Ticket to Badami

Looks like the year for 2019 has a lot in store for me. After my trip to Hampi, the urge to visit Badami had grown stronger. To see this place which inspired the architectural marvels all throughout the south. However, I had not imagined that my wish would be granted so soon. A weekend was all I needed and after a couple of last-moment search for stay and buses, the Badami trip was on. When I mention Badami, it is the trio i.e. Badami, Aihole and Pattadakallu are a must-visit together. They are often referred to as the Cradle of Indian Architecture.

Out of the three, Badami is a larger town and has good accommodations. Pattadakal and Aihole can be reached from here via bus, autorickshaw or any mode of self-transport since they are just 12km apart. My stay at Krishna Villa was confirmed for early check-in. It was at a walkable distance from the bus stand and the Badami caves making it an ideal spot. I set out towards Badami trying to contain my excitement in a bumpy ride on a Friday evening.

Day 1

Badami

When I opened my eyes to the ‘Last stop! Last stop!’ call of the bus driver, it was just 6:45 in the morning. That was it, the town of Badami. But I was dropped off more than an hour earlier than the informed time. To save an embarrassment for a super-early check-in request to the hotel, I decided to have my breakfast first. A Udupi Hotel was adjacent to the KSRTC bus stand, a name which one might find all throughout India known for serving South Indian dishes. A small cup of Uppittu (Upma) was an energy booster, enough for me to drag my steps towards the hotel. After requesting the manager for at least a quick fresh-up facility, I was ready to explore Badami. The manager was kind enough to offer complimentary breakfast which I politely accepted (Pet-Puja is necessary 😛 ). Sun was already much above the horizon and there was a lot to cover in the first half of the day.

First in the list was the Badami Caves. These are a set of 4 caves carved next to each other on a sandstone hill. Like any other historic places, you can find almost any person claiming to be a guide and to a surprise, they tell you most of the facts right. One person named Iranna aka Benne Shetru claimed that he was the oldest around and would accept any amount that I give him in return for the information he gives. His son Arjun was accompanying us throughout, climbing all the tall steps.

All these 4 caves have temples carved are in a single rock. Each of these cave includes a prayer hall called Sabha Mantapa, pillars, sanctum sanctorum, the main deity idol and the carvings of the wall. I was marveled to see how all of these are carved in a single rock without any joints. Out of the 4, the first cave is dedicated to god Shiva, the 2nd and third are to god Vishnu and the last one to the Jain teacher Mahaveera and the 24 Teethankars(teachers). These caves were built during the Chalukya dynasty between the 6th to 9th centuries.
Iranna was explaining the reason behind the name Badami where he quoted the demon twins Vatapi-Ilvala who were killed by sage Agastya. So the Vatapi name changed to Badami. Another belief is that the almond colored sandstone hill brought the name to the town since almonds are called badami in Kannada.

The first cave housed a Shiva Lingam in its sanctum sanctorum and the walls were covered with epics related to god Shiva. An 18 hand shiva carved on the wall depicts 81 different postures of Bharatanatyam showcasing the skills of sculptors. Iranna was brilliantly explaining the importance of idols Ardhanarishwara (half Shiva and half Parvati idol) as equality between man and woman, Harihara (half Shiva and half Vishnu) as equality between opinions/beliefs. Unlike many other temples I have seen in the south, even roofs of these caves had beautiful carvings of gods and angels.

Iranna described the 2nd and 3rd caves as 35mm and Cinemascope setup. This is because both of these caves had similar carvings with the difference that the second cave had the sculptures in them smaller in size compared to that of the third. The work in these two caves had the idols in better form and detail. One could easily spot the colorful patters on rocks giving the caves a unique look. The walls of the caves had carvings of god Vishnu in Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, and Harihara forms. The view of the Agastya lake from these caves is a treat to the eye.

The last cave is completely dedicated to Jain Teachers(Tirthankars) and has a carving of Mahaveera in meditation posture in the sanctum sanctorum. The side walls have carvings of Adinatha, Parshvanatha, and Bahubali. Iranna points out that this was proof of the Chalukya dynasty’s love and respect towards the religions.

Separating the Badami Fort and the caves is the majestic Agastya lake. The lake was believed to have medicinal properties before the humans contaminated its water by using pollutant chemicals. The lake gets dried completely in summer and relies on the rainwater flowing down from the hills next to it. The Bhutanatha Group of temples built by the side of this lake was the main reason I was drawn towards Badami. The picturesque view of this temple made from red sandstone is definitely a gem among all. Many of these temples either are empty or have some intriguing carvings on their walls. Museum near the temple has a collection of various idols, tools, and inscriptions found during the excavation. It was during the Chalukya dynasty where the Kannada and Telugu languages had clear distinguishable scripts.

The gigantic fort of Badami is built on a massive hill. There are two Shiva temples called Upper Shivalaya and Lower Shivalaya, a watchtower, treasure rooms and few ruins of storage-rooms/homes at various parts of the hill. The lower Shivayala was believed to have an Idol of god Ganesha who inspired the song Vatapi Ganapathim Bhaje (written by a South-Indian poet Muthuswami Dikshitar[1775–1835]). More sets of steps lead to the upper Shivalaya and the watchtower from where one can catch a bird’s eye view of Badami town. Unlike many other places I had visited where people were busy capturing the views in their cameras, in Badami, there were groups of artists trying to capture them in their canvas. I was spellbound by their patience of standing in the scorching heat for hours together to get that one art right.

The heat was now unbearable and luckily I had covered all the places. It was time for lunch and I went in search of roti meals for which the town is famous for. Corn-roti and Yengai Pallya (brinjal curry) are a must-try combo when in Badami. Unfortunately, the place where I had my lunch didn’t have the brinjal curry, but the meal felt heavenly.

After an hour of rest in my room to escape from the heat I set out to the next set of places. One of the oldest temples in the vicinity Mahakuta group of temples was a suggestion from the hotel owner. An autorickshaw guy Manju agreed to drop me at the temple for an agreeable cost which was 5km far. On our journey, he enquired about my plan for the day and offered to even show Pattadakallu for an additional cost. It was a good option since the buses in the routes were not that frequent and Pattadakallu will be closed for visit post 6 PM. After a quick visit to Mahakuta temple, which indeed looked like the first few built by the Chalukya’s based on its architecture, I was en route Pattadakallu.

Pattadakallu

The journey was through the lush green fields of corn and sugarcane. The golden corn plants spread across acres and acres of land were new to me who is frequent to such sights of paddy fields. Some days I have this thought of taking farmland and building a house at its center so I could wake up to this view every day. Few humps on the road had brought me back to reality while Manju was getting me closer to my next pitstop.

One of the perks of opting autorickshaw was an opportunity to see this tiny dolmen just 1.5 KM from Badami. They are prehistoric constructions made of flat stones used either as shelters or tombs. The visit happened to be even more exciting since I was carrying a copy of The Early Indians as my journey companion and seeing something even vaguely related to it had already kindled an excitement. It was hard to comprehend how they would have managed to find/make such multiple flat rocks and place them to form a room thousands and thousands of years ago. The site was unfortunately locked and I had to be satisfied with a view of this dolmen from far.

It was a pleasant evening when I was dropped off at Pattadakallu. This was the last town where Chalukyas ruled before getting defeated by the Rashtrakutas. The reason behind the name of this town is interesting. The place is in the banks of the Malaprabha river and such sites are considered auspicious for constructing temples. Unlike most of the rivers in India which flow from north to south, Malaprabaha flows in the opposite direction which is believed to be making it the place of religious significance. This was the reason why Chalukya and other 98 kings in the vicinity would come to Pattadakallu for the crowning ceremony. In Kannada crowning is also referred to as Patta hence the name Pattadakallu (place of crowning).

While the place has many small and big temples, only one of them still has the idol being worshipped today. The reason for this was that most of the temples here were experiments. Yes! you read it right. Chalukya’s spent most of their wealth and time nurturing the Indian architecture. They were trying to amalgamate the Davidian construction style(the step towered structures of the south) and the Rekha-Nagar construction style(curvilinear towering structures of the north). One can spot many small and medium-sized constructions of temples in either of the styles which looks like many prototypes prepared by an architect planning for something big. Yes, and they were successful too. The Virupaksha temple here was this blend of both styles called the Vesara style which has a curvilinear-stepped tower. It is also believed to be perfect in terms of Vastu since it contained the 8 necessary parts in the temple i.e. Garbhagruha(sanctum), Mantapa(entrance), Shikahara/Vimana(tower), Amalaka(disc on the tower), Kalasha(tip of the tower), Antarala(vestibule), Jagati(praying stage) and Vahan (mount or the vehicle). All other prototypes of temples that are around it, had one or more of these parts missing and was considered not suitable for worship.

Watching these sandstone temples turn into the red wonders from the last rays of the sun was a magical moment. A splash of rain added a unique charm to the weather while I was on my way back to Badami and call it a day.

Day 2

During my previous day’s travel with Manju, he had told me that the buses aren’t that frequent to Aihole and I should plan my timings to avoid waiting or missing a bus. Though I had an entire day to visit Aihole and come back to Badami, figuring out the bus timings were crucial. After checkout from the hotel at 9, I was at the KSRTC bus stand waiting for the bus scheduled to arrive at 10:30. I was behind my planned itinerary by 1.5 hours.

AIHOLE

The disappointment went away as soon as the bus started to take twists and turns through the widespread fields. They were looking even more beautiful today. There were heaps of corn ready to be peeled on either side of the road. Even onions and garlic were kept to dry after harvest. The entire cycle of germination to harvest was happening right in front of my eyes. A wonderful sight indeed.

It took almost an hour to reach Aihole and the weather was already unbearable. I still wonder how I end up in such hot and humid places every time 😛 There was something unique about this town. Any direction you look at, there was at least one small temple. Be it the open ground, lake-side or the tallest of the hills, yes there was a temple. Not one or two, but there are 125 temples in this town of Aihole 😲 Being the first capital of the Chalukya’s, this town was their workshop for architects and sculptors. One can spot temples in various stages and styles of their construction, all of which were built in the 6th and 7th centuries.

One of the most fascinating groups of temples were in the heart of the town. I chose to first visit the archeological museum to escape the unbearable heat and the huge groups crowding the place. Many findings from the times of Chalukya’s and even those from the prehistoric era are on display here. A 3D model of Chalukya kingdom showing noteworthy monuments of Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakallu is a must-see.

A guide offered to explain the significance of the places around and made me sit on a platform nearby to reveal the story of these. He went on explaining how Chalukya’s started their empire here and, how each of these places got their name, the experiments they did with temple architectures, the kind of carvings and sculptures that we commonly see these temples and so on. I sometimes wonder if they ever feel tired or bored of narrating the same story. However, the unique thing about the guides here was that every part of the monument they described, they were trying to give examples from our real-world about lifestyle, behaviors, skills, etc.

The first of the temples he showed me was Durg temple. Do not confuse this with the goddess Durga. Durg in Kannada means fort, so it is the temple of the fort (you might notice that in every fort there is a place of worship). This has a unique Gajaprushta (curved wall resembling the back of an elephant) shape, one of the oldest to be found. Each of the exterior pillars has carvings of the incarnations of God Vishnu. Between these pillars, the walls have windows of unique patterns. The pillars inside the temple have carvings of many mythological stories on them.

Next was the Lad-khan temple. Rather a confusing name where I assumed either Lad-khan built the temple or a temple was built for Lad-khan (both sound equally strange). Turns out, since these temples were just experiments and never used as the place of worship, families used to live in these. Since the family of Lad-khan lived in this, it was called by his name. There are temples by name Gaudra Gudi (temple of the village head), Badigera Gudi (carpenter’s temple), etc. The Ladkhan temple has its significance since the royal emblem of the Chalukya’s is carved in one of its pillars. The only one I have seen in my entire two-day journey. Another temple by the name Suryanarayana temple is dedicated to the sun god and has an idol carved in green marble stone.

There were a few more places to see, but my stomach was growling. Luckily the KSTDC hotel nearby to the Durg Temple, managed by the Karnataka tourism board serves good food. A quick meal and some shade from the sun was all I need to recharge myself. Next place in the list, the Ravana Phadi cave is the only such cave-temple found at Aihole. Though smaller than the ones at Badami, I found these to be carved with more details. The entire inner wall was covered with carvings of Shiva in his various forms.

The bus back to Badami was due for leaving at 4 PM and I had almost an hour’s time left. I took a brisk walk to all other small groups of temples in the vicinity covering temples by the lake and that on the hill. Some had names and some did not. Yet they were all unique in their design.

When I reached back to Badami at 5 PM, there was no place to stay back and wait till I board my Bengaluru bus scheduled for 7:30. The solution? visit another place. The hotel owner had told me about Banashankari Temple 5km away from Badami. The original temple was built by Chalukya’s in the 7th century and the deity is being worshipped ever since. Buses were frequent towards the temples and I visited the same with ease.

That checked off all the places I expected to visit in my trip to Badami and a long pending dream was finally complete. The last moment booking was not so helpful in finding a comfortable seat for my return to Bengaluru, but memories of Badami and the tiresome walk of two days made me fall asleep instantly.

PS:
1. Protect the monuments. This involves keeping them clean and educating others in restraining from any actions that would harm them.
2. Eat local. Every place has its own delicacy (if you are a vegetarian like me, the probability of tasting them reduces by a little 😛 ).
3. Though information is available at the click of a button these days, try to appreciate the efforts of a local guide in explaining them to you. After all, we love to hear stories right?
4. If getting tanned was in your new year resolution, Badami is a must add to your list.