We left Belur early in the morning and started our return journey to Bangaluru via Shravanbelagola. Yes, the well known Jain Teerth was in our itinerary of the last day of the trip.

We reached there at about quarter to nine. Most of the shops were not open but the streets were full of sounds of waking morning. The tea shops and small eateries were ready with breakfast options.

We knew that to reach the magnificent monolith of Bahubali, atop Vindhyagiri hills, we needed to climb about 620 stairs and we were a bit apprehensive about that. I mean it is quite a flight and I was thinking whether I would be able to traverse that height easily. But all my apprehensions proved to be futile; we could reach the top without much difficulty.  It was morning time and that too in the month of December hence climbing bare footed was no problem at all rather the soft warmth of the rock gave a comforting feeling to soles. There is no shade over the steps hence morning is the best time to scale the hill. The steps are quite rudimentary and are cut on the rock with metal rods running along the steps.

walking towards main gate, in the background are the pond and Chandragiri hills.

We reached the main gate and sat there to rest for few minutes. The view of the town below was mesmerizing. The pond, Belagola shone like an emerald stud midst the surrounding structures. Chandragiri hills across beckoned to its arms to explore more of history and the breeze were soothing and exhilarating. Whenever I climb a hill to visit any Buddhist cave, a sacred Jain shrine or a Hindu temple, I thank my ancestors who built these sacred places at a point which is high and not easily accessible. The feeling which I have after reaching there is beyond words. Atop there I feel detached from all the worldly tentacles of day to day routine, a serene calm dawns upon me and I feel my mind purified enough to surrender to the divine powers with all the humility.

The view from the top.
Mesmerizing view of the pond and birds.

After walking further the first structure we came across was Vadegal Basadi. This is a trikuta Jain chaitalaya having shrines of three Jain teerthankaras. The dimly lit chaitalaya was cool and quiet. The idols of three thirathankaras Adinath, Shantinath and Neminath are made of shining black stone and they sparkled with all their serenity even in the semi dark of the hall. This chaitalaya too is said to be erected in 10th century by the military commander Chavundaraya.

inside vadegal basadi.

Outside vadegal vasidi. Ah! the bliss of breeze and peace.

front exterior of vadegal vasidi. To feel the wind was such a liberating experience.

Walking towards main enclosure from Vadegal Basidi.

Walking a bit more towards the enclosure around Gomateshwara we found the Tyagada Khamba, a beautifully carved pillar with reliefs of creepers and flowers. It is said that the pavilion which supports the pillar presently was erected on much later date while the erection of the pillar is attributed to the times of Chavundaraya only. The inscription put up by the archeological department was faded hence could not gather much detail about it but read somewhere that this was the pavilion where commander Chavndaraya used to distribute gifts to poor.

The Tyagada Khamba

Another remarkable structure on the way to reach the main enclosure around Gomateshwara is this big rock. The rock is on the side of the way leading to main shrine. Intricately carved rows of tiny figures make the rock a valuable monument in itself. Captivated by the beauty I marvelled whether it was a planned work in total scheme of things or some passionate sculptor found this rock to be a perfect canvas to carve his art. I was inclined to go for the second option and was happy to imagine the times when people, nature and arts survived in harmony.

The Rock

Entering the enclosure we straight way headed to have darshana of the magnificent monolith. To have a close up view of colossal statue is awe inspiring. Standing erect under the open sky more than 58 ft high monolith carved out of single granite rock spells the concept of inner strength, the courage, the power possesssed when one is at peace with oneself. It reflects serenity, calm, and reliquishment without any anger or rage. I mean it’s an experience to feel. Words miserably fall short in capturing the massive impact the world’s highest free standing monolith has on you. This massive monolithic statue of Lord Gomateshwara aka Bahubali aptly conveys the enriching principles and ideals lived by him.

Lord Bahubali

The story of life of Bahubali goes like this – Bahubali and Bharata were the sons of first jain Tiranthakara Rishabhnatha. They were the descendants of famous Ikshavaku dynasty of Ayodhya, the dynasty to which Lord Rama belong. Rishabhnatha was king of Ayodhya but he reliquished his kingdom to become a Jain monk. He handed over his kingdom to his sons. Bharata got Ayodhya and Bahubali got Asmaka, comprising southern part of India. However Bahubali challanged his elder brother to a fight to claim his supramacy. Both of them were great warriors but ultimately Bahubali defeated his elder brother Bharata, But the fight and the materialistic concerns goading him to have this fight with his own elder brother somehow disgusted him. He was full of remorse to be a cause of insult to his brother. He renounced not only the kingdom but cut himself from all worldly and materialistic ties and started performing penance. He is said to be in the posture of Kayotsarga, standing immobile, oblvious to one’s own body. During the period of penance many creepers grew on his body and ant hills too developed around him. The creepers are carved on the statue too. The feeling of absolute peace which is achieved after renunciation is aptly displayed on the countenance of the statue.

The courtyard from three sides is surrounded by covered verandah .Statues of many Jain Tirthankaras are installed in the verandah.

Sitting quietly in the verandah, looking at the tall statue of Lord Gomateshwara fills heart with unexplicable peace.

The Vindhyagiri hills has a lot to offer. The outer walls also have many beautiful carvings. There are other Basadis too.

The gigantic statue was specially made to fulfill the wish of Kalala Devi, mother of a 10th century military commandar, Chavundaraya of Ganga dynasty. Every 12 year Mahamastakabhishekam festival, in which the statue is anointed with milk, curd, ghee, coconut water, saffron water, flower petals, turmeric, sandalwood powder and this grand jain festival is being continued since 981 A.D. It appears mahamastakabhishekam was initiated during the time of Chavundaraya.

We can Darshana of lord Bahubali from about 30 ft away.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

These temples tucked in small villages of South India never cease to amaze me. We are blessed with such heritage, be it architecture, art forms, mythology or scriptures. Veernarayana temple at Belavadi village in Chikmagaluru distt, is one such shining jewel. Belavadi is approximately 15 km from Halebidu. We covered the famous Hoyalashwera temple at Halebidu, kedareshwara temple, Jain Basadis and Veeranarayana temple at Belavadi in one day. To be very frank one can easily spend an entire day in any one of these places, such is the peace permeating aura of these temples. Besides that architecturally too each of these temple has a lot to offer to a keen heart and eye.

Front view of Veeranarayana temple.

As you enter through the small gate the tall dhwajastambha under the open sky makes you stop. As I tried to fix my gaze to the top of the pillar, the overhead sky smiled benevolently as if embracing me. Glancing at the magnificent temple before me I thanked our ancestors over there somewhere in the open space. I hope they heard me, all of them, the patrons and the artists.

The two elephants on either side of the gate are elegant pieces of art with intricate carving. Look at the picture below, a close up of one of the elephant.

In Hinduism elephant symbolises physical and mental strength, majesty, fertility, intelligence and wisdom. Elephants hold a prominent place in our culture from times immemorial.

Entering the door flanked by the elephants you enter a small enclosure with a restful aura, cool and peaceful. At the end of this area is a door that leads to Mandapam. The temple complex including the mandapam and bay areas are said to have 108 lathe pillars, a specialty of Hoyasala temples. crossing the first mandapam you reach the area which houses two lateral shrines of Venugopala and Yoganarsimha. The venugopala idol at Belavadi is said to be officially certified by ASI as being the most beautiful idol of lord Krishna in India. Here Krishna stands in tribhanga mudra under the kalpavriksha and is playing flute in extreme bliss.

Main deity of temple is Veernarayana, whose shrine is at the extreme end of temple complex. Such is the construction that sitting at the gate of garbhgriha one can lose oneself in the expanse of sky outside. the specialty of the this area is that on 23rd march that is on the day of summer solstice, crossing the seven doors starting from temple entrance the sunrays touch feet of the lord. Isn’t that amazing. The temple complex comprises of so many doors, mandapams, corridors, yet how they have measured the height, the direction that on that particular day sunrays reach the interior most part of the temple. How deep and extensive was the knowledge and study of our ancestors be it architecture or nature. Awe inspiring is this.

A Side view of the temple.
Another side view of temple showing the part where exterior walls are not that ornate. but i love this shot because of that far of blue patch with green of tree leaves. To me it feels like that blue light deep inside our soul.
each and every carved image sings eloquently of the craftsmanship of those unknown artists.

Silence reigns within in the company of these images from centuries ago. Somehow looking at them I always tend to think about the hands and hearts that gave shape to these. Did they imagine that years after so many of us would be looking at their creation filled with immense appreciation and wonder for their art. Ney, they would have neither thought nor cared about it. They simply drowned themselves in their passion, they did with all their heart what they enjoyed, what they did. That’s the reason their art pieces stand before eons after echoing their sentiments.
‘Am I the traveller? Ney, the time is, and we scatter as miniscule dust particles while it goes on running with hurricane speed.’

Roaming around these ancient temples in small, quaint villages a peace always dawns upon one’s being. A kind of feeling of oneness with universe and the great spirit pervading it slowly spread within. These are the places where we lose ourselves to find ourselves. And this kind of spirituality is the true essence of culture. A culture that has withstood the test of time. I will sum up my posts with the following words of Dr. Radhakrishnan It is the intense spirituality of India, and not any great political structure or social organisation that it has developed, that has enabled it to resist the ravages of time and the accidents of history.

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer

Kedareshwara temple, Halebidu

Kedareshwara temple in Halebidu is about 400 mts away from the famous Hoysaleshwara temple.This is not as famous as Chennakeshava temple or Hoysaleshwara but the architecture and interior of the temple are quite impressive.  The quiet, peaceful aura and the area around the main shrine of Lord Shiva has such calming effect that I could have spent my entire day there.

Kedareshwara…Om namah Shivay

Like Hoysaleshwara and Chennakeshava Kedareshwara too is built on a high rise platform. The temple is star shaped. From base to upwards the exterior temple walls comprise of eight tiers. The first tier from base has elephants, second cavalory forces, third is adorned with intricately carved creepers and flowers, fourth has Hoysala emblum, fifth again has flowers, sixth displays various stories and episodes from Ramayana, mahabharata and Geeta, seventh has makara lined up and the eighth one displays elegant swans.

The tiers on exterior wall

With an east facing entrance Kedareshwara is a trikuta temple,i.e. temple having three shrines. There are four star shaped pillars on either side of the way leading to Navaranga Mandapam and then four bell shaped pillars at Navaranga. As is with most of the temples of Hoysala period the ceiling of navaranga too is well decorated.

The pillars
intricately carved ceiling.
A closure view of another portion of ceiling. does it not look like a lotus flower

The main deity in garbhagrah is Shivalinga. The area just outside garbhgraha is the most unique feature of this temple. Ceiling over this area has such structure that natural light enters inside. At the hour we were there in the semi darkness of the hall the light pouring down from above was as if establishing a connection with the Brahmand.The impact was simply beyond words.

Above the eight tiers the exterior walls of temple are adorned with ornate images of various Hindu deities, apsaras and certain images throwing light on social life of that period. The intricacy and detailing in the images proclaim the high standard craftsmanship of sculptures of that time but the bhav, bhangima, the expressions, the mudras; the postures carved by these artists tell that they were well aware of the nuances of bharat natya shatra too. How deeply steeped were these souls in their culture and arts.

Here Shiva is shown inside Gajarajas’s stomach. Look at the feet of elephant below. What an imagination and what implementation!

Prabhavali, i.e. frame around the images too are intricately carved. The corner images almost give impression of being three dimensional. More the time you spend in their company, more enriching the experience gets. There is so much to learn, the mythological episodes, the variety of musical instruments, the dance mudras, historical facts, the list is long, besides all these the most important one is the spritual experience.

This temple was built in 1199 AD by Hoysala king Veer Ballala 2nd and his queen Ketaladevi. Though except a Shivalinga no other shrine has any deity now yet such is solemnity , the aura of the place that one feels in presence of the higher one.

one of the shrine inside temple.

Nirvan rupam kedareshwara

Prayers carved on stone by the unknown craftsmen

At the end of journey with a heart full of gratitude

All the pictures @ Sunder Iyer

Dodagaddavalli is a small village near Belur in Hassan distt of Karnataka. The village is famous for a very unique temple. This temple is perhaps one of oldest architecture of Hoyasala period. It was built in 1113 CE, i.e. even before the famous Chennakeshava temple of Belur.

We started for Dodagaddavalli by our cab quite early in the morning. The way from Belur to Dodagaddavalli offered green, beautiful landscape and the journey turned out to be a very pleasant one. The temple is located at the farthest end of the village. When we reached there though temple gates were open yet Pujari had not arrived by then. Only one person was there in the premises. he was a young man from some nearby village, who worked in Bengaluru and visited this Mahalaxmi temple every time he came to his own village. While roaming around the temple looking at the tall coconut trees and blue stretch of sky I felt a sense of peace and a curious thought too came in mind. Far from my place of birth and settlement I was standing there in that small village at that particular moment, how many journeys we make within our life journey and what is the significance of these journeys. Every moment of our life appears to be pre-planned. Who keeps the record of millions and millions of lives all over the earth.

Come. from my ramblings let us go back to the temple. the Dodagaddavalli temple has raised compound walls. In the corners of the compound walls there are four small shrines. Though the time we visited there were no idols of deities inside these small shrines, however many stone slabs, some with inscriptions and some remnants of certain idols were kept near the walls.

The entrance to the temple is through a pillared hall like Mandapam.

The main temple has four sanctum sanctorum. Dodagaddavalli is the only chatushkuta ( having four sanctums) temple in Hoyasala history. The four Garbhgriha share a common hall and entrance. The four sanctums were originally dedicated to Goddess Kali, Goddess Laxami, Shiva and Vishnu but when we visited Only Shiva and Laxmi were there. The doors of sanctum dedicated to Goddess Kali were closed. We came to know that few days earlier some miscreants tried to steal idol of Goddess Mahakali and on being unsuccessful in their attempt they damaged the idols.

This temple is unique in its aura. Due to low ceiling the temple hall is semi dark. We were not able to see Mahakali idol but the corroborating images and the ambience suggested that this shrine must have been associated with Tantrik tradition. on the door way and the upper jamb of the shrine Bhuta Mukhas were carved. on the either side on the walls were standing images of two full sized Bhutas, skeleton kind of figures. They appeared to be standing like dwarpalas. In the semidarkness that pervaded the hall these dwarpalas are capable of sending a shivering sensation down the spine. There is a Bhairava shrine too in the temple.

The Bhoota Dwarpala outside Mahakali Shrine

Shrines of Goddess Mahalaxmi and lord Shiva are in east and west, i.e. facing each other. in the original plan shrines of Goddess Kali and Vishnu faced each other. We were told that the dedicatory inscriptions found here declares that the temple was erected by the generous grant provided by a diamond merchant Kalhana Rautar. The saying goes like that the wealthy merchant was highly impressed by the Mahalaxmi temple at Kolhapur, Maharashtra, which he happened to visit during his one of the business trip, hence he built a similar one at Dodagaddavalli. The village which was historically referred to as Doddagaddumballe was even renamed as Abhinava Kolhapura.

Goddess Mahalaxmi
Lord Shiva

In comparison to very intricately carved temples of Hoyasala era this one is kind of non- ornate but it has certain unique features of Hoyasala temples such as lathe turned pillars and richly carved ceiling.

All the Shikharas except the one over Goddess Laxmi are of simple pyramidal style, Kadamba Nagara type. The tower over Goddess Laxmi is Dvitala Vimana topped by square shikhara and stone finial. All the four towers display the Hoyasala emblem, Sala striking a tiger.

Slowly walking in the compound of the temple , devoid of tourists and the usual clutter, I felt like being transported to an ancient page of history. A king, a merchant came together to build this unique temple and centuries after its inception I stand there to feel, to imbibe the spirit of the place. Was I there at that time too in some other form, known by some other name?

Pujari arrived at 9O’clock. By that time a small group of visitors from some nearby village had also arrived. We eight people stood there with hands folded, as Pujari chanted shlokas. Glow of lamp lit by pujari filled the chamber with soft, benevolent light. I slowly closed my eyes. I felt a peaceful feeling of bonding, of assurance. I was not to meet any of those persons ever again in this life. I did not know even their names, we could not communicate due to language barrier but at that pious moment standing together before the shrine of goddess Laxami in that small village I felt connected. Benediction was being showered on us all. It was beautiful moment, etched in my heart for ever.

Later on We walked to the back of the temple where a very big pond was there. The village was slowly opening its eyes and daily chores were being started. two- three women were cleaning utensils on the steps of the pond. i met Bhavya there. She was a young girl, who never went out of her village but was familiar with the name of my city. We could communicate in monosyllables in English. She welcomed me to her village and felt happy to know that I came there from such a far away place. When I started to leave she said,” come again.” Both of us knew that it was highly unlikely yet her gesture touched my heart. With those two simple words she made me feel special and welcomed.

Pujari while talking to Sunder in Tamil asked about Kashi. He was a young man of say thirty five or so. He wanted to know how much money he had to save to travel upto Kashi. How many does would take to reach. He did not know how far it is but at least once in his life time he wanted to visit Kashi.

We proceeded back to Belur with a heart full of gratitude.

All pictures @Sunder Iyer

Hoyasaleshwara temple is not very far from Chennakeshava temple Of Belur. We left our guest house at Belur early in the morning and reached Helebidu in about half an hour. In fact we were the first visitors to temple that day i.e. 14. 12. 2021.. Guides were the only people to reach there before us.

front view of temple

As I walked slowly towards the main building of the temple imbibing the grandeur of the 12 th century architecture, the refreshing greens of the garden, I felt the weight of baggage stored inside falling away bit by bit and blue, soothing calm descended within. It felt as if the temple with outstretched arms welcomed me to it’s protective folds.

The temple was built by king Vishnuvardhana Hoyasaleshwara. the temple has four porches for entry.

one of the entry door

All the entry doors are embellished with large, intricately carved figures on either sides. The temple is treasure trove of masterpieces on soap stone all around its walls and inside temple too. I thought that first I would go to the shrine directly. I mean visiting a temple, surrendering to the divine is always the first priority. Later on I enjoyed it as an open art gallery of exquisite art pieces.

interior hall of the temple

It was early in the morning. Natural light was entering the hall with hesitant steps. Few shy sun-rays were peeping through the interspersed stone lattices on the wall. The dimly lit hall was bathed in the mysterious but peaceful aura, which cuts you off the humbug of outside world and you feel divinity all around. A journey within commences.

Shrine in the temple

There are two Shiva shrines in the temples. It is said that one was built by king Vishnuvardhana while other by queen Shantala. The time we visited there doors of only this shrine were open. Other shrine was closed. As we were informed this shrine is from king.

The ceiling of the hall too has richly carved designs.

carving on ceiling

This is only one example of finely carved images on the ceiling of the hall. Even the small squares have a detailed story narrated by the sculptors.

Now let us come out of the hall and walk towards Nandi Mandapam. As the temple hall houses two Shiva shrines obviously there have to be two Nandis. Yes, there are two Nandi Mandapam and each of them very richly and exquisitely carved. They are masterpieces in themselves.

Here are both the Nandis: one with its mandapam in full view and the other one in close up. These nandis are listed among few biggest nandi statues in India but carving and finery wise these are considered to be top ranking ones. In fact no words, and images can replicate the detailing, the fine lines and the over all mesmerizing impact.

Hoyeshaleshwara temple is poised on a star shaped base. The base consists of eight rows of friezes. Images of elephants, horses , floral scrolls and lions are carved symmetrically in these rows.

rows at the base.

The walls of temple have elaborate and sophisticated carvings of Hindu deities, mythological episodes from Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita, scenes from daily social life of that time. The images of deities on walls are highly ornate and each image has its own way of casting its spell on you.

Brahma on his vahana

Shiva and Parvati on Nandi.

Our guide told us a very interesting story about it. It seems nandi did not enjoy Parvati riding over him. He considered only Shiva to be the one to ride on him, hence his stride is a bit different with an intention to make Parvati uncomfortable.

krishna holding Govardhana

This magnificent Ganesha idol is installed in one of the lawns on the backside of temple.

This Jain Muni statue is found in the lawn near the museum. Dakhin Karnataka and many dynasties ruling there followed Jainism. We found many Jain monuments and temples in the area. Queen Shantala too was follower of Jain Dharma, though she took interest actively in Hindu shrines too.

A view of open campus of museum. There is a big hall having many beautifully sculpted idols and images. The art part is being preserved very nicely.

This is the moment I savoured most, sitting outside the Nandi Mandapam. On one side is temple and on the other the open space, green trees, flowers, sky and water beyond. All the elements as if unite to take you deep into the serenity of just being.

This corner of one lawn ablaze with reds and yellows was quiet and adding colours, as if manifesting different aspects of existence. it was so inviting that I could not resist myself from going nearer and whispering a ‘thank you’.

The splendid view of water body.

Presence of this sparkling waterbody makes Hoysaleshwara temple all the more alluring. It was calm and beautiful. Due to it’s presence Halebidu was also known as Dwarsamudram.

Wondering: how could our ancestors create such marvels! They left such rich heritage for us. We don’t know the names of the artists and creators but they left their indelible marks for posterity. The thought in mind was- would we be able to leave for our generations to come something like this, something, which gives peace to their world, soul and mind.

Al the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Nataraja is also an incarnation of Shiva and was created by Shiva for a special purpose.While writing this sentence, suddenly a thought flashed through my mind; why did Shiva create His special incarnation for subduing or annihiliating different types of negative and harmful forces? Why He in His well known Avatara i.e. in one form obliterated all the negative forces? Do our mythological stories are structured like this to impart certain lesson? Yes, I think it is so. Perhaps they want to convey that we all have multiple facets to our being and to face different type of obstacles, we need to work on a particular facet of our personality. We have to sharpen different skills to overcome different type of peoblems. All types of battles can not be fought by a single type of weapon. Well, that is my interpretation, what do you have to say on the matter?

Anyway, so here you see Nataraja, the dancing Shiva. But upon whom is He dancing? Who is the figure under His feet? He is Apasmara.

Apasmara is a demon dwarf and as per our mythology it represents ignorance. Infact Apsmara is also said to represent memory loss, Apa means negation, samara is smriti; memory. In Ayurvada Apasmara refers to epilapsy.In epilapsy too the person tends to forget oneself when under its attack.

Apasmara is a symbol of ignorance and laziness, and Nataraja, a symbol of cosmic motion dances keeping it under His feet. Like all other demons Apasmara is not killed but crushed, kept under control.Ignorance has to co-exist with wisdom. Ignorance can never be obliterated, ended completely, be it on individual level or all of us as a universal community, but we definitely need to keep it in check.Apasmara is immortal. To me Nataraja gives an impression of dancing in complete abundance, a swirling, energetic motion. Does it suggest if ignorance and laziness is kept under control life is full of joy and motion?

This ignorance can have another dimension too. Ignorance about presence of divinity, goodness within us, or say spiritual ignorance. If we keep the negation within us under check, we get to experience that abundance of joy flowing through our being. It rushes through every artery to spread the purity and we feel in harmony with the symphony vibrating through every iota around us.  Trample the Apasmara and awaken Shiva within, says Nataraja.

story of Nataraja
Natraja, dancing Shiva

Picture by Sunder Iyer.

Bhairava

Look at this relief on the wall. Who could he be?  That wreath on his head and beautiful, serene face, doesn’t he look like a Greek God? But that wreath is not of flowers. Zoom in and you find skulls roped in like beads. Interesting, isn’t it? What a fabulous fusion the sculptor’s imagination has created! Neck and beneath till the feet, is it some Jain Muni? Hoyasalas followed Jainism. In fact Queen Shantala the most popular and dynamic queen of the dynasty followed Jainism till her death. There are many Jain basadis and temples spread across Hoyasala kingdom. But he can never be representing anyone even remotely linked to Jainism. Those skulls, snakes, and bhoot, pishach kind of figures in the side towards bottom, the dog licking the blood tells otherwise. Even though the face reflects serenity of the munis, this sculptor surely did not have any Jain muni in his mind. Then who he could be?

It is the most mysterious and enigmatic God of Hindus, The Bhairava.Bhairava is an incarnation of Shiva. Yes, the tridents, the snake around neck, the bhoot pisachs all confirm the association with Shiva. If you come to think of it even the serenity on face is that of Siva. Surrounded by all kinds very unusual companions, His Ganas, even in midst of chaos, decked up in His strange adornments Shiva sits perfectly still, calm and sublime. So yes, this is Bhairava, who was created by Shiva Himself.

Do you know what the skull in his hand and the begging bowl represent? The story goes like this; once Brahma and Shiva had an argument over the issue of supremacy. Enraged by Brahma’s continuous atrocious behaviour Shiva created Bhairava. That is why Bhairava is known as Raudra roop of Shiva. As it happened Bhairava immediately after taking shape decapitated Brahma’s fifth head, which actually was creating the entire problem. But this fifth head of Brahma stuck in Bhairava’s hand and could not be dislodged. The head in Bhairava’s hand in this relief is that fifth head of Brahma. How so ever angry Shiva was with Brahma’s unethical behaviour and He Himself had created Bhairava but justice is a highly valued ethic in our religion, hence Shiva punished Bhairava for the sin of Brahmahatya. He ordered Bhairava to roam around the earth with a begging bowl like a mendicant. That is why we see the bowl in his hand and Bhairava is shown naked or say in tattered rags.

So in this relief the sculptor has etched Bhairava as a mendicant walking on earth with skull and bowl. In this avatara dog is said to be vahana of Bhairava. Otherwise too just imagine Bhairava walking on streets in rags with a bowl and skull in hand, his flaming hair waving and,  dogs following him flashes as a natural reaction.

The mythological story further progresses like this. Shiva while ordering Bhairava thus had told that when the skull would automatically dislodge from his hands, he should understand that he had been absolved off his sin and then he had to stay at that place and this happened when Bhairava entered Kashi. Since then Bhairava is stationed there in the famous Kal Bhairava temple.

There is another story about Bhairava which says that during His punishment tenure   wandering once Bhairava came to dense Deodara forest where many Rishis used to reside. Bhairva’s mysterious enigmatic naked presence with a God like aura attracted the women in Ashramas. They were not able to resist His charm.  This infuriated rishis and they casterated Bhairava. The fallen Linga immediately turned into an endless column of fire and Rishis understood the miracle of God and started worshipping Linga. Some what similar story I heard at Jageshwar in Uttarakhand where the famous Bal Jageshwar temple of Shiva is located. Jageshwar is surrounded by dense Devdar trees. It made me wonder how our mythological stories spread so far. Did pilgrims covered such long distances from one part of nation to other? That too when fast modes of transportation were not available.

Another question which popped up in my mind while going through these stories is why our Gods, Devtas are depicted to behave so human like. They represent Supreme Being yet they are shown to have weaknesses, human weaknesses. Do these tales want to convey that it’s ok to have weaknesses but if we work upon the positive and just forces inside us, we too can develop certain traits which could produce miraculous results? One very popular thought propagated in our religion is that we carry a part of God within us. May be that is what it means. Ah! Thoughts would go on churning, let us move forward and enjoy the dazzling testimonies of art and sculptures.

Many mythological stories, episodes are engraved on the exterior walls of the temple. Most of us are aware of those stories. We would have seen them depicted in different art forms at some or other time. Besides the fineness of the art what I enjoyed most about the depiction there, is the way the artists have let their imagination take shape of their own.

Mahishasur Mardini

The story of annihilation of Mahishasur by Goddess Durga is well known. Mahishasur was born out of union of a Mahish (buffalo) and an Asur i.e. demon (did our people at that time conceptualized about mutation between two different species? Well, let us leave the question for another time.) Another remarkable feature about our mythology is that here the Asuras, the bad and negative forces have been depicted to be very strong willed and capable in performing arduous and difficult penance to get boons of various kinds. For getting the boons most of them worshipped Brahma or Shiva. Though both of them were on the side of Suras [ Devtas], i.e. those representing good forces, they never shied away from granting boons to Asuras if the arduous penances were done rigorously. Good deeds deserve reward, is the message here, I think.

So like many other powerful Asuras in our mythological stories Mahishasur also got boon by appeasing Brahma. He asked for a boon that no one other than a woman could kill him. In fact he first asked for a boon of immortality but Brahma said this boon could not be granted as every living organism has to die at some or other time, hence Mahishasur asked for the above boon and thought him to be as good as immortal. He was very powerful, strong and capable of changing many forms. Obviously he thought a woman could never overpower him. Well as the story goes after acquiring the boon Mahishasur started his reign of terror. He conquered Bhooloka, i.e. earth and then set Devaloka as his target.

Now Devas approached Brahma for seeking help as they knew all of them together also could not do any harm to Mahishasur. Finally all the three entities of Trinity came together and created a woman by vesting best of their powers. She was manifestation of Shakti. At some places I have read that this manifestation of Shakti had ten hands while others describe her as having eight hands. However in this particular sculpture, the sculptor has depicted her as having ten hands. So, Vishnu gave Her His Sudarshan Chakra, Shiva His Trishul, Brahmna His Kamandal, Indra His Vajra, thunderbolt and other Devatas too gave Her their weapons.

When the final battle between Devi and Mahishasur took place it is said that the Asura took form of buffalo. When Devi overpowered this mighty beast and cut its head, the Asura in human form started to emerge, but Durga’s lion pounced upon him and pinned him to the ground and at that moment Durga raised the trident, piercing his chest and slayed him. This exact moment has been sculpted by the artist to the precision — the buffalo, the asura coming out of it in human form, pinned by lion to the ground and Durga with the trident piercing his chest. All other hands of Devi are armed with different weapons. Just pay a little attention to the expressions of Devi and the lion. Devi’s expression clearly reflects the emotion of executing the final act for accomplishing a task, while lion is kind of in a joyful mood, satisfied with himself for pinning down asura to the ground, happy for being of assistance to goddess. Whatever it might be but creating emotions on stones! These Hoyasala sculptors did wonders and we compare a deadpan face with stony expression.

Picture@Sunder Iyer

Besides inscriptions the sculptures, the carvings on and around Chennakeshva temple too act like historical documents reflecting upon not only art and culture aspect but also the norms and ways of social life of that time. I feel the Shilabalikas of Chennakeshava are a powerful statement about the way the women of that period led their life. They pampered themselves, they pursued their interests be it dance or instrument playing or hunting. They appear to celebrate being woman and I think placing of these women as brackets supporting the roof, connecting it to walls too is a powerful statement about their importance and place in social structure, specially as a supporting force, an adhesive entity. Let me introduce you to as many as I can.

1 –Let us start with Darpan Sundari, the most famous shilabalika, as she is also the emblem figure of Karnataka tourism department. She is on the left side of the main entrance door. The Sunadari is engrossed in looking at her image in a mirror in her hand. Look, even the mirror is carved with minute details like the handle and frame etc. Head to toe decked up with fine ornaments, hairstyle, her posture, movement of jwellery and clothes in synchronisation with her posture, the grace and beauty reflected is simply mesmerizing.

There are two women figures on one side and one on other side of Darpan Sundari towards the lower side of the sculpture. It is interprted that these are the assistants, maids of Darpan Sundari. One of the figures is carrying a monkey in her lap and is the smallest among the three, while the woman on other side appears to be looking at tall standing Darpan sundari. The deatais of ornaments of these smaller figures, their dress and hairstyle too are chiseled with precision and is almost similar to that of main figure.

Darpan Sundari

2- This one has a Damaru in hand and is dancing. Look at the foot above ground, the tribhanga mudra posture. I have read a drum dance; a traditional folk dance called Dollu Kunitha, ows its origin to a tribal community, kuruba Gowda of Karnataka. It was performed as a ritual while worshipping Shiva. Is the lady performing Dollu Kunitha? Her facial expression, eyes half closed, that smile playing on her lips clearly spell that she is enjoying a blissful mental state. Isn’t it astonishing that these craftsmen brought out the emotions too so perfectly on stones?

3 – This Shilabalika is remarkable for its hairdo. Look at the stylist bun. The turns and twirls of hair are so distinguinshigly clear.Hairstyles of these Shilabalikas, each and everyone come as a remarkable fashion statement. No two hairstyles are exactly same. Focus at the monkey pulling the saree of the maiden. She is looking at the monkey a bit annoyed or that could be an indulgent smile,and she is trying to shoo the monkey off with a stick in her raised hand.Is it really a monkey only or the sculptor created it as a symbol. This Shilabalika is attired in a way different than other shilabalikas. I feel the artist wanted to convey much more than what is apparently seen here.

4 – Shuk Bhasini is another quite popular shilabalika. She has a parrot on her hand and her lips are carved in a way that she appears to say something, that slight protrusion of her lips. She is talking to her pet parrot.Minute detailings in these sculptures is mind blowing. Shuk Bhasini too is accompanied by three small figures with similar hairdos and jwellery etc.

5- I am not very clear what this Shiabalika is holding in her hand but the expression of this one and one of the smaller figures reflects as if they are in a kind of indolent mood. The rings in her fingers, the head jewelry, everything is carved meticulously.

6 – Here dance practice is going on. Instrument players are accompanying her. Look at the sole of one foot perfectly placed in a dance stance, not fully touching the ground.

7- Here too smaller figures are playing on instruments but the lead figure is not dancing rather singing and playing cymbals. Her feet are not in a dancing mudra, lips are a bit parted so this Shilabalika loves to sing. Music and song is in the air.

8- This one appears to stand waiting for some one. The most remarkable part of this shilabalika is her hair. Look closely at that big bun and then long, thick bunch of hair cascading down. Did you mark that the long hair is perfectly pruned in a straight line and the big bun is held with a long clasper?

9 – And here is another interesting depiction. The lady is standing on one foot. She definitely is not a dancer so to maintain her balance she needed to hold that creeper. Her assistant is putting toe ring on her one finger while in her free hand she has another toe ring ready. The joy of dressing up, getting ready is so apparent on her face.

10- Speciality of this Shilabalika is the artist’s attempt to craft a transparent dress on stone. Pay attention to the design of the dress at the back of the lady and on one of her leg and impressions on upper part of body.

11—This one appears to play an imaginary flute or is it a kite flying posture. I think she is playing flute and a sombre tune at that. Isn’t that what her expression tells?

12 – This Shilabalika appears to be quite confident in her own skin, assured of her power and beauty. Look at that smug expression on her face and what her assistant is trying to do? Is it a mirror in her hand? Is she trying to show it to her and she does not bother even to cast a glance on that side? Is this gesture too has another symbolical interpretation?

13 – This Madanika is playing Nag-veena. One end of Veena is snake shaped.musicians are accompanying her.

14—here comes the drummer. An all girls band? She holds the stick to beat the drum and did you notice her second hand? She holds the drum at place with another hand and has placed it under the ropes of drum. Loved that detail. Each and every rope of drum has been carved so nicely and clearly. These minute details reflecting the imaginative power of the artists are the signature stamps of the sculptors of Hoyasala period.

15 – one hand of this lady is damaged and she is holding something in her other hand. Due to the damage its not very clear what she is doing exactly. However when we pay attention to her assistants, we find that one assistant is giving a tumbler kind of pot to the lady. Is the assistant giving her something to drink and the other one, what that assistant is doing? Two kind of interpretation is done for this frame. Some believe that it is depiction of holi playing celebration as one assistant is filling colour in pichkari. Other interpretaion is that the assistant is someone well versed with medicines and is preparing some potion or a kind of medicine to relieve the lady of her pain or ache. The other assistant has brought water to her. Looking at the facial expression of the lady , I incline towards the second interpretation. Don’t you think that she gives an impression of being in pain. Her half open eyes , drooping eyelids too seem to indicate that.

16 – here comes another special one. She is squeezing her hair dry after coming out of her bath. She is not yet ready hence not decked up with jwellery and is putting on only the minimum of ornaments.

17 – Another one with Damru and kartal in hand.

18 – this group is all ready for hunting or war. Bows on their shoulders are clearly stating their intentions.

There are 38 Shailbalikas as bracket figures adorning the exterior of the temple. I have talked here about 18 of them. Each of these graceful Shilabalika or Madanika stands under intricately carved creepers, laden with fruits and few of them having birds and insects too. These Madanikas are epitome of feminine beauty, grace; symbol of fertility, peace, prosperity and harmony. The splendid workmanship of the master craftsmen of Hoyasala period is at their magical best while giving life to these richly ornamented beauties with shapely eyebrows, pointed nails, graceful postures and varied expressions.

All pictures @ Sunder Iyer

Main shrine in chennakeshava complex at Belur

I walked upto the steps leading to Jagati, the star shaped platform with 32 angles over which the temple stands. Even before one raises foot to climb on the first step the miniature temples on both the sides of step invite one to stop.

The entrance to Garbhgrah and a view of smaller temple outside

I too was tempted but after stopping for a fraction of second, looking up and around, I inhaled deeply and went directly inside. I decided to come out later and let the art pieces carry me into their world but first I thought to have darshanam of Keshava and convey my gratitude for calling me to His doorstep. As I crossed the threshold and stepped inside, the darkness in the chamber made me stop. I looked straight over the heads of other devotees and the lamp in the Garbhgrah beckoned like a guiding force. From exterior to interior, it was like body to soul and at the farthest end Keshava smiled like the blue light at the deepest core of our soul. It was such an amazing experience that for few minutes I was rooted to the spot. And then gradually the eyes became accustomed to the dark and the unparalleled beauty inside started captivating me. But first I headed directly to sanctum, paid my obeisance to Lord and then moved back to get subsumed by the sculptural beauty around.

That source of light, the supreme being

The interior of temple is divided into three parts – Garbhgrah (sanctum), Sukhanasi(vestibule)navaranga (central hall). On both the sides of the door of sanctum stand dwarpalas – Jay, vijay. Above the door hangs an intricately carved Torana with many embleshiment. Above that stand a band of musicians and dancers and then are two makaras on both the sides with garland like, arc shaped finally carved image coming out from their mouth under which sit gracefully Laxami Narsimha. It is not easy to see every detail there as it is quite dark inside but then who is in a hurry to come out. Stand there inside for some time. Let your heart soak in the aura and eyes ready to be able to focus and the wonders start unfolding.

Have divine Darshanam and then enjoy every intricate detail

Navaranga mandapam, the central hall has many pillars but out of these the four pillars close to the dancing floor stand out due to their exquisite carving. These pillars and the ceiling between them is mesmerizing. The pillars are smooth, shining so much so that even though black in colours they sparkle in the darness of hall. Of course, for absorbing the finally carved details we need to throw some light. One of these four pillars is known as Mohini pillar.

An overview of central hall and vestibules with exquisitely carved pillars.

Navaranga and one of the vestibule

Mohini pillar depicts Vishnu in His Mohini Avatara. Her serene facial expression, stance of standing, the curves of body and with that swaying effect of intricately carved jewelry is astounding. How could such fine detailing be done on stone! And when it comes to detail these Hoyasala times artists and sculptors have surpassed all the limits. Take an example of this Mohini image. Along with various items of jewelry like necklace, anklets, waistband there is a thread hanging from left shoulder to waist. What is that? An Yagopaveet, the sacred thread and what that thread is doing on a woman image? Perhaps, the artist wanted to establish that this is Vishnu, a male deity in a woman form. What a flight of imagination and what a way to manifest that!

Mohini pillar

Another pillar here is Narsimha pillar. The entire body of the pillar is studded with fine filgree work, images of Gods and goddesses and various mythological episode. Besides this the shape of the pillar too depicts the ingunity of the sculptors. The rectangular base on which rests a circular end of the pillar, again a rectangular portion and then a circular portion with many horizontal layers and at the top the pillar gradually becomes narrow. I have not witnessed it but heard that this pillar has this specific structure as it was made with a purpose to be rotated on its axis. May be like those big prayer bells in Buddist temples and monestry the artists had something in mind. This pillar is very near to Garbhgrah.

The ceiling above these four pillars too is very intricately carved. Above each pillar is a bracket figure. These are Suk Bhasini, Gandharva dancer, lady drying her hair and Queen Shantala. These bracket figures are specialty of Chennakeshva temple, Belur and the outer wall of the temple has many specimens of this type.

Shukbhasini, a bracket figure
intricately carved ceiling over central hall
ceiling with two of the bracket figures.

The dancing floor on three sides leads to vestibules with doors opening to platform on east, north and south side. The platform with pradakshina path has flight of steps on these three sides touching the open temple compound.

From Garbhgrah now we are out on platform ready to enjoy the extravaganza of art and sculpture, a wonder world of masterpieces created by the artist and sculptors.

I love the symbolism in this picture — the body, the soul and the light source at the farthest end.

All the pictures @Sunder Iyer