At Veera Narayana Temple in Belavadi, Karnataka, you could seek blessings from protector of devotees, Lord Narasimha, take selfies among beautifully carved pillars in the hall or chat to a priest whose family has been looking after the temple for centuries – the choice is yours.
The chief attraction of this temple built by King Veera Ballala II of the Hoysala Empire, however, is Maha Vishnu, in his warrior form of Veera Narayana, wearing a dhoti in a style called Veera Kaccha. Holding his mace upwards in one hand, not downwards as he usually does, and a chakra in another, he seems ready for battle.
A trinity of Lord Vishnu’s forms (Narasimha, Krishna and Veera Narayana) is completed by Lord Krishna standing under the Kalpavriksha Tree (wish fulfilling tree in Hindu mythology), playing a flute, his slender waist giving size zero women a run for their money. Saints, gopikas, cowherds and cattle carved alongside have been listening to his music since the 13th century. According to the priest, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has granted this idol of Venugopala status of the most beautiful Krishna idol, though the claim is not verified by an online search.
When I visit with family in February, we are the only people around, apart from temple staff. Having navigated narrow lanes lined with brightly coloured houses, hens chasing each other and people going about daily chores like filling water in plastic pots or carrying cattle fodder, we alight from our vehicle to find barely any clue of the grandeur within the temple complex.
At the entrance, two stone elephants with broken tusks, their legs bent with the strain, seem to be pulling the structure. A pillared hall then opens into a courtyard housing the beautifully sculpted temple on a star shaped platform typical of the Hoysala style of architecture, its shape accentuated by a colourful hedge at its periphery.
A dhwajastambha (flag staff) in front of the rather squat main structure, has a ‘naamam’ at the base, indicating the main deity of the temple is Lord Vishnu. Lathe-turned, glossy black ornamented pillars line the main ‘mandap’ or hall leading to the trikuta (three towers) layout – the main idol of Lord Veeranarayana in the centre facing East, Lord Venugopala facing North and Lord Yoganarasimha facing south.
Visiting a lesser known temple during lean season has its benefits I guess. We are the only audience to an aarti (lamp lighting as part of worship) and there is no pushing and pulling involved in darshan (sighting) of the gods either. We follow the affable priest around to each of the three shrines as he chants mantras and pulls aside a cloth hanging in front of the deity, allowing us enough time to collectively ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at the sight.
Each idol is magnificent, lifelike limbs striking a graceful posture, elaborate ornaments and religious markings in the glistening black rock setting each one apart. While the shrines need a tube light to brighten the interior at the moment, the priest tells us that during summer equinox, sunrays pass through the pillared corridors and light up the idol of Veera Narayana. I’ve heard of this phenomenon in a few other Hindu temples as well, but haven’t managed to see it for myself so far.
We move on to circling the temple exterior. Unlike Hoysaleshwara Temple in nearby Halebidu, this temple’s multi-tiered Vimaanas (towers) are intact, owing to the fact that this temple was not attacked by Muslim rulers from Delhi. Natural elements have done their bit though. Pockmarked and discoloured sculptures on the outside are testimony to the power of erosion.
There is one other thing too – the nature of mutilation seems peculiar. While most bodies and accoutrements of stone figurines are more or less whole, quite a few faces are mutilated to the extent of being invisible. On enquiry, we’re told that local vandals are believed to have disfigured the façade.
In fact, even inside one can see foolishness at work – carved pillars bear names of vandals/visitors willing to deface works of art just to register their presence. As we end our visit, I pray for future generations to have better sense. I’m not sure we have the artists or funds required to produce such mammoth pieces of art. Preserving them is the least we can do.
HOW TO REACH BELAVADI
The nearest airport is Kempegowda International Airport at Bengaluru (Bangalore). This option is the best if you’re traveling from New Delhi (trains take around 2 days to reach the nearest railhead)
The nearest railheads are Birur and Kadur, which are 3.5-4.5 hours from Bangalore. Birur is better connected than Kadur with direct trains from Chennai coming to Birur, not Kadur. From Mumbai, you can take trains to either Birur or Kadur, with the travel time being 20-22 hours.
From Kadur, the travel time to Belavadi is one hour by road and from Birur, it is around one and a half hours. You can take auto rickshaws from outside the railway stations
If you wish to take a bus from Bangalore, KSRTC has buses to Belur. The journey takes around 4 hours. From Belur bus station, local KSRTC buses go to Halebeedu bus station (right next to the Hoysaleshwara temple), the journey time of approx. 45 minutes being more due to bad roads than the distance (27 kms). From here, you will have to hire an auto rickshaw to Belavadi, which is another 20-30 minutes (12 kms) away.
Driving distance from Bangalore is around 225 kms. If you have your own vehicle, you could do Bangalore-Nelamangala-Kunigal-Channarayapatna-Hassan-Halebeedu OR Bangalore-Nelamangala-Tumkur-Gubbi-Tiptur-Arsikere-Javagal. It should take you around 4-5 hours to reach Belavadi.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
November-January is the best time to visit as the weather is quite pleasant.