Halebidu – A Glimpse into our Magnificent Past

What’s in Halebidu:

Halebidu is a small little town located in the Hassan district of Karnataka, popular for its twin temples of the Hoysala dynasty. Hale = old and bidu = abode, stands for old abode or old capital. Our guide told us it’s also known as ‘Dwarasamudra’ – (entry by sea) and I started wondering how could a samudra (sea) come in this place! Later I was told that a huge tank was built here by King Vinayaditya of the Hoysala dynasty.  As per historical records, the Hoysalas ruled from Belur (17 kms from Halebidu) along the banks of the Yagachi river. Later, King Vinayaditya built a canal to channelize water from the Yagachi river to a newly built tank along the banks of which Halebidu flourished.

Now that explains why it was also known as Dwarasamudra! The tank is long gone now and all that can be seen are lush green fields surrounding the temple complex.

The Hoysala period boasts of numerous exquisitely carved temples. It is said that more than 1500 temples were built during their reign out of which hardly 100 survive today. Halebidu twin temples is one of the Hoysala trio of temples which have been proposed to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The other two proposed temples can be seen at Belur and Somnathapura. The intricate details of these temples are simply jaw dropping! It is difficult to describe the exquisite handiwork of the talented craftsmen. No wonder, these temples are huge tourist attractions from world over.

How to reach Halebidu from Bangalore:

Its a refreshing drive of about 3.5 hours from Bangalore. Halebidu is 210 kms from Bangalore and the drive on NH75 is a breeze. SH21 was okay. Love our National Highways… State Highways need to catch up! We could easily cruise (literally!) at speeds of more than 100 kmph on NH75.

The Shiva Temples:

The twin temples of Hoysaleshwar and Shantaleshwara stand tall and glorious as a mute testimony to the grandeur of the past. These Shiva temples named after the King and Queen Shantala Devi respectively, are located in the same complex and are still unfinishe. It is said that the work on these temples were interrupted by numerous wars the Hoysalas had to wage to defend their empire. 850+ years later these temples are still almost intact and active, housing the large monolithic Nandis facing the Shiva lingas.d.  The temples stand on an elevated platform which has 64 corners and shaped like a star.  The geometry of this soapstone structure is simply accurate in every detail. The temple walls are covered with deities depicting tales of our Hindu mythologies from Ramayana, Mahabharatha and others. Similarly, in Belur, the temple walls are adorned with sculptures of apsaras depicting the lifestyle of those times, replete with shringar (fashion), dressing style, hair style and much more.

As we enter the temple complex finding our way through the numerous vendors selling guidebooks and knick knacks, we are welcomed by a lush green lawn and paved pathways leading to the entrance. On one side, it houses a museum collection of numerous awe inspiring sculptures of deities which were once a part of this magnificent architecture.

The entrance today

Dwarapalakas at the entrance. This was the entrance of the Hoysala kings in those days and now is at the opposite end of the entrance today.

The Dwarapalakas (guards at the entrance) are so exquisitely carved but unfortunately were destroyed when it was attacked by Malik Kafur in the 13th century. The Archaeological Survey of India tried to repair the damage in vain. I guess perfection cannot be repaired. They could not conceal the damage done, in a graceful way and left it as it is.

Photography inside the temple premises is prohibited. After taking darshan and teerth, we proceeded to hire a guide who was very good with her work. With her near perfect English, she walked us around the complex describing every little detail with great interest and enthusiasm. It took us around 2 hours to see the temple at our own slow pace.

I am portraying some of the carvings below. A look at it will make you wonder the patience and talent of the craftsmen then. Not only were they adept sculptors but were also proficient in mythologies and other art forms prevalent then. A beautiful sculpture of a Bharatnatyam dancer reveals how knowing the dance steps and the correct posture was essential to the correct portrayal of the dancing sculpture.

Bharatnatyam dancer with the correct posture. A look at its feet reveals the details with which the posture and curvature of the foot is captured. The proud expression on her face also leaves us amazed. Queen Shantala Devi herself was an accomplished Bharatnatyam dancer and used to perform in these temples.

Uma Maheshwar (usually the deity couple is seen standing in most other temples)

Chakravyuh of Mahabharata, where Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, entered but could not come out.

Govardhangiri – one of the highly commended sculptures at Halebidu

Erotic sculpture – reveals how temples in those days were educational centres and sex education was not considered a taboo.

The filigree sculptures portraying various Hindu deities and Jain tirthankars together. Jainism and Hinduism coexisted peacefully then [even today:)]

Varaha avatar, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, killing a demon. A look at the demon below reveals the vast attention to details – see his eyes are protruding out and even the facial expressions are taken care of!

Hoysaleshwar Nandi. This and the adjacent Shantaleshwar Nandi are one of the largest monolithic Nandis found in India

The temple visit was fantastic. We also visited Jain basadis (situated within a kilometer), dedicated to Jain tirthankars – Parshavanatha, Shantinatha and Adinatha. These basadis or temples were all built in between the 11th and 14th century.  Unlike the Shiva temples, the basadis were not crowded and only a few Jain devotees were singing a holy song in the premises. It was amazing to experience the solitude of these ancient temples.

Two – three hours is all it takes to enjoy these temples but it leaves behind memories of a lifetime! This visit impressed me greatly and makes me all the more proud of our Indian heritage.

A few tips:

  1. It’s a one day trip from Bangalore and NH 75 is really good to cruise at high speeds. The other Hoysala temple at Belur is just 17 kms away and can be combined with this trip.
  2. There are no decent eateries nearby but yes, one does get corn, sugarcane juice, cucumber slices etc. just outside the temple. Suggest to eat on NH 75 which are lined up with various restaurants.
  3. There is no entry fee to the temple but the museum visit does require one to buy tickets, which again are nominally priced.
  4. Government guides are easily available inside the temple and charge a fixed rate of Rs 300/-