Who would have believed that a drive of just 100 km will transport you from 14th century to 4th century, a time travel of 1000 years!
This miracle happens with all those who travel from Hampi in Karnataka to Badami in the same state.
The word ‘Badami’ refers to the color of badam or almonds and here in badami this is the color of the sandstone cliffs, out of which the renowned caves temples have been carved out. Such is the aura of the place, that it will mesmerize and amaze you at the same time.
It was a fresh morning after the rainfall. We woke up early and took our tea outside the room, to sit by the pool and enjoy some peaceful moments.
We chit chatted for a while, reminiscing our 2 days in Hampi and the journey ahead to Badami. The day’s plan was to visit historical places in one town (Badami) and 2 villages (Aihole and Patadakkal). Thanks to our limited schedule, we had no choice but to see all three places in just one day.
So without further ado, we quickly got ready to embark on our destination which was a two and half hours drive to Badami. We had a sumptuous breakfast at Royal Orchid in Hospet, our stay for the last night in Hampi. The food as well as our stay was excellent here.
It was drizzling when we reached Badami cave temples. There is a parking space just near the caves and a ticket counter beside it. You will also see friendly guides in white uniforms chit-chatting with each other and with other people.
We approached a guide, did some futile bargaining and finally agreed to take his service at the price he quoted.
Badami cave temples are a set of four temples carved out in a row, from graceful almond color, soft sandstone cliffs . Out of four temples, three are Hindu temples and one is Jain temple.
These temples were sculpted between 6th and 8th century, during the reign of Chalukyas. Thus, they represent the prevalent and evolving style of temple architecture of chalukyan period – rock-cut and a blend of south India’s Dravidian and north’s Nagara style.
The exteriors of all the temples are mostly plain, just a few pillars standing tall amid magnanimous cliffs. The interiors, however, have ornate sculptures on walls, on pillars and ceilings, showcasing the mythological stories about gods and their avatars.
All the four temples follow the same structure plan. You’ll have to climb few steps to reach a platformed entrance, which is a rectangular, pillared verandah (mukha-mandapa). It leads to a square, pillared hall (maha-mandapa), and further to a small dark shrine cell (garbha-griha) at the rear. The caves are at ascending altitude to the one below, which means cave 2 is at a higher altitude than cave 1 and so on. So, to reach the base of each cave, you’ll have to first climb few steps to reach that altitude.
Cave 1 temple:
The cave 1, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is simplest of all the caves in terms of artwork and opulence. Yet, it will enthrall you even before you have entered it. The grandeur of a magnanimous carving of Nataraja Shiva on the right wall of the cave will assure that you are in for some awe-inspiring art work of a majestic era.
At the bottom of almost all large carvings, you will see dwarf-like carvings, playing music and dancing in different postures. They are known as ganas.
Adjoining the Nataraja sculpture, on the side wall there are carvings of goddess Durga, slaying the buffalo-demon Mahishasura, Lord Ganesha (flat-belly one) and Kartikkeya, the god of war and family deity of the Chalukya dynasty.
Such is the beauty of all the carved out sculptures here that more you observe, more details get unfolded. For instance, the carving of dancing Shiva reveals a lot of details. It shows 18 arms in a geometrical pattern, 9 on each side and together they depict 81 postures/mudras in combination.
On the walls of the verandah, there are more carvings. On one wall, a beautiful depiction of Ardhanarishvara form of Lord Shiva is created. Here, Lord Shiva and his wife, Parvati are shown as a single person with half male and half female body. Read more here.
On the opposite wall, Harihara avatar is shown. Harihara form is a fusion of Shiva and Vishnu. A real closer look is required to identify which side is showing which god. Lord Shiva’s side is flanked by Nandi and Parvati, while Lord Vishnu side has Garuda and Laxmi. The difference in hairstyles, ornaments, weapons and other tiny details have been so beautifully carved out that to this day, it is easy to identify the intentions of the artist.
All the figures are adorned with carved ornaments and surrounded by borders with reliefs of animals and birds. The lotus design is a common theme. On the ceiling are images of the Vidyadhara couples.
The roof of the cave has five carved panels with the central panel depicting the serpent Shesha. The head and bust are well-formed and project boldly from the center of the coil. In another compartment a bas-relief of 2.5 feet (0.76 m) in diameter has carvings of a male and female; the male is Yaksha carrying a sword and the female is Apsara with a flying veil.
Cave 2 temple:
This cave is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Here you can see all the avatars of Lord Vishnu, with intricate details, beautifully carved out. At some point in time, you will start feeling as if you are watching mythological soaps in still frame.
The most eye-catching carving is of Trivikrama (Vamana) avatar. To someone who knows the story, the entire plot will get apparent in one look. The Vamana avatar is shown with one foot on Earth and another raised up towards the sky.
The adjacent side walls and ceiling have traces of colored paint, suggesting the cave used to have fresco paintings.The columns show gods and battle scenes; the churning of the cosmic ocean (Samudra Manthan); Gajalakshmi and figures; Brahma; Vishnu asleep on Shesha; illustrations of the birth of Krishna; Krishna’s youth; Krishna with gopis; and cows.
Cave 3 temple:
This cave temple is also dedicated to Lord Vishnu.This is the largest and most intricately carved cave among all four.
Other than giant figures of Vishnu’s avatars in this cave, there are several carvings in the top area above the pillars, of human couples standing in different postures. Among these, there is one carving in which the couple is shown in an erotic posture.
In some parts of the ceiling, there is fresco painting done. The color is visible only in few places, while most of it has got faded. This shows the use of colors in such early era.
Among several murals, one is of Lord Brahma and another is of the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. There is a lotus medallion on the floor underneath the mural of the four-armed Brahma.
Among the Vishnu’s relief, the noticeable ones are standing Vishnu with eight arms, Vishnu seated on the hooded serpent (eastern side of the verandah), Vishnu as Narasimha (half human, half lion), Varaha fully armed in the back wall of the cave; Harihara (a syncretic sculpture of Vishnu and Shiva); and Trivikrama avatars. The back wall also has carvings of Vidhyadharas holding offerings to Varaha; adjoining this is an inscription dated 579 AD with the name Mangalis inscribed on it.
On the outer wall of the verandah, there is a huge sculpture of Vishnu’s Vamana avatar, larger than the one in cave 2. The roof of the verandah has seven panels created by cross beams; each is painted in circular compartments with images of deities including Shiva, Vishnu, Indra, Brahma and Kama, with smaller images of Dikpalas (cardinal guardians) with geometric mosaics filling the gaps at the corners.
The roof of the front aisle has panels with murals in the center of male and female figurines flying in the clouds; the male figure is yaksha holding a sword and a shield.
This cave is dedicated to Jainism. The entire cave has exquisite carvings of Jain tirthankars on the pillars and walls. On the left side of the verandha, there is a giant figurine of Bahubali with his lower legs surrounded by snake, and his daughters Brahmi and Sundari sitting on either side. On the opposite wall, there is a figurine of Parshvanath with his head covered with a multi-headed cobra. Inside the sanctum, there is a huge carving of Lord Mahavira resting on a pedestal.
As we kept ascending the caves, we found the opposite side view of the city from different heights to be equally enchanting. Here are few pictures.
Another beautiful temple in Badami is Banashankari temple. It was super crowded with devotees spread all around and also forming a long queue. The temple was not on our list of visiting places, but we found it en route to Pattadakal. After exploring cave temples and moving ahead on our journey, our hunger made us stop here for a quick lunch. There is a big parking area here and a lake too.
The cave temples closing time is 6 pm.
We found that the guides were not flexible to negotiate and have a ‘fixed price’ tag for their services. In Hampi, guides were more open to the concept of negotiation.
Badami museum is a place rich in artifacts and sculptures and lot of historical information. They also sell booklets and guidebooks about all the nearby places. Plan to visit if you have time.
Badami has several interesting places to visit other than just cave temples. Few of them are Bhootnath temple, Mahakuta temple, Banashankari temple. I would suggest spending one full day in Badami and visit Aihole and Pattadakal the next day.
About Aihole: We went there after visiting Cave temples in Badami. After an awe-inspiring experience of the fine carvings of Badami cave temples, I did not find the carvings of Aihole worth visiting. The road to the temples in Aihole pass through tiny paths in-between the houses of the villagers (where you can easily see people doing almost all their household chores outside their houses and on the road). In short, the experience was not good as Aihole is rightly called the laboratory of Chalukyan temple architecture. It was clearly visible in rough and unfinished work that craftsmen practiced their art here before final work in Badami and Pattadakal. If you are short of time, you could easily give Aihole a miss.