was founded by Kullahana Rahuta, a merchant and his wife Sahaja Devi who got the temple of Mahalakshmi constructed in 1113 AD during the reign of Hoysala Vishnuvardhana (1106-1142 AD). It is the only example of the chatuskuta (four-shrined) order of temples built during the Hoysala period. The building material is Chloritic schist, more commonly known as soapstone. The temple does not stand on a jagati (platform), a feature which became popular in later Hoysala temples. On plan, the temple has four sanctums in the four directions, each of which is connected by a sukanasi with the common navaranga. Of the four shrines, the east has an idol of Lakshmi, the west has a Siva-Linga, the north has an idol of Kali and the south now has an idol of Bhairava but originally had idol of Vishnu (currently the idol is in British museum). All the towers, except that on the Lakshmi shrine (east) are of simple stepped pyramidal variety of the Kadamba Nagara type. The tower over the Lakshmi shrine is dvitala vimana topped by square sikhara and stone finial. Interestingly, all the four towers accommodate the mahanasa projection crowned by the earliest examples of Hoysala royal emblem of Sala striking a tiger. Another unusual feature of the temple is the existence of four more minor shrines at each corner of the temple complex with two sides of each shrine attached to the courtyard wall. Each of these minor shrines has its own tower, kalasa and Hoysala emblem. The entire structure is enclosed by a stone wall having a dwara mandapa with a porch from the south. We were not allowed to click pictures inside the temple. The temple was gorgeous.

We then went to Jain Basadi complex in Halebidu. It consists of three Jain Basadis (Basti or temples) dedicated to the Jain Tirtankars Parshvanatha, Shantinatha and Adinatha. Bittiga (later became Vishnuvardhana), is considered the greatest king of Hoysala kingdom was a Jain till around 1115 after which he converted to Vaishnavism under the influence of the Hindu saint Ramanujacharya. However, his wife Shantala Devi remained a follower of Jainism. The Parshvanatha Basadi was built by Boppadeva in 1133 A.D. during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana. The construction of the temple coincided with the victory of Narasimha I as the royal heir to the throne. The deity therefore is called Vijaya Parsvanatha (lit, “victorious Parsvanatha”). The temple has a Ardhamandapa (“half hall”) and a Mahamandapa (“great hall”) with a monolithic of the deity Parshvanatha that is 18 feet (5.5 m) tall. The Shantinatha Basadi was built around 1192 A.D., during the reign of Veera Ballala II. Shantinatha Basadi consist of a garbhagriha (“sanctum”), ardhamandapa, mahamandapa, large granite pillars with the inner sanctum consisting of a 18 feet (5.5 m) image of the deity Shantinatha. The Adinatha Basadi is the smallest of the Jain basadis also built in 12th century. Adinatha Basadi is a small non-ornate temple consisting of garbhagriha, mandapa (“hall”) with the image of the deity Adinatha and the Hindu goddess Saraswati. A monolith of Bahubali which was present inside this temple but now displayed outside Halebidu museum.

Our next stop was Veera Narayana Temple, Belavadi. Known to legend as Ekachakranagara, Belavadi is said to be the place mentioned in Mahabharatha where Pandava prince Bheema killed the demon Bakasura and protected the village and its people. This ornate trikuta (three shrined) temple was built in 1200 C.E. by Hoysala Empire King Veera Ballala II. The material used is Soapstone. The temple houses three shrines- Veera Narayana, Venugopal and Yoga Narasimha – three forms of Vishnu. Two shrines face each other and there are a total of 59 bays with several pillars, most of which are lathe turned and bell shaped. The central shrine has an 8 feet idol of Veera Narayana with four hands which is considered one of the best examples of Hoysala art. The second shrine has an 8 feet tall idol of Venugopal (Krishna with flute) and the third shrine has a 7 feet tall idol of Yoga Narasimha in meditation. An important feature of the temple is the stone bench which runs all round the edge of the temple. The shrines were shut when we reached there. We clicked pictures of the temple carvings. While returning, a priest showed us the beautiful idol of Venugopal.

Next we went to Sri Udbhava Ganapathi Temple, Belavadi. It has a natural rock formation in the shape of Lord Ganesh and is worshipped in the modern temple, maintained by Sri Shankaracharya Mutt of Sringeri. The villagers say that the Ganapathi “emerged on its own” and the idol has been ‘growing’ from many decades. Many of the ornaments that the devotees donated to the temple does not ‘fit’ the idol. The legend is that Kaliyuga would end when the idol grows completely and fully upright. We reached there just at the time for Aarti.

We then went to Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebidu. It is a 12th-century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It is the largest monument in Halebidu (which used to be called Dorasamudra or Dwarasamudra) and was the capital of the Hoysala Empire. The temple was built on the banks of a large man-made lake, and sponsored by King Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala Empire. Its construction started around 1121 CE and was complete in 1160 CE. During the early 14th century, Halebidu was twice sacked and plundered by the Muslim armies of the Delhi Sultanate from northern India, and the temple and the capital fell into a state of ruin and neglect. The Hoysaleswara temple is a Shaivism tradition monument, yet reverentially includes many themes from Vaishnavism and Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, as well as images from Jainism. The Hoysaleswara temple is a twin-temple dedicated to Hoysaleswara and Santaleswara Shiva lingas, named after the masculine and feminine aspects, both equal and joined at their transept. It has two Nandi shrines outside, where each seated Nandi face the respective Shiva linga inside. The temple includes a smaller sanctum for the Hindu Sun god Surya. Both the main temples and the Nandi shrines are based on a square plan. The temple was carved from soapstone. It is notable for its sculptures, intricate reliefs, detailed friezes as well its history, iconography, inscriptions in North Indian and South Indian scripts. The temple artwork provides a pictorial window into the life and culture in the 12th century South India. Numerous smaller friezes narrate Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana. The temple has such beautiful carvings all over the outer wall that we couldn’t stop clicking pictures. The temple was truly magnificent.

In the same compound, there is a Halebidu Archeological Site. Established in early 1970s, this museum has more than 1500 sculptures & inscriptions of historical significance recovered in and around Halebidu. The collection is displayed in a closed sculpture gallery as well as in an open air museum with a large reserve collection. It also display 18 feet Tirthankara image from the ruined tank of one of the Jaina basadis. The open air museum has in its display many sculptures of importance like Govardhanagiridhari Krishna, Dancing Shiva, Nataraja and Veena Saraswati, dancing Ganesha, etc.

Next we went to the Yagachi Dam which was built in 2001 across the River Yagachi, a tributary of River Kaveri. The length of the dam is 1280 m and the height is 26 meters. Situated at an altitude of 965 feet, the dam was constructed with the objective to harness water resource for the purpose of irrigation and to meet the demands for drinking water in Belur, Chikmagalur and Hassan districts. It was too sunny and we have already seen so many dams in Ranchi that we were not too fascinated by it. There is a water sports center in the dam. Auto bhaiya asked us if we wanted to go on a banana boat or speed boat. We were not that interested in indulging in it, so we left for Belur.

Our final destination was Chennakeshava Temple, Belur. It was 0.5-1km away from our hotel. Belur was the former capital of the Hoysalas and referred to as Velapur, Velur and Belahur at different points in history. The temple was consecrated by the famous Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to mark his victories in 1117 CE against the Cholas and called the Vijaya Narayana. The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to finish. Chenna means handsome and Keshava is another name for Lord Krishna. As one enters this vast complex, a large rajagopura or gate arches above. The centre-piece the temple sits in the centre, facing the east, following the most followed orientation of temple architecture. On the right of the temple is the Kappe Channigraya temple and a smaller temple dedicated to a Lakshmi reincarnation, the goddess Sowmyanayaki, sits slightly behind the two. On the left of the Chennakeshava temple, one can find the Ranganayaki temple. There are more than 80 Madanika sculptures in the temple, dancing, hunting, standing under canopies of trees and so on. The 4 Madanika figures (striking elegant dancing poses) on the wonderfully engraved columns of Navaranga are unique creations of Hoysala workmanship. The Garbhagriha is stellar in shape and its zigzag walls make the figures of 24 forms of Vishnu look different at different times of the day due to light. We spent almost an hour there and clicked lots of pictures.

We were back in our hotel by 4pm. We found out that Chikamaglur was just 30km away from Belur. If Swati was not in Bangalore that weekend or if I had already met her before leaving, we could have extended our trip till Sunday and gone to Chikamaglur. Since that was not the case, we spent the rest of our day in the hotel watching TV as there was nothing else left to see. Overall it was a short and sweet trip.

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