A visit to the stone temples of Halebid and Belur

It is of a mighty king of a legendary dynasty that we are talking of here. Who can imagine how these “real” kings thought? Or how mighty they felt? Or what grandiose structure they would envision to weigh the earth down when celebrating a victory or declaring their religion?

Maybe, maybe it could justify the whole thing, the staggering scale of plans with stone and space. Where stone will not bear resemblance to a mere stone any more. Where they are to stand, for ages to come, in unbelievable detail, uncannily alive; dancers, warriors, Gods, Apsaras, Asuras, the trees and the rivers and the mountains and the all their inhabitants and of course the king and the queen themselves!

Let imagination be. It may not be upto it!

The Chennakeshava temple at Belur

Belur and Halebid have been in my mind since some years after I moved to Bangalore. That is easily some ten years back. It is strange how trips materialize. Last weekend, on Saturday a restlessness to be on the go possessed me. I brought it up with Ajay, how nice it would be if we could just board a train to somewhere sometime later this afternoon! Something settles down and we decide on Belur and Halebid. It is easy to get going these days! A quick check on tripadvisor for a no frills stay at Hassan the nearest town to these twin sites, a call to book a room and Nokia maps to guide us with the route and off we go within an hour.

The highways (Route via Nelamangala NH4, NH48) are fantastic but unless you have nothing better to do avoid getting out of the city on a Saturday afternoon. That took as about an hour and a half! The rest of the 190 odd kilometers was a breeze.

On Sunday morning we set out early, at around 6am to Halebid. These roads are more personal; they seem to invite to linger a little longer and to listen to the stories they have to tell. It happens that we are the only people driving up this road at this hour!

Halebid seems like a shack of a town with a bus-stand. The shacks around the bus stand mostly sell fruits. Hopefully next time we give ourselves more time, time enough to go lazily exploring around Halebid and its countryside! Time, Time, Time!

It was once the imposing capital of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled a large part of today’s Karnataka for over 300 years between the 10th and the 14th centuries. Marauding invaders left their mark and the capital that was once called Dwarasamudra now exists under the name “ruined city”.  We actually drive past the Hoysaleshwara temple that sits in a nondescript manner enclosed by a tended garden to our left, opposite the bus stand. What was I looking for? I don’t think I can get around to the idea of running into a relic amidst shacks or markets or modern day utility buildings! I don’t expect to park a car right outside a monument and walk into it. These things belong to a different era. Encroach upon them and something feels lost.

Up close though it takes my breath away. Here it is, at least most of it, as envisioned by or for the great king. Elevated on a star shaped platform this unique temple has a dual structure one dedicated to the King and the other to his glorified dancer Queen, each guarded by an imposing Nandi.

Talking to the guide

Exterior of the Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebid

One of the two Nandi statues... how magnificent!

One of the two Nandi statues.....how magnificent!

Its walls seem so alive with the hundred tales it holds to tell, heavily inspired by the Hindu Pantheon, many from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana too. We spend a few hours here. I could have spent more. The detail is mind-blowing. Each bead in an anklet is there, carved to perfection; from long elegant fingernails to expressive eyes; from smiling lips to gently gesturing hands. The Gods, Goddesses and dancers adorned in utmost splendor.  Step inside the temple and you are almost there, back in time!  Dancers, guardians and the Gods themselves amidst whirling pillars!

A Goddess

Ravana with the mountain...and the mountain holds a multitude of detail

An elegant guardian....

What sounds do you hear...the anklet...the drum beats??

Inside the temple....The queen once danced here for the Gods themselves...

A while later we head to Belur. Belur looks very much like a regular town of today. We grab some breakfast and head straight to the chennakeshava temple. This temple is still thriving, a lot more people here. We see a bunch of young priests-to-be running up into the temple, late for something! The entrance here is preserved, the temple sits grandly inside, amidst a vast space of stone flooring, beyond a large wall and a beautiful yellow Gopuram. The similarities in style are here, in the magnificent pillars, the beautiful round stone dance platforms and the exquisite sculptures.

In shade and in light....yet together....

The captivating pillars...

Outside the temple, amidst all the hawkers selling stone idols of Gods there sits an old man with some strange metal wire puzzles. He beckons to us saying, here, take something scientific home! That brings a smile to us. We get intrigued and Ajay ends up buying one complete set of ten puzzles from him.

It really is something, a work of art again, beautiful and innovative but this one teases the brain!



  1. Nomad · October 27, 2011

    I love how you brought the temples to life with your words… You should start writing professionally now!!!

    • shahina · October 27, 2011

      Thanks Shilpa… 🙂 happy to hear this… 🙂

  2. mom · October 30, 2011

    beautiful way of expressing it , i felt my presence there. and the photographs u have captured the moods of god and goddess. keep it up.

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