Detailed, intricate, almost a thousand years old carvings engraved in the dark stone covering the whole walls. You can find there gods, dancers, and pictures of battles. Hindu mythology, rulers of the empire or 644 elephants, that none of each looks the same. Discover some of the most impressive architecture and historical places of South India. Described by one of my Indian friends as “Hampi, but smaller”. Belur and Halebid temples in Karnataka. Why do you need to put them on your south Indian itinerary?
If you are interested in Indian architecture and you are travelling to Karnataka region, I’m sure you know about Hampi. It’s the UNESCO World Heritage site, a capital of Hindu Vijayanagra Empire. But did you know, that it’s not the only place with beautiful south Indian temples, worth to visit? Belur and Halebid temples in Karnataka are famous to locals, but not well known amongst foreigners. It’s an architectural and historical gem, that you shouldn’t miss. It’s a great trip from Bangalore or Mysore and will let you know a lot of about the history and a culture of the region.
Belur and Halebid – the Hoysala Empire
Belur and Halebid were both the capitals of the empire of Hoysala Dynasty. The Hoysala era was an important time for the development of art, religion, and Hoysala architecture in south India. The renowned architect built both temples and they both have a great history associated with them. As a result, they are now proposed to be listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We had an opportunity to visit Belur and Halebid temples after the wedding of my Indian friends. It’s a tradition for the newlyweds to go to the temples and serve their offering to the Gods. It’s supposed to bring happiness and the prosperity of the marriage. The significant importance and beauty of Belur and Halebid temples were worth even the 4-hours-long drive from Tumkur. The bride’s and groom’s families together with us, a few of their Western friends, set off for the journey to discover the old Indian history.
Belur and Halebid lie 16 km from each other, in the Hassan district in Karnataka region in south India.
Halebid, which is also pronounced as Hale’beedu, means “the old city”. The Hoysala Dynasty ruled the city for about 150 years before it was invaded and partially destroyed.
We arrived at Halebidu, after visiting a smaller temple, located on the hill nearby and having lunch with a view. I was watching the buses and cars turning on a small car park, thinking that the place must be full of tourists. It turned out that it was indeed, but the tourists were only local and we were the only non-Indian visitors. I don’t mind “touristic” places like this.
Halebid temple, also called Hoysaleswara temple, is the most famous historical place in Halebidu. It was built in 12th century on the banks of the man-made lake and dedicated to Shiva.
The complex is quite big and consists of a few smaller buildings. Your eyes will immediately be caught by the very detailed friezes and beautiful artwork on every wall and ceiling. The carvings include Hindu theology and its legends, together with pictures from life and culture of India. Unfortunately, a large part of the temple was destroyed by the Muslim invaders and some sculptures were stolen. It still looks spectacular though, when you walk around and touch the smooth soapstone covering the walls.
Shiva and the history
Since it’s a Shiva temple, there are two Nandi shrines on its both sides. Nandi is a name of the Shiva’s bull. You can find similar sculptures in a famous Bull temple in Bangalore. The ones located in Halebid are 6th and 7th the biggest in all India.
The parent’s of the bride organized an English-speaking guide for us. He was explaining the stories behind the carvings of the temple. The art, culture, history, and religion are all mixing with each other and it takes a good amount of time to grasp your head around the complicated pantheon of Hindu Gods and their meanings. It’s all very interesting.
At the end of our trip, it started to rain heavily and the sun was almost down, so the temple was closing. Finally, we snapped few last pictures of the newlyweds and we moved to another famous south Indian temple in Karnataka –Belur Chennakeshava Temple.
When we arrived at the Belur temple, it was already dark. The whole complex was lit up and there was a small crowd inside, doing darshana. The devotees were giving offerings to the Gods, accompanied by the loud live music. The place was mobbed, as people were trying to get closer to the sanctum. Led by my Indian friend, I joined the crowd to see what was happening inside. I was the only white girl in the middle of the Indian ceremony. As a result, everyone was surprised what I was doing there. After the blessings, we could see better into the sanctum. There was a huge silver sculpture of Vishnu and the carvings on the roof were so delicate and detailed.
Belur temple, named Chennakeshava Temple, is considered to be one of the most beautiful from all the 92 Hoysala temples in Karnataka region in India. It’s dedicated to Vishnu god. Can you believe that it took 103 years to complete?
The details and the elephants
Considering that the temple comes from 12 century and was repeatedly damaged during the wars, it’s still in a good condition. Belur temple is famous for its architecture, iconography, and history. You can find there the usual sculptures of various gods. Apart from that, there are also many cultural and art carvings. The temple has many figures depicting dancers, musicians and scenes of secular life in the 12th century India. Most of all, I liked the story of 644 elephants located at the base of the temple, which symbolizes the stability. And every one of them is different! How crazy is that?
The Belur temple also consists of several separate buildings. In the middle of the courtyard, there is a tall stone pillar, only balanced by its centre of gravity. Did you know, that when you visit the temple in India you can only go around it in a clockwise direction? Reversing it would bring a bad luck. So if you miss that perfect photo spot and want to go back, you need to go around!
Halebid – open daily from sunrise to sunset. Check for opening on Fridays.
Belur – 7:30 AM to 1:00 PM and 2.30 PM to 7.30 PM
Where to stay:
There are not many options for accommodation in Belur or Halebid. You can find a few in Belur.
Otherwise, you can stay in Hassan or Mysore and organize a one day trip to the temples.
How to reach Belur and Halebid:
The closest big city is Hassan, with good connections to Bangalore and Mysore. That’s the easiest way of getting to Belur and Halebid. Another option is to go through Tumkur, if you go in that direction. That’s what we did, but we had private transport to take us there and back, organized by our friend’s family.
- Air: The nearest airport is in Mangalore or Bangalore (Bengaluru).
- Rail: The nearest train station is in Hassan, which has trains running to Bangalore and Mysore – book online in advance.
- Bus: There are buses running from Hassan, Bangalore and Mysore run by Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC)
- Road: The easiest way if you have your own transport is to get to Belur and Halebid by road.
- Organised trips: Possible from Bangalore & Mysore.
Do you like Indian temples and the architecture? What do you think about Belur and Halebid temples in Karnataka? Let me know in the comments!
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