Belur - Excellence of Hoysala Architecture

Belur and Halebeedu were always on my travel bucket list. I love temples not because I am religious but I love the architecture there. I have seen many temples across India and I must say temples built by Chalukya (Aihole, Pattadakkal), Chandela dynasty (Khajuraho group of monuments ), Vijayanagar architectural style (Lepakshi, Hampi) are very impressive, carving, details near to perfection will leave you speechless and wonder how rich culture was in the ancient & medieval period.

Now this time I explored Hoysala architecture in Belur. The Hoysalas ruled during the 11th and 14th centuries over some parts of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Music and art were highly regarded by the Hoysala kings. Now the interesting story of how Hoysala name is derived. I got the information from wiki but when I saw the sculpture at the Chennakesava temple, then the real story unfolded.

A young man named Sala saved his Jain guru Sudatta by Striking dead a tiger he encountered near the temple of Goddess Vasantika. The word “strike” meaning “hoy” in old Kannada, hence the name “Hoy-sala (Strike Sala), and this act got immortalized by the name Hoysala.

The major attraction in Belus is Chennakesava temple, its a testament to the amazing artistry of Hoysala, where every pillar, sculpture, stones tell you the story. Chenna means beautiful and Keshava refers to Lord Vishnu. Chennakesava (Handsome Keshava) is dedicated to Lord Vijayanarayana, one of the twenty-four incarnations of Vishnu. It took 103 years to complete this spectacularly sculptured temple.

The temple is a single shrine design (Vimana). The temple is built on a platform for circumambulation (Jagati). There is one flight of steps leading to the platform (jagati) and another flight of steps to the hall (mandapa). The hall one of the main attractions and has 60 compartments. The tower (Shikhara) on top of vimana had been lost over time (sad!!!).

You will see a similar kind of design in most of the temples in South India. Temple with Gopuram (Gateway), Vimana (Pyramid style tower, also combined with Shikhara), Mantapa (Hall or porches).

The temple Gopuram (gateway tower) is majestic, beautifully ornamental, and one of the best I have seen. 20 storied Gopuram at Murudeshwar temple would be always top of my list.

Inside the temple, it was a bit dark and I could see the pillars but the ceiling was not visible. Then I saw one lady standing near big round searchlight (ready for batman like signal), she asked me if I am interested to see the carvings at the ceiling. I said yes, then she asked me to pay 30 rs and after then there goes a big light up to the ceiling. The carving there was another masterpiece. Then she pointed out to the center of the carving, Narasimha. It stands at the center of the ceiling, a remarkable piece of artistic workmanship.

Every pillar, every wall in the temple, tells you a story. It was amazing to see those beautiful carving and the way each and every sculpture was made. Throughout the outer wall of mantapa, you will see a series of elephants, lions, and horses.

The elephants at the lower section symbolize strength and stability, the lions above symbolize courage, and the horses above them symbolize speed. Interesting thought and beautifully carved.

More pictures, you can see elephants, lions, dancers, horses, many mythological characters. As I mentioned before Hoysala kings were very interested in music and arts when you see all sculptures, carvings it proved how much they loved music, dance, and art.

Another attraction there is 42 feet tall lamp post, also known as "The Gravity Pillar". It's foundationless, the baseless post is simply placed over a stone platform, standing on its own weight. Its stability is baffling. You cant stand at the platform and touch the pillar, it's not allowed, couldn't check how stable it is and how this pillar is standing on its own dead weight.

Stepwell, Pushkarni inside the temple complex

I definitely recommend hiring a guide, because a lot of these historical details are easy to miss. You really need someone who can point small details out and tells you the story behind each and every pillar, walls. If anyone is willing to spend enough time at this temple, there is no end to the pleasures one experience in looking into these beautiful sculptures and understanding all the different mythological tales.

I could not cover Halebeedu temples and that was a bit disappointing. But I know I will be there soon and also spend more time in Belur. Its hardly 200 KM from Bangalore.


  1. The hoysala architecture images given in this blog was really amazing. Thanks for sharing.
    with regards
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