Location: South India
Year of Construction: 1117 AD
Constructed By: Hoysala King
Type of Construction: Ancient
Type of Building: Temple
Today's Belur is a small town in Hassan District. It was the Capital of a powerful Empire of Hoysala Kings. Hoysalas were initially under the control of Chalukyas only to build their own kingdom after the fall of Chalukyas. Among Hoysala Kings, Vishnuvardhana was the most well known and was the one who got rid of the Chalukya control. It is said that King Vishnuvardhana built the main temple of Channakeshava. Thousands of visitors from all parts of the globe come to see the magnificent architecture of the temple. Students of Art Colleges never miss to see this marvelous piece of work. Many come here and stay for weeks and months together to go through details and beauty of the sculpture. The innumerable variety of ornaments, the doorways, the ceilings, the birds, the animals, dancers and other figures are fully decorated as if they are full of life and vigour with variety of actions and movements.
From inscription it is learnt that Vishnuvardhana got the temple built in memory of his victory in Talkad against Cholas and other sources declare that Vishnuvardhana got built this temple as a sign of him having adopted Vaishnavism as advised by the Great Guru Sri Ramanujacharya. If a detailed study of the structure is taken, one may know the star-shaped Garbhagruha, Sukanasi and the Navaranga - the inside pillars, the outside work might have been done during the reign of Vishnuvardhana. The large niches, friezes and sculptures on the outside and also the beautifully designed inside pillars and ceilings including three doorways were carved during his time.
The Garbhagruha was surmounted by a high star-shaped tower of brick and mortar supported by woodwork and plated with gold gilded copper sheets. Standing on a high platform on the top of a raised ground, the structure has a commanding look. The beautiful image of Keshava called as Vijaya Narayana was installed in the sanctum in 1117 AD. At about the same time, Vishnuvardhana's senior Queen Shantaladevi though inclined to Jainism did not fail to take part in the Vaishnava temple work. She got the Channigaraya temple built similar in form to the main temple, though less elaborated and less decorated. The figure of Channigaraya installed by her is about the same that of Keshava in the main temple, but smaller in size. It bears the inscription of Vijayanarasimha the First, illustrious son and successor of Vishnuvardhana who made grants for the maintenance of the temple and for regular poojas. The remaining of the Durbar scene to the north of Navaranga doorway shows that some improvements might have been made at a later point of time.
Later, Veera Ballala II built a fine pond called Vasudeva Thirtha to the north east of the main temple in 1175 A.D. which is covered with perforated screens and three doors were provided with massive buttoned doors. Supporting towers were erected on either side of each doorway while in the interior of the temple; the Navaranga was separated from the Sukanasi by insertion of beautifully carved potstone doorway. Further, a shrine with charming sculptures like those at Kedareshwara Temple at Halebid was built in the premises of the temple for the God Veera Narayana. In the days of Veera Ballala II, one of his officers Somaya Danayaka got the central tower rebuilt with brick and wood.
When the Tugalaks invaded the Deccan, their officer Ganga Salar of Kalburgi lead seize to the temple and burnt its gateway. Shortly afterwards he founded the Bahamani Dynasty. The Vijayanagar Emperor took much pain and did all that was required for the temple. In 1397 A.D. Gunda, a General under Harihara II constructed the seven-storied gopuram in the place of Mahadwara, which was burnt by Ganga Salar. After sometime, three important buildings i.e. the Soumyanayaki Temple, the large Mantap on the West and the Andal Shrine were put up behind the main temple. It is learnt that materials from the ruined Hoysala buildings at several places were freely used.
A good part of Navaranga of Channigaraya Temple was also rebuilt during Vijayanagar period while a number of minor erections were done here and there in the compound of the temple like the Deepasthambha and the Yagashala where the Sacred fire in the temple is lit. During the 15th Century the materials of Shiva and Jain Temples were used for the construction of Naganayaka Mantap right in the front of the main temple.
The Tuluva Emperors of Vijayanagar had this deity as their family God. The Nayaka chiefs of Belur undertook several repairs and minor constructions. During 1879, the Vimana tower became so ruined that it had to be removed to save the main temple from collapsing.