Halebid – beautiful on the outside

Have you been to Belur, Sir? Asked the guide.
No, we are going there after visiting here.
Sir, you will notice that Halebid is beautiful on the outside and Belur is beautiful on the inside.
With this started our tour of the Hoysala temple at Halebid.

Halebid is the anglicised form of Halebeedu which literally means old abode or old dwelling place or old home. And that is what it was for the Hoysalas – their first capital city, their first abode before Belur became the capital of the Hoysala kings. Halebeedu was also known as ‘Dwarasamudra’ a combination of two words – Dwara (which evolved from Druva, a Rashtrukuta king) and Samudra which means lake or a large body of water). The lake still exists, abutting the temple compound. Thanks to the recent rains the lake which has lain dry for several years was full.

The temple was built by Kethamalla, a military officer at the time of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana. The construction of this Shiva temple took place in 1121AD. We enter the temple from the north entrance (the temple has four entrances). The temple has two sanctums dedicated to Hoysaleshwara and Shanthaleshwara.

King Vishnuvardhana’s wife Shantaladevi was a renowned dancer and according to legend, Vishnuvardhana first saw her at a dance recital and fell in love with her. The slightly raised circular platforms in front of the sanctums is where she would enthral the audience with her dance.

Shantaladevi’s audience would be seated along these raised stone blocks amidst the pillars and watch her performances

The inside of the temple despite its lovely pillars and ceilings is rather ‘simple’ in comparison with the architecture on the outside. As is typical of temples in India, the outer walls of the Halebeedu temple are choc-a-bloc with sculptures of Gods, Goddesses and their various avatars and scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha. What is outstanding is the detailing in each sculpture. So much attention to detail is given to their costume, jewellery, pose, headdress, it is unbelievable! Take for instance a sculpture of an elephant on the move. The ornaments on a moving elephant will not stay still, they sway, and even this minute detail is captured in the sculpting.

As you walk in a clockwise direction, things to look out for:
1) The door-keepers or dwarapalakas on either sides of the entrance doors and the grand decorations above the door.


2) The eleven layers of wall frieze. No two layers are same, neither are any two elements in any layer the same! Animals such as elephants, lions and horses, warriors, plants and creepers, dancers striking various poses, singers and such other subjects make up the different layers. If you look closely between the layers, you can see how they have been placed one on top of another.

11-layered friezes

3) Just above the wall friezes you will see continuous rows of statues striking various poses.

Dancer, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Uma-Maheshwara
Ravana carrying Mount Kailash
A dancer using a handmirror to adjust her bindi
Arjuna aiming for the eye of the fish
Krishna lifting the Govardhana hill

Sculptures cover every nook and corner and tell a story. The external wall does not run straight; on the contrary it is like a many-sided polygon. You will see stories related to Krishna’s childhood, scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharatha, celestial beings and the odd, difficult to explain sculptures of what looks like a British Judge, a chunk of missiles and men in helmets.

Two large nandis (bulls) sit next to each other in their pavilions facing the two sanctums. Made of soapstone they glisten in the bright light. The ornaments and cords that adorn these majestic bulls are exquisite.

There is a museum attached to the temple which we did not visit as we did not want to be in a closed space.
Restroom facilities are available.
Our next stop was Belur, little did we know that we would not visit that day. More about it another day! For a brief on the three Hoysala Temples, read this and to know about Belur and Somanathpur read this and this.

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