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Kappe Chennigaraya Temple


Kappe Chennigaraya is a smaller temple situated in the south side of the Belur Chennakeshava Temple complex in Karnataka, India. Commissioned by Shantala Devi, the pattada rani (principal queen consort) of King Vishnuvardana, the builder of the main Chennakeshava Temple, the construction of the Kappe Chennigaraya Temple began at the same time as the main temple, i.e., in 1117 CE. She took great interest in this temple and even oversaw its construction.

There is an interesting legend regarding how Kappe, which means frog in Kannada, became a part of this temple’s name. It involves Jakanachari, the legendary architect and sculptor of the Hoysala era. Here is a summary of this legend.

Legend of Jakanachari

Jakanachari was a master sculptor and a genius. He hailed from a village called Kridapura (became Kaidala because of him) in the present-day Tumkur district in Karnataka. Because of marital discord, he left his wife Manjari, and moved to the capital of the Hoysala Empire and worked as a master sculptor for King Vishnuvardana.

Unbeknown to Jakanachari, his son Dakanachari, who was also a talented sculptor, came to Belur and started working for him. As Jakanachari was carving the statue of Chennakeshava for the Chennigaraya Temple, his son discovered a flaw, i.e., a frog was inside the belly of the sculpture. When confronted by his son about this flaw, Jakanachari felt humiliated and challenged him to prove it, and if he was proved right, he would cut off his right hand.

Dakanachari was proved right, and a frog jumped out when they drilled a hole in the sculpture. Jakanachari kept his word and cut off his right hand. He also came to know that Dakanachari was his son.

Legend has it that Vishnu restored his right-hand once he built a temple dedicated to Vishnu in his hometown, which became known as Kaidala. In Kannada, kai means hand. Both Jakanachari and Dakanachari collaborated to carve a new Chennakeshava idol, and it was consecrated by none other than the Pattada Rani Shantala Devi. However, Kappe remained a part of the name even after the defect-free idol was installed in the garbhagriha.


While this temple is somewhat similar to the main Chennakeshava Temple architecture-wise, it differs in size and decoration. The Kappe Chennigaraya Temple is smaller and less ornate. It appears like a prototype of the main temple built for experimentation.

Another significant difference between them is the number of garbhagrihas (inner sanctums). Whereas the Chennakeshava Temple is an ekakuta temple (i.e., single garbhagriha temple), the Kappe Chennigaraya Temple is dwikuta, which means it has two garbhagrihas, one in the west and another in the south. Each garbhagriha has an entrance in front of it. The left image below shows the east facing entrance, which is in front of the west garbhagriha, and the right image shows the north facing entrance, which is in front of the south garbhagriha.


Just like the main temple, the Kappe Chennigaraya shrine is dedicated to Vishnu. A life-size statue of Chennakeshava stands in the west garbhagriha, and a life-size statue of Venugopala stands in the south. Note that both Chennakeshava and Venugopala are different forms of Vishnu.

Venugopala standing in the south garbhagriha

The image shows the garbhagriha on the south side of the the Kappe Chennigaraya Temple. As you can see, the garbhagriha is a squarish chamber with the life-size idol of Venugopala standing at the rear wall on a square yoni platform. Portrayed as a divine flute player, Venugopala is a form of Krishna. In Kannanda, Venu means flute, and Gopala means protector of cows.

In Hindu mythology, Krishna is the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Check the Dashavatara painting on the Hampi Virupaksha Temple Murals for a list and description of the ten avatars of Vishnu.

As you can see from the image, Venugopala is standing with a tribhanga (bent in three places, knee, waist, and neck) pose and playing the flute. There is a similar garbhagriha housing the Chennakeshava idol on the west side of the temple.

The image below shows a narrative sculptural relief depicting Narasimhavatara, the fourth avatar of Vishnu, carved into the lintel of the south garbhagriha door. In this avatar, Vishnu has a man’s torso with a lion’s face and claws. He adopted this form to kill an asura named Hiranyakashipu, who wanted to take revenge on Vishnu for killing his brother Hiranyaksha in his previous avatar, i.e., Varahavatara, the third avatar of Vishnu.

Ugra Narasimha carved into the lintel of the south garbhagriha door

For a detailed explanation of the Narasimhavatara story, check the following pages: Vishnu’s incarnation Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu (describing the relief carved into the outer wall of Belur Chennakeshava Temple) and Prahlada Story – Slaying of Hiranyakashipu (describing the relief carved into a frieze on the outer wall of Halebidu Hoysaleswara Temple).

The relief depicts Vishnu with the lion head and human torso having multiple hands with claws. With the body of Hiranyakashipu lying on his lap, Vishnu is seen ripping the entrails of Hiranyakashipu with his claws. On the bottom left is Garuda, Vishnu’s vehicle, kneeling with his hands-folded. Surrounding this relief is a creeper making several circular patterns, each of which contains a small carving.


Lathe-turned pillars

The navaranga is the covered hall in front of a garbhagriha. Navaranga, which means nine sectors, is an essential element of the Hoysala temple architecture. In the navaranga design, the rectangular area is a grid of nine sections created by placing the pillars at the corners of the central section. A stone roof above these pillars covers the entire space.

The central section of the navaranga, known as sabhamantapa, is typically the largest. In Kannada, sabha means gathering, and mantapa means hall/pavilion. Thus, a sabhamantapa is like a community hall where people congregate.

As you can see from the image, the pillar in the near end is ornate with beautifully carved patterns. Mounted around the pillar and just below its capital are four finely-carved sculptures, popularly known as bracket figures.

Dance Floor in the Kappe Chennigaraya Temple

Many pillars in the navaranga appear to be precisely-cut and polished using sophisticated machinery, such as modern-day lathes. Because of their appearance, these are often called lathe-turned pillars, although nobody is sure how they were built. Lathe-turned pillars are a common feature in many Hoysala temples, including the main Chennakeshava Temple, and basadis (Jain temples).

A beautifully crafted circular stone covers the floor of the sabhmantapa, and was used as a dance floor during the Hoysala period. As you can see from the above image, the dance floor is a perfectly round stone platform, which still maintains its original polish even after thousand years and is a testament to the ingenuity and superior craftsmanship of the Hoysala artisans. There are four pillars at the corners of the dance floor.

Lakshminarayana carved on a section of the ceiling

The image shows a section of the ceiling in the navaranga. As you can see, the ceiling is recessed with a square-shaped niche and is carved with geometrical patterns at different levels of the niche. A sculptural relief depicting Lakshminarayana – a form of Vishnu presented with his consort Lakshmi – is at the center surrounded by finely carved geometrical patterns. Note that Lakshminarayana is a combination of two names, Lakshmi and Narayana. Narayana is another name of Vishnu, and it means one who dwells on the water. In Sanskrit, nara means water and ayana means dwelling. According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu lives on the cosmic ocean.

Related Pages
Hoysala Temples
– Belur Chennakeshava Temple
Bracket Figures, Navaranga, 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
Vijayanagara Temples
Hampi Virupaksha Temple Murals
Khmer Temples in Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat Bas-Reliefs, Banteay Srei, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Bayon
Monuments in Indonesia
Prambanan Temples, Prambanan Bas-Reliefs

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