Rotating Narasimha pillar and ornate Mohini pillar of Chennakesava temple, Belur, KA

 chennakesava-temple-Belur, KA

Above image: Narasimha ornate pillar, Chennakesava temple, Belur, Karnataka. Unlike other Hoysala temples which are incomplete,this temple is a a functional one and pujas are done periodically......... ............................ 

Narasimha Pillar,  Chennakesava temple, Belur:

ornate pillars chennakesava-temple-Belur, KA

Above image: Narasimha ornate pillar, Chennakesava temple, Belur, Karnataka;. 2th-century carved pillar inside the temple  You can notice the  minute reliefs and and fine carving.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

 Chennakesava Temple of Belur, Karnataka is a classical example Hoysala temple architecture that departs from the basic of Dravida style prevalent in other southern parts of India.  It is a haven for architects,  artists and photographers. Among the various features in the temple  like sculptures, relief work, ornamentation on the ceiling, etc. this post is about the mesmerizing stone  pillars in the temple. In .the interior of the temple, the visitors step into a new world of architectural grandeur in the form of pillars and sculptures.   These pillars carry the stamp of rich Hoysala designs that may stagger you imagination. Poetry in stone, this temple is a standing monument of the opulence  of Hoysala rulers and their  imaginative artisans.. 

.Cenral square of the hall. chennakesava-temple-Belur,

Above image: ornate pillars in the central part of navagraha hall (mantap). each pillar has different ornamentation; no repetition.  .ome of the other pillars beautifully designed, the second pillar here is the central pillar of the Navaranga...............................

Originally known as Vijayanarayana Temple it is  on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, Hassan district, Karnataka. Belur is located 40 km from Hassan city.  The Hoysala  King Vishnuvardhana had this temple built to commemorate his dynasty's  victory over the mighty  Cholas in the battle of Talakad.

.location map. Belur, Karnataka.

There are about 50 intricately decorated stone pillars inside the temple and  they are made of soapstone, a soft kind of rock. Four pillars are centrally located and 38 outside. Each of 42 pillars has  a bracket figure of Celestial damsels (Shilabalika). The pillars are lathe-turned with distinct patterns and other details were carved on them.  Among them,   the Narasimha pillar  and the Mohini pillar  are most attractive and worth mentioning. The capital of the former is in  stellate shape and the latter is noted   for the single life-size image of a sensual nymph.  The  pillar also has the image of Narasimha (an avatar of Vishnu) on the Pillar. The other one has the image of Mohini (female avatar of God Vishnu).

Narasimha Pillar, though look like a circular pillar, in reality, it is polygonal in shape and each face carries the carved images and other details. It is a tall one with a height of about 30 feet.

It is often mentioned by the visitors that this pillar inside the dark part of the mantap  was designed in such a way it was  once capable of rotating on its axis without any hitch. Once  the visitors  were able to rotate the pillar above the circular end. The moot question is why was this pillar made rotatable?. Had it anything to do with prayer or any temple  ritual?  Was it carefully made to establish the  expertise and mastery of Hoysala   sculptors  in the area of  detailed stone carvings with arresting geometric patterns?  Unfortunately, for various reasons rotation mechanism   doesn’t work any more; perhaps it may be due to time factor or irregular handling of the pillar in the past. (The  rotating mechanism –had  ball-bearings at the bottom and top  to enable it to rotate about its own axis). It is also mentioned that the mechanism stopped working after the Vimana and shikara were damaged. 

None of the historical Indian temples of past era  have this kind of stone pillar with built-in mechanism to rotate on its axis. As most pillars are identical, to locate this particular Narashimha pillar,  a big  donation box  (Undi) of the temple is  kept near-by. 

Narasimha pillar, Chennakesava temple,

Above image: Richly carved  Narsimha pillars  with minute figures all round from the top to the bottom.  Quite amazing is a  tiny bull (Kadali-basava)  as small as a seed is  carved with care . A small space on the south face of the pillar is  believed to have  been left blank on purpose  by the sculptor to be filled up with the figure of a god later. What made the artist to design a stone pillar with a turning mechanism is a riddle that needs  acceptable answer...............................

The circular end of the pillar rests on a pedestal at the bottom and above  the circular end, there is a rectangular base. Above it  the pillar becomes circular again.  This circular space has six horizontal layers, each having  several miniature shrines carved into it. 

The pillar gradually gently tapers above the horizontal layers ending up with  two disc-like features and  a wide disc Atop  the disc rests an inverted cone  with a polygonal slab which is overlain by the capital of the pillar. 

The base of the pillars has  nice reliefs and the depiction includes mythological  episodes such as  Samudra Manthana, Lanka king Ravana shaking Mount Kailash, (abode of God Shiva),etc.


The Mohini pillar. Chennakesava temple, Belur:

Mohini image on pillar, Chennakesava

Mohini pillar, Chennakesava temple, Belur.

Mohini pillar, Chennakesava temple,

It is one among a few temples where the female form of Sri Vishnu -Mohini is meticulously carved on the pillar 

Though the  pillar is  called the Mohini Pillar,  it also has other avatars of Sri Vishnu, besides Brahma,  Shiva, etc. the eight direction deities (Ashta dhikku Devita), mythical animals with the body of a lion ,etc.  The Mohini image is carved into a locally available black stone. The pillar is  close to  the dance floo inside the Navaranga hall (mantap)..Impressively executed  Mohini pillar in the navaranga  has  sixteen pointed star plan vertically. It is decorated with a narrow band of filigree work.

A bit of  mythology -  Legend has it  during the churning of  the Ocean of Milk (Samudra Manthana) to get Amrita, the nectar of immortality by the   Asuras on one side  and  Devas (Demi-Gods) on the other side,  Mohini (female form of Sri Vishnu)  appeared as a by-product.  The giant serpent Vasuki  was used as a large  rope  and Mt. Meru was used  for churning.  At the final phase Asuras cleverly stole  the Amrita.  Disappointed Devas were concerned about the safety of the world as Amrita fell into the hands of trecherous Asuras. To retrieve the nectar of immortality  Vishnu  took the form of a beautiful woman enticed  Asuras and cleverly  got back the pot of  amrita for  the Devas. 

The carved image of Mohini on the pillar is quite fascinating. This feat was done roughly 900 years ago. The bejeweled Mohini is  artistically carved on the pillar - correctly proportioned  slim body  with a graceful stance and cool look. The image has a crown and also  a waist band (udiyana), anklets  and armbands. The wearing  of the yajnopavita  (sacred thread) suggests that  Mohini is indeed an avatar of  God Vishnu.