(90 kms from Sravanabelagola, 222 kms from Bangalore) in Hassan district
is famous for its temples built in the Hoysala style. Belur, once the capital
of the Hoysala rulers is considered the Benaras of the South and is also
known as Dakshina Vaaranaasi.
The Chennakesava temple, dedicated to Lord Chennakeshava (Vishnu) was built on the banks of the Yagachi River in 1117 A.D. by Vishnuvardhana (who defeated the Chalukyas) to commemorate his victory over the Cholas at Talakkad. It has all the typical styles of the Hoysala style of architecture and took 103 years for completion. It is the only temple of this style which is open for worship.
At the entrance of the temple, facing the shrine is the winged figure of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s vaahanam palms together in homage, as is customary in Vaishnavaite temples.
The exterior walls are intricately carved with horizontal friezes depicting stories from the Epics, Mythology, animals and birds such as elephants, lions, horses, makaras, hamsas, creepers, floral designs, etc.
The bracket figurines (38 on the outer walls & 4 on the interior ceiling),known as the madanikas sculpted in various different poses with great adornment and intricate detail are considered to be modeled on King Vishnuvardhana’s queen Shantala, who was a dancer. Several artists have signed their work. The Chennigaraya temple was built by Shantala Devi on a similar style with fine carvings.
The interior of the temple is also ornately decorated with huge intricately carved lathe-turned pillars holding a domed ceiling which is also elaborately carved.
The temple was damaged by the greedy invasion by Ganga Salar of Kaburgi, the Deccan commander of the Muslim ruler Tughlaq. The main gopuram was raised by Gudu, a general of Harihara II, a vijayanagar ruler & hence the difference in style between the temple & its gopuram.
There are other shrines around this temple for Veeranaarayana, Sridevi and Bhoodevi, Sowmyanaayaki and Ranganaayaki, Devis of Sri Chennakesava.