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Belur History & Travel Information

Belur was once the capital of a powerful empire, located on the banks of Yagachi river.

Belur is a small town in the Hassan district of Karnataka where the kings of the Hoysala Dynasty constructed the Chennakeshva (handsome Vishnu) temple. It is about one hundred feet high and has a magnificent Gopuram, the gateway tower built in Dravidian temple architectural style. The main temple is surrounded by a group of subsidiary shrines. It stands in the center of a rectangular, paved courtyard along the perimeter of which there are cells with a pillared veranda in front of them. Although the temple has lost its super structure it still is very imposing and impressive. It has a Navaranga (a pillared hypostyle hall), an Antale (square vestibule), and a solid Vimana, the sanctum sanctorum. Three entrances lead into the hall, each of which is flanked by a shrine. The doorways are guarded on either side by idols of gorgeously decorated doorkeepers. The massive hall has forty-six columns. Each of these columns is different in ornamentation from the other. Of these columns, the Narasimha Column can be rotated.

The unique pillars were made by rough-finishing a huge monolithic block of stone. It was then mounted in upright position on a wheel that was rotated against a chisel. This mechanical setup was similar to an upright lathe machine. Each pillar has a bell-shaped member towards the lower half of the shaft. Sloping brackets were fixed to the capital by means of sockets. The brackets were carved from single slabs into images of voluptuous and beautiful celestial maidens known as Shilabalakis. Each damsel has an exuberant serene beauty, showing the virtuosity of the ancient sculptors. The postures of these Shilabalakis were sculpted to conform to the descriptions of the art of dancing mentioned in the ancient texts of Natya Shastras.

The famous Hindu sage, Ramanuja converted the Bittiga, the fourth and mightiest monarch of Hoysala Dynasty from Jainism to the Vaishnava Hindu religion. The monarch changed his name to Vishnuvardhana to signify his adopted religion. Sage Ramanuja must have had tremendous influence on him. This is amply exhibited in the massive construction project that he started to build this Belur Vaishnav Temple. The construction was started in 1117 CE to commemorate his victory in the battle of Talkad over the mighty Chola Dynasty rulers. Shantala, his queen, remained a Jain religion follower but was probably very tolerant of Hindu religious beliefs also. She was a very accomplished classical dancer. One of the brackets in the temple depict her in a very ornately sculpted dancing pose in an exuberant style.

In the beautifully sculpted marble screens of Navaranga there are twenty-eight latticed windows with conventional Hindu temple designs like the star shapes, bands of foliage, figures or subjects from Hindu mythology. The builder of the temple, Vishnuvardhana is himself also depicted with his queen Shantala in one of these screens. There is a metallic icon of the period that depicts the monarch in standing posture that gives a good idea of his physical features like stature, personality, dress style as well as the ornamentation that he wore. The sculptors of this temple in contrast to the age old tradition followed by Hindu temple sculptors signed their masterpieces. They not only signed their names but also mentioned in the inscriptions below the sculpted pieces their title and the place of their origin. Apart from this the stone inscriptions and copper plates of the period give some more details about these artisans.

With more than forty very beautifully carved sculptures above his name plate, Mallitamma seems to be the most prolific and talented artist that worked in this temple. Dasoja sculpted four Madanakai celestial damsels and his son, Javana created five other beautiful figures of these heavenly maidens. They both had migrated to work in this temple project from a nearby town called Ballegavi. Malliyanna and Nagoja distinguished themselves by including figures of beautifully carved birds and animals in their sculptures. Chikkahampa and Malloja carved the sculptures in the Navaranga section. It would have been interesting to read more about the lives, artistic education and evolution of these artists, unfortunately there are no detailed biographical information from contemporary sources. Their sculptures are nonetheless some of the finest ever hand crafted in India.

There are no suitable hotels for foreign tourists in Belur. The nearest town for overnight stay is Hassan.

Distance from Belur in Kilometers and Miles:

Hassan: 40 Kilometers or 25 Miles
Sravanbelagola: 86 Kilometers or 54 Miles
Halebid: 16 Kilometers or 10 Miles
Mysore: 149 Kilometers or 93 Miles

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