Stairs of the Chennakesava Temple

Chennakeshava Temple at Belur

© Photograph taken by Dinesh Kannambadi at Chennakeshava temple (also spelt Chennakesava)”

  Stairs of the Chennakesava Temple are built leading into the main complex, with a shrine at the base of the stairs. The shrines are built to resemble great towers built with northern Indian architecture. The towers are curvilinear in shape which is uncommon for the period the temple was built. The main entrance to the complex is crowned by a Rayagopura built during the days of Vijayanagar Empire. It contains no stairs in the inner sanctum, but the outer complex is built with several stairs leading into the main temple. Within the temple complex, the Chennakesava temple is in the centre, facing east and flanked by Kappe Channigraya temple on its right, and a small temple set slightly back. Two main pillars exist here. The pillar facing the main temple, the Garuda sthambha pillar was erected in the Vijayanagar period while the pillar on the right, the Deepa sthambha dates from the Hoysala period. Though the artistic design is still Western Indian; Hence, the over-decoration which is seen in later Hoysala temples. During later years, the Hoysala art took an inclination towards craftsmanship, with a weakness for small design. The Chennakesava temple has three stair entrances and the doorways have decorated sculptures called doorkeepers on either side. While the Kappe Channigraya temple much smaller than the Chennakesava temple, it is architecturally significant, though it lacks any sculptural features. The Kappe Chennigraya temple became a two shrine temple with the later addition of a shrine to its original plan. The original shrine has a star-shaped plan while the additional shrine is a simple square. The icon inside is also that of Kesava and was commissioned by Shantala Devi, queen of king Vishnuvardhana. The shrine is at the back of the Temple. Each side of the vimana shrine measures 10.5 m and has five vertical sections. Each vertical section comprises a large double layered niche in the centre and two heavy pillar like sections on either side. The two pillar-like stair sections adjoining the niche are rotated about their vertical axis to produce a star-shaped plan for the shrine. The pillar-like section and the niche bear many ornate sculptures, belonging to an earlier style. There are some 60 large sculptures of deities from both Vaishnava and Shaiva faiths. From the shape of the vimana it has been inferred that the tower above it would have been of the Bhumija style and not the regular star shaped stair tower that followed the shape of the vimana. The Bhumija towers, which are intact on the miniature shrines at the entrance of the hall are actually a type of North Indian tower, being curvilinear in shape. This shape of tower is quite uncommon in pure dravidian architecture. The stair shrine has a life size image of a form of Vishnu with four hands. Each hand holds an attribute; the discus, the mace, the lotus-flower and the conch, in clockwise direction. The entrance to the stair to the shrine is flanked by life size sculptures of door guardians.