The Badami Chalukya Architecture style originated during 450 CE in Aihole and was then improved and perfected in Badami and Pattadakal. The Badami Chalukyas, between 500 and 757 CE, established the foundations of temple architecture on the Malaprabha river banks in Karnataka. Aihole is described as the ‘Cradle of Temple Architecture’. Tourist guides often describe Aihole as the Primary School, Badami as the Secondary School and Pattadakal as the College or University of Indian Temple Architecture. For a traveller who has visited these three sites, it is easier to understand the reason behind this analogy. The temples in Aihole are crude with not much detailing, and as one visits the other two sites, the detailing, intricacy and craftsmanship show marked refinement and magnificence.
Pattadakal-The University of Indian Temple Architecture
On a trip to Hampi, we decided to visit Pattadakal and Badami. Aihole was an add on because we had time on our hands. Pattadakal was earlier called Pattada Kisukadu (Red Town), and as the Chalukyan kings were crowned here it was also known as a ‘place of coronation’. Well- known geographer Ptolemy’ documented it as Petrigal’. The temples belong to the time of Chalukyan King Vikram Aditya II. The group of monuments at Pattadakal compromise of 10 major temples.
After purchasing entry tickets and hiring the services of a guide, we entered the temple complex. The well-maintained complex with manicured lawns, defined walkways, strategically placed boards outlining the details and history of each temple. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pattadakal is still not very popular with the tourists. And so it was a delight to be able to explore these temples leisurely without the cacophony of large crowds. Our guide explained that the temples are either in the Dravidian (South Indian) or Nagara (North Indian) styles, while one temple is an amalgamation of both styles.
The Virupaksha temple is the largest and only active temple in the complex where puja is conducted even to this day. The Kailashnath temple of Kanchi inspires it, and it is built in the Dravidian style. To commemorate King Vikramaditya II’s victory over Pallava kingdom and the capture of Kanchi his first wife Queen Lokamahadevi built this temple. This detail is inscribed in old Kannada script on the Vijay Stampa or Victory pillar near the temple.
The Sabha Mandapa/ Hall had 18 square pillars depicting scenes from the epics Ramayan (abduction of Sita by Ravana), Mahabharat (Bhishma lying in a bed of arrows) and Bhagavad Gita. Scenes from the Kurukshetra/ battlefield with Krishna and Arjuna were easy to spot. The ceiling had an image of Surya/ Sun with his two consorts riding a chariot. After the Sabha Mandapa was the Mukha Mandapa which had a Nandi / Bull in black stone. The outer walls had life-like sculptures of Nataraj, Ardhanarishwar (half male/ female), Shiva and Parvati, etc. The famous Kailasha temple of Ellora is modelled on the Virupaksha temple.
The Malikaarjuna temple was adjacent to the Virupaksha temple, and the two resemble closely. No surprises for the similarities. This temple was built by Vikramaditya II’s second wife Queen Trailokyamahadevi who was the younger sister of the first queen who made the Virupaksha Temple. The two sisters were married to the same King Vikramaditya II and built two temples to commemorate his victory over Kanchi. I wondered if there was a sense of competition between the two wives/sisters to outdo one another. Or, were the temples made through collaboration and mutual consultation.
Just like in Virupaksha temple the Sabha Mandapa/ hall pillars with scenes from the epics Ramayan, Mahabharat, Bhagavad Gita and also Panchatantra stories. Our guide showed us pillars where Panchatantra stories of ‘The Monkey and Crocodile’, ‘The Naughty Monkey’, ‘Snake and Mongoose’ were engraved. Engravings of amorous couples reminiscent of Kama Sutra were seen in the temple which our guide described as “Happy Couples”. He seemed to be reinforcing the mindset held by several traditionalists who refrain from discussing sexuality in today’s day and age while the temples built centuries ago didn’t shy away from depicting it!
Several other temples had carvings of gods and goddesses, and the lattice of the stone windows had various patterns through which light filtered inside the temples. The Galganath temple in Nagara Style had an image of Shiva killing a demon Andhakasura. The Sangameshwar is the oldest temple. Sculptured on the outer walls were figurines like Ugranarsimha and Nataraj, etc. Located in the complex are the Chandrashekhar and Kashi Vishveshwara temple, Jambulinga temple and its twin Kadasiddeshwar temple.
The Papanath temple was a fusion of Dravidian and Nagara styles. It is located 500 metres away from the temple complex, behind Virupaksha temple near the riverside. It started as a Vishnu temple but later changed to Shiva. The lintel on Mandapa doorway had Gajalakshmi and Shiva and his wife, Parvati. We saw a combination carving of a snake woman. The idol’s upper body was of a human and the lower body of a snake. There were bats in this temple with an unbearable stench forcing us to leave quickly.
Aihole-The Cradle of Indian Temple Architecture
It took us roughly two hours to see the Pattadakal temples. Since we had finished earlier than expected, we decided to explore Aihole. It is called Aryapura in Sanskrit, meaning a place for Pandits or Noblemen. Legend has it that Aihole was covered with lush forests and ruled by a thousand-shoulder king Kartaviryarjun. While the king and his entourage were hunting, they were invited by Sage Jamdagani for dinner. The king was surprised and curious to know how the sage had swiftly managed to serve a meal. The sage replied that it was thanks to ‘Kamdhenu’ a Cow sent by God.
The king now wanted the cow which the sage refused and so in a fit of anger, the king killed the sage and took the cow. The son of the sage, Parshuram on hearing this swore to kill the king and Kshatriya kings 21 times in a row. After the killing, he went to the Malaprabha river and washed his blood-stained axe. The river water turned red and seeing this sight he cried “Ai, Ai, Holi” (Ah! The River). Since then it is called Aihole.
Grouped into complexes are more than 125 temples in Aihole. The Durga Temple complex is the most prominent one. The Durga Temple is described as the ‘Parliamentary temple’ because it resembles the Indian Parliament building, Sansad Bhavan at Delhi. It was semicircular and apsidal in shape over which was a spire or shikhara. The outer walls of the temple had figures of Narasimha (lion avatar of Vishnu), Mahishasurmardini, (The slaying of the buffalo beast by Goddess Ambika/ Chamundi), Varaha Vishnu (boar avatar of Vishnu), Shiva and Ardhanareshwar (half woman and half man).
Within the complex was the Ladkhan temple, which is one of the earliest built temples in India (450AD). A Muslim prince by that name converted it into his home and hence the name. There was a small rectangular shrine on the roof of the temple. On the pillars were engraved numerous amorous couples. Within the complex were other temples, two wells and a museum.
There are numerous other complexes in Aihole which are worthy of seeing too. What was regretful was that villagers’ homes and the temples had almost merged. In some places, we felt the villagers were living in these ruins which they had made their homes. There is a definite need to preserve Indian architecture and heritage that we so often take for granted and undervalue.
Badami- The Secondary School of Indian Temple Architecture
After leaving Aihole, we went for Badami and checked into the KSTDC property. The next morning after breakfast, we set off to see the Badami Caves. They are so-called because the colour of the rocks (sandstone) and broader landscape are like the colour of badams (almonds). Rocks with numerous shades of yellow, orange and red adorned this place.
On arriving at the car parking of the Badami cave complex, we noticed the Adil Shahi Tomb which reminded us of the Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur. There are four cave temples of which three are Hindu and one Jain. Our guide explained that there were more than 83 jewellery designs, seven types of hairstyles and 11 types of costumes that adorned various figurines in the temples. They have been a source of reference and inspiration for the look of characters in a lot of historical movies.
Cave 1, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the oldest cave temple which took approximately 35 years to complete. The main attraction of this cave was the Natraja statue with 18 arms, nine on either side, representing 81 dancing mudras or poses. It is hailed as a book on ‘Natya Shastra’ the various Bharat Natyam mudras can be seen in this statue. Shiva was doing the ‘Tandava Nritya’. Ganpati, the elephant god and musicians along with Nandi /bull, were also be seen at the base of this carving.
The Second Cave dedicated to Vishnu had various incarnations of Vishnu like Trivikram (Vishnu’s dwarf avatar), Naravaraha (Vishnu’s boar avatar) depicted. Cave three was the most magnificent with more intricate and detailed artistry. Sculptures of Hindu Gods, romantic couples in attractive costumes and ornaments, were engraved on the pillars. The fourth cave was a Jain temple and had figures of the Jain Teetankhars, Mahavir and Parashvanatha.
After descending the caves, we headed to the Agustya Tirta, a water reservoir. The Akka Tangi waterfalls that flow from the Badami hills are a treat to watch from here in the rainy season. Nearby were located the Bhoothnath Temple and Jambulinga temple, as well as the Archaeological Survey of India’s Museum. On a hill near the reservoir were located some more temples.
It takes more than a decade and a half for a student to complete his/her journey from primary school to high school and finally, university. We were fortunate that we could undertake the journey of Indian Temple Architecture from primary school to university in a matter of fewer than 48 hours. After this trip one wonders whether the way history, culture and heritage are being taught in our schools and colleges needs a serious rethink. It’s not through textbooks that these need to be studied and regurgitated at exams. They need to be experienced first- hand by exploring these places and soaking yourself in their beauty till they get ingrained in you!
Nearest Airports: Hubli and Belgaum are closest but have limited flights. Bengaluru and Goa are better in terms of connectivity.
Distances: Pattadakal Aihole: 13 km (30 minutes by road)
Aihole Badami: 36 km (1 hour by road)
Pattadakal Badami: 22 km (40 minutes by road)
Where to stay: KSTDC hotel is located at Badami. You could also explore other options on the net.