The Chennakeshava temple in Belur was built, like the Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu and the Kesava temple in Somnathpur, by the powerful and rich Hoysala kings. These magnificent temples have striking carvings on the outer walls as well as in the interior. Both temples have a star base with thirty two corners, and testify to the high level of craftsmanship in ancient India. The Belur temple was built in 1116 AD to commemorate a victory, and it is said that it took 103 years to be built.
As you enter through a twelve storey-ed ornate tower or “gopuram”, typical of South Indian temples, you will notice a figure of Garuda, (the winged carrier of the Hindu god Vishnu) palms joined in homage and facing the temple. Look around, and you will see other buildings in the complex—smaller temples, a tank, rooms lining the boundary walls, a hall where marriages are performed, and even a small stall selling souvenirs! The doorway of the temple is framed by intricate carvings, and the Hoysala emblem stands before the door, to one side.
The temple is carved of black soapstone, and the outer walls contain friezes and carvings—gods and goddesses, scenes from the sacred epic Ramayana, women in various poses, dancers, musicians and even hunters! A famous figure is that of a woman with a mirror. If you find the details intricate and lifelike, be prepared for more details in the inner hall. The latter seems to support the popular concept that the Belur temple is known for its “inner” beauty, while Halebidu is more famous for its ornate exterior.
Tips: You need to leave your footwear outside, so it is better to wear socks, as the stones of the complex get heated up. If you are not with a tour group, engage the services of a guide who will explain the significance of the many sculptures based on Hindu traditions and mythology. Since the inner sanctum is closed at certain times, make sure you time your visit to be able to enter, as it has much to offer.
According to legend, the Muslim invaders refrained from destroying the temple, so struck were they by its beauty! Visit it and see for yourself!
Hassan is 154 km from the nearest airport at Mangalore, and 222 km from Bengaluru. Take a bus or taxi from either place. The nearest railhead from Belur is Hassan town, 38 km away. By road, take the Hassan-Mudigere road to Belur.