Belur and Halebid
- poetry in stone
If intricate architecture of ancient times stirs up your imagination, then behold! Nothing short of Divine inspiration could have stimulated these master craftsmen to so meticulously chisel inert stone and bring it to life. The temples at Belur and Halebid are out of this world. Their architectural grandeur and craftsmanship are simply astounding and nothing like you've ever seen before.
No wonder then, the Hoysala kingdom that flourished in these parts of ancient India between the 11th and 14th centuries is widely acknowledged as the 'crowning glory' in Indian architecture.
History records that the Hoysala dynasty came to power by overthrowing first the Chalyukas and later, the Cholas and ruled in the Southern Deccan for nearly 300 years between the 11th and 14th centuries. The rulers of this empire were called the Yadavas, the most famous of them being King Vishnuvardhana (also known as Bittiga). It was during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana that a unique and a radically different style of architecture flourished.
The temples at Halebid and Belur are standing examples of the Hoysala supremacy in architecture and sculpture. Halebid was the original capital of the Hoysalas but later when it was attacked by invaders and put to ruin, they shifted their base to Belur.
Somewhere around the middle of the 14th century, the Hoysala reign ended when the Sultan of Delhi defeated the last of the Hoysala Kings. The fall of the Hoysala kingdom gave way to the birth of yet another great dynasty - the Vijayanagar kingdom. The founders of this kingdom were Hakka and Bukka, once commanders of the Hoysala armies.
Belur and Halebid
Belur, once the capital of this great empire is just 42 kilometers from Hassan town. One would tend to think that this distance could be covered in about half hour. You could be wrong. Once you get onto that 36-kilometer stretch off the main road from Hassan you'll know why. The road is narrow and pockmarked with potholes. Driving on that road one gets the feeling the road itself is part of ancient history.
Why? Why are most roads in Karnataka that lead to historical spots bad? Is this how we promote tourism? Just goes to show the apathy of the concerned authorities.
When you reach Belur, just follow the signboards that read "To Temple" and you'll reach that all-familiar Gopuram, tapered and towering, just like any other South Indian temple. Park the car in the open under the hot sun and pay fifteen rupees as parking fee to get your car roasted. Footwear isn't allowed inside the temple. Wearing a pair of socks is highly recommended since the stone floor can get real hot as the day progresses. Local guides will hound you and ideally you should settle with one for fifty rupees. It's a good bargain especially useful if you haven't a clue to the historical significance on this place. How much what he tells you is true is another matter.
Pass through a metal detector (anything can happen these days) and you enter the main compound of the Channa Keshava Temple. Legend has it that this temple was built in the year 1117 A.D. in commemoration of King Vishnuvardhana's victory against the Chola viceroy of Talkad. As you get closer to the temple complex you'll be amazed at what you see. The temple is built on a platform to give it a slight elevation and not the towering height we normally associate South Indian temples with. Another unique feature is the sanctum stands on a base structure and is star-shaped. Quite unlike the normal square shaped structure that most temples follow. Architectural pundits have in fact analyzed this to be a grid of rotating squares and the resultant outline forms the star.
As you begin your tour of the Hoysala Kingdom's architectural supremacy, the first thing you'll notice is that each of the three entrances to the temple are 'guarded' by sculptures of lions on either side of the doorways. This in fact was the Royal Emblem of the Hoysala Kingdom and King Vishnuvardhana ensured that this emblem was artistically sculptured all around the temple. Each one is so very similar to the other as though they were products churned out from the same mould. Step inside the main sanctum of the temple and feast you eyes to exquisitely carved pillars. Crane you neck a bit more and observe the ceiling. At first you'll wonder what is it that you can see in the dimly lit interior of the temple. Strain you eyes a bit more and the tapestry of sculpture unfolds before you. The entire ceiling is filled with delicately engraved images and figures - birds, animals, dancers and ornamental figures - in various shapes and poses. And in all this there are stories, episodes from mythology and legends, which your guide will painstakingly narrate.
If the temple interior has held you spellbound, wait till you go around the exterior parts of the temple. All around, every bit of the temple structure with no space left blank has nothing but the finest sculptures you'll ever see. At the temple base are horizontal rows of friezes depicting mostly small female figures, sensuous dancers, elephants, episodes from the epics or ornamental niches. What will leave the viewer stunned are the elegance, grace and inspiring workmanship of these images achieved by the sculptors. The symmetry, the shape and form, the minutest detail and the continuity are absolutely astounding. Just eighteen kilometers (and thank heavens for a good road) from Belur is Halebid, the original capital of the Hoysala Empire and famous for the Hoysaleswara Temple. Built in 1121 A.D. by Kettumala, the Chief of Staff under King Vishnuvardhana, this temple is a fitting climax and once again reflects the Hoysala supremacy of superb craftsmanship.
The town of Hassan is 200 kilometers from Bangalore on the highway that goes to Mangalore. From Hassan, Belur is 42 kilometres and Halebid just 18 kilometers. From Halebid you can return to Hassan, which is 33 kilometers.
Karnataka Tourism runs has a regular bus service to Belur and Halebid. One can leave in the morning by about 7 am and return to Bangalore by 10 pm. If you propose to stay overnight there are many hotels - from the luxury to the budget type. If you aren't too fussy then we recommend you stay at Hotel Sri Krishna. It's vegetarian, the rooms are clean and the service is good. Above all it's very reasonably priced.
The Return of the Pervert...
We take great pride in our culture and architecture of monuments and temples. Whilst The Archaeological Survey of India does it's best to preserve these many sculptures that one sees at Belur and Halebid are defaced. Some happen due to acts of God and some are man-made. At times our own people are responsible.
For example, I saw a piece of chewing gum stuck to the breasts of one of the statues at Belur. Sure, the gum can be removed, but why do such a thing in the first place? Some pervert must have got a real thrill to his demented life by doing that!
Belur and Halebid - a Photo Gallery