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Hoysala Temples of Belur

by Dr. K. L. Kamat
First Online: July 24, 1999
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

Previously: Introduction to Hoysala Art & Architecture An Introduction to Hoysala Architecture

Belur is a small town in the Hasan district of Karnataka. Here, kings of  the Hoysala dynasty constructed the 'Chennakeshava' (handsome Vishnu) temple. It is about one hundred feet high and has a magnificent gateway tower (gopuram), built in Dravidian style.  The main temple, surrounded by a group of subsidiary shrines, stands in the center of a rectangular, paved courtyard along the perimeter of which are ranges of cells fronted by a pillared veranda. The temple has lost its super structure but looks very imposing. It has a pillared hypostyle hall (navaranga), a square vestibule (antale ), and a solid, stellate vimana. Three entrances lead into the hall, each being flanked by a shrine. The doorways are guarded on either side by the gorgeously decorated doorkeepers. The extensive hall is supported by forty-six pillars, each of a different design. The Narasimha pillar could be rotated at will.


The unique pillars were manufactured by rough-finishing a monolithic block of stone and then mounting it in upright position on a wheel. This was rotated against a chisel, set as a turning tool. Each pillar has a bell-shaped member towards the lower half of the shaft. A sloping bracket has been fixed to the capital by means of sockets. The brackets were carved from single slabs into images, enshrined with leafy aureoles of beautiful maidens known as 'shilabalakis'. The seductive, voluptuary emphasis is remarkable. The subjects are all secular and mostly represented are voluptuous maidens. All are graceful, charming and fascinatingly chiseled 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 ( 'Natya' and 'Shilpa' shastras). Hence, their breasts remind of the moon, the waist resembles that of a swan, and their hips remind those of an elephant.

© K. L. Kamat
Dancing Ganapati, Belur Sculpture
Dancing Ganapati, Belur Sculpture
Nritya-Ganapati sculpture in Hoysala style, 12th century

Bittiga ( date? ), the fourth and mightiest monarch of the Hoysala dynasty, was converted from the Jain faith to the Vaishnava faith by the sage Ramanuja. The king changed his name to Vishnuvardhana and built temples with great vigor and dedication. In order to commemorate his victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talkad, he built Belur Temple in 1117 A.D. His queen Shantala, though a Jain by faith, was noted for catholicity of her religious outlooks. She was a well-known dancer and on one of the temple's brackets her dancing pose has been sculptured in the most ornate and in exuberant style.

In the rich marble screens of the navaranga there are twenty-eight grill windows. Some are pierced with the conventional patterns. They are generally star-shaped, with bands of foliage, and with figures and mythological subjects. On one of the screens king Vishnuvardhana is shown beside his queen Shantala. A metallic icon of the period depicts the king in a standing posture which gives the exact idea about his stature, personality, dress and different ornaments he wore.

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. Mallitamma was the most prolific of all known Hoysala artists and more than forty well-executed sculptures stand in his name. Dasoja and his son Javana were migrants of a nearby town called Ballegavi. Javana is credited for the sculptures of five madanakai damsels and  his father is credited for another four. Malliyanna and Nagoja have included birds and animals in their sculptures. The sculptures located in the navaranga were carved out by Chikkahampa and Malloja. It is a great pity that no biographical details about these artisans are available. What  these sculptures brought them in return to their hard and extremely pain-taking work must have been a pittance! However, even after a lapse of eight centuries, the art lovers of the whole world can adore them.

See Also:

Hoysala Art and Architecture
Hoysala Art

See More
Gajasura Mardaka, God punishing the evil elephantDecorations of Shilabalika of BelurSeductress in StoneA Sculpture of HayavadanaMahalakshmi in Dance Pose
The Royal Emblem of Hoysala KingsTwo women at the Somanath temple, SomanathapurSculpture of Standing Vishnu<br>Hoysala Temple of BelurA Rishi (sage) of Halebidu -- Hoysala sculptureIntricately Carved Sculpture of a Dancer, Belur
A front view of a typical Hoysala templeA damsel admires herself in a mirror Hoysala Emperor Vishnuvardhana and his Queen ShantalaVasudeva  Carrying Infant Krishna Crosses Yamuna RiverDancing Ganapati, Belur Sculpture
A Beauty of the Hoysala PeriodKannada Letterings, Hoysala PeriodKeertimukha or Face of GloryShilabalika of BelurShilabalika of Belur

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