Bowled over by Belur's beauty - by Mukunda Nayak
People plan and travel faraway to exotic locale. Some travel to seek adventure, some seek solace for the soul. This week we bring you a traveler who travels to rejoice the art and architecture of Indian temples.
DEVOURING THE DIVINE
Of temple tourism, art & architecture
Unplanned trips make for the best adventures. And if you have been bitten by the travel bug like me, there is no better antidote than taking off randomly on a trip to a destination unknown!
My friend and I woke up one fine morning and decided to go somewhere…somewhere far from the maddening frenzy and routine of the city lives, we lived. After some deliberation, we decided to drive to Belur, the temple town of Karnataka. While one typically visits temples to offer prayers to Gods and Goddesses, at Belur you will do much more than that!
For those new to temple tourism, temple architectures are more than a sneak peek into our pasts. They not only tell you how civilizations lived in the good old days, to the keen observer they are more than a window to the technological advancements Indians had made ages ago. There is a case here to be made to create more awareness of the intricate, beautiful and meticulously-carved temples that adorn the south of India; but then that’s another story altogether.
Blown Away by #Belur
Located in Hassan district, Belur is home to the famous Chennakeshava Temple of Lord Vishnu, a fine example of Hoysala architecture. It was consecrated by the famous Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to mark his victories in 1116 AD against the Cholas.
The entire edifice and façade will simply blow your mind away. Every inch of the entire façade is carved and the carvings are as intricate as it is grand. We were told that the temple took about 103 years to build. While King Vishnuvardhana started the construction, it was his grandchild that finished it. Talk about teamwork!
For the history buffs and art lovers, here are the three things that I was absolutely blown away by in the temple.
These beautifully carved celestial nymphs, or Madanikas, are inspired by Shantala Devi, queen of king Vishnuvardhana. Carved out of soapstones, there are more than 40 of these around the temple.
They are in different Bharatnatyam poses (it is said Queen Shantala Devi was a prolific dancer) – you will see one holding a mirror in hand, another with a parrot, a huntress, dressing her hair, playing the drum, and so many more.
The beauty and perfection of these feminine forms are simply not to be missed – they are poetry in stone.
There is so much happening on the exterior walls of the main temple that it is an art lover’s delight. When you visit the temple, you cannot but notice the outer walls that are covered with sculptures. There are rows of carvings of animals, scenes from epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana and dancing damsels. No doubt, they look beautiful. But there is great symbolism in their positioning. While the rows of elephant carvings at the base reflect strength, lions symbolise courage, and the other rows transport you to the rich art, dance and music scene of the Hoysala dynasty.
PILLARS OF PERFECTION
As you enter the main temple, you will notice the Deepa Sthamba, also called the gravity pillar. Standing 42 feet tall, the pillar has no foundation and stands on three points touching the pedestal. Its entire weight is balanced and its standing upright on its own!
The pillars inside the temple are no less of a marvel. They are circular, tall, monolithic and intricately carved. While there is little light inside the temple, the pillars glisten even then. And don’t miss spending some time admiring the Narasimha Pillar, the one with the miniature carvings of many gods and goddesses on it. There is another pillar with the Mohini statue on it. Mohini was the female avatar of Lord Vishnu. Again, the workmanship is simply incredible.
And when you go to main sanctum to offer your prayers to Lord Vishnu, don’t forget to thank the sculptors, architects, the kings and queens – basically, the entire crew that made this temple what it is!
Get a guide.
They aren’t expensive but more than make up for their fees with interesting tales and insights into the temple, its architectures and stories of the yore. We saw families with kids also engage guides, and the guides seemed to have spun stories that interested the little ones too!
Make time for the visit.
To fully experience the vastness and beauty of the temple and its architecture you will need roughly about one and a half hours. Anything less wouldn’t do it justice.