Legend has it that Sala was on a hunting mission at the Sahaya mountains when he heard the cires “Poy Sala” – “Strike Sala” by a saint who literally cried a tiger while performing his religious rites in the temple of the Goddess Vasantika at Angadi (now known as Sosevuru). On hearing this, Sala diligently performed his duties and stabbed the tiger. The incident was recounted and renamed as “Poysala”, now corrupted to Hoysala. This led to the birth of the Hoysala emblem. Sala has been identified as the first historical figure or progenitor of the Hoysala family. For more than three centuries, the Hoysala of the Yadava descent ruled a major portion of southern Karnataka.
The Nolamaba (late 8th – 11th century) and Western Ganga (350 CE – 1000 CE) dynasties – predecessors of Hoysalas in Southern Karnataka – constructed both Hindu and Jain temples inspired by Tamil heritage. In contrast, the Hoysala rulers were influenced by the Western Chalukyan architecture and employed their craftsmen as well. An abundance of figure sculpture covers almost all the Hoysala temples, a fact that is largely facilitated by the use of Soapstone, which allows fine detailing and clarity alongwith durability. Overall, the Hoysala style is said to depict a harmonious blend of the southern Dravida and northern Nagara styles and is known as the Vesara style. Further details on architectural characteristics of Hoysala temples can be checked out here. This post is the fourth part of the series dedicated to this unique symphony of human ingenuity. The rest of series comrades can be found here.
Just because we spoke about grandeur, doesn’t mean the lesser shrines at Belur temple complex are not worthy of a mention. Here is a list of shrines:
Kappe Chennigaraya Temple, Belur
Kappe Chennigaraya is a smaller temple situated in the south side of the Chennakeshava Temple complex, commissioned by the queen of Vishnuvardhana, at the same time as the main Chennakeshava temple. There is an interesting legend regarding how Kappe, which means frog in Kannada, became a part of this temple’s name. It involves Jakanachari, the legendary architect and sculptor of the Hoysala era, who hailed from a village called Kridapura (which later became Kaidala because of him) located in the present-day Tumkur district in Karnataka. Because of marital discord, he left his wife Manjari, and moved to the capital of the Hoysala Empire.
Unbeknown to Jakanachari, his son Dakanachari, who was also a talented sculptor, came to Belur looking for his father, and inevitably started working for him. At the time of installing the Chennigaraya image, Dakanachari remarked that the image was not fit for worship in accord with the shilpashastra. This annoyed Jakanachari, who applied sandal paste over the image and left it to dry. Except the navel region, the sandal paste was dried. On further examination, they found a cavity containing a frog (Kappe in Kannada), and some water. Hence, the presiding deity came to be known as Kappe-Chennigaraya.
The Kappe Chennigaraya Temple is comparably smaller and less ornate and consists of two garbhagrihas (or sanctums) unlike the main temple. A life-size statue of Chennakeshava stands in the west garbhagriha, and a life-size statue of Venugopala stands in the south; both representing different forms of Vishnu. The Venugopala statue shown in the image below, is a form of Krishna, standing with a tribhanga (bent in three places, knee, waist, and neck) pose and playing the flute. Unfortunately, during the times of my visit, the temple was not open for the public.
Soumyanayaki and Andal Shrines, Belur
The Soumyanayaki temple is located south-east to the main temple complex and has been constructed during the Vijayanagara period using the materials collected from ruined Hoysala temples. The shrine of the temple is dedicated to Goddess Soumyanayaki or Sridevi, which is topped by a tower over the garbhagriha. Its damaged shikhara was repaired in 1387 CE by a minister under the Vijaynagar King Harihara II. The temple also has a pillared porch which is said to be a later addition by a member of the Dalavayi family of Kalale.
The Andal temple is dedicated to Goddess Andal, which is also known locally as Ranganayaki temple. Similar to Soumyanayaki temple, the construction material from the temple has been collected from ruined Hoysala temples. The walls of this shrine have a large collection of sculptures of Gods and Goddesses, all framed by canopies of great workmanship. The base of the temple has the friezes of elephants, the scrollwork, and puranic scenes.
Viranarayana temple, Belur
The single-celled or ekakuta temple shrine is dedicated to Vishnu and was built on a raised platform during the 12th century CE. It is an ekakuta, Vaishnava temple, probably erected at a later date of the 12th century CE. It is built following the basic pattern of a garbha griha and an antarala opening up to the mandapa, all built on jagati. Interestingly, this temple is relatively austere, lacking in the narrative friezes that are abound in Chennakesava temple. Compared to the Chennakesava temple, the exterior of this temple is relatively austere, lacking the narrative friezes. However, sculptures,representing various Gods and Goddesses such as Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Parvati, Bhairava, etc can be seen on the walls. According the inscriptions at the temple, during 1117 AD, grants were made to three Gods namely Vijayanarayana, Chennakesava and Lakshmi Narayana. Thus, the presiding deity in this shrine is referred to as Lakshmi Narayana, but is now known as Vira Narayana.
Towards the south-east of the Keshava shrine is a 42-feet pillar standing on a raised platform, carved out of a single stone. The most interesting fact about the pillar is that while it is standing on its own weight on a raised platform without any support, the base of the pillar towards the north is little raised resulting in a gap between the platform and the pillar. A piece of paper can easily pass through the gap and hence its popularity as anti-gravity pillar. Due to over-enthusiastic tourists, you are prohibited from stepping on to the platform or make an attempt at climbing it.
Belur is at a distance of 3.5 hrs (150 km) away from Mysore while Halebeedu is 143 km away from Msyore. The distance between the two towns is 17 kms, i.e. around 30 minutes. I had made Mysore as my base for 5 days owing to the Dussera celebrations, hence I decided to combine Belur and Halebeedu as a day trip and rented a car.
Other than the inner sanctum or the shrine, there is absolutely no restrictions to photography. Make sure you carry a flash (if you are using a DSLR) or have your nightmode settings on (for your phone) when you are photographing the temple interiors. Its absolutely exquisite, and equally crowded. Wide lens can be used if its not obviously noticeable. For instance, my dad uses cannon for his photography and his wide lens has a very distinctly white body, and hence, he was flagged by the security personnel at the temple.
The Hoysala series:
- Poetry of Stones – Hoysala temple I: Somnathapur
- Poetry of Stones – Hoysala temple II: Belur
- Poetry of Stones – Hoysala temple III: Halebidu
- Poetry of Stones – Hoysala temple IV: Smaller shrines of Belur
Along with the oral narration from the guide at the temple, the specific stuctural references has been taken from the following books. If anyone is interested in using the images, request you to hit me up and attribute.
- Architectural Wonder: The Chennakesava temple at Belur, and
- The Glory of Hoysala Queens: Belur Chennakesava temple by Rekha Rao
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