Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal were centers of early Chalukyan art and architecture. It is also the land where both North Indian and South Indian art existed side by side.
Aihole was the first capital of the early Chalukyas, and is situated to the west of Badami, along the Malaprabha river, while Pattadakal is to the east. King Pulakeshi -I, one of the greatest rulers of this dynasty, moved the capital to Badami. Badami was then known as Vatapi.
Badami is located at a distance of about 500 km from Bangalore, a town in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka. The town dates back to 540 A.D. Dravidian architecture is said to have seen its best during the Chalukyan dynasty. The Chalukyas also encouraged an experimental blend of older South Indian temple architecture and the nagara style of North India. These three places are thus home to to a synthesis of styles and an important part of our architectural history.
Travel Info: Badami is about 500km from Bangalore by road and there are direct buses running between the 2 cities, which is a 12hr ride. The nearest airport is at Belgaum about 150 kms away from.
Alternatively, one can travel by train to Hubli or Hospet and then take a bus or auto to these city. Badami is around 130kms and 150kms from Hubli and Hospet respectively. Aihole and Pattadakal can be reached from Badami by road. One can hire an auto for the same.
Hotel Info: There are many hotels to stay in Badami. Raja Sangam was pretty near the Cave temples, the main attraction of the city. Tariff for a double room was Rs.700/-
I was new to Bangalore and looking for travel companions to any destination worth visiting. I wasn’t much of a lone traveler till recently, and that’s when I joined the online travelers networking site couchsurfing.com. There I found a discussion on a trip being planned to some places called Badami-Aihole-Pattadakal. Sculpture being one of my interest I wanted to join this trip.
I was late in taking the decision and there wasn’t a single ticket available. But the saying “daane daane par likha hain khane wale ka naam” seemed to work for tickets as well. The organizer announced that there is an extra ticket available and I made haste to grab it. So I was going on this trip with people whom I knew nothing about except for what I read on their CS profile. Yes the references on their profile page gave me the reassurance and confidence to travel with them. This is the way CS works.
On the appointed evening , I was at the Bangalore City Railway Station on time and called the only guy I had the mobile no. of – Kacey Chandler, who directed me to the food court. I proceeded there to a warm greeting. Shortly, the train we were traveling by, Rani Chennamma Express pulled in and we boarded and settled down. We had to unfortunately split into two groups as the reservations had been such and I found myself with Kaycee, Alison and Cohan. The first two had apparently met earlier and the three started a conversation immediately. with me initially just listening. I learnt that there was also another group traveling to the same destination but by a different route on a different train – the Hampi Express.
The flow of conversation was so smooth and general and the three were obviously so open, jovial and knowledgeable, that I very soon joined in and became a part of it. But it was soon time to sleep and conserve our energies for the next three days.
We reached Hubli early morning and took a bus to Badami. Two CS-ers, Om and Mridula, who were supposed to have been with us on the same train had missed it. They had taken a bus from Bangalore to Hubli and joined us there. We got down at Kuligere cross and took an autorickshaw (all 9 of us in one) to the hotel we would be lodging in Hotel Raja Sangam. The auto ride was a nice one through the country side.
“The Badami caves complex is part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site candidate under the title “Evolution of Temple Architecture – Aihole-Badami-Pattadakal” in the Malaprabha river valley, considered a cradle of temple architecture that formed the model for later Hindu temples in the region” – Wikipedia
After reaching the hotel at Badami, we freshened up and began our tour of the Sandstone Cave Temples. There are various temples in this city dating back to the Chalukyan period; the most well known being the Cave Temples, which are cut into the same monolithic rock and connected through flights of stairs.
“The plan of each of the four caves (1 to 4) includes an entrance with a verandah (mukha mandapa) supported by stone columns and brackets, a distinctive feature of these caves, leading to a columned mandapa, or main hall (also maha mandapa), and then to the small, square shrine (sanctum sanctorum, garbhaghrha) cut deep inside the cave.” – Wikipedia
As we reached the base of the mountain, we could see the way up to the caves. We were surrounded with mighty “rocky mountains” that the sculptors had managed to cut and make the caves. We hired a guide well versed with the history of the place.
As we climbed up the stairs we saw the Agastya Tirtha Lake, the water of which supposedly had medicinal properties that could cure skin diseases. However, as our guide put it, the water is so polluted now that “it can give skin diseases”. It appeared that all the temples, fort and other attractions at Badami were around this lake.
We entered the first Cave, which is the oldest of the four and dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has carvings of Lord Shiva in various avatars like Ardhanarishvara – Shiva and Parvati as one, Harihara – half Shiva and half Vishnu.
One such sculpture that caught our eyes was the 18 armed Nataraja , depicting the 81 different dance postures of Bharatnatyam.
The guide told us the history of the place and the story that each sculpture would recite. As the legend goes, there were two demon siblings Vatapi and Ilvala, who used to kill all mendicants passing by, tricking them in a peculiar way. Their tricks worked until Agastya Muni came by and counter-tricked them bringing an end to Vatapi’s life. Two of the hills in Badami are supposed to represent these demons.
Caves 2 and 3 are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and have carvings of the God in his various Avataars like, Varaha, Trivikrama and Narasimha. Cave 3 is the largest of the four. On the way up from Cave 2 to Cave 3 we saw a closed gate to steps going up, leading to the fort build by Tipu Sultan. However due to the occurrence of some accidents, it was closed to public.
Cave 4 was a Jain Temple dedicated to Mahavira. There is a carving of the Tirthankara Parshavnatha (with a serpent at his feet).
There are many other carvings based on the various stories from Hindu mythologies about their God and Goddesses and the society at large in all the 4 caves. Interestingly there are also carvings of various types of puzzles. Some of them are still unsolved. Apart from the carvings, there are various painting on the ceilings.
There is a fifth Cave in between the second and third, a natural one as it seemed or probably started by the Buddhists as we were told.
One various places we saw scriptures carved on the rocks. As per the guide they were carved during the Chalukyan time.
By the way, beware of the monkeys who inhabit the place and can be a real nuisance if they sense food.
After visiting the cave temples we moved on to the other side of the lake to the fort, built around rocks, which are separated by natural ridges. We saw two strange looking structures which we were informed, were for storing gun powder. We climbed up to the watchtowers to see the entire town and its surrounding.
Climbing down from the watchtowers, we saw a film-shooting in progress and came to know that this place has been a major spot for many other films as well.
Down around the Lake we visited the various other Temples, including a Vishnu temple , the Bhoothanatha Temples, both dedicated to Lord Shiva as the Lord of five Bhuthaas (elements).
From various points we could see the coexistence of past and present. Our guide then took us to the other side of the lake where we saw some newly erected sculptors, which, instead of merging with the surroundings, stood out like sore thumbs, diminishing the beauty and glory of the place.
After the spectacular sight-seeing, some of us retired to the hotel to rest, while some went for another round of walks around the place. In the evening, when all had returned, everyone gathered in the room Anuradha and I were sharing, for an antakshri session, leading to lots of noisy teasing among ourselves and a warning from the hotel manager not to disturb the peace. Some of us decided to walk to the lake after dinner and seated ourselves near it, debating and discussing various topics. We got to see a few local women pass by with “puja ka thali” (plates with prayer materials). On our way back, we were stopped and questioned by the local police, as it was pretty late and the spectre of terrorism was in the minds; they escorted us back to the hotel as well.
The group decided to check-out from the hotel next morning and carry the luggage around Aihole and Pattadakal in the autos that we would hire
Next morning we hired autos as planned. The auto drivers were very friendly and agreed to take us to both the places and to the station in the evening at a very reasonable price.
Aihole is noted as the learning school for the budding architects, who would carve their story in stone. None of these temples however were used for worship, having been the training ground.
This town has many temple groups of which the prominent ones being the Kontigudi group (group of three temples) and the Galaganatha group (group of over 30 temples).
We went first to the most notable of all the temples, the Durga Temple, also known as the Fortress Temple. One look at this temple and you would wonder whether the Indian parliament was inspired by the design of this temple.
Then we visited the Ladkhan Temple, named after a Muslim, which didn’t quite look like a temple, but more like a Panchayat Hall, giving a hint to the experimentation in architecture. The windows had a lattice style that reflects the Northern influence. The roof had a wooden look to it.
In this temple complex there were many interesting sculptures as expected.
Next was Ravana Phadi cave temple, considered to be the oldest of all these temples, and is a rock-cut temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Moving on to Pattadakal, located on the banks of the river Malaprabha, around 10 km from Aihole, we came to one of the World Heritage sites, designated so in 1987. It is the rare place where you can see the South and North Indian architecture, each with its own distinctive style, coexisting on the same landscape. There are some temples built in the Dravidian style, some in Nagara style of Northern India, while the Papanatha temple exhibits a hybrid style. The guide we hired told us that this, being the first capital of the Chalukyan dynasty, was used as the coronation place of the kings.
Of all the temples in only one the devotees would still be offering their prayers and that was the Virupaksha Temple. Built by Queen Lokamahadevi (Trilokyamahadevi) this temple was to commemorate her husband’s victory. Virupaksha temple has a very close resemblance to the Kailashnatha temple in Kanchi and is full of carvings of stories from Hindu mythology, on the walls and ceilings.
Of the other temples we saw were Sangameshvara Temple and Mallikarjuna Temple of the Dravidian style, Kashivisvanatha Temple and Kadasiddhesvara and Jambulingeswara temples of the Nagara style and finally the Pappanatha temple of the hybrid style.
The sculptures were mind blowing but capturing them all is difficult.
All the three guides that we hired at the three places surprisingly had one thing in common to say – Aihole is considered a primary school of architecture, Badami is the high school, Pattadakkal is the degree college and the University is Belur and Halebidu – which made us wonder whether the guides went through the same training -probably so.
However, I found something similar being mentioned in Wikipedia 0n Pattadakkal.
It was soon afternoon and our train was in the evening from Hubli. So the members of the group went on their own around the place, after arranging to meet in an hour at a pre-decided place. Exactly an hour later we met at a tea stall that Mridula took over from its owner and made tea for all of us and it was awesome.
I suddenly realized to my horror that I had lost my gold chain. On informing my co-travelers about it, Vijay informed that he did find one back at Aihole and not realizing it was gold and mine, had given it to a nearby school’s headmaster. It had been a gift from my sister 😦
With a heavy heart I and the others moved on. Some of the group, who had an early train to catch, took off. While the rest of us went to a nearby place called Mahakoota, one of the many structures that exist around this place.
The Mahakoota group of temples in the Mahakuta town of Bagalkot district, also exhibits the co-existence of Southern and Northern styles and hybrid nature of the Chalukyan period architecture. A natural mountain spring flows through the complex providing fresh water to a large tank called the Vishnu Puskarani. This tank has a small shrine and a Shiva-linga inside a small cave, which can be visited only by diving underwater.
Finally it was time for us to catch our trains and hence we moved on. As we did so, there was a funny incident. Cohan, who was so mesmerized by the Mahakuta temples, forgot to hop onto his auto and his buddies who were too busy talking about the place, didn’t realize his absence, and he was left behind. It was only a while later we realized that he was missing and went back to collect him.
We reached Bangalore on Monday morning. And it was back to work.