Hoysala Sculpture and architecture – Belur (16)

vighnaraaja - Hoysala - belur - image (17)

Vinaayaka, Vighnaraaja, Voghnadhipa, Ganaadhipa, Ganaadhyaksha, Vighnanaasa – all these are names of the ‘elephant headed god’, Ganapathi.

Whenever, wherever he was sculpted in ‘standing posture’, he was sculpted always dancing and not merely standing and looking straight.  We will find him with one of his legs, mostly the left leg, bent upward and the remaining body as a whole balancing according to the movement either to the left or right, here also since it has mostly been the left leg that is bent upward, the balancing of the whole body would be slightly bent towards the right. We will always find him as ‘naagaabharana’, which means ‘adorned with serpents’ mostly around his waist and occasionally around his neck or both.  And in both the occasions, the hood of the serpent open and revealed fully, also indicating the hissing with the two tongues clearly visible.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Belur (15)

mahishaasura mardini - Hoysala - Belur - image (15)

The all powerful Mother Goddess, ‘Mahishaasura mardini’, (the conqueror and killer of the demon named Mahisha), the epitome of feminine energy in the universe.

Though the sculpture now appears mutilated and out of the eight hands the Goddess possessed, now only right side arms are visible in the carved image.  In spite of this, the intended ferocity of a justice-doer and the will and the power of annihilating the elements not fit to be on earth still appear unfazed and are clearly visible in the image.

Hoysala - Belur -image (16)

One more set of three Vaishnava images. The image in the centre appears to be Lord Vishnu’s and the female to the right of  Lord Vishnu appears so near to life with a delicate smile on her lips, even to this day,  ie., nearly a thousand years after it’s completion.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Belur (14)

three female figures - Hoysala - Belur -image (14)


Majority of the sculptures that appear  on outer side of the wall of Chennakesava temple, Belur, belong to  Vaishnava faith, which means that the ornamentation and decoration consist of  holding Sankha(the Conch shell), Chakra (the Wheel),  Padmam (the Lotus bud) etc., in the hands.  Male or female sculptures which hold in their hands the things like Trisul (the Trident), Damarukam etc., belong to Shaiva faith.  Sculptures belonging to Shaiva faith also appear on the walls of Chennakesava Temple, Belur, indicating that the Hoysala kings patronized followers of both the faiths.  However, when compared, it appears Shaiva sculptures are less in number than the sculptures that belong to Vaishnava faith, since the forms of Vishnu and Sri Lakshmi appear very frequently than the figures of Shiva and Parvati.  The one female sculpture that appears with reassuring certainty and enormous power in her posture and demeanors is the sculpture of Shakti or Mahishaasura Mardani, believed to be the incarnation or physical manifestation of Parvati, Lord Shiva’s divine consort.

The above photograph shows three female figures on the temple wall of Chennakesava Temple, Belur.  Each one of the three is different from the other two  in the standing posture, in the way she held the things in her hands and in the way she had her hair dressed etc.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Belur (13)

sankha chakra gadaa dhaarini - belur/image -13

Sankha chakra gadaa dhaarini, dvarapalaki – A doorkeeper female deity with the Conch shell, the Sudarshan chakra and the mace.

The flight of steps that lead to ‘jagati‘ is flanked on either side by a small shrine with a miniature tower on it. Inside the small shrines deities who are to perform the duties of ‘dvaarapaalaka‘ ( a door keeper) are placed. Exquisite craftsmanship was exhibited by the sculptors while carving these images out of stone to make them so beautiful and pleasing to the eyes that it would be very difficult to take one’s eyes off these sculpted images for a while.



Hoyasala sculpture and architecture – Belur(11)

Hoysala - Belur - image (11)

The basis for most of the South Indian sculpture, known as ‘Karnata Dravida’ type of sculpture, lay in the architectural/sculptural works of Chalukyas of Badami and Western Chalukyas. It was during their period that the basic and distinct principles of temple architecture, which came to be known latter as ‘Karnata Dravida’ style of sculpture, were invented and put into practice.

The idea of the Temple, as the abode of God, which until then used to be not more than a covered enclosure in which the presiding deity remained, has changed to a grander level and the temple with all its paraphernalia spread out in larger areas with the main temple mostly situated in the center of the temple area. Hoysalas had taken this to even more grand levels and gave us temples which in design, architecture and ornamentation looked a class apart and inferior to none.

The walls of the temple where the presiding deity stayed had become the canvas-like- thing for the Hoysala sculptors on which they have sculpted Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva in various forms, like an able painter paints pictures on canvas. Scenes from Ramayana and the Mahabharata have also found place on the walls of the temples.

The above photograph shows Lord Vishnu in one of his incarnations, Vamana avatara (the form of a dwarf), with all the ornamentation and decorations associated with the Hoysala sculpture. In the beginning of the ‘Vamana avatara’, Lord Vishnu enters the royal abode of Bali chakravarti in the form of a dwarf.  Later, it so turns out that he(Bali chakravarti) himself  finds that it is in fact he who is a dwarf before Lord Vishnu and surrenders before Him in all helplessness. In the image above, Lord Vishnu, as Vamana, appears about to lay his foot on Bali‘s head, who in turn watches helplessly.


Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Belur (10)

varahamurti - Belur

Decoration and ornamentation to the maximum extent possible is the feature unique to the sculpture of Hoysala period. It gives an impression that the sculptors never liked to leave anything to the imagination of anybody and hence sculpted to the minutest detail possible. However, the fact is that, sans the additional details of ornamentation and decorations, the sculptured images as a whole carry the Western Chalukya influence, say the experts.

It is believed that there was a sudden surge of activity of temple building during the period of 11th to 13th Century AD, so much so that in the ‘malnad‘ (meaning ‘Hilly area’) region of present day Karnataka State, around 1200 to1500 temples were built, out of which now only a hundred temples remain.

Chennakesava Temple at Belur, Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebid (once known as ‘Dorasamudra’, the capital city of Hoysalas), Kesava Temple at Somanathpura, Amruteswara Swamy Temple at Amrutapur, Viranarayana Temple at Balevadi and Lakshiminarasimha Temple at Nuggehalli are some of the prominent Hoysala period temples, which exhibit the grandior of the craftsmanship of the Hoysala period sculptors.

These temples were built during the period of reign of different kings of Hoysala dynasty. Chennakesava Temple at Belur was built during the period of the reign of Vishnuvardhana. Two more temples that were built during his reign are Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebid and Lakshmidevi Temple at Doddaguddavalli.

The above photograph shows Lord Vishnu in one of his incarnations, Varahamurti, with all the associated ornamentation and decoration associated with Hoysala period sculpturing. Though appearing mutilated at places, the form sculptured almost nine hundred years ago endured the passage of time and still retained most of its original sheen.

Hoysala sculpture and architecture – Belur (9)

Lord Vishnu and Sri Lakshmi (Belur)

The presiding deity in Hoysala temples (in most of the temples built during the period of their reign i.e.,  12th  and 13th Century AD) is either Lord Siva or Lord Vishnu. The temple at Beluru is dedicated to Lord Chennakesava (‘chenna’ means ‘good looking, handsome, and beautiful’ and ‘kesava’, an avatar of ‘Lord Vishnu’).

One of the most striking features of Hoysala temples is the sculptural decorations on the outer side of the walls of the main temple in the form of horizontal rows of exquisitely detailed and very finely, intricately carved images of gods and goddesses along with their attendants on either side, fanning them.

A male or a female figure appearing with conch shell (normally in the left hand, holding it between the index and the second finger) and a small wheel (normally in right hand) i.e., a replica or a symbolic depiction of ‘Sudarshana chakra’, is a Vaishnavite and may be understood as Lord Vishnu and his divine consort goddess Lakshmi or their representations. In addition to these two essentially unique symbols, a male or a female image may also have a lotus and a mace in two more hands, thereby making altogether four hands to the deity.

In the image above, Lord Vishnu appears with goddess Lakshmi seated on his left thigh, with   the  garutmanta  (the celestial bird and the eternal carrier for Lord Vishnu and Srii Lakshmi,) with folded hands knelt down at his feet and with the attendants on either side of them. All the four are sheltered under the finely carved canopy of creepers and flowers.