BADAMI CAVES, PATTADAKAL AND AIHOLE GROUP OF MONUMENTS

After Hampi, another masterpiece of architecture we visited is Badami caves. When we reached the caves, as I looked up at them, the only thing I could utter was ‘wow’. The distance from Hampi to Badami is 140 km which takes around 3hr 30min to reach. The journey is accompanied by small villages, local people with their lambs and calves alongside the road. Besides all these, one thing that amazed was, crops were spread on the road for vehicles to pass through them, which made the crops lose their excess parts.

Local people with their lambs and calves alongside the road

We then met our guide Mr Basavraj, who introduced himself and the first thing he told us was the reason behind the name Badami. Since the colour of the rocks resembles the colour of badam (almonds), (the place of the 6th century was named Badami.) These caves took 28 years to achieve in which the 3rd cave is the largest.

We started with the first cave, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The most charming part of the cave was the sculpture of Natraj before entering the Mukha mandapa. It is a world-famous sculpture as Natraj has 18 hands, 9 on each side. Our guide made us realise that there are various Natraj sculptures around the world with, 6, 8 or max 12 hands but only Badami has the Natraj sculpture of 18 hands. The famous Bharatnatyam dance of south India has the 81 mudras (dance positions), these hands with permutation and combinations form the 81 dance mudras. You would not like to miss the son Ganesh carved at the bottom, who is trying to copy the mudras of his father.

Natraj with 18 hands

Moving inside, in the Mukha mandap on one side we spotted the beautifully carved Harihara, half Shiva and half Vishnu. Due to the conflicts at those times, it was a message for the local community, that both the gods had equal powers. On the other side, we saw the carving of Ardhanareshwar, half Shiva and half Parvati portraying a strong message of equality between both the genders. We also got to know that Bhringi rishi was the reason behind this form of Shiv and Parvati.

Read about Ardhanareshwar and the sage Bhringi here.

Harihara (Half Shiva Half Vishnu)
Ardhanareshwar (Half Shiva Half Parvati)

Proceeding towards the second cave, I saw a connecting staircase turning to another direction and as I took it to explore more, found the gates to proceed, closeed. Our guide told us this staircase went on the top of the cave where the tope (cannon) of Tipu Sultan is kept, and it was a secret road which went to the watchtower built by Tipu Sultan when he visited Badami in the 17th century. But because of a few mishaps, the entry is now prohibited.

Cannon kept atop Badami caves

The second and third caves are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, where we could see the dashavatar (10 incarnations) of Vishnu painted on the ceiling. On the Mukha mandap, the story of Vaman Avatar (incarnation of Vishnu as a dwarf) is carved magnificently, which tells the reason behind our celebration of Balipratipada. On the other side of the mandapa was the sculpture of Varaha Avtar (Wild boar incarnation), and I was so amazed to see the sculpture expertly carved, that we could spot the tusk of the boar as well.

Know more about the Vamana and reason behind Balipratipada, read about it here.

Vaman Avatar of Vishnu
Varaha Avatar of Vishnu

One thing that puzzled me was the holes on the ground of the caves, and we were surprised to know that they were used as palettes during paintings, and the paints were made from flowers and vegetables. The carvings on the walls of these caves dates back to 5th and 6th centuries, so the stories which we listen to are assumptions of what it must have been back then. On similar lines, in the third cave, we could see the small carving depicting the regular livelihood. We could spot the lady with a mirror, a drunk lady upheld by her husband, who we assumed drank too much, also there were two carvings of a ladies with different attire; which made us compare the dressing style of women during their free time and when they would dress up.

The last cave was devoted to the Jain, and it is divided into two parts Shwetambar and Digambara. Here we could see the sculptures of Digambaras, 24 tintharkars. The sculptures had three steps that depict the triguna (three qualities) in life. First is looking at every situation positively, second pursuing good knowledge and third having a good character. In front of these caves is the Agastya Lake which is filled by rainwater only. During Chalukyas time, people considered the water of this lake holy which cured all the illness.  

Sculpture of one of the tintharkars. Photo Credits: Somshekher Koti

My stomach grumbled hopping from one cave to the other and to my delight next in our plan was lunch, which was exactly 5 minutes away. Clarks Inn Badami serves you with the delicious food and refreshing buttermilk.

Post lunch now it was time for Pattakadal group of monuments. Pattadakal is the place where the rajyabhishek (Coronation) of 98 Chalukya kings took place, and hence got its name. Malaprabha River, a tributary of Krishna River flows near these monuments with a peculiar quality that this river, unlike others, flows from south to north.

My first perception felt, as if these temples were built in stages, the first few of them were plain without many details, but the next had few details compared to the previous one and still looked incomplete. 

Our guide explicated us the first three temples which didn’t have much detailing on them. They were the example of Nagara style of architecture, which is generally found in the North Indian temples like Konark, Orissa, Khajuraho, etc. The shikhara of these temples was curvilinear in shape. The second was the Aryan style of architecture, in which the shikhara was like steps, and the third is the mix of the first and second styles. One can witness the three different styles of architecture here, and therefore in 1987, Pattadakal was declared as a World Heritage Monument Site.

Nagara style of architecture
Aryan style of architecture
Mixture of Nagara and Aryan style of architecture

Many a times when temples are left incomplete due to lack of wealth in the kingdom, local people donate for these temples. Similarly, here in one of the temples, we found few names carved on the pillar who contributed towards the completion of the temple.

“But why do we need so many temples in a single place?” unable to understand, I asked our guide. And he simply answered, “Whenever the king won, a temple was built to show their devotion”. Continuing the tradition when Vikramaditya won, his 1st wife built the temple, Virupaksha. The temple’s pillar is carved with epics of Ramayan and Mahabharat.

Virupaksha Temple
Carvings of Ramayana on pillar of Virupaksha temple
Carvings of Mahabharat on pillar of Virupaksha temple

Before the temple, the Nandi mandap in front with a Nandi of 2.5 meters clutched all my attention. Vikramaditya’s 2nd wife also built the temple named Mallikarjun. This temple has the carving of stories related to Lord Krishna and also some erotic sculptures conveying they are part of our regular lives.

Nandi infront of Virupaksha temple

On the way, towards the Aihole group of monuments, our guide made us heed people living in the temples. He mentioned that during the Chalukya Empire, 501 scholars lived in these temples of Aihole.

He also narrated the story of how the place got its name and was earlier known as Aryapura. The tale goes as; Parshurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu once kills an abusive Kshatriya for exploiting their powers and killing people. After killing him, Parshurama washed his axe, which was full of blood in the Malaprabha river flowing nearby. In those days, ladies went to the river to collect drinking water, similarly, a lady came to the river, and was horrified to see the water turning red. In dismay, she started screaming, “Ai hole, Ai hole” (Ai is an expression and Hole translates to the river). Hence, the place got its name.

I found the local names of temples here very interesting. The first one was Durgh temple since it was close to the fort wall and was dedicated to Lord Surya. This one resembled to the parliament, but our guide evoked us as Aihole dated back to the 5th century.

Durgh Temple
Sculptures at Durgh Temple
Sculptures at Durgh Temple
Sculptures at Durgh Temple

The second was Ladkhan temple because a Muslim family resided here. This temple had a wooden style of architecture which means the temple is built by placing one stone on the other but resembles wood. This temple was also the meeting room during Chalukya’s time. Another was Huchimalli temple (Huchi in Kannada means mad), since a mad lady lived it was named so.

Ladkhan temple
Huchimalli temple (Picture Source: Internet)

I was astonished to see the dexterity of people since sedimentary rocks are highly brittle which makes the carvings difficult, not only carvings but the paintings on the ceilings of huge temples. Although they did their work with complete passion but sadly are lost in the annals of history!

FOOD TIPS:

  • You would not want to miss the local snacks especially if you are a foodie. Just in front of the entrance of Aihole monuments, there is a small snacks center where you get Girmita. It is a local snack which is spicy kurmura with farsan, generally given with bhajis and raw onion and chilies!
  • In Amingad village which is 9.5 km from Aihole, is a Vijaya Karadant sweet shop. Karadant is the famous sweet in this region and worth trying.
  • Just next to this sweet shop is a small shop selling Medu Vada and Idli with chutney which is something you shouldn’t miss. Here is the google link: https://maps.app.goo.gl/3TMB7mZrNoNGm5VXA

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