Also read: a more recent story on Belur, Halebeedu and a few other beautiful but less known temples nearby. This article, published in a magazine, covers history and architecture of the Hoysalas in details besides narrating my experience of visiting these architectural beauties.
I was not so very fond of architectural heritage of India. That is until I got a good view of the temples of Belur and Halebeed recently, understood the complexity involved and visualized the minutest details to which the rocks were carved.
A BRIEF HISTORY AND SOME INFORMATION
The temples of Belur and Halebeed were built around 12th century by the rulers of the Hoysala Dynasty. The story goes that the dynasty was founded by a young man called Sala who killed a tiger with bare hands.
The Logo of the Hoysala
The symbol of Hoysalas hence is a man killing a tiger. Halebeed was the capital of the dynasty where the temple stands. The temple of Halebeedu was constructed over a span of 190 years and remained incomplete. The Belur temple took more than 100 years to construct. The material used for both temples is soap stone which is soft and easy to carve when taken out from the earth but gets harder over prolonged exposure to the atmosphere.
The temple of Halebeedu
Halebeedu, when translated from Kannada means old habitat. This was named as Dwarasamudra in the times of Hoysala Dynasty and became an ‘old town’ after invasion from Muslim Rulers of the north. As with most of the historic temples, this temple also has seen some damages. The deity of the temple is Shiva in the name of Hoysaleshwara who is worshipped in the temple’s two shrines even now.
One of the largest Nandi statues in India
The temple also hosts two of the largest Nandi statues in India. The guide told us they are the 7th and 8th largest Nandi statues in the country. The carvings seen around the temple are amazing. Every inch of the wall is filled with art and the attention to details in each carving are surprising.
The guide explains us of every detail
The image above shows the carvings on the circumference. The bottom layer are elephants which are more than thousand in number, with each one in a different position than other. No two elephants are unique. There are seven layers with the subsequent layers hosting lions and horses and more.
Bheema killing the elephants!
There are stories of the Mahabharata and many mythological stories carved on the outer wall. The above image is of Bheema killing elephants in the war. To his right is an elephant he is tackling and to his left is a pile of elephants he has already killed! Such images are in plenty.
Just after the temple is a big lake once called the Dwarasamudra. Archeological Survey of India have maintained the temple well and you get well informed guides who can show you around the temple. Make sure you hire a guide to make your visit worthwhile.
The temple at Belur
The Belur temple is more known for the “Shilabalike” – the images of women carved in stone all around the temple. Each image is of a women doing different things or engaged in different occupations. They have interesting names such as ‘Shuka Bhashini’ for a lady talking to a parrot; ‘Darpana Sundari’ for a lady with a mirror and such.
Shuka Bhashini, a Shilabalika
The guide said that people hid the temple from invaders by covering it up completely in sand because of which the temple is intact. The carvings in Belur temple are as intricate as its counterpart in Halebeedu. The temple hosts an idol of Vishnu in the name of Chennakeshava, which can be translated from Kannada as ‘the beautiful Vishnu’.
The guide also informed us about another famous Hoysala temple with similar architecture at Somanathapura near Mysore, which I am yet to visit.
Information on Belur and Halebeedu
The two places are around 20kms apart. If you are driving, drive from Bangalore to Hassan. Take NH4 out of Bangalore. After driving for around an hour, turn left to NH 48(Bangalore to Mangalore road) at Nelamangala. Continue driving on the highway till you reach Hassan town(around 180kms from Bangalore) which is a few kilometers to the right of the highway. Ask for directions to Halebeedu once you are in town. Halebeedu is around 40kms from Hassan town. The drive from Bangalore takes around 6 hours.
If you are taking the bus, take KSRTC buses to Hassan from Bangalore where you can change buses to Halebeedu or Belur. Frequency of buses from Hassan to Belur should be good, but try to find bus timings to Halebeedu in advance.
The best town head for staying overnight could be either Hassan or Chikkamagalur. But you can also find some basic accommodation in Belur.