January 13, 2017

Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- A throwback to the times of Chalukyas

Almond coloured landscape and men in white clothing are the first things that strike when I think about Badami- the sleepy dusty town which once was the capital of the great Chalukyan empire from 6th to 8th century. Though a bit far from each other, Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are spoken in the same breath and are known for rock cut caves and numerous other centuries old temples. While Badami is known for its popular cave temples, Pattadakal has a huge temple complex listed under UNESCO heritage site and Aihole is believed to be where temple architecture was defined. Though the temples and structures have worn out over a period, most of them have been restored and maintained well by the authorities.

The tiny town of Badami has only one major road which accommodates all its commercial activities. However, beyond the main road and the tiny lanes that lead to its residential areas, Badami has a picturesque landscape with huge cliffs (south fort and north fort) overlooking the town. These almond coloured sandstone cliffs are separated by Agasthya theertha, a massive water tank.

A line of steps lead up to the first cave dedicated to Shiva in south fort area. Lined with carved pillars, this cave temple houses sculptures of Nataraja (Shiva as a dancer) and Ardhanareeshwara along with a mutilated nandi facing the inner sanctum. A few further steps meanders through the rocks to the second cave dedicated to Vishnu. This too has carved pillars along with sculptures of ten incarnations of Vishnu. The third cave has a Vishnu shrine and is the largest of all. There are elaborate carvings and impressive sculptures of various mythological characters and celestial figures. The coloured walls have eroded over the years. The cave also offers panoramic views of the Agasthya tank, Bhoothanatha temples, other smaller shrines and Badami town. The fourth cave is a Jain cave and has sculptures of Thirthankaras on its walls. Between cave 1 and 2 there is a sculpture of Padmapani (an incarnation of Buddha) on the rocks. 

Cave 1

Sculpture in Cave 1

Cave 2
Sculpture in cave 2

Cave 3
Sculptures in Cave 3

Cave 3

View of Agasthya theertha and Bhoothanatha temples

Steep steps lead from one cave to another

Jain cave

The expansive Agasthya theertha is the life of Badami, and has a rustic charm to it. It is a part of the people's daily chores as they take bath, wash and clean themselves here. The two Bhoothanatha temples at the lake's far end look gorgeous, definitely one of the best frames in Badami. Dedicated to Shiva, the shrine has a menacing expression on his face and is worshiped as the god of pancha bhoothas or five elements of life. There are other temples too by the stepped tank such as Yellama temple and Mallikarjuna temple. Look out and you will find more tiny shrines built on boulders and surroundings.

Bhoothanatha temples

The walk along the water body leads to the other cliff known as north fort. At the base of north fort is an archaeological museum which houses a huge display of sculptures and findings from excavations over the years. Further ahead, a steep climb of steps lead through massive boulders to the ruins of north fort which has a treasury, granaries, watch tower, lower Shivalaya and upper Shivalaya. The narrow passage flanked by boulders is an interesting trail (reminds you of geological books) that leads to the lower Shivalaya, and then to the huge circular watch tower which offers beautiful views of south fort, Agasthya theertha, Badami town and the surroundings. A further walk through the boulders takes you to upper Shivalaya, which has mythological carvings and sculptures on its walls. It is believed that these Shivalayas were the first temples built by Chalukyas with pyramidal towers (gopurams). A short detour from the museum at the base leads to Malegitti Shivalaya. Perched on a lone standing hill, a few steps lead to the temple dedicated to Shiva. Believed to be a surya temple earlier, it presently has many mythological and animal carvings.

Pathway to north fort

Circular watch tower

Upper Shivalaya

Malegitti Shivalaya

Banashankari, five kilometers away from Badami is known for its temple dedicated to Parvati. Adjacent to the temple lies the massive Haridratheertha (water tank) with pillared walk ways along its four sides. The large lamps in front of the temple are pretty impressive.

Haridratheertha at Banashankari

A few kilometers away from Badami lies Chalukyan temple complex at Mahakuta. Though a functional complex, most of the structures are in a dilapidated state. There are ten temples here dedicated to Shiva, the prominent ones being Mallikarjuna and Mahakuteshwara. The Vishnu pushkarni (water tank) in the middle of the complex is believed to have a natural spring.

Temples at Mahakuta

Vishnu Pushkarni

Pattadakal, the second capital of the Chalukyas is believed to be their coronation site. A UNESCO world heritage site, this temple complex spread over a well laid out garden has an array of temples dating from 7th to 9th centuries. The largest and the most decorated of all the temples are Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha temples, built to commemorate the victory of Chalukyas over Pallavas. While Mallikarjuna temple displays stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana on its walls, Virupaksha has beautiful carved pillars with mythological stories and characters. The other popular temples with magnificent architecture include Galaganatha, Kddi Siddeshwara, Jambulinga, Kashi Vishwanatha and Sangameshwara temples. The temple complex is situated by the Malaprabha river and the exit gate leads to the same.  Papanatha temple just outside the complex is one of the oldest temples in Pattadakal. The isolated Rashtrakuta jain temple is another prominent one in Pattadakal.

Pattadakal temple complex

Mallikarjuna temple

Viruypaksha temple

Galaganatha temple

Sangameshwara temple

A mutilated nandi ssculpture

Papanatha temple

Jain temple

Further away from Pattadakal lies Aihole, believed to be the place where Dravidian temple architecture was born. It has numerous temples spread all over with some well-maintained ones inside complexes and some secluded ones in neglected ruined state. Aihole is believed to have had more than a hundred temples, all built between 6th and 12th centuries. Durga temple complex is the most celebrated place here with the popular horse shoe shaped Durga temple. The temple has extensive sculptures on its exterior, interior and ceiling. The numerous ornate pillars look gorgeous even today with their beautiful carvings. The wonderful sculptures pop up as you circumnavigate the horse shoe shaped pathway. Dedicated to Durga, the deity is a fierce looking Mahishasuramardhini. Lad Khan temple is one of the other impressive temples within this complex. It is also the oldest one here and has a different architecture with another shrine atop the roof. It has carved pillars and a nandi sculpture facing the inner sanctum. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple gets its name from a Muslim saint who lived here a few centuries ago. The other temples in this complex include Gaudaragudi, Chakragudi, Badigergudi and Suryanarayanagudi temples. This complex also houses a museum which has a good display from excavations over the years.

Durga temple

Carvings inside Durga temple

Sculpture along the horse shoe shaped pathwway

Lad Khan temple

Gaudaragudi temple

Ambigeragudi complex lies opposite to durga complex and has a set of lovely temples with fine architecture. Jyothirlinga temple complex is one of the nice complexes with numerous shrines, nandi structures and a pushkarni. Huchchappayanamath temple complex is a secluded one which is neatly maintained and has a well laid out garden, walkway and temples in typical Chalukyan architecture. Mallikarjuna temple complex has five temples apart from a pushkarni. 

Ambigeragudi temple complex

Jyothirlinga temple complex

Huchchappayanamath temple complex

Mallikarjuna temple complex

Kontigudi complex has numerous temples, but is set amidst a lot of filth and cattle. Next to it lies Rachigudi complex which has a spread-out garden and shrines amidst it. Charanthi matha and Tryambakeshwara complex are perfect examples of how lovely heritages structures can be neglected and left to ruin. 

Rachigudi temple complex

Ravanaphadi is a rock cut shrine dedicated to Shiva, but much smaller in size compared to the ones in Badami. Though externally it might not be an impressive one, the magnificent sculptures inside which include Shiva in a dancing stance can leave you amazed. There are more huge sculptures of Varaha, Mahishasuramardhini and other figurines. What also makes it special is that the shrine is cut out from a single rock. It is peaceful inside and is definitely my favourite shrine in Aihole. Huchchimalli temple complex ahead of Ravanaphadi has three shrines dedicated to Shiva and has beautiful carvings inside. A steep climb up the hill behind Huchchimalli leads to Meghutti temple, a double floored structure with pillars. The hill also has a few caves alongside the temple. The evening sky and Aihole town looks beautiful from the hill. 

Ravanaphadi cave temple

Interiors of Ravanaphadi cave

Shiva sculpture

Huchchimalli temple complex

Meghutti temple

Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are undoubtedly a favourite with architecture and geological lovers. Moreover, the fact that these magnificent heritage sites still thrive amidst all the modernization makes them all the more impressive and worth the visit.

Travel Tips:
  • Make Badami your base and explore the other sites.
  • Badami and its temples would need a day to visit. Similar is the case with the complexes of Aihole. Pattadakal can be covered in half a day.
  • All the siates have a dry landscape and a hot climate. Make sure to carry hats, sunscreen and water.
  • The museums do not allow photography inside.

Badami is 458 Kilometers away from Bangalore. The closest airport is at Hubli (102 Kms). Though Badami has a railway station, the major station where most trains pass by is at Bagalkot (38 Kms). There are buses that connect Bagalkot to all major  cities across Karnataka. From Bagalkot there are frequent buses to Badami.

Food and Accommodation:

Most hotels have their restaurants and there are a few messes too. The cuisine is typical north Karnataka style. Badami court is a nice option to stay in Badami. There are budget options such as Mookambika deluxe (I stayed here) and Hotel Mayura Chalukya. Aihole has a KSTDC budget hotel.


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