Chennakesava Temple in Belur is one of
the most remarkable monuments from Hoysala times and region.
The temple stands in a compound with several smaller temples and a pond It was commissioned by the Hoysala king himself to celebrate an important military victory in 1117 AD.
The king wanted an extraordinary temple because it has been built in an architectural style foreign to the region. Moreover the monument is exceptionally large and its decoration very lavish.
Many of the decorations were added later in the 12th century by the grandson and successor of the founder. The ornamental gopuram of the Chennakesava Temple appears unexpectedly around a bend. Hawkers sell antique jewellery.
In a corner of the vast courtyard are tossed a golden horse and a temple chariot. The winged figure of Garuda, Lord Vishnu's carrier, stands at the entrance, facing the temple palms touching in homage.
Everything is carved in a gleaming, polished black stone, which looks like metal. The breathtaking temple reigns on a star-shaped pedestal. Every possible surface is covered with the most perfectly proportioned figures.
Inside, in the startling darkness gleam the beautiful handlathe-turned rounded pillars, each unique in its filigreed splendour. The Narasimha Pillar revolved on its ball bearings once.
A small space has been left on it to be sculpted by anyone who has the talent. It remains untouched till date.
Madanikas (Bracket Figures):
The four famous bracket figures on the ornate ceiling are worth seeing. All these figures have been inspired by Shantala Devi's voluptuous beauty. Sculpted limbs undulate in lyrical lines. A dancer's fingers become flowers.
One sculptured beauty communicates with a pet parrot whose tail is peacock-like while another wrings water from her long hair and one can see the drops collected on hair-ends.
The 650 elephants charging on the frieze around the walls outside are all different from each other. The 38 Bracket figures on the walls are beautiful, pensive, playful and amorous women, lifting the temple to unprecedented heights of excellence.
At the lovely feet of a sensuous spy, crawls a scorpion. She was gradually fed venom with milk till her body was saturated with it, then sent forth to put an end to the enemies of the Hoysalas with the kiss of death.
Gods perform miracles, demons do their bit and the life of the era is reflected in the carvings.
The jewellery is hollow and movable. The delicacy and attention to the tiniest details here are incredible. Each feature, bangle, strand of hair is carved with care.
On the smooth circular platform in front of the shrine, the beautiful, talented Shantala Devi, queen of king Vishnuvardhana, danced in homage to Lord Chennakesava or Lord Krishna, beloved flute-playing deity of the Hindus.
Jakkanachari: The story behind the statues
There is a beautiful story about the master sculptor and architect Jakkanachari, who left his wife and son to travel in his quest for a living and fame. Eventually, he approached the Hoysala King, Vishnuvardhana, a patron of the arts, and was employed to create the marvels of Belur.
There is an enormous Ganesha here, which proved to be the last of Jakkanachari's art. The image was so beautiful that people from all over the country thronged to admire it.
The auspicious day for installing it, was fixed. With rituals, stone becomes a personification of god. Everything was about to begin when a young boy from the crowd pronounced the statue unfit for worship.
There was an amazed murmur from the crowd. Jakkanachari challenged the stranger to reveal the defect, for he could see none, and vowed to cut off his right arm if he were proved wrong. The boy struck Ganesha's navel, which shattered to unveil a frog swatting inside the damp stone.
The stone selection was obviously defective and the artist cut off his arm amidst great mourning. The boy was no other than his forgotten son who had grown up to know the art to perfection.