The Golden troika of Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal

The Golden troika of Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal

The Golden troika of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, were on my must see list for a very long time but the right time for this visit came only after my friend from U.A.E. insisted on visiting his hometown – Bijapur during his vacation in August. I gladly accepted the offer to visit Bijapur and also included the 3 gems (Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal) in the itinerary. Though he had visited these places innumerable times, he volunteered to accompany us so that we do not miss three other places on the way like the Almatti Dam, Kudalasangama and Mahakuta. He booked a Taxi to cover all the 6 places and then drop us at Hubbali. 

You may think, that this must be a very hectic schedule right… Wrong, since you can easily cover all these places in less than a day as we traversed a distance of about 285 kms.   Bijapur – Almatti Dam (70 kms) – Kudalasangama (30 kms) – Aihole (50 kms) – Pattadakal (15 kms) – Badami (20 kms) – Hubbali (100 kms). The 3 gems are separated by just 15-20 kms from each other and for someone from Bangalore, it was like commuting from one place to another in the same city. In short you can either choose Hubbali or Bijapur as the starting point to visit the troika of Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal.

Almatti Dam gate

We started early in the morning from Bijapur to reach Almatti Dam in just under 90 minutes. The quality of roads to all these places was excellent especially the Bijapur-Almatti stretch, which is a toll based highway. Since it was cloudy with intermittent showers, we enjoyed the excellent weather, all through the day. 


Statue of Dandi March

The Almatti Dam is a hydroelectric project on the Krishna River, named after our 2nd Prime Minister of India – Lal Bahadur Shastri. It was completed in July 2005 with a height of 160 meters and length measuring 477 metres. There are statues replicating the historic Dandi March led by Mahatma Gandhi, close to the dam. The surrounding area of the dam has been developed into a world class park, garden and recreational area. At the entrance, you can see large facial images of men and women across all communities. We had tea and light snacks at the Inspection Bungalow canteen before proceeding to our next destination, at a distance of about 30 kms – Kudalasangama.

Samadhi of Basavanna

Kudalasangama is an important center of pilgrimage for Lingayats. The Krishna and Malaprabha River rivers merge here and flow eastwards towards Srisailam in Andhra. The Aikya Mantapa or the holy Samadhi of the 12th Century Poet, Social reformer and Founder of the Lingayat sect, Basavanna, lies next to the Shiva Linga, which is believed to be Swayambhu or self-manifested. Since the Mantapa is under water, it is well protected with several steps that lead the pilgrims to the actual Samadhi site. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Sangameswara, worshipped in the form of a linga. The temple is an ancient monument built in the Chalukyan style architecture.

After seeking the blessings of Basavanna and Lord Shiva, it was now time to visit the eagerly awaited “golden troika”, first of which was Aihole about 50 kms away. First thing we did upon reaching this monument, was to hire a Guide. He explained to us, that as per popular legend, Lord Parasuram came down to River Malaprabha and washed his blood-stained hands and battle axe, after evenging the death of his father. The blood and gore on the axe turned the river red. A woman saw this and screamed ‘Ayyo Hole’ or ‘Oh Blood!’ in Kannada and hence the name “Aihole”.

He also explained that the Aihole monuments belonged to a School of Art, the ones at Badami to a High School, the ones here at Pattadakal to a College and the ones in Belur and Halebeedu to a University. Being the earliest capital of the Chalukyan empire, Aihole contains some of the region’s oldest temples dating back to 5th century AD, within a nicely landscaped courtyard. As you enter the Aihole complex you will see a structure, that is similar to the Parliament House in New Delhi. Our Guide told us that the Durga Temple of Aihole, was indeed the inspiration behind the Parliament House. 

Durga Temple,  was built in the 8th century AD and it is not dedicated to Goddess Durga, but it actually means Fortress Temple as the word ‘Durga’ also means a Fort. The shape of this Temple is similar to Buddhist chaitya halls found in Ajanta Caves built in 2nd Century BC. The temple has life-size statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu), Durga in her Mahishasura-mardini form killing the buffalo demon, Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, Brahma, Surya, various avatars of Lord Vishnu like Matsya, Varaha, Vaman and Narasimha. The temple has frescoes, that tell us stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

At Aihole, there are sculptures of several amorous couples in various stages of courtship and mithuna like happy couple, dancing couple, romancing couple drinking Somrasa (wine), flirting, teasing, and even fighting with each other. The life of locals must have inspired the sculptors. I was intrigued by sculptures of a Drunken Couple (also found at Badami Cave Temples). Our Guide explained to us, that the 2 attendants next to the drunken couple, were bartenders serving Somrasa and that the lady is too drunk to stand or even hold on to her clothes. He further explained that even as the lady struggled to stand, one can see the love she expresses to her caring lover. She wraps one arm around his shoulder and looks affectionately into his eyes.

There are several smaller shrines in the complex but none of them have been consecrated as they are all models for the bigger temples. Instead, the Guide told us, some local families resided in these temples and hence the Temples bear their family names instead of names of Gods or Goddesses. One such temple is called Ladkhan Temple, after a Muslim saint, who stayed here about a thousand years after it was built. This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the oldest temple in the complex, that was built in the 5th century. On the lintel of the sanctum with Shiva Linga, is an image of Garuda, who carries Vishnu. The temple also has sculptures showing Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, as well as other deities. Stone carving of a young man, performing the complicated “Seershasana” or head-down yoga pose, can be seen on one of the stone pillars of this Temple.

The Gaudargudi temple next to Ladkhan temple is open from all sides. An inscription engraved on the lintel states that the temple has been dedicated to Goddess Parvati. Gaudargudi was among the earliest temples when architects included pradakshina patha (circumambulatory path) in a Hindu temple design. Next to this is a large stepwell for utility water storage whose walls have ancient carved sculptures.

The Suryanarayana Temple, dedicated to the Sun God, is absolutely fantastic. Its inner sanctum has no windows or ventilation, however the 2 feet tall image of Suryanarayana enshrined in it looks illuminated throughout the day. When we stood before its inner sanctum, we just couldn’t figure out how, with no visible source, there was enough light for us to the image clearly, while the rest of the inner sanctum was buried in darkness. It was truly the work of a genius.

A short drive of 15 kms took us to the next of our Golden Troika – the Pattadakal Temples. As we reached Pattadakasl, it started raining and we could not locate any Guide. This was one temple we had to explore on our own. However here all the monuments are enclosed in one large, landscaped area, which made it quite convenient for us in the rains. It is here that the Chalukyan art had reached its zenith and it showed in the exquisite workmanship of the temples.

The group of 8 temples in Pattadakal is situated along the banks of the Malaprabha River. In fact, a gateway near the main temple, Virupaksha, allowed the Chalukyan Kings to take a dip in the river before proceeding to the temple complex for ceremonies such as coronations. Built in the 8th Century AD, this temple was built by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband, Vikramaditya’s win over the Pallavas. In front of the temple is a pillared pavilion, inside which is a large seated image of Lord Shiva’s mount – Nandi. The temple has the best carvings, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Even today Puja is performed inside this temple and we were fortunate to be present near the Temple, during the afternoon arathi. Close to it is the Mallikarjuna Temple, which was built by Vikramaditya’s second queen, Trilokyamahadevi. It is quite similar to the Virupaksha temple of Hampi, except that it’s smaller and its carvings depict scenes from Bhagwata (Krishna’s tales) and Panchatantra (Animal fables).

There are several other shrines within the complex, all of which look fabulous. However, the most important feature of the Pattadakal group of temples is that they juxtapose the North Indian style of temples against the South Indian ones beautifully. The curvilinear shikharas of the North Indian style and then the stepped one of the South Indian style – is quite interesting.

We were very hungry by the time we covered the Pattadakal temples around 2:00pm, but since there were no good Restaurants here, we decided to drive down 20 kms to Badami, the final leg of our Golden troika. As a popular local saying goes “First the Stomach; then the Lord”, we decided to have lunch at Badami before visiting the Banashankari Temple located in the Tilakaaranya forest. The temple deity is also called the Shakambhari, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati. The temple attracts devotees from Karnataka as well as the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. The original temple was built by the 7th century Kalyani Chalukya Kings, who worshipped Goddess Banashankari as their tutelary deity. The sanctum sanctorum of the Temple is very cool and you can easily feel the air of devotion, after seeking the blessings of Goddess Banashankari.

When we reached the Badami Cave Temples around 4:00pm, we wanted to hire a knowledgeable Guide to explain the history and relevance of the Caves. There were 2 Guides at the entrance – one male and other female. We were keen to engage the male guide but since his proficiency was restricted to just Kannada, we asked him for a Hindi or English speaking Guide. He promptly pointed out to the woman. Though we were reluctant, initially, we had no choice now but to hire her services. She was very happy to be our Guide and as we came to know later, she had got just one assignment before us and was fairly idle the whole day. We fixed up the fee and asked her name. The lady named Khairunissa Begum was a M.A. in History and had completed her “Tourist Guide” based course at Mysuru University. She was one of the Guides chosen by Ms Sudha Murty, when she had visited Badami Cave Temple to decipher the ancient Kannada script inscribed on one of the Pillars. The lady could speak Kannada and Hindi very fluently, while her knowledge of English was basic.

There are 4 Cave Temples at Badami, of which 3 are related to Hinduism and the last one is related to Jainism. As we proceeded inside Cave no. 1, after climbing the steps, we were amazed by her knowledge of Hindu Gods, Hindu mythology and the way she passionately narrated the story, depicted inside the Caves, left us truly impressed. At each step she would ask us if we had any question and she would answer each of them with lot of patience. She started with a Quiz and asked us why the place was known as Badami ……it was because of the color of the rocks that resembled almonds or badam.

The Puranas state the wicked asura Vatapi was killed by sage Agastya and hence the place was called Vatapi before it was renamed as Badami, after becoming the capital of the Chalukyan Empire between the 6th and 8th century. The caves are considered an example of rock-cut architecture, especially Badami Chalukya architecture, which dates back to the 6th century. The Badami cave temples are carved out of soft Badami sandstone on a hill cliff. The plan of each of the four caves includes an entrance with a verandah or “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 or garbha ghriya) cut deep inside the cave. The Cave Temples are linked by a stepped path with intermediate terraces overlooking the town and lake Agastya.

Cave no. 1 has the 18-armed dancing figure of Lord Shiva, depicting 81 Bharatanatyam poses, with Ganesha and Nandi dancing at his feet, was absolutely mind-blowing. Adjoining the Nataraja, the wall depicts Goddess Durga slaying the buffalo-demon Mahishasura. At the entrance, is a two handed doorman or “dwarapala”, who holds a trident and below him is a bull-elephant fused image where they share a head; seen from left it is an elephant and from right a bull. The cave has a carved sculpture of Harihara, a 8 foot tall sculpture of a fused image that is half-Shiva and half-Vishnu. He is flanked on respective sides with the Goddesses Parvati and Lakshmi. To the right, is a sculpture of “Ardhanarishvara”, a fused image of Shiva and his consort Parvati. Next to the half that represents Parvati is an attendant carrying a tray of jewels. Next to the “Ardhanarishvara” half that represents Shiva is Nandi the bull, and skeletal Bhringi, a devotee of Shiva. The 2 sons of Shiva, Ganesha and Kartikeya, the God of war and family deity of the Chalukya dynasty, are seen in one of the carved sculptures on the walls of the cave, with Kartikeya riding a peacock. The roof of the cave has Nagaraja, flying Gandharvas and carvings of lotuses. On the ceiling are images of the Vidyadhara couples as well as couples in courtship. In the mandapa is a seated Nandi facing the garbha ghriya or sacrum sanctum containing a Shiva linga.

Cave no. 2 depicts the legend of Vishnu in his Trivikrama form, taking one of the three steps. Below the raised step is a sculpture showing the legend of Vamana avatar of Vishnu, before he morphs into the Trivikrama form. Another sculpture shows the legend of Vishnu in his Varaha (a boar) avatar rescuing Goddess Earth or Bhudevi from the depths of cosmic ocean, with a penitent multi-headed Naga snake below. The walls and ceiling have traces of colored paint, suggesting the cave used to have fresco paintings. Inside the temple are sculptures showing stories from the Bhagavata Purana ; the legend of Samudra Manthan or ocean churning ; Krishna’s birth and flute playing indicating the theological and cultural significance of these in 7th century India. The ceiling and door head carvings show Gajalakshmi, the swastika symbols, flying couples, Brahma, Vishnu asleep on Shesha and others. The fat dwarfs cavorting on the plinths, with distinctly curly hair, reveal a Greek influence. The ceiling of Cave 2 shows a wheel with sixteen fish spokes in a square frame. The end bays have a flying couple and Vishnu on Garuda. The main hall in the cave is supported by eight square pillars in two rows. The sculptures of Cave no. 2, like Cave no. 1, are of the northern Deccan style of the 6th and 7th century similar to that found in Ellora caves in Northern Maharashtra.

Between Cave nos. 2 and 3, is another natural cave which has even the experts stumped in deciphering its story. Some believe it to be a Buddhist cave, since there is a carving of Padmapani holding out a lotus with a devotee seated near the Boddhisattva. It is very clear that the Badami cave temples are heavily influenced by the frescoes of Ajanta Caves (Northern Maharashtra), which predates Badami by atleast 8oo years. As one approaches the staircase to Cave no. 3, the biggest cave, one comes across a second set of stairs, that is now barred after people started committing suicide by jumping off it.

Cave no. 3 is the earliest dated Hindu temple in the Deccan region, dedicated to Vishnu and it is the largest cave in the complex. It has intricately carved sculptures and giant figures of Trivikrama, Anantasayana, Vasudeva, Varaha, Harihara and Narasimha. Though dedicated to Vishnu, it also houses a sculpture of Harihara, which is half Vishnu and half Shiva shown fused as one. Cave no. 3 also shows fresco paintings on the ceiling, some of which are faded and broken. These are among the earliest known surviving evidence of fresco painting in Indian art. Lord Brahma is also seen on Hamsa vahana (swan vehicle) in one of the murals. The wedding of Shiva and Parvati, attended by various Hindu deities is the theme of another. There is a lotus medallion on the floor underneath the ceiling mural of Brahma. The sculpture in Cave no. 3 is well preserved. Vishnu is presented in various avatars and forms viz. standing Vishnu with eight arms; Vishnu seated on the hooded serpent Shesha ; Vishnu as standing Narasimha (man-lion avatar) ; Vishnu as Varaha (man-boar avatar) rescuing earth ; Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu and their equivalence) ; and Trivikrama-Vamana avatars. The cave shows many Kama scenes in pillar brackets, where a woman and a man are in courtship. Aspects of the culture, cosmetics and clothing in the 6th century is visible in the art sculpted in this cave, showing a sophisticated tradition. You will be bowled over by the intricate carvings that have been replicated in saree designs of today. Like Aihole, there is a sculpture of a drunken couple, where the lady is barely able to stand. The Guide mentioned to us, that it was Shiva and Parvati but it was incorrect since the man wears a crown with no Nandi around. The Guide asked us to take a photo from the opposite end of the giant sculpture of Vishnu seated on Shesha, which seemed to resemble a “Darbar Hall”, adorned with pillars on each side.

Cave no. 4, dedicated to Jainism, has marble-like pillars and little figures of the 24 Tirthankaras and is the smallest of all 4 Cave temples. It was constructed after the first three, sponsored by Hindu kings in later part of the 7th century. Like the other caves, Cave no. 4 features detailed carvings and a diverse range of motifs. Inside the cave are major carvings of Bahubali, Parshvanatha and Mahavira with symbolic display of other Tirthankaras. Bahubali in standing with vines wrapped around his leg ; Parshvanatha is shown with the five-headed cobra hood ; Lord Mahavira is represented sitting on a lion throne. Other carvings include Indrabhuti Gautama covered by four snakes, Brahmi and Sundari. In the sanctum is an image of Lord Mahavira resting on a pedestal containing a 12th century Kannada inscription marking the death of one Jakkave. Twenty four small Jaina Tirthankara images are engraved on the inner pillars and walls. In addition there are idols of Yakshas and Padmavati. Our Guide mentioned, that about few years ago, an attempt was made by Smt Sudha Murty, to decipher the Kannada inscription. The icons to represent ideas and the motifs in Cave no. 4, resemble those of the Jain Caves of Ellora.

The Guide showed us the marks left by the sculptors and artisans on the rock faces, that has inscriptions as well as sketches and symbols. There are tally marks, which have been interpreted as the attendance marks of these sculptors and artisans and some symbols, which must have been conventions used by those early artisans.

The hillock on which the caves have been carved overlooks the Agastya Lake around which Badami village is spread. It is believed that sage Agastya lived here. From there we could gaze upon the village and the lovely Bhootanatha temple complex, which is located picturesquely on the banks of the lake. There is a small museum set up by the ASI, but since it closed at 5pm, we missed it.

The area around the Caves is infested with monkeys in very large numbers, some of them scaring the Tourists by threatening to take away the food stuff or hand bags. There are guards warning the Tourists not to go near the monkeys. Since the Cave temples are not consecrated, we preferred to wear shoes inside the Caves than leave it for the monkeys.

We had engaged Guides at Gol Gumbaz (Bijapur) and Aihole just before we visited Badami Caves but this was the only place, which had a female Guide. Khairunissa Begum had chosen a profession, which is normally male dominated in India and for someone belonging to Muslim community, it must have been real tough to take up this job, that required her to have deep knowledge of Hindu Gods and mythology. After completing the visit to all 4 Caves, I complimented her for her profound knowledge. The happiness on her face perhaps erased her sadness of not getting enough Tourists that day.

We left Badami  at around 5pm to reach our end destination – Hubbali (100kms away), in about 2 hours, from where we were to take our flight back to Bengaluru. Fortunately the rain God favoured us and it was bright and sunny during our hour long stay at the Badami Caves. With lots of steps to climb in order to reach the 4 Caves, it was indeed a boon for us.

As of today, only the temples of Pattadakal have been brought under the UNESCO World Heritage List ; applications to get the ones at Aihole and Badami under the same list are still pending maybe due to adjoining residences/shops and other establishments etc. I hope the applications get approved, because the monuments in both these towns are exemplary and they definitely need the protection and funding that a UNESCO status offers. Karnataka’s Hoysala, Vijayanagara and Chalukyan Empires have left behind some of the best architecture to be found in South India. Hopefully, the Government will do more to preserve and protect them.

Click here to view >> Snaps from Aihole

Click here to view >> Snaps from Pattadakal

Click here to view >> Snaps from Badami

Click here to view >> Snaps from Almatti, Kudalasangama & Banshankari

Acknowledgements: I take the opportunity to thank Dr Raghavendra and his family from U.A.E., who met us during our last travel to Egypt in Dec 2017, for making excellent arrangement for our day trip to cover all the places mentioned above.