I just got back last night after an awesome 3-day trip to Chikmagalur in Karnataka. We stayed at ‘Hidden Valley’-which is about 10 kms away from Chikmagalur town and ended up mostly visiting places of some religious significance. The first day was spent visiting the twin temples of Belur and Halebidu. Belur was about 20 kms away from where we stayed. We assumed they would close by 5pm or so and were worried we wouldn’t make it on time, but both temples are open from sunrise to sunset. During my last visit to both places, about 11 years ago, both temples were virtually empty except for a couple of other families who had come sight-seeing as well-there are actually photos of us sitting on the steps that lead to the temple-none of that would have been possible this time :D. Both temples were extremely crowded (it was a sunday, and the sunday before the christmas break at that), there was even this student group that had come here as part of their excursion!
Although the Belur temple was closer to where we stayed, we ended up reaching Halebidu first thanks to the roundabout way our driver took us :P.
Halebidu literally means ruined city and got its name after the city was attacked twice be the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th Century. The city was earlier called Dwarasamudra and was the capital of the Hoysala rulers during the 12th and 13th century. The idea of this temple is believed to have been proposed by one of the ministers under the Hoysala king, out of his love and gratitude for the King and Queen. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, has a beautifully and exquisitely carved exterior and is built entirely out of soapstone. Another unique feature of both the Halebid and Belur temples is that-the numerous pillars located in each temple are all unique-No two are the same!
The whole of the exterior of the temple looks like this-it is believed that while the carvings in the lower rows were done directly on the rock after positioning it in place, the carving in the upper rows was done in individual smaller panels, that were later fitted in. The bottom 5 rows-the elephants that represent strength, the lions that stand for courage, the floral pattern that stands for beauty, and the horses that represent speed-run throughout the temple. The row above these, has carvings representing various stories from epics such as the Mahabharata and the Gita. Again what is special here is that no two elephants, lions or horses are the same.
This carving to the right is of Arjuna and Karna engaged in warfare. Our guide added-“Maybe modern day serials based on the Mahabharata that depict the concept of 1 arrow shot getting multiplied into 100’s were inspired by this sculpture” :D.
Another beautiful carving is that of Krishna carrying the mountain.
Each sculpture is done with so much attention-to-detail, even features such as facial expressions of animals etc.
There is this sculpture of a stern-looking man dressed similar to present day Judges in English Courts. Our guide remarked that perhaps it is sculptures such as this one that inspired the British to come up with such attire. 😛
Halebid also has the sixth and seventh largest monolithic Nandi-bull statues in India. All in all, the temple at Halebid is a visual treat and it is sad that many of the sculptures were looted or destroyed due to the invasions by the Delhi Sultanate.
The Chennakeshava temple at Belur is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and was built in the 12th century. This temple, unlike the one at Halebid is more complete. Some parts of the Halebid temple were never fully completed. It is said that while the Halebid temple has a more beautiful exterior, Belur has more exquisite carvings in the interior.
All the forty-eight pillars in the temple are unique and the four central pillars and the ceiling they support are beautifully decorated. The Belur temple was more crowded than the former, and we couldn’t learn much about other details of the temple as we didn’t have a guide. it was lovely watching the sun set, sitting on one of the stone structures outside the temple with MS Subhalakshmi’s Bhajagovindam playing in the background.
Both temples are amazingly beautiful pieces of architecture, and I hope the Archaeological Survey of India realizes this soon enough and does more to safeguard and promote these sites. Although I remember that photography was prohibited inside the temple the last time I visited, there was no such rule this time. Even entry to the temples is free. The Halebid temple has a beautifully maintained garden and in both places-hawkers greet you first thing, with picture postcards and the like.
The trip was a lot of fun. Watch out for my next post on some of the other places I went to in Chikmagalur. So much for now! 🙂