Now quiet villages, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, the last a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were once the capital cities of the Chalukyas, who ruled much of the Deccan between the fourth and eighth centuries. The astonishing profusion of temples in the area beggars belief. Badami’s and Aihole’s cave temples, stylistically related to those at Ellora, are some of the most important of their type. Among the many freestanding temples are some of the earliest in India, and uniquely, it is possible to see both northern (nagari) and southern (Dravida) architectural styles side by side.
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Surrounded by a yawning expanse of flat farmland, BADAMI, capital of the Chalukyas from 543 AD to 757 AD, extends east into a gorge between two red sandstone hills, each topped by an ancient fort complex. The southern hill is riddled with cave temples, while the northern one is studded with early structural temples. Beyond the village, to the east, is an artificial lake, Agastya, said to date from the fifth century. Badami’s small selection of hotels and restaurants makes it an ideal base from which to explore the Chalukyan remains at Aihole and Pattadakal, as they do not possess such facilities. Be aware that the whole Badami area is home to numerous troupes of monkeys, especially around the monuments, and they will crawl all over you if you produce food.
No fewer than 125 temples, dating from the Chalukyan and the later Rashtrakuta periods (sixth to twelfth centuries), are found in the tiny village of AIHOLE (Aivalli), near the banks of the River Malaprabha. Lying in clusters within the village, in surrounding fields and on rocky outcrops, many of the temples are remarkably well preserved, despite being used as dwellings and cattle sheds. Reflecting both its geographical position and spirit of architectural experimentation, Aihole boasts northern (nagari) and southern (Dravida) temples, as well as variants that failed to survive subsequent stylistic developments.
Two of the temples are rock-cut caves dating from the sixth century. The Hindu Ravanaphadigudi, northeast of the centre, a Shiva shrine with a triple entrance, contains fine sculptures of Mahishasuramardini, a ten-armed Nateshan (the precursor of Shiva Nataraja) dancing with Parvati, Ganesh and the Sapta Matrikas (“seven mothers”). A two-storey cave, plain save for decoration at the entrances and a panel image of Buddha in its upper veranda, can be found partway up the hill to the southeast, overlooking the village. At the top of that hill, the Jain Meguti temple, which may never have been completed, bears an inscription on an outer wall dating it to 634 AD. You can climb up to the first floor for fine views of Aihole and the surrounding country.
On a bend in the River Malaprabha 22km northeast of Badami, the village of PATTADAKAL served as the site of Chalukyan coronations between the seventh and eighth centuries; in fact, it may have been used solely for such ceremonies. Like Badami and Aihole, the area boasts fine Chalukyan architecture, with particularly large mature examples; as at Aihole, both northern and southern styles can be seen.