Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal were important capitals and seats of power for the Chalukyan dynasty and are important in understanding the history of Deccan and temple architecture in India. Badami & Pattadakal have been designated as UNESCO world Heritage sites whereas Aihole is on the pending list for approval. Together these three Chalukyan gems form the cradle of temple architecture as the architecture style of the these heritage sites defined the Hindu temples’ architectural style for centuries to come.
The Chalukyas ruled over large parts of Deccan from the 6th to the 12th century. Pulakesin-I founded the dynasty in Badami and hence they are known as the early Chalukyas or the Badami Chalukyas. Most famous of all the Chalukyas was Vikramaditya II whose military campaigns against the Pallavas in south have been inscribed on a pillar at Pattadakal.
The temples at Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal are remarkable and since they were located in Deccan, they have a mix of styles and architectural techniques borrowed from the Dravida style of temple architecture from south & the Nagara style architecture of the north.
These heritage sites were a stop on my 2500kms road-trip route from Mumbai – Bijapur – Badami – Aihole – Pattadakal – Chitradurg – Jog Falls – Konkan Coast – Goa – Ganpatipule – Mumbai. Ideal base to cover the three gems is Badami as both Aihole & Pattadakal are an hour’s drive away and ideally it will require a full day at each place to do equal justice. (Read more about the full trip here ->2500 kms of Road Trippin’ through North Karnataka & Goa).
Badami caves complex of 4 main caves and other smaller caves is a UNESCO world heritage site, built in 6th century by the Chalukyas. The caves are considered a prime example of rock-cut architecture which transformed the Indian temple architecture in centuries to come. The caves are dedicated to Shiv & Vishnu. Cave 4 has some Buddhist & Jain reliefs as well.
Badami caves are on the hills on the south side of Agastya Lake named after one of the saptarishis, Agastya. On the eastern corner of this lake, is the Bhutanatha group of temples dedicated to local deity – Bhutanath. The temple parts were constructed over 4 centuries – 7th – 11th – and hence have architectural inspiration from different periods.
On the north side of the lake, is a sandstone hill on top of which is located the Badami fort. The path to the top is behind the Badami Archaeological Museum at the base of the cliff. The path is well laid with stairs and once can walk up to the top quite comfortably to catch stunning views of the city. One finds two open mandapas on the way to the top where there is a Lower Shivalaya temple & one Upper Shivalaya temple. Remnants of the fort can also be seen enroute like the cicrcular outlooks, granaries and a ruined fort complex.
There is a Banashankari temple located 5kms away on road to Gadag. Dedicated to the house goddess Banashankari, it was built by the Chalukyas in the 7th century. It is still in use today & old spectacular lamp towers are found adjacent to the temple alongside the huge water tank inside the temple complex.
Best way to start the tour of Aihole is to climb up the Meguti Hill and catch the sunrise over Aihole from there. Though it looks quite imposing from a distance, the paved road for a taxi goes quite far up the hill, leaving you with hardly 100 odd steps to climb to reach the top.
At the crest of the Meguti hill, is a two-storeyed Buddhist temple with tall columns. A few more steps, and you reach the hill top which has a majestic Jain Temple of 7th century & fort ruins on the sides. From here you can see the city of Aihole.
The majestic semi-circular temple Durga Temple complex is the most famous attraction of Aihole. Mistakenly thought to be dedicated to a goddess, the origins of its name is from the word “Durg’ or fortified outlook that covered its roof once upon a time.
Another attraction in the Durga Temple complex is the Lad Khan temple, originally a shiv temple but later got its name from a Muslim general who occupied it and made his home there. There are many other small temples that dot this main complex and can be enjoyed at leisure.
Walking out of the Durga Temple complex and towards Meguti hill, there are ruins of many well preserved temple complexes. There are Ambergudi, Chikigudi & Huchimalligudi temples nearby which are well preserved and can be enjoyed at leisure.
One of the most attractive temples is the Ravanaphadi temple, a huge free-standing rock cut temple from early Chalukyan period. Huge reliefs of Shiva & Vishnu adorn the temple.
One needs a day and a half to cover the many other monuments of Aihole. It is very saddening to see many temples in disrepair as the village settlements are encroaching the temple ruins. Stones from the temples have been used by villagers to build their houses. Lot of work by ASI has happened to relocate the village settlements away from the ruins, but a lot of work till needs to be done.
The best way to enjoy Pattadakal is to catch the sunrise over the monuments. Pattadakal is a well maintained, massive UNESCO world heritage temple complex consisting of 8 temples, all dedicated to Shiva. The two largest & most impressive ones are the Virupaksha temple & it’s matching smaller version, the Mallikarjuna Temple, funded by the sister Queens, Queen Lokmahadevi & Queen Trailokamahadevi respectively to commemorate their husband’s, Vikramadtya II’s, successful military campaigns against the Pallava dynasty.
In the same complex are smaller temples: Kadasiddeshwara temple, Jambulinga temple, Galagnatha temple, Sangameshwara temple and Kashivishwanatha temple amongst 100s of smaller shivlings. There is a Papanatha temple which is a short walk away from this main temple complex.
Where to Stay: The best place to stay in Badami is at Clark’s inn which is a 5 min walking distance from the caves. The best place to stay is at Badami to cover both Aihole & Pattadkal, both of which are barely an hour’s drive away.
Tip: Beat the crowd and start early. In winters, the monuments open at 6 am. Catch the sunset at Badami from Bhutanath temple or climb up the hilltop to the North fort/ Upper Shivalaya temple to get panoramic view of the city against the setting sun. Catch the sunrise at Pattadkal and from Meguti Hill at Aihole.