The Story of 900-year-old Chennakeshava Temple, that took 103 years to be completed

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Chennakeshava temple belur janakachari

The year was 1336 AD and the place was Southern part of India. All the kingdoms that had reigned over here had been destroyed by the Delhi Sultanate. The Yadavas of Devagiri, the Kakatiyas of Warangal, and even the Pandyans of Madurai had all been defeated one way or the other by the Delhi Sultanate. Vijayanagara Empire was just in infancy. All the major powers, barring one had been destroyed. The lone standing power was the brave Hoysala Empire of Dwarasamudra.

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The brave king Veera Ballala-III was the only one standing in the way of the Delhi Sultanate, which was now being ruled by the Tughlaq dynasty. However, the Hoysalas had twice faced an invasion from Delhi a few years back in 1312 and in 1327. Malik Kafur had first plundered the Hoysala capital of Dwarasamudra on behalf of Alauddin Khilji in 1312. Veera Ballala-III had been forced to pay tribute to the Delhi Sultanate and had to part with his son Veera Virupaksha, who had to go to Delhi as a hostage.

In 1327, Muhammad bin Tughlaq sent his army to the South. This time, Veera Ballala-III refused to pay tribute and ceased to support the Delhi Sultanate as a feudatory state. Dwarasamudra was plundered once again and that’s how it got its present name Halebidu, which means old town as now it fell under despair and the name Dwarasamudra was gone. But Veera Ballala refused to give up. He built a new capital by the name Hosapattna and he placed himself at Tiruvannamalai to take on two foes.

The Hoysalas had to take on two foes, the Delhi Sultanate in the North and the Madurai Sultanate in the South. Veera Ballala fought them for three decades and provided stiff resistance until he was captured, flayed, and killed in the Battle of Madurai in 1343, which brought an end to the glorious rule of the Hoysalas. The Hoysalas had been gone for a long time now but their legacy remains alive through the marvelous structures they built during their rule. One such structure is the Chennakeshava temple at Belur, which is still standing, surviving all the invasions from Delhi, and is now celebrating 900 years of existence! (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/…/articlesh…/57610369.cms)

The Chennakeshava temple, which was actually called as Vijayanarayana temple was commissioned by the great Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana, 900 years back in 1117 AD.

There are various theories that try to put forward the reason behind the construction of the temple. One theory is that it was built by Vishnuvardhana to commemorate his successes in various military campaigns and another theory is that it was built to celebrate Vishnuvardhana’s entry into the Vaishnava fold, under the guidance of Ramanujacharya, the second of the three great Acharyas (Adi Shankaracharya being the first and Madhwacharya being the third and the last). Coincidentally, Ramanujacharya was born exactly 1000 years back in 1017. This happens to be the millennial year of his birth.

Chennakeshava, or which in Kannada means handsome Keshava or handsome Krishna is the chief deity of the temple. There is one more Chennakeshava temple at Somanathapura, which was built by the Hoysalas, about 100 years later by Narasimha-III. Now, coming back to the Belur temple, this temple is a fine example of Karnata-Dravida architecture and is a real masterpiece. A legend says that it took 103 years to fully complete the temple. It was started by Vishnuvardhana and completed by his grandson, Veera Ballala-II.

The mastermind behind the Chennakeshava temple was the great sculptor Jakanachari or Jakanacharya, who has been immortalized by the name Amarashilpi Jakanachari. It is said that Jakanachari’s masterpiece, the Chennakeshava idol actually had a flaw in it, which was pointed out by a young sculptor who was working in Belur under him. Jakanachari was angered by the accusations of an unknown young man and declared that if the youngster could prove his point, he would cut off his own right hand. The youngster was able to prove it and Jakanachari actually did cut off his right hand. However, the young man turned out to be Jakanachari’s long lost son, Dankanachari.

However, it is said that Jakanachari got a vision from Lord Chennakeshava himself stating that he should build a temple of the Lord in his hometown Kridapura.

Jakanachari and his son Dankanachari together built one more Chennakeshava temple at Kridapura and a miracle is said to have occurred. It is said that Jakanachari’s right hand was restored by the Lord after the temple was built and Kridapura came to be known as Kaidala. Kai means hand in Kannada.

The Chennakeshava temple at Belur and the Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu have both been proposed to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Hoysaleshwara temple, being in Halebidu has been damaged a bit since the city was sacked twice by the Delhi Sultanate forces. However, Chennakeshava temple, the 900 year old wonder is still standing and daily poojas are conducted over here. Vishnuvardhana not only commissioned the construction of this temple but also shifted the Hoysala capital from Belur to a new city, then called Dwarasamudra, which got its name after taking inspiration from Lord Krishna’s Dwaraka. It is quite possible that this shifting of capital might be the reason why the Chennakeshava temple is still standing at Belur, since Belur did not suffer the fate of Dwarasamudra.

The Chennakeshava temple at Belur is a shining example of the Hoysala architecture and forms a crucial part of their legacy. It is sad that the Karnataka State Government doesn’t believe in celebrating 900 years of one of India’s most beautiful temples. It doesn’t celebrate the likes of Vishnuvardhana, Veera Ballala-II, Veera Ballala-III, Amarashilpi Jakanachari, Ramanujacharya, and other icons of Hoysala era. But it would readily celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, a man who butchered thousands of people in Kodagu, Kerala, Mangaluru, and also hanged 700 Mandyam Iyengars at Melukote on the suspicion of espionage.