Pataddakal : Majestic era of Temple Architecture

Pattadakal is a small village in Badami taluk, Bagalkot district, Karnataka. If you are visiting Badami or have already been awed by its legendary cave temples, Pattadakal is going to awe you further.

Pattadakal comes from the word ‘Pattadakisuvolal’ which means crowning, and hence the name of this place which was once the royal coronation center for the chalukyan princes. UNESCO in 1987 included Pattadakal in its list of World Heritage sites.

An ounce of history:

The Chalukyas ruled the southern and central part of India for around 600 years. This period is divided among three Chalukyan dynasties: Badami Chalukyas or Early Chalukyas, Kalyani Chalukyas or Western Chalukyas, and Vengi Chalukyas or Eastern Chalukyas.

The temple architecture of Badami-Aihole-Pattadakal evolved during the reign of Badami Chalukya and happened so in three phases. 

The first phase began in the last quarter of the 6th century and resulted in many cave temples, prominent among which are three elementary cave temples at Aihole (one Vedic, one Jain and one Buddhist which is incomplete), followed by four developed cave temples at Badami (of which cave 3, Vishnu temple, is dated accurately to 578 CE). 

The second phase of temple building was at Aihole (where some seventy structures exist and has been called “one of the cradles of Indian temple architecture”) and Badami. Though the exact dating of these temples has been debated, there is a consensus that the beginnings of these constructions are from c. 600.

The third and the mature phase of temple architecture happened in Pattadakal in the 8th century.

There are ten temples in Pattadakal, nine of which are in one temple complex and are all dedicated to Lord Shiva, while the tenth temple is at a small distance outside the complex and is dedicated to Lord Parshwanath (Jain temple).

Architecture-wise, we see an evolution of styles as well as the fusion. Predominantly, the two styles are northern Nagara and southern Dravida style. Four temples are in Nagara style and six in dravida style. They all were built-in different times. More details on each of them are below.


From the north side, two very similar temples, one beside the other, gets visible first. These are Kadasiddheshvara and Jambulinga temples. They were built in late 7th century and are very similar to each other (rekha-nagara architecture).

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Jambulinga Temple

Next is the Galaganatha temple built-in early eighth century. It perfectly exemplifies the rekha-nagara architecture with a prominent and still-intact sikhara.

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Galaganatha Temple

After appreciating the beauty of intricate carvings in Galaganatha temple, you will come across a very plain, square, as-simple-as-it-can-get temple, which is Chandrashekhara Temple. This is the only flat-roofed temple in this temple complex and is least visited.

Immediately next to Chandrashekhara temple is this grand, dravida-vimana style temple, known as Sangamesvara temple. This will be the first pillared temple you will see if you have followed the sequence.

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Sangamesvara Temple

This is the oldest temple in Pattadakal, constructed by Chalukya King Vijayaditya  Satyashraya ( 696-733). Few noticeable things about this temple are unfinished sculptures of the gods on the exterior wall and emphasis on the horizontal lines, bold and distinct in the elevational profiles of the roof.

Left: Flat roofed Chandrashekhara temple(people sitting) in front of Sangamesvara temple;  Right: Victory pillar on opposite side of Sangamesvara temple

The pillars in the sabha mandapa (main hall) show one-line inscriptions in kannada. These inscriptions are actually names of the donors who contributed funds to build each of those pillars. This provides insight into collective effort of people and their king to build these temples.

In late decades of eight century, Kasivisvesvara temple  was constructed in rekha-nagara model. This is the probably the last in this style of temple in the complex. The top have an exquisitely laced carvings with exterior wall showcasing several reliefs. The pillars inside have sculptural panels with depiction of gods and goddess or scenes from puranic episodes relating to Shiva and Krishna leelas.

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Kasivisvesvara Temple

Next are the two most famous temples: Virupaksha and Mallikarjuna temples. They are next to each other and are very similar in structure and architecture.

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Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha temple is the most exquisite one in entire complex. The temple has stunning carvings in every nook and cranny and represents a fully developed and perfected stage of the Dravidian architecture. It feels as if the craftsmen were doing the work of their lives. The temple is still used for worshipping and witness a large number of devotees every day.

As you will move towards the temple, you will first see the Nandi mandapa, a platformed, open-pillared structure housing a huge monolithic statue of Nandi.

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Carvings on the pillars of Nandi mandapa

According to an inscription, the Virupaksha temple was built by Lokamahadevi, wife of King Vikramaditya, to commemorate his three victories over the Pallavas and occupation of Kanchi. The temple’s original name was Lokeshvara or Lokapaleshvara. It is believed to be built-in first half of the 8th century. This temple has a sanctum, an inner pillared passage, and three entrances each from the north, east and the south porches. The pillars were the canvas for craftsmen, where they have displayed their best art, in the form of mythological stories carved beautifully and robust enough to be intact to this day. The sanctum has a circuit path and installed on the square

This temple has a sanctum, an inner pillared passage, and three entrances each from the north, east and the south porches. The pillars were the canvas for craftsmen, where they have displayed their best art, in the form of mythological stories carved beautifully and robust enough to be intact to this day.

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Virupaksha temple -a black Shivalinga inside the sanctum

The sanctum has a circuit path and installed on the square pedestal is a black Shivalinga. The famous Kailasa temple at Ellora and the Kailasantha temple at Kanchipuram are both built on the model of this Virupaksha temple. Hence, the architect of the temple was given the title as Tribhuvanacharya.

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Couples at the entrance of Virupaksha Temple (as suggested by the guide -> the left side couple are the  rich one, wearing silk and ornaments, while the one on the right are poor, wearing cotton)

The two pillars on the entrance depict life-size carving of couples on them. On close observation, it gets apparent that on left pillar the couple is shown wearing ornamental and rich clothes while on the right, they are shown very simple. This is to imply that poor and rich are equal in the temple.

Inside the temple, all the walls, pillars, and ceilings are intricately carved, narrating the episodes from the Ramayana (e.g. abduction of Sita) Mahabharata (e.g. Bhishma lying in a bed of arrows), Bhagavata (e.g. Krishna lifting the Govardhan mountain) and Kiratarjuniya (e.g. Arjuna receiving the Pasupatastra from Siva).

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Outer wall of Virupaksha Temple (notice the vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu)
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Carvings on the Pillars  (Top left: Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh Parvati in Mallikarjuna tmeple; Top right:  Ravana abducting Sita episode (Virupaksha temple); Bottom left: Bhishma sarasayya in Mallikarjuna temple; Bottom right: Samudra manthan Virupaksha temple


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Surya with Usha and Pratyushaa in the chariot (on the ceiling of Virupaksha temple)

Mallikarjuna temple is just a few steps on the rear side of the Virupaksha temple. It is a smaller version of the Virupaksha temple and was built by Vikramadiyta’s second queen Trilokyamahadevi in 745.

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Mallikarjuna temple on left of Kasivisvesvara temple

The purpose for construction was same as for the Virupaksha temple, i.e. to celebrate the victory (by Vikramaditya II) over the Pallavas. The Mallikarjuna temple was built immediately after it.

The Mallikarjuna temple also has carvings of stories of Ramayana, Mahabharatha and those representing social conditions of those days. On the ceiling are beautiful figures of Gajalakshmi and Shiva-Parvathi with Nandi. On the external walls are sculptures like Shiva, Nandi, Lakulisha, Nataraja, etc.

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carvings on the pillars (Top left: scenes from ‘Yashodhara Charite’ in Mallikarjuna temple)
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More carvings: top right: panchtantra story of the mongoose and the snake

About hundred meters south of Virupaksha temple is located another wonder of chalukyan architecture, the Papanatha Temple. I missed visiting this temple, due to ignorance and clever avoidance by Indian guides. I found similar case with other people too. You can find a beautiful narrative of Papanatha temple on this blog. Also, could not visit Jain temple due to scarcity of time. Hope to go there some other time.

Practical Info:

The entire complex is large enough to take at least 2 hours of your time. So plan accordingly. It would be better to visit in the morning than in the evening, since the inside of temple was all dark when we went in the evening. Moreover, the guides are in a rush to finish their work for the day and may not spend much time with you. Don’t forget to ask for a visit to Papanatha temple and also do visit Jain temple, which is outside the temple complex.

If you are visiting Badami, do visit Badami museum as you will find historical information about Pattadakal too. I purchased a real good guidebook about Pattadakal from the museum.

The best time to visit Pattadakal is in winters i.e. between October and February. I visited in monsoons (July) and found it to be the best time too, since the region receives little rain and pleasant weather full day.

The temple complex has an opening and closing time (don’t know the opening time but closing is 5:30 pm). Entry ticket is Rs. 10. per person, still photography free, video photography Rs. 25.

We visited Badami-Aihole-Pattadakal all in a single day (two days are recommended if you really want to immerse yourself in the beautiful architecture) and then stayed in Badami for the night at the Heritage Resort. The resort was simple, green and beautiful, and our stay was pleasant. The food was available in the restaurant inside and it was average. They provide breakfast too – limited option but prepared well.

Stay in Badami – Heritage resort

Do not miss the stunning sunflowers plantation on your way from Pattadakal to Badami. They are a treat to eyes.

Sunflowers plantation on the way

Few other useful information sources are:


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