A sculptural banquet in Belur; Hoysala style

Not far from Halebidu — the capital city of the Hoysalas — is a symbol of the dynasty’s victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talakkad in 1116AD....
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.

Not far from Halebidu — the capital city of the Hoysalas — is a symbol of the dynasty’s victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talakkad in 1116AD. This mark of victory seems to have turned out to be quite a sculptural extravaganza called the Chennakesava temple and it still stands tall in Belur, in Hassan District.

What a big celebration it must have been, if Hoysala ruler — King Vishnuvardhana had to commission a structure that needed a hundred years for its making. It is said that even that one-full century was not enough to complete this architectural and sculptural wonder.

To me, the Chennakesava Temple looked like a big grand sculptural banquet. What else would you call a stone structure that stood on a star-shaped base, and was decked with sculptured walls, pillars with soapstone filigree and dancing figures on them, friezes, and ornamental ceilings?

The Chennakesava temple is a grand display of Hoysala art and architecture and was even more fascinating than I thought it would be. The best thing we did was to take the services of a local guide who took us through the features and filled us in with anecdotes from the history of the Hoysalas.

Our guide Sathyanarayan began with pointing out that this temple dedicated to ‘handsome Vishnu’ or Chenna Kesava, brings together the Tamilnadu-style-gopuram,  a north Indian type temple and also an example of the Karnataka’s temple architecture.

Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The Tamilnadu style gopuram.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The North Indian style temple —
Sridevi Temple (Lakshmi Temple).
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
(And) The Hoysala Style (Karnataka Style) temple architecture —
The Chennakesava Temple.

The Hoysalas are said to have ruled a vast area of land in present-day-Karnataka and parts of its current neighbouring states from 1026 – 1343 AD. And while they flourished and expanded their empire, they are said to have patronised a lot of art and architecture. Hoysala temples seem to have been a strong, bold mark of their heritage, and the Chennakesava Temple in Belur seems to be one of the most brilliant achievements as far as their temple architecture is concerned.

The Hoysala style of architecture features a star shaped base for the temples to stand on, finely ornate pillars, sculpted ceilings and bracket figures to name a few elements.

The details on the sculpted figures are also a telling sign of Hoysala architecture. To know more about the features of Hoysala temple architecture, click HERE

Here are a few pictures of some of the sculpted attractions of the famous Chennakesava temple, from my visit to the Hoysala temple early this year:

Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
An idol of Vishnu that stands in front of this temple in Belur.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
On the outside of the temple are smaller temples, each with a miniature temple tower.
The ones just outside the temple (on the star-shaped base) are said to be temples for Vishnu and the ones on the same level as the platform, for different goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The emblem of the Hoysalas.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The Grand Torana — the intricate doorway sculpture.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The bracket figures
These figures are some of the biggest  attractions at the Chennakesava Temple. Many of them are in dance poses, and the main figure coupled with the smaller figurines often put together a grand scene. More about this in another post, soon.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
Do not miss the alignment of the corners of the sculpted temple walls.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The foundation of the Hoysalas.

Our guide explained that the horses symbolised ‘Speed,’ the lions, ‘Bravery’ and the elephants, ‘Strength.’ Put together, this was the foundation on which the Hoysala dynasty thrived.

Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
Talking of elephants, I hear there are over 600 elephants running all through the bottom of the temple walls. What’s even more amazing is that no two elephants are alike.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The feet of Chennakesava.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
Ravan lifting Mt.Kailash
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
More sculptures from the walls of Chennakesava Temple:
Arjun aiming at the fish, Brahma and Narasimha.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The ceiling of the nrithya mantapa, inside the temple.
Many temples have a small platform just before the deity where dancers offered their art.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The famous indoor pillars of Chennakesava temple.
They stand just outside the sanctum sanctorum. They are adorned with bracelets and necklace designs, and some fabric designs too.
Chennakesava Temple, Belur.
The stone lattices that let in light, another feature of the Hoysala Temple architecture.

The temple complex in which the Chennakesava temple stands also has a Bhoodevi temple ( a temple for the earth goddess) and a smaller Veera Narayana temple.

Other things not to be missed here are the temple pond, the temple car (Chariot) and the gravity pillar also in the same complex.

Bhoodevi Temple, Belur
Bhoodevi Temple in the
Chennakesava Temple complex, Belur.
Veeranarayana Temple, Belur.
Veeranarayana Temple, also in the same complex.
Temple well, Chennakesava Temple, Belur
Temple Stepwell.


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55 Comments on this post.
  • R Niranjan Das
    31 December 2015 at 5:51 am

    Exquisite and intricate art work. Hoysala temples are a delight to watch. Nice captures, Nambiare!
    Have a fabulous 2016!

    • dNambiar
      4 January 2016 at 2:35 am

      That, they are. Another time I was tipsy from seeing some sculptures! 😀
      What work!!
      Thank you so much, Nomad.
      Happy New 2016 to you too. 🙂

  • Prasad Np
    31 December 2015 at 6:13 am

    you will not believe this I was in this temple a few months back on way to Chikamagalur and I had no idea of its significance and just went inside with a cellphone…By the time I came back to get my camera the driver has gone for lunch..so here I was in one of the most exquisite Hoysala temple with just a cell phone… You have clicked some really good pictures, specially the ones inside as the light is really poor inside the temple…. Happy new year

    • dNambiar
      4 January 2016 at 2:39 am

      Really? During the car shoot?
      I can quite imagine what it felt like to be in the midst of all these sculptures and not have your DSLR with you. But then, I'm sure you got some great cellphone shots. 🙂
      And I'm also sure there'll be a 'next time.' 🙂
      Thank you so much, Prasad. 🙂

  • Bikram
    31 December 2015 at 10:45 am

    Wowo such beautiful pic and I think art work in the gone era was much more intricate then now

    Wishing you and family and everyone around you a very happy new year .. may all that you dream come true .. have a fantabulous new year ..

    • dNambiar
      4 January 2016 at 2:41 am

      Oh yeah, the artwork on stone was simply amazing. So much talent, so much skill and so much hard work went into all of this, I'm sure.

      Thank you so much for the wishes, Bikram.
      Here's wishing you a very awesome 2016. 🙂

  • rupam sarma
    31 December 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Amazing pics.
    Wishing you a very Happy New Year.

    • dNambiar
      4 January 2016 at 2:42 am

      Thanks a ton, Rupam.
      Happy New Year to you too. 🙂

  • Ranjana’s craft blog
    1 January 2016 at 9:20 am

    Lovely photos! Hoysala architecture is unique with its special carvings like ornamentation on idols, series of panels and flowers of ceiling. Its really feast to eyes. Thanks for sharing .

    • dNambiar
      4 January 2016 at 2:44 am

      Ranjana, Happy New year!!!

      Thank you so much, dear Ranjana.
      Yeah, it is so unique. The work on the jewellery and the scenes on the pillars — along with bracket figures is so, so awe inspiring.

      Thank YOU for coming by. 🙂

  • umashankar
    13 January 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Beautiful and intricate marvels of the past. I wonder how many lives must have been squandered to leave this stamp on time? I like how you keep toggling us between California and the Indian South. Thanks for the continued stream of travelogues.

    • dNambiar
      13 January 2016 at 4:52 pm

      I was so enthralled with this temple. I was there to see the sculptures and it turned out be way beyond what I expected to see. Having a guide helped too. Oh yes, a lot of manpower has gone into it. And the perfection is awe-inspiring.

      Thank you so much, USP. That just goes to show how much of backlog I've got as far as blogging is concerned. :-o. 🙂

      It's such a pleasure. Thank you for all your support. 🙂

  • Kokila Gupta
    14 January 2016 at 10:25 am

    Another of your great post on a gem!i have been there and can say that your pictures do justice to the intricate beauty of the temple .. Though I have seen many such magnificent architectural wonders Dee, I was astounded to see this one . It's vastness and grandeur was serene but the complex workmanship was a unnerving, forcing me to spare a thought about those craftsmen who breathed life in stones , making them divine.Intimidating !

    • dNambiar
      19 January 2016 at 2:06 am

      A true gem it is.
      By the end of the day, I was so tipsy from the sight of all that craftsmanship. Mind-blowing work by human hands, I say! 🙂

      Thank you so much, dear Kokila.

  • Bikram
    14 January 2016 at 12:12 pm

    wowow that is a beautiful place … thank you so much for sharing …


    • dNambiar
      19 January 2016 at 2:09 am

      Isn't it?
      You're so welcome.

      Thank you for visiting this post, Bikram.
      Are you having a happy new year.

  • Rahul Bhatia
    15 January 2016 at 5:37 am

    That was a gorgeous post and thanks for reviving my memories of these lovely places! Your narrative is as fascinating as the pictures, Divya:)

    • dNambiar
      19 January 2016 at 2:33 am

      That was one of a kind of a temple and the work that has gone into making it.
      Thank you, Mr. Bhatia. 🙂

  • My Unfinished Life
    16 January 2016 at 6:19 am

    Amazing n stunning are the two words for this temple/monument!!

    I am mesmerised by hoysala architecture …recently on my work trip in karnataka, i came across two 'small' temples and my first thoughts on visiting them was-if these small structures are so beautiful..then how magnificient bigger ones would be!!


    • dNambiar
      19 January 2016 at 2:46 am

      I swear.

      I think it is a good thing that you visited the smaller ones before you went and saw this very grand temple.

      How have you been, Sush?

    • My Unfinished Life
      21 January 2016 at 3:41 pm

      Been busy like hell managing a 20 month old, work and travel… but am loving all if it.. just wish i get some hours of extra sleep!!

    • My Unfinished Life
      21 January 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Been busy like hell managing a 20 month old, work and travel… but am loving all if it.. just wish i get some hours of extra sleep!!

    • dNambiar
      8 February 2016 at 4:11 am

      Tell me about it. I have a 24 month old. Terrible Twos are here. ;D
      I totally get what you mean, Sush.
      Take care.

  • Alok singhal
    16 January 2016 at 6:34 pm

    I would say you are lucky to have witnessed this historical site. I especially loved this post because of the coverage of the temple with a handful of pics.
    Thank you for that!

    • dNambiar
      19 January 2016 at 2:49 am

      Lucky? Not really.
      It is just making use of opportunities, I guess. 😉
      We spent some time in Bangalore last year and since it was not too far away from there, we used a weekend to go see Shravanabelagola, Belur and Halebid.

      You are welcome, Alok.
      Thank you for coming by. 🙂

  • Indrani
    8 February 2016 at 4:00 am

    I have been there twice yet not satiated completely. I have to plan again. You have the most luring pics for a tourist!

    • dNambiar
      8 February 2016 at 4:12 am

      I'm not surprised. I'd like to visit again, too.

      haha! I'm so flattered. Thank you so, so much, Indrani.

  • ArchanaC Kapoor
    8 February 2016 at 4:05 am

    Superb post Dee… the temple is so fascinating… the Vishnu idol is beautiful… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing dearie… hugs!!

    • dNambiar
      8 February 2016 at 4:13 am

      The work on those walls and pillars IS so fascinating.
      Thank you for swinging by.

      Have a good week, Ok. 🙂

  • Maitreni Mishra
    8 February 2016 at 4:32 am

    It's quite an architectural marvel that looks so aesthetically pleasing. A treat to eyes and a traveler's paradise indeed. 🙂

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 8:47 pm

      You said it — it IS a marvel.
      Oh yeah! And a big beautiful treat.

      Thank you for visiting, dear Maitreni. 🙂

  • Steps Together
    8 February 2016 at 5:35 am

    Belur is truly a heaven for art lovers.. thanks for sharing this amazing post..

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 8:54 pm

      Yeah, the art on the walls and pillars exceeded my expectations, really.

      Thank YOU, Ranjani. 🙂

  • Arun
    8 February 2016 at 5:46 am

    Such a brilliant place! I am heading soon to this place for sure. Its hard to even think having 600 elephants with none of them being alike. What an art!

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 8:56 pm

      Brilliant it is.
      And to think that the canvas was stone and all things that could have gone when they were filling it up with art! Amazing!

      Go get awed, Arun! Have a great trip.

  • Parul
    8 February 2016 at 6:25 am

    That architecture is fabulous. You have captured the beauty of the place so well D. Wonderful post and thank you for sharing about the history. I haven't seen that part of Karnataka so need to get on some road trips. 🙂

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 8:58 pm

      It is, Parul.
      This temple is super-saturated with beautiful sculpture. It's an easy trip from Bangalore. Go see it. You'll be amazed when you see it in person.

      Thank you for coming by, Parul. 🙂

  • Yogi Saraswat
    8 February 2016 at 6:53 am

    what a beautiful place !! Pictures are saying a lot of words !!

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 8:59 pm

      It is, Yogi.
      And oh gosh! I still haven't sent you the pic I promised. Lemme do that right away.

  • Sims
    8 February 2016 at 8:57 am
    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 9:00 pm

      I know what you mean. 🙂
      Welcome here, Sims. 🙂

  • Ravish Mani
    8 February 2016 at 9:17 am

    Loved the detailed account on Channakesava temple with some really amazing captures. A great post indeed, Divya. 🙂

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 9:02 pm

      It's a GREAT place, Ravish.
      I was overwhelmed by the art on the temple's walls and pillars. There's so much to see.

  • magiceye
    8 February 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Amazing sculpture and a beautiful account thank you!!

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks a whole bunch, Magiceye. 🙂

  • purba chakraborty
    8 February 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Amazing pictures, dear. Enjoyed reading the post 🙂

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 9:03 pm

      …because the place was amazing. 😉
      Thank YOU, dear Purba. 🙂

  • Jitaditya
    9 February 2016 at 4:42 pm

    That Hoysala Emblem is the coolest thing I saw today!…
    Somehow I just could not cover these places when I was living in Bangalore…

    • dNambiar
      9 February 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Oh yeah?
      Wait till you see the bracket figures here. So beautifully done.
      When you visit the big city, may be you could drive to Belur. Knowing you appreciate places with a lot of history, you are going to love this place, J. 🙂

  • Nisha
    10 February 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Lovely photos! Hoysala architecture is unique and so is its carvings.

    Not been there. So much to see & learn and only one life!

    • dNambiar
      17 February 2016 at 2:01 pm

      It is.
      Visiting Belur and Halebidu meant a lot of learning about the Hoysalas, their love for art and the perfection of their sculptors.

      You have to have to see what a wonder this place is, Nisha. 🙂

  • Mridula
    24 February 2016 at 6:30 am

    100 years in the making? In the past they sure had a long term horizon! Such a grand place and such lovely pictures!

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