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Belur - Channakesavaswamy Devalaya


Unlike the holy shrines, like Kedarnath or Kanyakumari, this temple neither claims celestial connections, nor visitation by poet-saints. The cause of its emergence, said to have links between Ramanuja of Visishtadwaita and the builder Bittideva of Hoyasala dynasty is not corroborated by historical proof, yet there is evidence that Ramanuja's magnetic influence forming the bed-rock upon which this superb sculptural piece is built. The story goes that the Hoyasalas, the rulers of this region were staunch supporters of Jainism which came along with Chandragupta Maurya, as early as in the 3rd century BC and got entrenched itself with headquarters at Sravanabelagola, the seat of Bhadrabahu, the renowned teacher of Chandra Gupta. It spread rapidly in this region with the patronage of powerful monarchs of Kadamba dynasty first, valorous Gangas and Kongalvas later. Hoyasalas who rose to power and held it for more than four centuries from loth were Jains in the beginning. Their religious toleration was worthy of emulation as exemplified the statement of the versatile Santala Devi, the queen-consort of Bittideva, the illustrious

Hoyasala king, who confessed - "Vishnu is the God, of course, but I am fond of adoring Lord Jina - Vishnu daivam, Jinanatham tanagendu aptam". What transpired between Bittideva and Ramanuja, when they met first ad Tonnur, near Melkote records are silent, but the impact is tremendous; more on religion than on anything else. Slowly the Jain patron found himself drifting towards Vaishnavism. It was at this moment, he chanced to visit the Mahalakshmi temple at Doddagaddavalli in Hassan district, built by a merchant. Its architectural splendour exuding sculptural profusion deliberately employed to play a predominant role, touched his heart and moved him most. And it became a turning point in his life. His faith in Jainism shaken due to the. contact of the Acharya slowly solidified into dynamic Vaishnavism. Soon he launched the construction programme on a scale gigantic, and vigor unheard of. 

The Kesava Temple

It is built in the centre of Velapura, the sanskritued word for Belur, its original name, and is enclosed by a high massive prakara with two entrances surmounting a five-storied tower, built in the Dravidian style is facing the east. The temple occupies a vast area measuring 443 by 396 feet, and the main mandir is perched on a three feet high plinth of 178 length by 158 width. It was consecrated in 1117 AD, and is said to have been built under the direct supervision of Dasoja of Balligame and his son Chavana along with other illustrious sculptors, like Kanchi Mallianna and Chikka-Hampa. Inscriptions mention many more with their honorific titles. This main mandir is encircled by a railed parapet called Jagati consisting of eight different and distinct sculptured friezes placed one above the other. A row of beautifully decorated elephants form the first row; the second is the cornicee of bead work with heads of lions at intervals; the third is devoted to the scroll work; the fourth is a repetition of the second row, but has ornamental niches with images of nymph's and musicians carved in bold relief; the fifth is a pilaster series with female figures in between, the next comprises of eaves with bead work, adorned with continuous creepers and figurines of humans and animals, and the, top most is a rail beautified with many sculptured images, placed in niches surmounted by ornamental bands. Above this is seen the perforated screens with eves atop. The walls are adorned with as many as 80 figures of divinities of the Hindu pantheon, like Vamana, Varaha, Narasimha, Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Parvathi, Saraswathb Ganesha, Madana, Rati, Garuda, Brahma along with epic heroes, like Arjuna, Ravana etc. As you go round seeing each one, you complete the pradakshana of the temple as a matter of fact. A novelty!

The main mandir dedicated to Channakesava has three main entrances with door frames and lintels adorned with perforated screens in attractive designs, with pairs of artistic images at the jambs, like the lovely images of Manmatha and Rati at the eastern door way; Hanuman and Garuda at the southern, and alluring women bearing chauris at the northern. It is through the eastern door of the Mahadwara, the devotees enter, and the Hoyasala crest - the youth Sala fighting Sarabha draws their attention first!

The Archamurthi

Lord Channakesava's black granite statue in standing posture measures about six feet in height. It is installed on a three foot high pedestal. Its loveliness emerging from the sculptors exquisite craftsmanship is beyond description. It was originally called Vijayanarayana, one of the honorific titles of Bittideva, the Hoyasala monarch, but later came to be worshipped as Channakesava, an account of its extra-ordinary charm that mesmerizes the beholders with a single sight. He reveals in four arms, bearing the usual insignia of disc, conch, mace and lotus with an intricate aureole, adding grace to the figure. The goddessess Bhudevi and Sridevi are seated on his either side and his mount Garuda just in front on a pedestal. Offering prayers here, the visiting public move to the shrine, lying left called kappe Chennagiraya. It is a two-cell shrine, housing Venugopala and Kesava. This is equally enticing and the stone cutter's artistry adorns every inch here. There is another shrine dedicated to Saumyanayaki built by Devi Santala, the queenconsort. It is a temple with difference. Unlike the others including the main mandir, it has Vimana - tower over garbhagriha which is invariably found in south Indian temples. Though small comparatively, its sculptural wealth in the form of images, like Vishnu, Siva, Brahma, Parvathi, Bairava and Saraswathi deserves attention and whole-hearted veneration. Along with these there are some more shrines dedicated to Alwars, like Sri Ramanuja, Andal, Vedantadesika and Manavalamamuni. The temple Pushkarini known as Devasaras is located to the north-east of the main shrine.

It lies in Hassan district of Karnataka, accessible by bus.


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