Analogous to the odd tradition in the Ramakrishna Mission of celebrating Christmas every year, the Belur temple festival in Karnataka begins with a recitation from the Qur’an. But unlike the Ramakrishna Mission, where its founder Swami Vivekananda had ordered the celebration of Christmas to promote his guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s ideal of “jato mot, tato poth” (all paths lead to God) and also to confuse missionaries who then struggled to convert Bengali Hindus, and the current swamis of the mission cannot violate a rule established by the founder, the Indian king who restored the Belur temple from Islamic plunder and destruction never ordered the recitation of the Qur’an in the temple premises.
Technically called the Channakeshava Temple, the shrine in Belur saw yesterday hundreds of devotees participate with enthusiasm in the event held for the first time in three years. There was no celebration in the last two years owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike in other Hindu places of worship in Karnataka where an INC era-made state law prohibits non-Hindus from being in the arena, the administration allowed Muslim traders to take part in the festival. Around 15 Muslim traders had set up stalls.
In the presence of thousands of Hindu devotees, Kazi Syed Sajeed Pasha recited verses from the Qur’an in front of the chariot of Lord Channakeshava.
Why Belur administration allowed Qur’an recital
Several Hindu organisations had objected to the age-old tradition of recital of the Qur’an before moving the chariot this year, following a series of developments in the state. The administrator of Belur temple had written to the Muzrai department seeking clarification over the continuation of the ritual, which has been going on for many years.
Commissioner of the Muzrai department, Rohini Sindhoori, who allowed the awkward tradition to continue, said that according to Section 58 of the Hindu Religious Act, 2002, there should not be any interference in the rituals and traditions of the temple. After her direction, the temple committee decided to go ahead with the ritual of recital of verses from the Quran.
There were no untoward incidents during the event on the day. The administration had deployed policemen to avoid any untoward incident during the event.
According to the tradition that had been followed for many years, the rathotsava began after reciting excerpts from the Qur’an. Lawmakers HD Revanna, KS Lingesh, Additional Deputy Commissioner Kavita Rajaram, Executive Officer of the temple Vidyullatha and others were present on the occasion.
The Chennakeshava Temple — also referred to as the Keshava/Kesava/Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur — is a 12th-century Hindu temple in District Hassan of Karnataka. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in AD 1117 on the banks of the Yagachi in Belur also called Velapura, an early Hoysala Empire capital. The temple was built over three generations and it took 103 years to finish.
The Hoysala Empire and its capital was invaded, plundered and destroyed in the early 14th century by Malik Kafur, a commander of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji. Belur and Halebidu became the target of plunder and destruction in 1326 CE by another Delhi Sultanate army. The territory was taken over by the Vijayanagara Empire. The Hoysala style, states James C Harle, came to an end in the mid 14th century when Hoysala king Veera Ballala III was killed in a war with the Muslim Madurai Sultanate followed by his son.
It is 35 km from Hassan city and about 200 km from Bengaluru.
Chennakeshava (lit, “handsome Keshava”) is a form of Vishnu. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and has been an active Hindu temple since its founding. It is reverentially described in mediaeval Hindu texts and it remains an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism.
The temple is remarkable for its architecture, sculptures, reliefs, and friezes as well as 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 Chennakeshava temple is a testimony to the artistic, cultural and theological perspectives in 12th century southern India and the Hoysala Empire rule.
The Belur temple complex, along with the nearby Hindu and Jain Temples at Halebidu, has been proposed to be listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites.