Sensuous Damsels

Our first full day tour starts with a four hour journey to Belur. Not only was it a better ride because it was more comfortable, but the country side was amazing. Peering out the bus window, I realized that this part of India is mostly rolling hills, with coconut palm trees everywhere. I think most of the world’s coconut product must come from here, because there were obscene amounts of palm trees. I liked seeing this part of India much more than the cities, probably because I’m more of a country girl than a city girl. I really liked some of the houses me and Oliver saw on the trip. The roof is usable as a patio and they have plaster outside that’s been brightly painted so it looks wonderfully cheerful and nicely put together. I loved it, and really wanted to just get off the bus and go trekking through the woods. I know from hearsay that the cute guy’s name is Lenny. I imagined Lenny and me trekking through the woods exploring the gorgeous country side.

The main attraction at Belur is the Chennakeshava temple. Since it is a Hindu temple, you must take off your shoes before entering. Some leave them at the door, but rather than risk ours getting stolen we left them on the bus and walked barefoot from the bus to the temple (Janice — a new found friend from Italy, and Oliver not used to walking barefoot had some trouble). The layout of the temple was on a much grander scale. Once you pass through the main tower-gate-thing you are confronted with an obelisk. I’m not sure what it signifies, but it must mean something because it’s placed directly in your way in what otherwise would be a gigantic courtyard floored in stone blocks.

What make this temple so famous are their stone carvings. And honestly, I think they deserve the fame. The architectural beauty of this place makes us go aww. The intricate craftsmanship made me wonder what visionary they have to be to carve out each detail out of single stone without making any mistake. Imagine you work on something so intricately for days and something goes wrong! It is not a sketch on paper to erase! And Belur has a replica built by the side of it based on which the temple is built! The whole thing is so unbelievably good!

We were amazed at the attention given to finer details that went into making every statue carved on the walls and pillars. We found statue of a danseuse whose bangles had been chipped to rotate freely around her hands, a carving of Nandi (Sacred Bull) barely larger than a chickpea and a pillar decorated with miniature of gods and goddesses probably numbering more than a hundred. The base of the outer wall was made of friezes. One of these layers contained 650 elephants, every one of them carved differently from the other. The Madanikas (sensuous damsels) were depicted in various moods and activities, like Darpan Sundari adoring her own figure looking into a mirror. It is said that Shantala Devi, queen of king Vishnuvardhana, herself danced in front of the main shrine during its installation and her dance inspired the poses of the figurines on the temples. I immediately transported back to the era of Kings and envisioned myself as the sensuous damsel dancing in front of our king, His Highness Lenny! Oliver shook me back to the present! Embarrassed, I tried to pay more attention. With carvings adoring every inch of the walls, pillars and roofing of the temple, it is no wonder that he sculptures took 103 years to complete its construction.

An entire Anthology of lore is contained on those walls, and it would have been easy to miss had it not been for our excellent Questerra mentor, Djack (as he likes to be called). Djack made sure we didn’t miss out on any of the glorious past of this place. After the temple at Belur we hopped back on the bus and travelled a short distance to the Halebidu. The Hoysaleshwar and Kedareshwara temple was different from the Chennakeshava temple in that it was not surrounded by a gigantic wall, and there were grassy areas surrounding the temple that made it seem very peaceful. The twin temples were nearly twice as large as the one in Belur. It nearly took double the time to construct and hosts carvings that are no less intricate than the treasured beauties of Belur in their perfection. Can anyone fill the entire outer wall with sculptures without leaving space? The overall effect of the vertical and horizontal lines, the play of the outline, the effect of the light and the plan of projections and recesses, all amounted to marvelous exhibition of human artistic brain.

These UNESCO proposed World Heritage Sites were the best story tellers of the bygone era through their sculptural exuberance. They were fine examples of the South Indian Grandeur. So would I recommend Belur and Halebidu to others visiting India? In a heartbeat!