Journey through Malnadu: Beautiful Chikmagalur and Exquisite Belur-Halebid
By Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network
Moodubelle, 02 November 2011: After visiting important temple complexes and Jain religious centres from Kunjarugiri to Dharmasthala and viewing the natural beauty of Konkan, I decided to give a taste of Malnadu to my friend and his wife from Mumbai.
The KSRTC bus for Chikmagalur from Udupi started exactly at 1 pm and continued its journey passing through Karkala, Moodbidri, Venur, Beltangady and Ujire, in fact the same route that we had taken earlier on our way from Kunjarugiri to Dharmasthala. As we passed through these places we got ourselves reminded of the sites that we had visited earlier.
Crossing the Charmadi Ghats was a unique experience as the weather was quite pleasant and the ghat scenes were breathtakingly charming and a treat to the eyes. As the bus crossed the ghat section and entered the Malnadu region, it was getting darker and we were greeted first by mild showers followed by heavy rain. The bus halted at Kottigehara where we had tea and started onward journey to Chikmagalur crossing Mudigrere. At around 7 pm we alighted at the Shrine of Infant Jesus at Parvatipura around two kilometres short of Chikmagalur bus terminal where we were received by Fr. Valerian Castelino my former neighbour and friend who is presently the Director of the Infant Jesus Shrine who had made arrangements for our stay.
Getting up early next morning and having had the breakfast, we boarded a local hired vehicle to view some important places near Chikmagalur and also to visit the two most important historical temples at Belur and Halebid.
Chikmagalur: Nature at its best
Though i had been to Chikmagalur earlier in 2009, this tour revived my memories and interest. As we headed towards Bababudangiri, the coffee estates with lush green bunches of coffee, pepper wines clinging to the tall silver oak trees and passing mountainous landscape were just beyond any words. My friend from Mumbai and his wife were amazed with the beauty of the mountainous topography and recalled our travel through Himalayan mountain ranges when we had undertaken the Char Dham tour in the month of July.
We crossed Bababudangiri as the place has been closed following communal tension few years ago. Passing through the steep winding road we reached a spot known as Manikyadhara where some of the tourists wash themselves in the pond of water collected from the natural waterfall and as per belief have to leave their shirts at that place.
On our way back, after travelling quite a distance, the vehicle took right turn and headed towards a place known as Shitalayanagiri where there is a small temple. From this point the vehicle moved upward the mountain route through sharply winding narrow road and took us to a spot known as Mulayanagiri, believed to be the highest spot in Karnataka. From the base of the hill we could see a temple at the top of the peak. However, all of us being senior citizens decided against trekking the steep peak. However, we did enjoy the beauty of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Onward to Belur-Halebid
As we were keen to visit Belur and Halebid and spend considerable time viewing the wonderful architecture and exquisite sculptures, we asked the driver of the vehicle to head towards Belur. Crossing Chikmagalur city we proceeded through Chikmagalur-Hassan road observing the topography of the region and agricultural pattern. We were amazed to see heaps of harvested ginger ready to be transported to the market. At one place we were pleasantly surprised to see a woman selling sweet-water fish by the roadside. After driving for about 30 kilometres from Chikmagalur we reached Belur in the Hassan District where we had lunch.
Belur and Halebid are two tiny but beautiful temple towns 16 km apart. Once at the centre of a great empire ruled by the Hoysalas in the twelfth century, Belur and Halebid are heritage towns and are home to several exquisite temples which reveal the artistry of Indian sculptors and the mastery of the temple builders of the bygone era.
Belur: the Exquisite Chenna Keshava temple complex
The Hoysala dynasty that ruled the Deccan and parts of Tamilnadu between eleventh and thirteenth centuries had a curious beginning. The dynasty is said to have been named after the words ‘Hoy Sala’ meaning ‘Strike Sala’, which were called out to Sala, the legendary founder of this dynasty when he was fighting a tiger single handed. Sala killed the tiger, hence the nomenclature of the dynasty and the royal emblem of the dynasty-figure of Sala killing the tiger.
The Hoysalas had their origins in the hill tribes of the Western Ghats and were converted to Jainism in the tenth century. However, the later king Bittiga (1110-52) was reconverted to Hinduism under the influence of great philosopher, Shri Ramanujacharya and adopted the name of Vishnuvardhana.
Belur situated on the banks of river Yagachi was also referred to as ’Velapuri’ according to inscriptions discovered at this place. It has been also known as ‘Dakshina Varanasi’ or South Banaras for its temples and was the capital of the Hoysala kingdom for a short period.
The Belur temple is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. It was built by king Vishnuvardhana in commemoration of his victory over the Cholas at Talakad. The construction of the temple commenced in 1116. According to a legend it took 103 years to complete this temple and Vishnuvardhana’s grandson Veera Ballala II completed the task.
There are two gateways to enter the main temple complex, but only one entrance has the lofty ‘gopuram’ which was built in 1397 by Gunda, one of the generals of Harihara II, ruler of Vijayanagara Kingdom. The main Chenna Keshava temple complex, which contains the Chenna Keshava (Lord Vishnu) as the central deity, surrounded by the Kappe(Frog) Chennigraya temple constructed by Shantaladevi, queen of Vishnuvardhana, stands in the centre of a rectangular, paved courtyard along the perimeter of which are ranges of cells fronted by a pillared veranda. The main structure of the temple is star shaped and was built on a raised platform. The gorgeously decorated doorkeepers guard the doorways on either side. Forty-six pillars, each of a different design support the extensive hall.
The facade of the temple is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes with no portion left blank. The intricate workmanship includes elephants, lions, horses, birds and episodes from the Indian mythologies, Puranas and the great epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The chief attraction of the temple is 38 freestanding bracket figures angled between the upper walls and the overhanging eaves around the outside of the temple and the pillared hall (Navaranga).
The brackets are adorned with voluptuous beauties known as ‘madanikas’ or ‘Shilabalikas’ in various dancing and ritual postures. These brackets were carved from single slabs into images. The subjects are all secular and represented by voluptuous maidens. All are graceful, charming and fascinatingly chiselled out. Each damsel is celestial, with exuberant serene beauty, exhibiting the virtuosity of the sculptors. They all are in conformity with the art of dance and sculpture.
Some of the noteworthy brackets depict exquisite sculptural achievements in all details pertaining particular scene represented in the panel such as a lady admiring her beauty in the mirror held in her left hand; a lady playing a drum; a lady aiming an arrow at a bird; etc.
Scenes from mythology and epics are beautifully depicted in many panels all over the temple. The temple doors are exquisitely carved. The beautifully carved Hoysala emblem, depicting Sala fighting a tiger at the three gateways to the main temple is quite interesting.
The ‘Garbagriha’ (sanctum) has image of Chenna Keshava, literally meaning the ‘Beautiful Keshava’ in Kannada language. The beautifully ornamented 6 ft. high image of Chenna Keshava has four hands, the upper two holding a discuss and conch, while the lower two hold lotus and mace.
The large Navaranga Mandapa in front of the Garbagriha is noteworthy for the polished pillars and richly carved ceiling. The pillars of different shapes have rich carvings.
Historians find a tradition that the ancient and medieval Indian artists rarely sign their work of art. However, the Hoysala sculptors have broken this custom and signed their sculptures. They engraved their names, titles and even the place of their origin at the foot of their art work. The stone inscriptions and copper plates of the period give some more details about these artisans. Jakanachari is believed to be the chief sculptor of the Belur temple.
After spending considerable time at Belur, admiring the architecture and marvellous sculptures and clicking as many pictures as possible, we proceeded to Halebid, which is separated from Belur by a distance of 16 kilometres. As we alighted from the vehicle, the sight of the old temple placed in the midst of beautiful green lawns drew our attention towards it.
Halebid: the ‘Ruined City’
Halebid (Hale’beedu) literally means ‘the ruined city’. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it flourished as the capital of the Hoysala kingdom for about 150 years. It was then known as Dwarasamudra (gateway to the seas). However, it was twice attacked by invaders from the north. Malik Kafur, the slave general of Alauddin Khilji in the course of his invasion of the Deccan had sacked Dwarasamudra and destroyed and robbed the temple in the early fourteenth century. The Hoysalas then shifted their capital to Belur, leaving behind Halebid, a city reduced to poverty and ruins. Later, the place and temple became targets of the Bahamani Kingdom.
In spite of the wrath of the invaders and wear and tear of the passing centuries, the Shiva Temple, also known as the Hoysaleshwara temple has maintained its charm as a showcase of the Hoysala art and architecture.
The construction of this temple was started in 1121 by ‘Ketumalla’, one of the officials of Vishnuvardhana and was completed in 1207. The temple is similar to the Chenna Keshava temple at Belur but twice of its size and the figures are also larger than that of Belur. It is actually two temples attached along the north-south axis by pillared walls. . This temple is unique for its two shrines in the Linga form and gigantic figures of Nandi (sacred bull). The two giant Nandi statues which are on the side of the Hoysaleshwara temple are monolithic. Soap stone or Chloritic Schist was used for the construction of these temples and exquisite sculptures.
Like the sculptures of Belur, the walls of the Halebid temple are covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology, epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata, Puranic legends, animals, birds and Shilabalikas or dancing figures. Yet no two sculptures of the temple are the same.
The horizontal and vertical friezes create a marvellous interplay of light and shade. The lower portion of the temple is decorated with one of the richly sculptured friezes which run continuously along the wall. Innumerable elephants in single file are placed in the lowermost section, scroll work, charging horsemen, scenes from epics and mythical beasts form the subjects of these friezes.
Above the friezes are larger figures of various mythological deities of Hindu pantheon. The upper portion of one wall has beautifully perforated screen, a hallmark of Hoysala art and beautifully carved figures of divinities set on pedestal with canopies. As one goes around the temple, some of the finest wall panels could be seen. There are about thirty five thousand sculpted pieces in the temple.
After completing the tour of Belur and Halebid, an experience of a lifetime we returned to Chikmagalur and returned on the next day taking early morning KSRTC bus back to Udupi.