I am delighted to welcome the first guest post from Sonali Sengupta
, who takes us on a fascinating cultural tour of Halebid and Belur.
Marveling at the architectural and technological brilliance of our ancestors has always been a favorite passion of mine. That’s why during my last visit to Bangalore, I was only too happy to squeeze in a trip to Halebid and Belur. Call it my ill luck or fate, I couldn’t enjoy much in Belur because by the time I reached there, most temples in the temple complex were closed. But Halebid made the trip worthwhile because what I saw there is going to stay with me for a long time to come.
Halebid was the imperial capital of the Hoysalas in the 12th century, during the reign of Vinayaditya. The remnants of that period are a big tourist attraction these days. The most famous temple of Halebid is the Hoysaleshwara Temple dedicated to Shiva. The main deity, a Shiva linga, is still worshipped every day. Another temple has the deity of queen Shanthaleshwara. These two identical but separate temples are on a single platform, which are connected internally. However, you should avoid focusing your camera lens on the deities as the pujaris (temple priests) don’t like people clicking images of their revered deities.
Other attractions here are the Kedaresvara Temple, Shantinatha Basadi, VijayaParshvanatha Basadi and Adinatha Basadi. All these Basadis and temples have painstakingly carved friezes and richly ornamented sculptures. The fact that the Jain art and architecture gained equal importance and were patronized by the royals is evident in these Basadis (Jain temples).
Once you are inside the Hoysaleshwara Temple, it’s interesting to note the intricate detailing and embellishments on the walls of the temples in this complex. The minute carvings in black stone, both adorning the walls and the roof are something worth watching. However, you will find some of these works, especially on the pillars and some parts of the roof, incomplete. It’s believed that work on this temple often got stalled due to enemy attacks. Whether the artists’ patience ran out after repeated stalling and if that made them abandon some of these carvings midway is a question, the answer to which is known to none.
While entering the temple, you just can’t miss the huge Nandi (the bull, who’s Lord Shiva’s attendant) statue facing the main shrine, on a raised platform. The majestic dwarpalas (guards at the doors) standing at the temple’s northern doorway as well as the carvings of Makara (a mythical animal that has parts of elephant, peacock, pig, lion and crocodile) atop the entrance are also a sight to cherish.
For a better look at the patience and craftsmanship of artisans those days, you need to take a round or two of the Pradakshina Patha (the elevated pedestal on which the temple is built). Unlike the somewhat dark indoors, the carvings here are easy to see and notice under the bright sunlight. This elevated platform has outer circum-ambulation, with bands and friezes, which vary from 5 to 8 in number. The middle space in these freezes is usually reserved for the sculptures of Gods and Goddesses (Shiva, Parvathi, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Brahma, Vishnu Avatar and Saraswati, among others). You will also find depictions from Hindu epics like those inspired by the chapters of Bhagavad Gita, Kalia Daman, Ramayana and Mahabharatha.
I had a great time, spotting many of these. The huge statue of Narasimha, Vishnu's lion avatar, who slayed Hiranyakashipu and saved his son Prahlad; Dancing Shiva; Kaliya Daman – Lord Krishna dancing on the subdued serpent Kaliya; the couple – Shiva and Parvathi; the deity of knowledge – Saraswati, albeit in a dancing pose, unlike her more common pose with a veena (a musical instruments with plucked strings) – there’s a lot to explore and get amazed about. The walls also had a recurrent motif of the Hoysala crest – a royal stabbing a lion to death. You will find figurines of royal ladies, drummers, courtesans and musicians on the walls too, all of which boast of great detailing.
After coming down from the platform, I made a round of the complex, noting how minute figures were carved on the pedestals’ walls (with several breaks in between though) as well. Be it Krishna giving advice to Arjuna ahead of the battle of Mahabharata, or scenes from Rama’s exile period in Ramayana, I spotted more than a few of these depictions. I simply wondered how much of an effort, time and patience had gone into carving such intricate and detailed figurines. Just looking at the life-like, realistic carvings, be it the carved hair locks, the bangles and other ornaments, or the sensuous appeal, it’s easy to note what a matured sculptural style they all depict.
There’s a museum opposite the temple complex, where you can find more of these ancient figurines, each labeled with the names of what the figurine is about, along with the names of sculptors (in some cases). Be it different avatars of Lord Vishnu (Keshava, Madhava, Govardhanagiridhari etc), Shiva as Nataraja, Dancing Parvathi, Yaksha and Yakshis, you will have a lot of interesting exhibits to watch here. You can also find some of the architectural components of the temple preserved here, right from the adhisthana (basement) to the shikhara (super structure). The museum houses some 17th Century wood figurines as well, which originally formed part of a chariot in Belur. These include the ten incarnations of Vishnu, namely Varaha, Kurma, Matsya, Narasimha etc.
The entrance to the museum, via a garden, also has some of these sculptures strewn around to grab your eyeballs. Just like the figurines in the temple complex, these too show the ornate style and a great sense of refinement and beauty - a hallmark of the Hoysala art and architecture. However, the open air museum was in a bad shape, I found. Thanks to the vagaries of nature, many of these invaluable antiquities (which were mostly broken pieces from the temple complex and its surroundings) were rotting away. Quite a few have broken down further while some figurines have lost their distinctive facial features.
The garden of the temple complex hosts some huge figurines like that of Lord Shiva and Ganesha (God with an elephant head) but what attracts the most attention is the colossal statue of Tirthankara. This statue has been mended with a lot of effort from its earlier broken pieces, but thanks to the enormous effort put into its restoration, you can hardly tell it now.
All in all, my visit to Halebid – considered to be a treasure trove of Hoysala art and architecture, helped me appreciate that period’s unique collections and adore the marvelous craftsmanship.