Belur Temple and Halebid are magnificent specimens of Hoysala architecture and great weekend getaways from Bangalore. Belur temple which is one of the more popular tourist places in Karnataka, is dedicated to Lord Chennakesava and is famous for its magnificent sculptures.. Nearby Halebid is another gem among weekend getaways from Bangalore and has equally ornate temples in the form of Hoysalesvara and Shantalesvara. The temple complex has scores of episodes from the great Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana engraved into the walls, making it popular among tourist places in Karnataka. Belur and Halebid can make a memorable weekend getaway from Bangalore where apart from temple architecture one can also experience a flavor of life in rural india. The best way to experience these villages is by taking a Bullock cart ride through them!
Belur Temple is easily accessible from Bangalore via road making it a convenient option among weekend getaways from Bangalore. The distance of 220 KMs can be covered in 3.5 hours through NH 48 via Chanrayapatna and Hassan. After Hassan, there is a road that directly connects to Belur.
The nearest railway station is at Hassan, 30 Kms away. There are plenty of Buses and taxis at Hassan station to take you to Belur and Halebid.
The nearest airport to Belur temple is at Mangalore, located 150 KMS away. Halebid is located 16 KMS from Belur and can be accessed from Hassan by taking a deviation at Haggare junction on the Hassan Belur road.
If you are in the mood to indulge yourself, then Hoysala Village Resort on the Hassan Belur road is a great option for stay. The resort has luxury rooms, swimming pool and a fabulous restaurant that serves a great variety of the local cuisine. Both Belur and Halebid are half an hour drive from this place. Contact number for bookings is +9180 22340166.
The Belur temple is open every day from 7am to 830 pm. There is no entrance fee.
The summer months of April and May would be very hot and a visit at this time to the temple would mean coping with the radiated heat from the sandstone! Winter months of Oct15th-Feb 15th are the most pleasant period to make a visit to Belur Temple. If you do end up at Belur or Halebid in summer, make sure you carry an umbrella or a large hat. The temple does have a carpet running around the walls for providing some relief. Weather notwithstanding, people visit Belur and Halebid round the year making them one of the more popular tourist places in Karnataka.
There are more than 35000 sculptures in each of the temples at Belur and Halebid! Each carving has a story behind it. It is highly recommended to engage an authorised guide at the temples. The Rs 250 fee paid to the guide is well worth it. The guides provide a context to the sculptures which will help you appreciate this incredible wonder of India.
Belur Temple was built by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan who was originally a Jain and was converted to Hinduism by the great Saint Ramanujam. The temple took more than a 100 years to build and was completed by his son and grand son. The Temple is dedicated to Lord Chennakesava. The tall Vimanam is made of brick and mortar and covered by Gold plate.
The outer walls are covered with exquisite carvings of animals. The upper walls have free standing figures of dances in various postures. The attention to detail in these carvings is unbelievable.
The temple also features several episodes from the great epics Ramayana and Mahabarata in the form of sculptures. A couple of the more interesting sculptures show Arjuna the Pandava Prince rescuing cows of Virata and Ravana the 10 headed demon King of Lanka lifting mount Kailash.
The main hall called Navranga Mandapam is fantastic with its polished pillars and ceiling. A dramatic feature in one of the sculptures in the hall is that the bracelets on the arms of one of the dancer statues can be moved up and down. The headdress of another dancer statue has a moveable ring!
A peculiar characteristic of sculptures at Belur is that they are signed off by the respective sculptures like in a painting. In fact each sculptor describes his skill with a epithet which sometimes i boastful! There seems to have been a keen rivalry between sculptors of the Hoysala empire. Take a note of what Dasoja the master sculptor says about himself in his sculptures. "Smiter of the crowd of titled sculptors"! Padari Malloja describes himself as a pair of scissors tied to the necks of titled sculptors! Malliga says he is like a thunderbolt to the mountains rival titled sculptors.
To the south of the main sanctum of Belur Temple lies the Kappe Chennigaraya temple. There are fine sculptures in this temple as well, the most famous being those of Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi Narayana and Durga.
The annual car festival at Belur temple happens between March and April.
Another interesting temple within the Belur temple complex belongs to Veera Narayana. The most interesting aspect of this shrine is the set of 3 images on the western wall depicting Vijaya Narayana, Chennakesava and Lakshmi Narayana.
The consort of Lord Chennakesava is supposed to live in the Baba Budan hills near Belur. Once Vishnuvardhan built the temple, the Lord was separated from her and does frequent trips to the forest to meet his consort. The local cobbler community presented a pair of fresh sandals everyday at the altar of the shrine to help the Lord in his journey!
Halebid temple is open every day from 7am to 730 pm.
Halebid is located 16 KMS from Belur and 27 Kms from Hassam and can be accessed by taking a deviation at Haggare junction on the Hassan Belur road.
Halebid was the old capital of Hoysala Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries and finds itself in the top list of tourist places to visit in Karnataka.. The Capital shifted to Belur after it was ransacked by forces of Allaudin Khilji led by Malik Kafur. There are 2 magnificent temples inside the complex dedicated to Hoysalesvara and Shantalesvara. There are a couple of Jain Basadi as well. One of the highlights of Halebid is the magnificent statue of Nandi which took 86 years to complete. The craftsmen have even shown the blood veins on the face of Nandi.
The Nandi by itself is worth visiting and makes Halebid not only a great weekend getaway from Bangalore but also one of the most fascinating tourist places in Karnataka. The only other statue of Nandi that can rival Halebid is the one at Lepakshi.
The walls of Halebid temple much like Belur, have rich carvings from Indian mythology. One can spend a week just admiring the intricate artwork on the walls of Halebid. Some of the noteworthy scenes which are rare are Lord Rama killing Vali by shooting an arrow through 7 palms, the chakravyuh formation in the Mahabharata war, Lord Shiva dancing inside an Elephant and Shukracharya meditating under a Toddy tree!
The Garuda Pillar is a remarkable specimen in the Halebid temple. Garudas were elite body guards for the King and their only mission in life was to protect him. Once the King dies, they committed suicide as they believed there was no purpose left for their existence.
There is a spectacular carving etched in the outer wall of Halebid about the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu. The 3 characters below are Mahabali the proud King, Lord Vishnu in Vamana avatar and Shukracharya. Mahabali is being asked by Vishnu to grant land covered by 3 steps from his feet. Shukracharya is trying to warn Mahabali that there is some mischief! It is such magnificent masterpieces that make Belur and Halebid one of the most popular tourist places in Karnataka.
A remarkable carving at Halebid is the one where Shukracharya is meditating under a toddy tree! It seems Shukracharya believes Toddy is good in small amounts.
Halebid temple also has 3 Jain Basadis. The Basadis belong to Adinatheswara (1138 AD), Shantinatha (1192 AD) and Parshvanatheshvara (1133 AD). General Bopanna is credited to have been the builder of the magnificent Parshvanatheshvara Basadi.
The best way to experience the countryside is to take a Bullock Cart ride around the villages near Belur and Halebid. The ride will give you a glimpse of life in an Indian village.
It is highly recommended to end the ride by having an authentic Coffee at the house of the cart rider! He might let you ride the bullock cart if you are as lucky as I am.
If rural India fascinates you, then you might like this travelogue on Biking through the villages around Bangalore.
As far as shopping at Belur and Halebid is considered, i would recommend statues made of Panchadatu, an alloy of 5 metals which is resistant to damage from nature. Another interesting souvenir would be terra-cotta items that depict daily life in rural india. Kids would also love the traditional musical instruments which are available just at the entrance of the temples.
Bisleghat is a lush green hill station located 100 kms from Hassan near Sakaleshwara. It is often called as the "poor man's Ooty".
Halmidi is a village near Belur famous for Halmidi inscription which is the oldest written record of Kannada language. The inscriptions go back 1500 years in the past.
Javagal is located 40 Kms from Belur and is home to a famous Lakshmi Narasimha temple. It is a masterpiece built in Hoyasala style of architecture.
Mosale is the place where the famous Sage Jamadagni had his hermitage. It is located 13 kms from Belur and has 2 famous temples dedicated to Channakeshava and Nageshvara.