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Belur Chennakeshava Temple: Maha Vishnu reclining on Adishesha – A beautifully carved relief on a jālandhara


Maha Vishnu reclining on Adishesha
The image shows a jālandhara (perforated window) on the northern section of the wall surrounding the navaranga, i.e, the mantapa (covered hall) in front of the garbhagriha (inner sanctum).

In the center of the jālandhara is a sculptural relief depicting Vishnu, one of the Trimurti (Hindu Trinity), reclining on Adishesha, the king of nagas (serpents) with seven heads, who is floating on a cosmic ocean. As you can see, it is a narrative relief depicting the creation of Brahma, one of the core concepts of Hinduism. Upon his creation, Brahma became the creator of the Universe and the other god of the Hindu Trinity. Because of his role as the primary creator, i.e., the creator of the creator, Vishnu is known as Maha Vishnu (Great Vishnu).

This intricately carved relief is one of the finest in the Belur Chennakeshava Temple. As you can see, attention to detail in this relief is extraordinary. Portrayed with four arms, Vishnu is clad with elegant clothes and wearing stylish jewelry all over the body. He is lying down in a relaxed manner with Adishesha as his bed, while his consort Lakshmi massages his left foot.

If you look closely at the relief, you can see the lotus flower with Brahma on top is emerging from Vishnu’s navel, symbolizing the birth of Brahma. The lotus flower acts as the umbilical cord.

The creation of Brahma depicted in this relief is based on the Vaishnava Purana. However, there are differing accounts of the creation of Brahma in other Puranas. According to Shiva Purana, for example, Shiva created Vishnu and Brahma.

The Maha Vishnu depictions are typically associated with Adishesha, who is known by many names, including Shesha, Sheshanaga, and Ananta. Interestingly, two mathematical concepts, remainder and infinity, are hidden under these names. In Sanskrit, shesha means one that remains (i.e., remainder), and ananta means endless (i.e., infinity). In other words, Shesha will prevail even after the end of the universe, and Ananta will exist for eternity.

Carved into the square niches surrounding the main relief are some of Vishnu’s Dashavataras (Ten Avatars). Expand the image to full view to view them. The avatars from left to right are: Matsyavatara (Fish), Kurmavatara (Turtle), Varahavatara (Wild Boar), Narasimhavatara (Man – Lion), Vamanavatara (Dwarf Brahmin), Parashurama (Sage holding an Ax), and Buddha.

Related Images
Maha Vishnu seated on Adishesha – A beautiful sculpture carved in the mukhamantapha (veranda) of Cave – 3 of Badami caves
Maha Vishnu seated on Adishesha – An intricately-carved relief mounted on the outer wall of the Somanathapura Keshava Temple
Buddha seated on Adishesha – A statue depicting Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu situated on the top level of the Angkor Wat Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Dashavatara (Ten Incarnations of Vishnu) – A part of the Murals painted on ceiling of Hampi Virupaksha Temple
Court of Hoysala King Vishnuvardana, the builder of the Belur Chennakeshava Temple
Court of Hoysala King Vira Ballala II
Jālandhara and bracket figures on the left section of the northern entrance

Shilābālikes – Female Bracket Figures
Darpana Sundari, Sukha Bhasini, Nātya Sundari, Gāna Sundari, Kesha Sundari, Tribhangi, Nagna Sundari, Kapala Durga, Koravanji, Nātya Mohini, Betegārthi

Hoysala Temples
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Bracket Figures
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Navaranga
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Garbhagriha Outer Wall
Kappe Chennigaraya Shrine
Somanathapura Keshava Temple
Badami Chalukya Temples
Badami, Cave – 1, Cave – 2, Cave – 3, Cave – 4
Durga Temple at Aihole

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