The Chennakeshava Temple, also referred to as Keshava, Kesava or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur, is a 12th-century Hindu temple in the Hassan district of Karnataka state, India. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE, on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur also called Velapura, an early Hoysala Empire capital. The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to finish. It was repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars, repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history. It is 35 km from Hassan city and about 200 km from Bengaluru.
Chennakesava (lit, “handsome Kesava”) is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and has been an active Hindu temple since its founding. It is reverentially described in medieval Hindu texts, and remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism. The temple is remarkable for its architecture, sculptures, reliefs, friezes as well its iconography, inscriptions and history. The temple artwork depicts scenes of secular life in the 12th century, dancers and musicians, as well as a pictorial narration of Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas through numerous friezes. It is a Vaishnava temple that reverentially includes many themes from Shaivism and Shaktism, as well as images of a Jina from Jainism and the Buddha from Buddhism.
The Hoysala period of South Indian history began about 1000 CE and continued through 1346 CE. In this period, they built around 1,500 temples in 958 centres. Belur is called Beluhur, Velur or Velapura in old inscriptions and medieval era texts. It was the early capital of the Hoysala kings. The city was so esteemed by the Hoysalas that it is referred to as “earthly Vaikuntha” (Vishnu’s abode) and “dakshina Varanasi” (southern holy city of Hindus) in later inscriptions.