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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Badami Cave Temples: The 6th Century Chalukyan Wonder

Admiring the glorious work inside the cave temples of Badami, Karnataka

In the 6th century, the skilled artisans of the Chalukya kingdom changed a sandstone mountain into one of the best examples of Indian rock-cut architecture. While this place might not carry the tag of a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it certainly laid the foundation for many heritage sites across the country. I am talking about the cave temples of Badami that span both Hinduism and Jainism or to be more specific Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Jainism and may be even Buddhism.

Dancing Natarajar (Shiva) - 81 dance moves - Badami Cave Temple, Karnataka

These cave temples of the secular Chalukyan kingdom represent some of the earliest known examples of Hindu temples. Not only are these temples beautiful, the entire canyon like setting has a WOW effect. On one side are the cave temples and on the opposite side is Badami fort that was built at a later period in time. In between these 2 canyons is a pond and a 5th century Shiva (Bhutanatha) temple and the entire surrounding is just a beautiful sandstone canyon.

Rocky landscape of Badami

The entire setting is so gorgeous that many Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Hindi movies have been shot here. Personally, I love these cave temples, the fort, the entire Badami town and the temple cities of Pattadakkal and Aihole nearby. I fell in love with them when I first visited them in 2005. Those pleasant memories came flooding back when my luxurious Golden Chariot train stopped here on its journey across South India.

The stunning Badami cave temples of Karnataka

Badami is your dusty Indian town with lush green countryside. It has an interesting mix of Hinduism and Islam, which means you come across beautiful mosques and Islamic monuments while you explore the ancient temples located in and around the town. Returning to the Badami cave temples…The first thing that you notice about it is its sheer size. From the outside, you don’t expect to find cave temples, rather you expect some kind of a canyon walk. But, once you climb about 15 or 20 so steps, all you can do is gaze in wonder at the painstaking beautiful sculpting.

The beautiful interiors of the Badami cave temple, Karnataka

The first cave temple that you come across is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it’s star attraction is the dancing pose of Shiva or Natarajar. This tandav dance sculpture depicts 81 dance positions of Shiva. Next to is Mahisasura Mardini, where goddess Durga is slaying the buffalo demon Mahisasura. Then, there is the beautiful Ardhanarisara (half Shiva and half Parvati) and the beautiful pillar and ceiling work. Deep inside the cave is the sanctum sanctorum that houses the Shiva Linga.

Carvings on the ceiling of Badami cave temple, Karnataka

As you climb from Cave 1, you come across Cave 2, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. In this cave, one can see Trivikrama, the Varaha avatar where he is saving Bhudevi (Earth), many avatars of Lord Krishna (from his birth, from his youth, Krishna with gopikas, Krishna with cows), Gajalaskmi, Brahma and many others. This cave also houses many fresco paintings. Each of these sculptures are believed to be geometrically symmetric, which depict the skill level of the artisans of that era.

Women painted on the walls of Badami cave temple, Karnataka

Next is Cave 3, which is possibly the most beautiful and intricately carved one. It has gorgeous sculptures of Ananatasayana Vishnu, Adisesha Vishnu, Narasimha Avatar, Hari Hara statue and Trivikrama. In addition, it highlights some of the best ceiling work of all cave temples. This ceiling work is special because the artisan would have had to lie down straight under the ceiling for days, if not months or years to painstaking chisel out the rock to create these beautiful visual stories. The pillars are also most ornate in this cave temple. One can spend hours discovering the art and history living on the wall of this cave temple.

Hari Hara statue at Badami cave temple, Karnataka

Cave 4 is dedicated to the Jain tirthankaras. Mahavir, Indrabhuti Gautama, Baahubali and Parshvanatha are the giant sculptures here. The tiny ones are idols of Yakshas, Yakshis, Padmavathi and other tirthankaras that are engraved on the inner pillars and walls. There is also a cave 5 that is dedicated to Buddhism, but this is off bounce for visitors these days.

Narasimha Avatar - Badami cave temple, Karnataka

This entire Chalukyan temple corridor is a special experience and is a must visit for all temple lovers. Badami cave temples have the aura of canyons and ravines added to its temple charms. Pattadakkal, located by the banks of the Malaprabha river is known for being the cradle of temple architecture and Aihole is known for designing tanks. Overall, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakkal put together give you a great insight into the Chalukyan way of life.

Vishnu statue, Badami cave temple, Karnataka

And when you are in this part of Karnataka, do not miss to dig into some of the delicious local creations – Jowar Roti, home made yoghurt, home made buttermilk, chutney podi, Kaalu saago and Soppu saaru. The food is so unbelievably good that I would just visit this region for its food. It is even special if you love spicy food.



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