In a remote part of the state of Karnataka, one can visit Hoysala Dynasty (11th-14th centuries) temples in Belur and Halebeedu (Halebid). A multi-hour car ride from Bangalore (approximately 230 kilometers) will take you to these notable 12th century sites. Be aware that rush hour traffic in Bangalore and oxen driven carts in the rural countryside may delay your anticipated travel time. Take time to appreciate the dichotomy of a typical Indian adventure. The closest airport is in Mangalore, approximately 154 kilometers away.
Belur is located along the Yagachi River. In its heyday, Belur was regarded as “modern Vaikuntha (Heaven) on Earth.” King Vishnuvardhana ordered the construction of the temple in 1116 C.E. and it was completed over a hundred years later. Centuries later, the dedication and skill of these Hoysala craftsmen are evident. The shrines are primarily dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The buildings are modest in size compared to other regions where religious structures appear to reach toward the sky. The smaller stature provides excellent opportunities to view the rows of carved animals—lions, horses, and elephants— and figurines in a variety of poses.
Halebeedu (Halebid) was the ancient capital of the Hoysala’s. It was constructed around the same time as Belur and is now considered the largest surviving Hoysala temple. The main shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Halebeedu suffered numerous attacks and was partially destroyed. In the 14th century. The capital was relocated to Belur, approximately 16 kilometers away. Halebeedu offers a lovely garden setting that includes a manmade lake. If time allows, one can also visit a small archeological museum on the grounds.
Belur and Halebeedu offer a unique opportunity to witness temples that exemplify religious tolerance. These structures artfully represent the Hoyala’s multiculturalism. They include elements from Vaishnavism (Hindu sects that worshipped Vishnu), Shaivism (Hindu sects that worshipped Shiva), and Jainism (separate religion that is not part of Hinduism).
While the temples at Belur and Halebeedu were built for religious reasons and dedicated to a particular Hindu god, the structures also incorporate aspects of all three religions. In addition to its original religious purpose, the complexes were used as social gathering places. Nowadays, these sites are destinations that are shared by pilgrims and tourists.
Most visitors will concentrate their attention on the soapstone carvings that adorn the exterior walls. This material was relatively easy to carve and then hardened over time. The carvings have both religious and cultural meaning. They represent Deities, music, dance, hunting, daily life, and scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavatham. Students of Indian architecture will also appreciate the mixture of two distinct Indian architectural styles—the northern Nagara style and the southern Dravidian style.
A temple guidebook will explain some of the particulars. Local guides can rattle off many facts, explanations of Indian mythology and culture, and can provide additional light while exploring the inside of the dark buildings.
Be prepared for an unpredictable ride and intense heat. Bring along extra water, snacks, a hat, and sunglasses. Many restroom options may be primitive so don’t forget to carry tissues or toilet paper.
Visitors will be asked to remove their shoes before entering the site. If the pavement is scorching hot, consider wearing a pair of socks.
Have your camera ready to take pictures of the unique architecture and serene grounds.
Also, consider spending a night so that you can visit nearby Shravanabelagola. At this location, you will see Jain temples and the image of Gommateshawara, one of the largest monolithic statues.
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