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Keshava Temple and Inscriptions, Belur

TALUK: Belur
LOCALITY: Belur (Lat. 13° 09' N; Long. 75° 52'E)

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The Channakeshava temple is one of the exquisite, ornate variety of  Hoysala art and architecture built in 1117 AD by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana. Inscriptionally, the temple is known as Vijaynarayana. The layout is in east-west orientation over a jagati. The shrine on plan has a garbhagriha, an antarala or sukanasi a mahamandapa and mukhamandapa in north, east and south. The plan in the region of sanctum is stellate and is of indented square in the region of mahamandapa and mukhamandapas. At the eastern entrance, the royal emblem flanking the doorway on either side is a unique feature for this temple wherein the other Hoysala monuments have the royal emblem over sukanasi.  Of all the three mukhamandapas, only the eastern one has perforated screens and sculptured panels of royal personalities, a later addition at the time of Narsimha. The adhisthana mouldings have friezes of elephants, lions, horse riders and kirttimukha scrolls and support the Chaturvimasati forms of Vishnu, Siva as Gajasuramardan Vamana and Bali, Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu, Arjuna aiming at matsya-yantra, Rati and Manmatha. The sanctum has two-Storeyed devakoshthas with images of Narayana, Vasudeva and Madhava. The three entrances have highly ornate door frames with elaborately sculptured makara torana with Narasimha slaying Hiranya kashipu, varaha slaying Hiranyaksha and Lakshmi Narayana with respective retinues. The temple is known for its exuberantly sculptured thirty eight bracket figures placed over  pillars between the eave and the capital of each pillar in the region of mukhamandapa and  mahamandapa depicts female sculptures known as Madanikas. There are also a few other subsidiary structures and shrines. While the Kesava temple was caused by the Hoysala ruler, Vishnuvardhana in 1117 AD, his chief queen Shantala has caused the temple of “Kappe chennigaraya”, a stellate, non ornate variety of temple built towards the southern side of the main temple. In plan it is similar to the main temple save the addition of a southern shrine housing the image of Venugopala. The main sanctum at west houses the image of Vishnu as Keshva and the pedestal bears the inscription recording the consecration of the deity by shantala.

The temple of viranaryana to the west of the main keshava temple was built around the 12th century A.D. It is smaller in proportion in comparison to the main temple, and is also built on a raised platform, with a garbhagriha, antarala, a pillared mahamandapa in east-west orientation. It has an austere elevation of non- ornate variety of Hoysala architecture.

To the south west of Keshava temple the Saumyanayaka temple is situated. The original tower above garbhagriha was damaged and repaired in 1387 AD by Mudappa a Minister under Vijayanagara King Harihara II and a metal kalasa or finial was fixed. The front portion was a later addition built by the Dalavayi family of Kalale.

Towards the north west of the main temple, a stepped pond called Vasudeva Tirtha, was caused by vira Ballala II, with an ornamental entrance flanked by two corner towers. It was during the rule of Vijayanagara empire that the shrines for saumya nayaki, to the south west, and of Aandal, to the north-west were built. In 1397 A.D Gunda, a general of Harihara II, rebuilt the huge seven storey gopura over the mahadwara at east. Other minor erections like tall granite lamp posts and vyyale mandapa in 1414 AD and yagashala in 1484 AD were constructed. Even during the rule of Mysore Wodeyars, minor constructions were also made.