Chikmagalur Trip – Part III: Belur and Halebidu
Chikmagalur Trip – Part III: Belur and Halebidu

Chikmagalur Trip – Part III: Belur and Halebidu

[Continued from Part II here]

The Hoysala empire ruled most of Karnataka and parts of present day Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh during a reign which stretched from the late 10th century to the mid 14th century. Wikipedia narrates the origin of the name Hoysala thus:

“Kannada folklore tells a tale of a young man Sala, who saved his Jain guru Sudatta by striking dead a Lion he encountered near the temple of the Goddess Vasantika at Sosevur. The word “strike” literally translates to “hoy” in Hale Kannada (Old Kannada), hence the name “Hoy-sala”. This legend first appeared in the Belur inscription of Vishnuvardhana (1117), but owing to several inconsistencies in the Sala story it remains in the realm of folklore.”

The Hoysala rulers patronized all forms of art and architecture so much so that historical accounts of temples built during their reign run in to the thousands. Unfortunately, only about a 100 or so remain presently, many having given way to destructive raids carried about by invaders under the Sultanate at Delhi. Of the few that remain, the Chennakesava (meaning handsome-Kesava, Kesava is another name for Lord Vishnu) temples at Belur and Somanathapura, the Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu are outstanding examples of the Hoysala style of architecture. This particular style is characterized by an ornate exterior that depicts mythological tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in intricate detail in addition to animals, birds and other mythological figures in various poses. Such level of intricacy is possible due to the use of a material called as Soapstone, these are the same stones that are now used as whiskey stones due to their ability to keep the drink chilled for a longer duration, without any dilution as in the case of ice cubes.


The ride from Chikmagalur to Hassan took almost 2 hours that day and with each passing hour, the stifling heat grew even more uncomfortable inside the Qualis. By the time our driver parked the Qualis under the shade of the compound wall of the Chennakesava temple in the heart of Belur, we were all thirsting for a glass of water. Thankfully, we had some with us but when we stepped outside to cross the road to the temple (you have to leave your footwear outside the temple gates – we chose to leave it in the vehicle), we almost jumped. The culprit was the tarred road that was baking in the mid morning sun.

We didn’t engage a guide for the tour of the temple complex and in my opinion, a guide is highly recommended. However, if you are armed with a book or a podcast, nothing beats exploring the temples and the exquisite carvings on your own.

Chennakesava temple at Belur
First sight of the temple inside the compound. Notice that the roof or ‘Shikhara’ is missing, it is otherwise a consistent feature found in every Hindu temple. In front is the Garuda Sthamba (pillar) that was erected during the reign of the Vijayanagara empire.
Laddoo at Belur
Enormous ladoos for 50 rupees each. Try finishing off one by yourself.
Chennakasava temple at Belur
A closer look at the main entrance, notice the 4 miniature shrines with exquisite shikharas flanking the steps. Now imagine what a grand sight it would have been if the shikhara of the temple had remained intact.
Garuda at Belur
Garuda, the ‘vahana’ or mount of Lord Vishnu, adorns the front of the temple compound
Inside the Chennakesava temple
Lord Vishnu carries an umbrella, supposedly to shelter the world. His fifth incarnation, that of Vamana, is depicted as a dwarf carrying an umbrella. I thought this umbrella lying inside the temple made for a very symbolic picture indeed – this photograph was insanely difficult to capture considering my camera’s poor ISO performance and the extremely dark interiors of the temple.
Chennakesava temple Belur
For a price of 20 rupees, these guys will light up the interiors (which are very dark even during the day) so that your cameras can capture the carvings inside the temple as well
Frieze panel carvings at Belur
The frieze panels consist of elephants that symbolize stability and strength, lions that symbolize power and courage, horses that symbolize speed, flowers that symbolize tenderness and the caring nature of the erstwhile Hoysala rulers. Point to be noted your honor, no two figures are similar.
Chennakesava temple Belur
The star shaped design of the temple, one of the distinguishing features of the Hoysala school of architecture. You can also see cement used in the lathe pillars here to mend the ravages of time and the elements.
Chennakesava compound Belur
Another temple inside the compound
Kings balance Chennakesava temple Belur
This is probably the King’s balance, an integral part of a lot of south indian temples where rulers would be weighed in gold, money or precious stones and the same weight would be donated to the temple. The practice continues to this day, devotees are weighed (in fruits if I am correct) in quite a few temples. Behind it is the ‘gravity pillar’ and further behind, the imposing Gopura (or main entrance) that was constructed during the Vijayanagara reign
Vimana at Chennakesava temple Belur
A vimana of one of the numerous miniature shrines dotting the main temple compound. Each one is itself composed of even smaller vimanas – all of it put together seems to point to the heavens
Panoramic view of the Chennakesava temple Belur
The Deepotsava stambha or ‘gravity pillar’ that is visible here, also installed during the Vijayanagara reign, is not fixed to the ground, it is standing on its own dead weight, a testament to the skills of the architects from that period
Panoramic view of the Chennakesava temple Belur
Another panorama of the temple compound. From this perspective, you can guess that I was standing in front of the Pushkarani (the water tank) inside the compound.

We were at the mercy of the sun god by this time and were grateful to find a coconut vendor outside the compound. After dancing for a while on the heated road, a quick gulp of some sweet coconut water (the first of many to come that day) we were on our way to the next destination – Halebidu.


We reached the Hoysaleshwara temple compound by around 12.30 pm which is a damned time to walk barefeet on the stone tiles laid out to reach the temple. Thankfully, there was a lawn which we used as an alternate pathway to the temple. The Hoysaleshwara temple  – dedicated to the Lord Shiva, although emanating from the same school of architecture as the Chennakesava temple at Belur, seemed to bear even more intricate carvings on its exterior.

Halebidu Temple
This temple too has the ‘Shikhara’ or roof missing, the Somanathapura temple is the only one among the 3 which has its roof intact. If you imagine this setting without the manicured lawns outside, the experience of being at such an ancient temple situated on the banks of a river is extremely magical.
Inside the Halebidu temple
The famous lathe pillars which run from North to South inside the main temple make for an enchanting sight.
Guards at the temple at Halebidu
The north entrance – ‘dwarapalikas’ or guards if I am not mistaken.
Jaw dropping carvings at Halebidu
Observe the frieze panel above the horses and you’ll stumble upon a treasure trove of scenes from the mythological epics – I observed a guide talking to a group of tourists and recognition of particular scenes led to a lot of jaws dropping amid gasps from the delighted crowd
Fantastic carvings at the Halebidu temple
86 years of painstaking labour and the amount of detail that has gone into the sculptures is evidently astounding, it is bound to leave you spell bound. If you are a fan of Indian mythology, the hundreds of stories etched in stone will undoubtedly make you go click-happy here
Nandi at the Hoysala temple at Halebidu
Click on this photo and zoom in, you’ll find graffiti etched on to the Nandi. Even the gods are not spared sometimes, when it comes to a Indian’s desire to save his name and that of his beloved for posterity. It is a good thing that ASI has security guards who shoo away miscreants trying to breach the ropes here, but there is only so much they can do to ward off people from touching the sculptures.

We couldn’t have enough of the Hoysaleshwara temple but it was growing late in the afternoon and we still had to have lunch and visit Shravanabelagola before the evening. Parched throats led to some hunting outside the compound, where a lot of vendors were selling their wares. And then we laid our eyes upon it – the biggest coconuts we’d ever seen. For a measly sum of 15 rupees only. God given boon I thought at first and immediately ordered one. There was a kid along with his dad at the same cart and hearty laughter ensued when the little guy could not finish off even half the water inside his coconut.

Bodies cooled and minds entranced, we made our way to the waiting driver and after stopping for an unsatisfying lunch at a local hotel in Hassan, we set off towards our final destination for the trip – the Jain pilgrim town of Shravanabelagola.

[Continued in Part IV here]

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