Relief depicting demon king Ravana balancing the world in Chennakesava Temple Belur. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 CC

Chennakeshava Temple In Belur Is Richly Decorated With Scenes From Ramayana Mahabharata And Puranas

A. Sutherland  – – This beautiful temple can be found in Belur, situated on river Yagachi, 38 km from Hassan district of Karnataka state, India. Once in the past, Belur was the capital of the Hoysala Empire.

Relief depicting demon king Ravana balancing the world in Chennakesava Temple Belur. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 CC

 Relief depicting demon king Ravana balancing the world in Chennakesava Temple Belur. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 CC BY-SA 3.0

The Hoysala artistry is famous for their skilled artists, noted for their sculptural details; the artwork seems to be alive with all fascinating themes from the Hindu epics and deities and motifs, like Yali kirtimukha (gargoyles), miniature decorative towers on pilaster, Makara (aquatic monster), birds, animals such as lions, elephants, and horses.

Belur is an old place with a long history and is renowned for its Chennakeshava temple, one of the finest examples of Hoysala craft. The temple was consecrated by the famous Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to mark his victories in 1116 AD against the Cholas and called the Vijaya Narayana. Vishnuvardhana was not only a skilled warrior, ambitious monarch but also a great builder.

The Chennakesava temple’s work of art in stone is of high quality. The builders used soft soapstone to create all those beautiful and intricate carvings. The temple is enclosed by the so-called prakara (an outer part around the Hindu temple sanctum) with a gopura (the entrance gateway to a Hindu temple enclosure).

Gajasurasamhara: Shiva slaying the demon Gajasura

Gajasurasamhara: Shiva slaying the demon Gajasura, Chennakesava temple, Belur. Image credit: Sarvagnya – CC BY-SA 3.0

The temple represents the Vijayanagar style, stands on a platform, and looks like an enormous casket. The Chennakeshava temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu

. It represents the Vijayanagar style and is a masterpiece of Hindu fine artisans and skilled builders.

Since its founding, this sacred structure has been described in medieval Hindu texts and remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism, one of the significant Hindu denominations along with Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. Vaishnavism represents a tradition commonly understood as a branch of Hinduism, which holds reverence and devotion for Vishnu or Krishna as the highest manifestation of divinity and the source of all existence.

The temple is remarkable for its architecture, sculptures, reliefs, friezes, iconography, inscriptions, and history.

This massive Hindu structure was built over three generations, and it took 103 years to finish it. It was repeatedly destroyed, looted during wars, and each time it happened, there was always enough time to rebuild it and repair the damage.

Statues on capital support the temple eaves. 38 of the original 40 have survived in Belur. Image credit: Goutam1962 - CC BY-SA 4.0

Statues on capital support the temple eaves. 38 of the original 40 have survived in Belur. Image credit:  Goutam1962 – CC BY-SA 4.0

In the Chennakeshava temple, there is priceless artwork that illustrates scenes of the 12th-century secular life, all accompanied by dancers and musicians. A unique feature of the temple’s interior is a series of Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas, all recorded on numerous friezes.

Unique creations left by skilled Hindu artists are madanakai figures standing on the capitals of the supporting pillars. Initially, there were 40 of them but survived 38 these figures in damaged or good form.

Two of them are Durga, three huntresses (equipped with bow), others represent dancers, musicians, women dressing or doing make-up, a woman with a pet parrot. Most of the madanakai (in graceful dancing poses) are carved into miniatures that decorate the temple’s outer wall.

Some of the statues show some extraordinary artistic details. One figure, for example, is shown with a fruit tree canopy, where a small fly is shown sitting on the fruit, and nearby a lizard is preparing to pounce on the fly. In another carving, an eagle is attacking a sarabha (a part-lion and part-bird beast in Hindu mythology), which in turn is attacking a lion. The latter one is busy with pouncing on an elephant, seizing a snake, which in turn is swallowing a rat.

The Chennakeshava Temple is a Vaishnava temple, of which interior is closely associated with many themes originated from both Shaktism and Shaivism, as well from Jainism and Buddhism.

Written by – A. Sutherland  – Senior Staff Writer

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