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.Read More
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, topped by two ancient fort complexes. The south is riddled with cave temples, and on the north stand 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 well. The whole Badami area is also home to numerous troupes of monkeys, especially around the monuments, and you are likely to find the cheeky characters all over you if you produce any 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.
The late seventh- to early eighth-century Durga temple, – one of the most unusual, elaborate and large in Aihole, – stands close to others on open ground in the Archeological Survey compound, near the centre of the village. It derives its name not from the goddess Durga but from the Kannada durgadagudi, meaning “temple near the fort”. A series of pillars – many featuring amorous couples – forming an open ambulatory continue from the porch around the whole building. Other sculptural highlights include the decoration on the entrance to the mandapa hallway and niche images on the outer walls of the now-empty semicircular sanctum. Nearby, a small Archeological Museum displays early Chalukyan sculpture and sells the booklet Glorious Aihole, which includes a site map and accounts of the monuments.
Further south, beyond several other temples, the Ladh Khan (the name of a Muslim who made it his home) is perhaps the best known of all at Aihole. Now thought to have been constructed at some point between the end of the sixth century and the eighth, it was originally seen as one of the country’s temple prototypes. Inside stands a Nandi bull and a small sanctuary containing a shivalingam is next to the back wall. Both may have been later additions, with the original inner sanctum located at the centre.
The village of PATTADAKAL, on a bend in the River Malaprabha 22km from Badami, served as the site of Chalukyan coronations between the seventh and eighth centuries; in fact it may only have been used for such ceremonials. 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. Pattadakal’s main group of monuments stand together in a well-maintained compound, next to the village, and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Earliest among the temples, the Sangameshvara, also known as Shri Vijayeshvara (a reference to its builder, Vijayaditya Satyashraya; 696–733), shows typical southern features. To the south, both the Mallikarjuna and the enormous Virupaksha, side by side, are in the southern style, built by two sisters who were successively the queens of Vikramaditya II (733–46). Along with the Kanchipuram temple in Tamil Nadu, the Virupaksha was probably one of the largest and most elaborate in India at the time. Interior pillars are carved with scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, while in the Mallikarjuna the stories are from the life of Krishna.
The largest northern-style temple, the Papanatha, further south, was probably built after the Virupaksha in the eighth century. Outside walls feature reliefs (some of which, unusually, bear the sculptors’ autographs) from the Ramayana, including, on the south wall, Hanuman’s monkey army.
Pattadakal is connected by regular state buses and hourly private buses to Badami (45min) and Aihole (45min). Aside from a few teashops, cold drinks and coconut stalls, there are no facilities. For three days at the end of January, Pattadakal hosts an annual dance festival featuring dancers from across India.