Sri Chennakeshava Temple, Belur

The Chennakeshava temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is in the state of Karnataka in the town of Beluru. The many inscriptions carved on the walls of the temple and on standalone stones have well preserved the history of the Hoysala dynasty and the temple. The inscriptions call this town Velapura which has eventually become Beluru.

According to the research paper, Iconography of hoysala period temples, published by Nangia, Renupum

"The Hoysalas, an indigenous dynasty of Kings, ruled for nearly three centuries over almost the whole of Karnataka, leaving a rich heritage of imperishable monuments of art and culture. From the position of petty tribal chiefs and later from that of vassals of more powerful neighbours such as the Cholas, they rose to power in the 11th century i.e., from the 1000 A.D"

King Vishnuvardhana was the first Hoysala ruler who declared independence from his overlords, the Chalukyas. Vishnuvardhana was unstoppable after his independence. He won against a formidable opponent, the Cholas from the state of Tamil Nadu. Cholas had long occupied Talakadu, a province near Mysore in Karnataka. Vishnuvardhana is lauded for bringing Talakadu back to being a Kannada province.

To commemorate his victory against the Cholas, King Vishnuvardhana built a temple for Vijaya Narayana in Beluru, in the year 1117. Vijaya means Victory and Narayana is a name of Lord Vishnu. However, over the years the deity came to be known as Chennakeshava – the beautiful Keshava. The legend has it that the deity was so good-looking, people started referring to it as Chenna-Keshava rather than Vijaya-Narayana. Keshava is another name of Lord Vishnu and ‘Chenna’ translates to ‘a thing of beauty’ in Kannada.

King Vishnuvardhana built a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu also as an ode to his Guru Sri Ramanujacharya, a hindu theologian and the most important exponent of the Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism. Under the influence of Sri Ramanujacharya, King Vishnuvardhana, previously a follower of Jainism under the name Bittideava, converted to Vaishnavism and was called Vishnu-vardhana (devotee of Lord Vishnu) by his Guru.

Chennakeshava temple, Beluru, The seven-storey Gopuram at the entrance

The city of Beluru is also addressed as “the earthly Vaikuntha”. Vaikuntha is the heavenly abode of Lord Vishnu, and Beluru is called the home of Lord Vishnu on earth. Beluru is also called “Dakshina Varanasi” (Varanasi of the south)) in later inscriptions to indicate the holiness of the land. Belur was the first capital city of the Hoysalas.

Chennakeshava Temple, Beluru, south entrance, p3

The temple has been an active Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu since its founding. It is described in medieval Hindu texts and till date remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism. Though it is a Vaishnava temple, it includes many themes from Shaivism (proponents of Lord Shiva), Shaktism (proponents of Goddess Shakthi), and Jainism - indicating the broad-minded approach of the Hoysala rulers towards religion. The Chennakeshava temple is a testimony to the artistic, cultural and theological perspectives in 12th century South India and the Hoysala Empire rule.