Chennakeshava Temple, also referred to as Keshava, Kesava or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, is a 12th-century Hindu temple in, Hassan district of Karnataka state, India. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE, on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur also called Velapura, an early Hoysala Empire capital. Chennakeshava temple was popular among the locals with the name ‘Vijayanagara Temple’. The presiding deity in this temple is Chennakeshava, whose original form is Lord Vishnu. This temple is located exactly 220km away from Bangalore and 40km from Hasan City. The word Chennakesava in Kannada means “Handsome Kesava”. Belur is the seat of many outstanding structures built by Hoyasalas.
The founding stone of Chennakeshava temple was laid by Vishnuvardhana, a great ruler of Hoyasala kingdom. Its construction was initiated in 1117 A.D. The construction of this temple was completed during the reign of Chennakeshava grandson.
Chennakeshava Temple History
There were many opinions with regard to the reasons behind the construction of this temple. It is said that Vishnuvardhana constructed this temple, in remembrance of his victory over Chola kings of Tamil Nadu, in the battle of Talakad held in 1116 A.D. To other abstract, this temple was the symbol of Vishnuvardhana defeat over his superior king Vikramaditya 6 of the western Chalukyan Empire.
Another theory states that Vishnuvardhana was influenced and inspired by the teachings of Saint Ramanujacharya. Therefore he got converted from Jainism to Vaishnavism sect of Hindu religion. To commemorate this event, Vishnuvardhana constructed this temple.
This temple was enclosed by huge walls. It has only 2 Gopurams. The original gateway was destroyed by Ganga Salar, henchmen of Tughlaq’s. Later a gateway was constructed by Gunda, general of Harihara-2 of Vijayanagara.
This temple truly symbolizes the workmanship of Hoyasala kings. They truly patronized great artists and constructed magnificent temples during their reign. Particularly, this temple is regarded as the first and greatest works of Hoyasalas. One can enter into the complex of temple through Rajagopuram. Chennakesava Shrine is located exactly in the middle of temple complex. Garuda Sthamba was erected by Vijayanagara rulers, toward the face of main temple. While Deepasthambam was erected by Hoyasala kings. To the right side of Chennakesava temple, Kappe Chennigaraya temple was located. One has to pass through three entrances to enter sancto sanctorum of Chennakeshava swami temple. On either side of doorways beautiful images of Dwarapalakas were sculpted. Inside the temple complex on can find a vestibule, Navagraha Mandapa and Garbha Griha.
A person should circumambulate (Pradakshina) the shrine, before entering the main temple. The main shrine is originally built in star-shape, but in later period with some additions the shape was changed to square.
Artistic excellence of Chennakeshava Temple
There are totally 48 pillars in this temple. Each of them was carved with great care. The most notable pillar was that of Narasimha Pillar, it has many miniature figures on it. It is said that in heydays this pillar was able to be revolved with that aid of ball bearing at its bottom. All pillars were constructed in Soapstone, despite this they glitter in darkness as if they were made with some metal. The images of female figurines on top of the pillars will jaw-struck you. It is said that they were Madanikas, Shilabalikas. They were 42 in number and each figurine can be seen in different postures, representing their mood. Many great artists took part in the construction of this holy place, and much of the credit owes to them. These artists include big names like Ruvari Mallitama, Nagoja, Chavana, Dasoja, and Chikkahampa.
Important sculptures in the temple include Vamana avatara of Vishnu, Shiva as Andhakasura, Narasimha avatara of Vishnu, Garuda and Durga Devi as Kali.
Kundha Sthambha – Pillar
This spectacular monolithic lathe turned Pillar (Kundha Sthambha) is from Belur Shri Chennakeshava Temple, Karnataka. Lathe like pillars with amazing carvings welcome one in the main shrine. As a matter of fact, their smooth finish and shine are a treat to the eye. There are total 48 pillars in this temple. Each pillar is different from one another. Every pillar inside the temple has unique 3D carvings. Let us understand the brilliant artistry of this Sthambha.
The base of this pillar is Square (Brahma Kanta). Major Central portion of the pillar is Circle (Rudra Kanta) with multiple intricate circular layers & Mirror finish. The most difficult breath-taking work of this monolithic pillar is – 2 umbrellas carved in the upper portion of the pillar. Lower umbrella is circular (Valaya Chatra). Upper Umbrella is Square (Gruha Chatra). The ultimate level of work is – sculpting intricate designs on the edges of those umbrellas without cracking.
The Mystery Sandals at Chennakeshava Temple
There was a pair of sandals for Chennakeshava swami in the temple. They disappear on every day and cobbler makes a new pair for next day. It is believed that Chennakeshava wears those sandals and travel to meet his consort.
Recommended Things to Follow
- It is most appropriate to visit this temple during the months of April and October, owing to pleasant and beautiful atmosphere at that time.
- The nearest Airport to Chennakeshava temple is Bangalore airport. From there you can commute to Chennakesava temple through private cabs.
- Try to hire a guide in the temple, by doing so you won’t be able to miss any important place in this temple.
- There aren’t many good accommodation centers near the temple. If you wish to stay overnight book a hotel in Hassan city.