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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in India

Belur and Halebidu: masterpieces of the Hoysala Empire

These are beautiful pieces of architecture and unique in so many ways…

By Naga Subrahmanyam Garaga
Tour Guide

Belur and Halebidu’s soapstone temples were built by the Hoysala dynasty who ruled the southern part of India from around 1006 to 1346. They built almost 1500 temples in 950 locations out of which only 80 temples survive today due to various invasions. These are beautiful pieces of architecture and unique in so many ways.

Belur was the first capital of Hoysala before they shifted it to Dorasamudra now famously known as Halebidu. At Belur, the main attraction is the 1st-century Chennakeshava Temple – chena meaning ‘beautiful’ and keshava being one of the 24 forms of Vishnu. It took almost 103 years to complete over three generations.

So why is this temple particularly beautiful? Most of the Hoysala temples are cleverly designed with a star-shaped platform called jagati at the base. Some of the most intricate artwork of the era is displayed on the outside of the temple including 38 madanikas (female sculptures) fixed at the end of the pillars. Over the years the weather has hardened the soapstone which gives the exterior a smooth, shiny glean.

Inside you’ll see the sculptors’ remarkable work down to the finest detail around the navaranga hall with 48 pillars, most of which are carved by lathe. No two pillars are the same and you won’t find any stone left unfinished. You may even see the sculptors’ signatures which was rare because the kings never really credited the artisans.

After a spot of lunch, we travel to Halebidu temple around a 25-minute drive away. Otherwise known as Hoysaleswara, this twin temple dedicated to Shiva was built around five years after Belur. Here you’ll find two huge monolithic bulls as well as very striking and varied artwork of processions, deities and animated stories – all minute carvings. All of this history is embedded into the walls as there were no written scriptures. If we have time I always try and take people to Kedaweshwara temple next-door which is lesser known but still very beautiful.

In whichever way you choose to explore, one thing’s for sure, you will come out with a sense of awe.


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Alfred & Naga Subrahmanyam Garaga

Naga is a professional tour guide with over 20 years of experience in South India. He is currently based in Hyderabad but was brought up in coastal Andhra Pradesh in a traditional rice growing agricultural family. After working as a local guide and interpreter in the rural villages, he soon made it his full-time profession. He is extremely fond of sharing his bountiful knowledge on Indian culture, customs, traditions and folklore.

Naga Subrahmanyam Garaga, Tour Guide

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