Veera Narayana Temple, Belavadi, Chikmanguluru, Karnataka
The Veera Narayana Temple, is a temple dedicated to Veera Narayana, a form of Sri Mahavishnu, in the village of Belavadi, Chikamagalur district, Karnataka. The temple was built in the 12th century CE by the Hindu dynasty of the Hoysalas, based at Halebidu. They also built the famous temples at Belur and Halebidu.
- 1 Sthala Purana
- 2 The Age of the temple
- 3 Hoysala Architecture
- 4 Description of Deities
- 5 Description of the temple
- 6 The administration and management
- 7 The Priest
- 8 Worships offered at the temple
- 9 Vaikhanasa Agamas
- 10 Other temple details
- 11 References
One of the important legends associated with Belavadi contributes to its historical significance.
The Ek Chakra Nagara
Belavadi is called the ‘Ek Chakra Nagara’ because it is believed that Bhima, one of the five Pandavas, killed the rakshasa named Bakasura (बकासुरः) here. This story from The Mahabharata is famously associated with many places in Bharatavarsha. Belavadi is one of those places.
However, there are other places which claim to be the Ekchakra Nagara in four states of present day Bharat namely West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Rampurhat and Pandevswar near Durgapur in Burdwan, West Bengal are two places that lay such claim according to the local legends.
Pratapgarh (in Jalgoan district) in Uttar Pradesh is another candidate. Erandol in Jalgaon, Maharashtra is also claimed to be the Ekchakra Nagara. Finally, the town of Belavadi, in Chikamagalur district of Karnataka, is also claimed to be the Ek Chakra Nagara.
The town of Belavadi is widely believed in Karnataka as the Ekchakra Nagara. The townspeople of Belavadi celebrate the killing of Bakasura with great fanfare every year, in the month of April. A procession is taken out in which the Utsava Murti is taken on a Rath Yatra to a small temple outside the village, where Bakasura is believed to have been killed. The procession also consists of a bullock cart full of rice and other foods like jaggery to be offered to the deity. The procession goes through the whole town of Belavadi and then arriving at the temple beneath the hill, the village deity is worshipped. Prasadam is distributed among the devotees and everyone comes back home. This festival has a long history and the local people maintain that it has been going on for at least as long as 150 years.
The Age of the temple
An inscription found at the Veera Narayana temple mentions the temple land being donated by the king for the construction for the temple and the year of the donation is denoted as 1117 CE. However, according to a scholarly estimation the temple was built in 1200 CE. Gerard Foekema has arrived upon this estimate by comparing the development of the Hoysala architectural style and placing it in history.
The priest Prashant S. Bharadwaj says that what is mentioned in the 1117 CE inscription is the donation of the land. The tradition in ancient India was that a temple land was donated after the temple had been entirely built on the land and hence since the year mentioned of donating the land is 1117 CE then the temple must have been built even earlier than that.
The architecture of the temple also hints that the temple is much older than is suggested by the scholars. The temple was built in primarily two stages. The temple at Belavadi is a trikuta temple with three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Veera Narayana. The walls of this shrine are severely plain compared to the Hoysala temples dating to the year 1200 CE.
They are also in sharp contrast to the other two later subsidiary shrines of the temples which have exquisitely decorated walls in the style of the later Hoysala architecture. The two lateral shrines were built much later, during the reign of Veera Ballala II. This also hints that the original shrine is much older than 1200 CE and may belong to early 12th century. This temple was built under the reign of two kings in two periods. The two parts of the temple with their characteristic evolution can easily be seen.
The earliest Hoysala temple at DoddaGaddavalli has many similarities to this Veera Narayana shrine temple at Belavadi. Just like DoddaGaddavalli temple is severely plain from the outside, so is the primary shrine of Belavadi. The DoddaGaddavalli temple dates back to 1114 CE, indicating that the age mentioned in the inscription may be true.
The Temple Escaped Islamic Destruction
The age when the Hoysalas were building great temples was also the age of Islamic iconoclasm in India. The iconoclastic zeal of the invading Islamic kings of the Delhi Sultanate had broken upon south India. Malik Kafur broke upon Karnataka in 1311 CE and laid siege to Halebidu ruled by the Hoysalas. The Hoysalas agreed to pay tribute to the Islamic vandal. Even then Kafur managed to destroy the great Hoysaleswara temple and many other temples in the region. The head priest of Belavadi claims that Kafur had come up to nearby Tarikere. But Belavadi, due to its location in a quaint mountainous village, escaped the Islamic destruction.
The Veera Narayana temple was built by the Hoysala dynasty. If the earlier date of the temple is taken to be true then it was built during the reign of Vishnuvardhan king of the Hoysala dynasty in 1117 CE. Belavadi temple has all the characteristics of a typical Hoyasala temple architecture. This temple was built in soapstone like all other Hoysala temples. While the more famous Hoysala temples like the Chenna Keshava temple at Belur and the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu are built in primarily black and greenish soapstone, the Veera Narayana temple is built in whitish soapstone.
After weathering of at least 800 years the effects are to be seen. While the sculpture at Belur and Halebidu is almost intact after all these years, the sculpture at Belavadi has deteriorated with time. The images of the deities are built in black soapstone.
Description of Deities
Although the primary deity of the temple is Veera Narayana, a form of Vishnu, the temple complex houses two other Vishnu forms such as Venu Gopala and Yoga Narasimha.
The temple deity of the Veera Narayana temple, in the central shrine is a form of Vishnu, known as Veera Narayana. The image is of 8 feet (2.4 m). The iconography of Veera Narayana is different from the 24 images of Vishnu in Chartuvimshati Murti. Veera Narayana, standing upon the Garuda Peetha, (the seat of his vehicle, the eagle Garuda) in the temple at Belavadi holds different things:
- Upper right hand – Padma (Lotus)
- Upper left hand – Gada (Mace)
- Lower right hand – Vyaghra Hasta
- Lower left hand – Veera Mudra
Instead of shankha and chakra, the usual ayudhas of Vishnu along with gada and padma, Veera Narayana has Vyaghra Hasta and Veera Mudra, which differentiates this form of Vishnu from others.
In Vishnu Purana there is a story where Vishnu killed Shakasura. For killing the rakshasa, he used Shankha to fight the rakshasa, Chakra to kill him. It is after killing him that he stood in the Veera Narayana pose, displaying righteous anger and dharmic justice. The pose exudes righteous chivalry and valour. Vyaghra means tiger and thus Vyaghra hasta means tiger hand, someone who is quick and strong like a tiger. Veera Mudra is a pose in which the deity holds a small weapon in his hand. Unlike other representations of Vishnu, this one shows him in a warlike pose. That is why this form is called Veera Narayana.
The prabhavali that decorates Veera Narayana in the background has a makara head exuding the prabhavali which is decorated with the Dashavatara of Vishnu – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Balarama, Buddha and Kalki. It shows Balarama instead of Krishna because Veera Narayana himself is identified with Krishna. On either side of Veera Narayana there is Shridevi and Bhudevi, the two consorts of Vishnu. The deity faces east and the leveling of the ground in front of it is marvelous. For 270 feet the ground is extremely leveled. The horizon is visible from the ground, sitting at the gates of the garbha-griha. On 23rd March, the sunlight comes through the seven doors from the entrance and falls at the feet of the murti or vigraha, this being another uniqueness of the temple.
The two lateral shrines which the devotee finds first at entering the temple are dedicated to Venu Gopala, a form of Krishna and Yoga Narasimha. The Venu-Gopala shrine faces north. The image of the deity is that of Venu-Gopala, a form of Krishna playing flute in extreme bliss, in control of all the senses, personified in the form of Gopis. He is playing flute, standing in tribhanga, under the Kalpavriksha tree. The image has to be extremely beautiful as ordained in the Agamas, and the sculptor of this image at Belavadi has taken the injunction of the Agamas very seriously. This is officially certified by the ASI as the most beautiful representation of Venu-Gopala, anywhere in India. The form of Venu-Gopala is well described in Agamas and Puranas. In the words of T. A. Gopinatha Rao:
“Venu-Gopala is another variety of the Krishna image, in which he is conceived to be delighting with his enchanting music the hearts of the cowherds, the cowherdesses, and the cows who are his companions. In the case of these images, the rapture of music has to be clearly depicted on the face; and they are in consequence generally so very pretty as to attract attention wherever they may be. Venu-Gopala is generally surrounded by cowherds and cowherdesses. This image of Krishna is made to stand erect with the left leg resting on the floor; and the right leg is thrown across behind or in front of the left leg so as to touch the ground with the toes. The flue is held in both the hands, and one end of it is applied to the mouth. It is said that the complexion of such images of Krishna should be dark in hue so as to resemble the rain-cloud in appearance. The head should be ornamented with a bunch of peacock’s features. There should be three bends in the body.”
Keeping with the injunction of the Agamas and the other Shastras, the image is in tribhanga pose and as the Hoysala sculpted and built architecture in black stone the images were always made in deep black stone. On either side of Venugopala there are to be seen four sages (brahmarishis), two on each side. Rukmini and Satyabhama, the two consorts of Krishna are also present on the either side. Added to this, there are gopis and cows. Three gopis are listening to the flute of Venu-Gopala in enraptured attention, and one is so engrossed that she is not even aware of her vyjanthika (व्यजन्तिका dupatta). The cow is also enraptured and is completely oblivious of her calf who is feeding on her milk. She is also listening to Krishna playing flute. The cowherds are also dancing in rapture, the bliss of self-realization engulfing them, the bliss which is symbolized by the music of the flute of Krishna.
The shrine in front of the Venu-Gopala shrine, and which is facing north is the shrine of Yoga Narasimha. Narasimha is usually described in four forms:
- स्तम्ब-नरसिंहः Stamba Narasimha – When the Lord comes out of the pillar, full of anger against the rakshasa. This is depicted realistically as the Lord coming out of the pillar which is rent asunder by his power.
- उग्रनरसिंहः Ugra Narasimha – The Lord is depicted in this angry pose as sitting down on the sill, at dusk, tearing apart the rakshasa Hiranyakashyapa with the claws of his hands.
- लक्ष्मी-नरसिंहः Lakshmi Narasimha – After killing the rakshasa, Narasimha is angry and to pacify him, Lakshmi is invited to sit on his lap. This pose is depicted as the still angry Narasimha with Lakshmi sitting on his lap.
- योग-नरसिंहः Yoga Narasimha – The Lord has been pacified and in order to quieten his anger he sits in the Yogic pose to meditate.
The temple shrine at Belavadi depicts the Yoga Narasimha form of Narasimha. He is sitting in deep meditation with the Yoga belt tied down his knees. He is sitting erect. The upper hands are holding shankha and chakra and the lower hands are resting on the knees in meditative posture. Shridevi and Bhoodevi are on either side of the deity. The Yoga belt is decorated. The prabhavali once again depicts the Dashavatara.
In the prabhavali (प्रभावली) of Yoga-Narasimha, instead of the kirtimukha at center, there is padma. This peculiarity is due to the reason that kirtimukha is a symbol of shakti (energy) and since Narasimha is so full of energy he needs to calm down. That is why a symbol of calm and serenity padma is portrayed instead of the symbol of shakti in order to calm the great god down and balance his rajasika qualities with sattvik ones. It is for balancing shakti and shanti.
The eyes of the gods are applied with a white powder called Sri Churna. It makes them prominent. During every Abhishekam, this powder is washed away and it has to be applied again.
The priest blesses the devotee by putting the Shadgopura on his head. A Shadgopura is a miniature gopuram with the feet of the god made on it. It symbolizes the feet of the god, as everyone cannot touch the feet by coming inside the garbha-griha; the shadgopura is available for every devotee. In this arrangement, the devotee does not have to go inside the garbha-griha but the feet of the deity come outside to bless the devotee. The image at Belavadi is not in agreement with the injunctions in Silparatna which requires one leg folded and one leg resting on the ground with the Yogapatta going across the leg and above the waist. But there are examples and other injunctions which tally to the depiction of Narasimha in Belavadi. According to Margaret Stutley, Yoga Narasimha should be depicted in either of the poses:
“A yogic aspect of Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation (avatara) of Visnu. He is portrayed squatting (utkutikasana) with a band to hold one or both knees in position (yogapatta).”
The Utsava Murtis of all three deities are also present in the temple. They are made of Panch Dhatus (gold, silver, brass, copper and lead) and it is these images which are taken out for procession on various festivals. The temple does not have any permanent temple ratha now. Every year they make a temporary palki (ratha) and use it for the purpose of the festival.
Description of the temple
As mentioned earlier the Veera Narayana temple was built in the earlier age of Hoysala architecture and the walls of the shrine from the outside are completely plain, similar to earliest of Hoysala architecture.
The Veera Narayana temple, Belavadi is a trikuta temple, meaning it has three shrines dedicated to Veera Narayana, Venu-Gopala and Yoga-Narasimha respectively. The temple was built in two steps. First an ekakuta, temple with one garbha-griha was built. A closed hall and an open hall were attached to it.
In a later age, the temple was converted to trikuta, when two lateral shrines were added to it, taking the number of shrines to three. First an exceptionally large mandapam of staggered square shape was added to the open mandapam of the earlier shrine and on the two lateral sides of this mandapam, facing north and south, the two shrines were built. Of the three vimanas, the Veera Narayana is the smallest, Venugopal bigger than that and that of Narasimha the highest of all. Although the difference is imperceptible from a distance.
The effect is spectacular. This is the only trikuta Hoysala temple in which the three shrines are not attached to each other but are separated by three mandapams. Gerard Foekema calls this temple having “the most majestic temple front in all Hoysala architecture”. The larger hall (mandapam) is so majestic that it is seldom matched in Hoysala architecture. Gerard Foekema gushes forth about it:
“This hall is of a common design but of an uncommon size, 9 ankanas deep instead of 5 or 7, and consequently it has a total surface of 61 ankanas. Two of these, however, are used to provide the lateral vimanas with a sukanasi, so the actual number of ankanas of the giant hall is 59.”
An ankana is a bay. The total length of the temple is 65 m and the width of the most impressive façade with two lateral shrines is 35 m. The oldest shrine which houses the Veera Narayana deity is a complete temple in itself with a garbha-griha, an antarala or shukanasika, a closed hall (mandapam) with 9 bays and an open hall with 13 bays.
Extensive details of the Vimanas of Belavadi temple (main and the lateral) are discussed under the heading Hoyasala temple architecture.
Most awe-inspiring are the lathe-turned pillars which are 108 in number. There is still no clue how these pillars were created. But they give a marvellous look and support the roof very well. No two pillars are alike. They are all different. There are elephants present inside the temple too, which also support the elephant outside in carrying the ratha forward. These elephants are relocated by the ASI which renovated the temple in 1960s.
Between the two shrines is the defining member of the Belavadi temple: the largest combined mahamandapam of any Hoysala temple. It has 59 bays. Its plan is that of a staggered square and diagonally it gives the impression of a star. A huge eave, measuring one metre across runs around the mandapa. From the inside it has the imitiation of a wooden rafter, like many other Hoysala and Chalukya temples. The hara above this eave is decorated, as is the kapota.
The Outer Gate
The outermost gate of the temple is uncharacteristic of the Hoysala architecture and actually resembles the slanting roof structure of the Tulu Nadu region, in coastal Karnataka and Kerala. As one enters this gate and arrives upon the entrance of the actual temple one is greeted by the vimanas of the two lateral shrines described above.
The entrance of the maha mandapam is flanked by two elephants. The priest claims that the elephants are actually forms of Airavata, the divine vehicle of Indra, as they have split-end horns. The Airavata is taking the ratha forward. There are seven doors corresponding to the seven chakras. A devotee who passes through all these doors is supposed to be symbolically penetrating the seven chakras and approaching the brahma-randhra in the garbha-griha where the deity is and which is supposed to give us moksha (liberation).
The temple proper starts from Garuda Stambha, which is inside the outer gate. Shastanga Namaskar is done outside this Stambha. The head priest tells that if the Shastanga Namaskar is done inside this Stambha then it is incomplete as all the gods will not receive it, since Garuda is left behind. Done from outside this place it will go to all including – ashtadikpalas, dvarapalakas, garuda and the main deity itself.
The interior of the temple is equally exquisite. The ceilings are decorated with various motifs, the most common of them being an upside lotus hanging from the ceiling. In the bhuvaneshwari or closed mandapa, Dashavatar of Vishnu are also depicted, along with the ashtadikapalas. It also has the ashtadikpalas, the guardian deities of all directions. The main sculptures inside the sabha mandapam, or the smaller open mandapam are:
- Hoysala motif – Hoysala King killing lion
- Samudra Manthan
The rest of the temple too depicts many beautiful sculptures. Some important ones are described below:
- Kodanda Rama
- Adi Devatas
- Chaturvimshati Vishnu
- Kaliya Mardana
- Chamara Sakhi
- Yali – elephant, lion, pig, peacock
- Floral Motifs
- Bhoga Narasimha (standing)
- Dhyana Mudra Krishna
- Natya Vishnu
- Darpan Sundari – Madanikas
The administration and management
After the Hoysala Empire, this temple came under the care of the Vijayanagar kings and after their fall in the 16th and 17th centuries, it remained autonomous for some time, but in 18th century the Wodeyars of Mysore gained control of it and started taking care of it. And in 1760, for better care they donated the temple to the Sringeri Sharada Peetham. No matter who controlled the temple, as long as it remained under the Hindu lordship, the rituals and worship continued in the temple as ever before. In 18th century, as until very recently, the village of Belavadi was very rich, as its water table was very high and it was rich in resources and manpower. It was quite capable of taking care of itself and the grand temple at the center of the village, but the over lordship of Sringeri Peetham made sure that proper rituals according to the Vaikhanasa Agama always continued there.
The temple is run by three different institutions. One is the Archaeological Survey of India, which takes care of the lawns and the gardens of the temple. A man is appointed by the government organization as it is a heritage temple and the cleaning of the outside premises, the fencing and the lawns are maintained appointed by the ASI. The head priest says that the ASI team is not concerned with the adhyatmik aspect of the temple. It is only concerned with the aesthetics and architecture and takes care that the temple should look good and clean.
The temple tank of Belavadi tank had gone to ruins even before the ASI took over, but when the ASI renovated the temple in the 1960s, it was decided that the temple tank was not important to renovate and hence it was left in ruins and then filled over.
The second institution which maintains the temple is the family of the hereditary priest and the larger Vaikhanasa community. The current chief priest is Prashant S. Bhardwaj, whose family has been in charge of the temple for at least as long as four hundred years.
The third institution which takes care of the temple is the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, one of the four Mathas established by Adi Shankaracharya. The Sringeri Peeth is located in the Chikamagalur district in which the village of Belavadi lies. It is 114 km from Belavadi. The Sringeri Matha runs the temple in the sense that it takes care of the rituals and festivals that go on in the temple as well as employ the head priest and takes care of his family along with taking care of other needs of the temple.
An employee of Sringeri Peetha lives in Belavadi who takes care of the needs of the temple – mainly about all the worship and the naivedyam that is offered. Sringeri Peetha provides a basic salary to the temple priest, which is now at 2000/- for Belavadi Veera Narayana temple. The temple priest cannot hold any other job and cannot accept any other salary other than the donation by the devotees. It is notable that though Sringeri Matha is a basically a Shaiva (Smarta) Matha, it takes care of the Vaishnava temples too without any discrimination.
The Case of the Mujarahi Temples
The head priest says that most of the temples in Karnataka are Mujarahi temples which come under the government rule of the state government. They are just allotted three thousand rupees every month. The government takes every bit of rupee that devotees give to the temple but do not allocate enough funds so that the temples can be run well.
The Belavadi temple does not have to give its donation to the government as it is not a mujarahi temple. The Sringeri Matha also does not collect donation from temples like Belavadi which are not cash rich. They understand that temples need funds for running themselves and thus Belavadi temple is free to run on its own. The Shankara Matha Sringeri preserves many such temples across India and Karnataka and runs many Sanskrit schools and any such heritage institutions all over India.
In ancient times, kings donated lands for the management and monthly expenditure of the temple. That is why the temple had land aside from what the building occupied. In traditional Agama set-up a priest was completely devoted to the worship of the temple deity and hence he did not have any time for farming and growing his own food. He was a specialist in a society which valued its adhyatmik needs as much as its physical needs. Those who were landless were given land to farm which originally belonged to the family of the priest. They took half of the produce themselves and gave half of it to the priest so that he could eke a livelihood. It was a win-win situation for both the priest and the farmer who did not have any land but was benefitting from the temple land. It was a wonderful system which was destroyed by the latter day governments.
In Belavadi, only 25 Brahmin families are left now. Only one of those families belongs to the Vaikhanasa community. Prashant, of Bharadvaja gotra is the priest of Veera Narayana temple who belongs to that family. After the death of his father he is now the chief priest. Belavadi has a population of 2500 and has around 800 families. The ASI rule is that inside 100m radius of the temple new construction cannot be done.
There are only 10,000 Vaikhanasa families left in India. They are basically from Nemisharanya. These families mostly live in Tamil Nadu and some in Andhra. Very few of them are left in Karnataka. Belavadi family is one of them.
Worships offered at the temple
In the Veera Narayana Temple, Belavadi, the worship is offered twice a day. In temples which have more resources and more number of priests have up to five times daily worship but the Veera Narayana Temple has only one priest, as the head priest and hence the worship is offered only twice a day: in morning and evening.
In the morning, after offering the worship, naivedyam is offered to the deity and then prasadam is distributed among the devotees who are present. In evening special offering of coconut is made. The morning worship takes place at 10 AM and the evening worship takes place at 5 PM.
The worship that is offered at the Veera Narayana Temple is the usual Shodasha Upachara Puja that is offered in many temples across India. This worship is offered twice every day in all three shrines of the Veera Narayana temple: to Veera Narayana, to Narasimha and to Venugopala. Apart from this many special worships are offered to the deities many times around the year. Once a month, special worship is offered to all three deities:
- Narasimha is offered special worship every month on Swati Nakshatra
- Veera Narayana is offered special worship every month on Shravan Nakshatra
- Krishna is offered special worship every month on Rohini Nakshatra
Abhishekam – Along with elaborate worship, abhishekam is offered to the deities on the day of their special worship, at least once a month. There are other festivals, birthdays and yearly festivals which are celebrated. Abhishekam is offered on every one of these occasions. Apart from that if the devotees want to offer abhishekam they donate the ingredients to be used in it or donate the money allocated for it to the temple and the head priest offers the abhishekam to the deity on the behalf of the devotee. The monthly abhishekam is also called pakshotsavam.
Kumbhabhishekam – While abhishekam of all three deities is done at least once every month and many other times during the year, during various yearly festivals, every twelve years an abhishekam bigger than all others is offered. It is called Kumbhabhishekam. It is a huge form of abhishekam. Just like the Kumbh Mela it comes every 12 years. It is a sort of re-consecration of the murti, the temple deity. All the mistakes in worship that is done in the preceding 12 years are said to be eliminated in this re-consecration which purifies the image and makes it fit for the dwelling of the deity.
Like all great Hindu temples, the Veera Narayana temple, Belavadi also celebrates many festivals round the year. The four biggest festivals which are celebrated in the Veera Narayana temple, Belavadi are:
- Krishna Janmashtami – As it is a Vaishnava temple and one of the shrines houses the image of Venugopala, the form of Krishna playing flute, the festival of Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great gusto in the month of Bhadrapada, generally falling in the month of August.
- Narasimha Jayanti – It is celebrated on the fourteenth day in the bright fortnight of the Vaishakha month (Vaishakha Shukla Chaturdasi).
- Rath Yatra – It is the great festival of the temple, celebrated on the Chaitra Purnima which falls six days after Ram Navmi. It is a huge festival of Veera Narayana Belavadi temple.
- Rath Saptami – This festival falls in the Bhadrapada month during August or September and is a big festival.
- Nityagnihotram – The priest says that in Belavdi in the ancient times there were around 300 Brahmin families in the village. They performed Yajna twice every day. This is called Nityagnihotram. But during the Muslim invasions this tradition frittered away due to the lack of patrons whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Islamic invasions. The priest testifies to the destruction of the Hindu heritage by the Islamic invasions.
- Other seasonal festivals that are celebrated at the Veera Narayana temple are Shravan Puja and Kartik Utsava.
The Vaikhanasa Agama like all other Agamas prescribes certain actions that are to be done and certain actions that are prohibited. All of these instructions are followed in the Veera Narayana temple, Belavadi. The Veera Narayana Temple, Belavadi maintains ritual purity as ordained in the Vaikhanasa Agama and no one except the head priest enters the garbha-griha. Unlike some modern temples where the devotees go and touch the image of the deity in the garbha-griha itself, the Belavadi temple still follows what the scriptures prescribe.
The head priest, Prashant (in August of 2016), follows the strict tradition of the family particularly about maintaining purity about the temple and temple worship. The temple priest is not allowed to eat or have anything cooked outside his own home and the day when he has to eat anything outside he does not offer worship at the temple that day. A relative is instructed to offer worship when the chief priest is travelling. Worship is always offered on an empty stomach. Nothing is ever eaten inside the temple premises.
Similarly, according to the agama rules a priest cannot touch anyone before offering worship. The dog cannot come in nor can be touched. The cow can be touched. The crow cannot be touched or the priest has to take bath again. Women cannot be touched by the priest either, after the bath has been taken and or in between the worship. Only freshly washed clothes have to be worn. Neither can be they touched by anyone once they are washed. Only the priest can touch them. Some priests enter the temple after bathing in only wet clothes. Devotees cannot eat, play or sleep within the temple.
The priest wears white in general. During Deeksha (initiation ceremony) they wear Deeksha Vastra – yellow in colour. Yellow is generally preferred in the south, especially in Belavadi temple. Sometimes a deeksha kankana is worn when a sankalpa is taken and then only yellow is worn. Saffron is worn only by the brahmachari and white only by the grihastha. However, saffron is worn by the married ones when abhishekam is done. When a family member dies, the priest cannot enter the temple for ten days. He enters it only after shuddhi. A relative offers worship in the meanwhile. That is why in ancient times, when the Hindu temple had a central place in the Indian society, two or three families were employed for worship in one temple so that if one family or two families have some deceased in their home then worship would not have to be stopped as there will always will be someone to offer worship.
These three families were from different Gotras as people of one Gotra are considered family. While a child is born, then too, worship is not offered by the priest. A relative has to offer worship, as a certain period after the child birth is also considered to have made the priest incapable of worshipping for reasons of ritual impurity.
The Hindu temple functions as place where people come for atoning their sins, or for omitting a bad karma in their kundali. Veera Narayana temple and especially the shrine of Narasimha is a place where many people come to omit the faults in their Kundalis. Kuja Dosha is a defect in the kundali. People come to the temple to offer worship and remove these doshas.
Other temple details
Veera Narayana temple, Belavadi, has ornaments which the temple has inherited from centuries. In bigger temples, clothes of the deity are changed every day and one cloth is not worn again, but in Belavadi, the clothes are worn again by the deity though they are washed every day. In many other temples where there are too many clothes which the temple receives in donation, the clothes are changed daily and the worn clothes are auctioned off to the devotees who wear it as prasadam. In some temples they are sold off at a fixed low price.
Recitation of the Vedas
Belavadi invites Vedpathi Brahmins (Brahmins expert in the recitation of the Vedas) every year to recite the Vedas and generally devotees and the priests also do it from time to time. In bigger temples, such Brahmins are permanently kept on duty for this purpose. As per Vaikhanasa Agama following the worship rituals, the recitation of the Vedas is performed as an integral part of its routine.
Food for the deity is generally cooked in the temple in a Pakashala (temple kitchen), and if this is not possible then it is cooked by the head priest at his home or someone from his family. In Belavadi it is cooked in the home of the head priest. Nothing cooked outside is offered to the deity. This rule is strictly followed.
The Vaikhanasa Agama dictates that all the flowers that the temple needs should be grown in the garden maintained by the temple, but as the Veera Narayana temple is a monument of national importance and is looked over by the ASI, the flower garden is maintained for pleasure and not for the purpose of the temple. The temple buys all the flowers that it needs. The Sringeri Matha has appointed a man who looks after these needs of the temple.
Until a few years ago, there were temple musicians who lived in the village of Belavadi whose sole function was to play instruments for the temple at special occasions. He was given land by the temple to earn his livelihood. However, now musicians are invited on special occasions.
An elephant is an integral part of a large Hindu temple. The temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have become synonymous with elephants as they are still functional institutions and are still at the centre of the social life. They are not short of donations or money and hence it is easy for them to maintain one or more than one elephants. This used to be the tradition at almost all big temples in India, but the Islamic invasions destroyed this tradition along with many others. The temple at Belavadi used to have an elephant until a few decades ago but now it does not have a temple as the expenses are too much and the temple cannot meet those expenses. The Vaikhanasa Agama describes the deities as seated on the elephants and horses and hence these animals have special significance and so elephants along with other animals were a sacred part of the temple. During festivals Utsav Murti are placed on the elephants and taken on procession. The temple also kept its own cows but now it does not anymore.
Earlier there used to be an Agrahara in front of the temple where Brahmins and students learning the Hindu shastras dwelled. But now this tradition is also gone as the sustenance that the temple received from kings is gone and so all who depended upon temples have now to look elsewhere for earning their livelihood. The Agraharas were destroyed during the Islamic invasions as they housed the Brahmins and hence were primary target of the Islamic attackers. Hence the Brahmins living in the Agraharas left the temple and went elsewhere or were killed. Since the time of the Islamists the financial support ended even in those temples which were not destroyed and hence the economy centered at the temple collapsed, taking down with it the temple dependents. The rest were destroyed by the erstwhile governments.
A Heritage Temple
This temple owing to its great archaeological significance and its history has been taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and is placed under the National Heritage site.
- Gopinatha Rao, T. A. Elements of Hindu Iconography. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1997. p. 207-08.
- Stutley, Margaret. The Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Iconography. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2003. p. 168.
- Foekema, Gerard. Hoysala Architecture: Medieval Temples of Southern Karnataka Built During Hoysala Rule (2 Vol). New Delhi: Aryan Books, 2014. p. 108.
- Foekema, Gerard. Hoysala Architecture: Medieval Temples of Southern Karnataka Built During Hoysala Rule (2 Vol). New Delhi: Aryan Books, 2014. p. 109.