Temple Run: Episode #2: The Early Chalukyan Temples

Famous for being the capital city of the Early Chalukyas from the 6th to the 8th century AD, a town in the Bhagalkot district of Karnataka, Badami is an apt weekend getaway from Hyderabad, situated 420 km away.

There is an interesting story behind how the place derives its name from a demon named Vatapi who was killed by the sage Agastya of the Mahabharata fame. The legend goes that the mendicants of the place were being harassed by Vatapi and his sibling Ilvala. Possessed with the boon of being able to recall a dead man to life, Ilvala would turn Vatapi into a ram and serve its meat to the guest. Once the guest had eaten, the bad guy Ilvala would recall Vatapi who would come out ripping apart the mendicant’s body. Boom! Ewwww! Sage Agastya, not short of powers himself, found a loophole in the magic trick to be able to out smart the demon brothers. He put an end to their tyranny by digesting the ram before Ilvala could call out his younger brother’s name, killing Vatapi. Hmm… now that was some thoughtful thinking! 😀

An overnight bus deposited us early morning 6:30 AM at the Gadag bus stop where our cab driver picked us up for an hour and a half long journey to the Heritage Resort in Badami. A recharging breakfast of Upma and Medu Wada done, we embarked on a day long exploration of the place.

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The first stop was the Badami Caves with their famous red sandstone cave temples with sculptures and inscriptions dating back to the 5th century AD. It is a group of four cave temples each dedicated to a different God and each one more beautiful than the other. The first temple houses Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati along with the 18 armed Lord Nataraja (The Lord of Dance). The next two temples pay homage to the many incarnations of Lord Vishnu while the fourth temple is dedicated to Mahavir and Jainism.

Each temple took us a few steps higher so that by the time we were done with them all, we found ourselves perched on a balcony that looks down to a lake. The best thing about Badami is that all the major attractions are located around this lake that is named after the Sage Agastya for his heroics, of course!

Treading down the steps lead us down to the Agastya lake and we came across the group of Bhutnatha temples, 5th century temples of incredible architecture and visual splendor.

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Bhutanatha Temple perched at one end of the Agastya Lake

The afternoon was spent sitting by the lake, soaking our feet in water (literally) and soaking in the magnificent panoramic view around (figuratively). 🙂 Sometimes I cease to travel and all I want to do is just stop by and freeze the moment in time. Sitting by the steps, the cool water fluttering underneath our feet, it felt like, for a change, I was still; while everything around me moved – the stationary hillocks, the immobile temples and the rock solid caves – everything moved, in the reflection of the waters. Such is the power of water, it adds magic to a scene!

The quota of indolence done for the day, it was time to explore and trek up the Badami Fort. The entry to the fort is through the Archaeological Museum that houses relics from even Aihole and Pattadakal. Its a steep climb through steps cut out in the rocks.

Another legend says that the place found its name in the colour of the red sandstone that resembles “Badam” or Almonds. I just love these trivia. 🙂 A caution though! The place is inhabited by hundreds of monkeys who if not careful can snatch away your mobile phone or camera or anything else in your hands in no time! The rocks and boulders in the various slots of the hillock reminded us of the Hollywood movie – 120 hours. The view from the top is magnificent, to say the least! It all comes together – the Fort in ruins, the red cave temples, the Bhutanatha temple complex and the serenity of the Agastya lake!

The top the fort and hillock is more like a table top that has the beautiful Malegitti Shivalaya – the oldest temple around built in the old Dravidian style. The photographs clicked here came out like an idyllic wall paper. We spent a couple of hours not wanting to leave but were eventually forced with the sun going down.

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The view of Badami from the top of the Fort
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Malegitti Shivalaya

A long day deserved a relaxed dinner and we did just that at the reclusive restaurant of the remote resort.

The plan for day two was to visit the architectural jewels Aihole and Pattadakal – present day villages having historic Chalukyan architecture temple complexes. One hour from Badami by road, Aihole is believed to have been established in the 5th century AD as the capital city of the Chalukya kings who built multiple temples experimenting with the architecture. In fact Aihole is regarded as the Cradle of Hindu rock architecture. A drive through rural Karnataka where the narrow tarred road is outlined by tall coconut trees and lush green fields on either side is a treat in itself. The place has about 70 different temples of which the Durga Temple is the most stunning. The Mahishasur Mardini (The goddess who killed the demon Asura hidden inside the body of a buffalo) carved out in stone inside this temple is awe-inspiring. Other notable ones are the Lad Khan temple and the Meguti Jain Temple. Incredibly photogenic and well maintained, we didn’t realize how hours passed by exploring them.

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Meguti Jain Temple

20 minutes from this temple complex is a small hillock with over 100 steps that lead to a two-storey Buddhist Chaitya or meditation hall. The top of the hillock opened up to a sanctuary of stoned walls built around a Buddhist temple. The floor of the place was interleaved with flat stones and grass. The view from the top of the meadows below stunned us – lush green and stretching till the horizon. The panorama, the strong breeze and the solitude and silence of the temple complex were strangely invigorating!

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Buddhist Meditation Hall

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Highly charged with Nature’s energy and Mankind’s capability, we made our way to Pattadakal, an UNESCO world heritage site, located 10 km from Aihole; a complex of temple ruins that draws more crowd than its brotherly site Aihole. The Chalukyan architecture is in full bloom here too! The group of monuments took our breath away. Be it the majestic Virupaksha Temple in Dravidian architecture, or the Jain Narayana Temple, or The Mallikarjuna and the Kashivishwanath temples, or the Sangameshwara and the Galaganatha Temples – each one left us wide-eyed! The inscriptions and the carvings on the stone are the work of the maestro artisans of the Chalukyan age and they invoke thoughts if we are, at all, capable of visualizing something so magnificent and original in the present age, something that is not aped from the West but is deep-rooted in our artistry. The temples are indeed a heritage and legacy we should be very proud of!

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Group of monuments at Pattadakal

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It was evening when we made our way back to Badami and stopped on the way at a functional temple. Isn’t it strange how many of the temples around India have littered complexes? Is it because we as people are not hygienic enough or because India is blessed with a strong population and where there are people there will be mess or because temples are flocked by folks whose only source of Hope from Life is Faith? Their present day circumstances are so dire that they feel only a divine intervention can bring about miracles and revive their quality of life and so they flock in large numbers to pray and fast and observe vows and chain their Faith by putting conditions on worship, letting fear overpower their devotion when it should be only Love for the Almighty Creator and most importantly the Created, the men around, the animals, Mother Nature and the surroundings. It’s not incorrect when they say that Cleanliness is Godliness. Having seen plenty of 5th century well-preserved and clean temples without idols, walking into a present day temple was hard-hitting. Maybe 2000 years from now, this temple might also be regarded as a place of tourism and will not be dirty then.

This trip was indeed an eye-opener. In the midst of the beauty lay hard core reality. Vidya Balan’s ‘build toilets at home’ campaign found justification as we passed by the villages on our way back to Gadag to catch our overnight bus back to Hyderabad. Women walking with plastic bowls of water into the fields is not to be proud of definitely. A lot of work needs to be done. Salute to the volunteers who leave the comforts of the city life and fight for the basic needs of these villagers who ironically themselves are not aware of what they are missing.

All said and done, a big thumps up to Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal! A must visit for sure, to experience the master craftsmanship of Mankind!

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