The historic town Belur, one of the monuments of Karnataka, is beautifully set on banks of Yagachi river, amidst lush surroundings, in Hassan district of Karnataka. It was formerly known as Velapuri and was chosen as the alternate capital city by the Hoysala’s after the ransacking and destruction of their then capital Dwarasumudra (now known as Halibeedu or Halibidu) by the sultans of the Northern India.
Hoysalas ruled the Deccan and the parts of present day Tamilnadu, between 11th and 13th Centuries. The Hoysala dynasty is said to have been named after the words ‘Hoy Sala’- Hoy means ‘Strike’, Sala is the name of a legendary leader called ‘Sala’. Sala is said to have killed a lion which was ready to pounce on a meditating Guru Sudatta Muni who in turn blessed him by giving him the power to rule. By virtue of this heroic act he becomes the leader of the tribe and gradually emerges as the king. The Sala symbol was King Vishnuvardhana's creation and became the Hoysala symbol or crest, from his time
As you look up at the corners of the temple exterior, you are left spellbound at the ultimate sculptural beauties, that adorn it. The bracketed figurines called the Madanikas or celestial nymphs are no doubt the highlight of the temple's magnificant architecture. Exclusive to Belur, the Madanikas lift the glory of the temple to unprecedented heights of excellence. And there are as many as 42 of them, of which 38 adorn the exterior walls while the remaining four are placed inside on the ornate ceiling. The Madanikas are said to be inspired by the beautiful Queen Shantaladevi, epitomising the ideal feminine form. The variety of poses and subjects that these represent is something to marvel about. Each depicts a mood and all are amorous. 'The Beauty with a mirror-Darpana Sundari', 'The lady with the parrot', 'The Huntress', 'The Bhasma-Mohini' are some of the favourites. All these and more are carved with utmost care and clinical precision, making them come alive.
If one is willing to spend enough time at Belur, there is no end to the pleasures one experiences in gazing at the different mythological tales that these time-tested monuments have to narrate. The temples create magic during the early hours of the day, just before sunrise, when a tranquil atmosphere surrounds them. This is the best time to enjoy and understand the poetry of these stone images. The transition from dawn to after sunrise is also something not to be missed. Suddenly the temple brightens up bringing with it the liveliness of the local devotees, who begin to throng in, as part of a daily ritual. A total different mood sets in, that of colour and light.