Friday, October 7, 2011

Hoysaleswara Empire: Halebid and Belur - Part 1

Yesterday was a Hindu holiday celebrating Dasara (or spelled as Dussehra) which is also known as Vijayadashmi ("Vijay" meaning victory and "Dashmi" meaning tenth day). It is believed that it was on that day that Lord Rama killed the demon-king Ravana and rescued his abducted wife Sita. So, it was the celebration of the day that good conquered evil. We were planning to go to Mysor for a big celebration they have every year, but we gave up on the idea when we found out all the tickets were already sold out.

So, while everyone was celebrating Dasara, we decided to take a day trip to towns called Halebid and Belur that are about 4hrs west of Bangalore.

Thanks to our new driver Taj for taking us on the 8 hr round trip drive! It was definitely worthwhile going there. We started out by visiting Chennakesava Temple in Belur. Chennakesava means "handsome keshava" and it is a form of Vishnu. The temple was built in 1117 during the Hoysala dynasty. Hoysala which can be divided into two words "hoy" and "sala" means "Strike Sala" where Sala was said to be the person who led the dynasty and who also fought single-handedly with a vicious tiger and killed it. There is no historical backup on this story, but the legend says that the dynasty was named after him to honor his bravery. It was not Sala but King Bittiga (aka Vishnuvardhana) who later built several temples around the region after defeating the western Chalukays.

What's fascinating about this temple as well as the other one in Halebid that I will mention in my next post, is the number of decorative statues (or I should probably call carvings) on the outer walls. Almost all the walls are entirely covered by layers of carvings. The lowest row is decorated with elephants (symbolizing strength), next one with tigers (symbolizing courage), and the third from the lowest with horses (symbolizing speed).

And at the top, there are 38 freestanding bracket figures of  madanikas (Salabhanjika–celestial damsels) in various dancing and ritual postures angled between the upper walls and the over hanging eaves. All the figures are interesting to watch, as they depict how people lived back then. The one above the main entrance to the left is a famous one, which is a lady admiring her beauty in the mirror.

As you step into the main temple, the first thing you will notice is the pillars. There are a total of 48 pillars and all are unique in shape and decoration. In front of the shrine (the room with the Vishnu statue) is a round dancing stage which has a gorgeous looking ceiling and four more of those madanikas.

One of the interesting pillars is on the south-east side of the dancing stage, called Narashima Pillar, which the guide told us it used to rotate on its axis amazingly. The carvings on the pillar are just breathtaking. There is one small blank space, which is said to be left that way intentionally by the sculptor, challenging others to fill the space. Nice touch!

Another pillar which is closer to the shrine is also noteworthy. According to the guide, who seems to be in love with the woman carved on the pillar (^^), she is considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Forget Cleopatra or Nefertiti or Mona Lisa or Julia Roberts! What's her name? I forgot... :(

The guide was really into explaining why she was the most beautiful one. Long slanted eyes, curvy eyebrows, round face, fat lips, etc.

He even mentioned how her second toe is longer than the first one, which is considered to be important.

Guess what my hubby did immediately. He checked my toes :D