Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Journey into the Chalukyan epoch - Aihole

Aihole, about 34 km from Badami, the initial capital of Chalukyas of Badami, formed the first experimentation ground for the empire’s temple building activities. Looking at the multitude of temples strewn across this small village, one can witness the process of evolution in Hindu temple architecture unfold from the simple, shed – like temples with sloping roofs to intricate structures with distinct mukha mandapa, artha mandapa, garba griha and tall, grand shikaras, spanning from 6th to 12 th century AD.

We hired an auto from Badami and reached the Aihole temple complex that houses Durga temple, Lad Khan temple and many other temples. The first temple we spotted in the complex was Durga temple or the fortress temple, a renowned symbol of Karnataka State Tourism.

Standing on an elevated platform, the Durga Temple attracts the tourists with its unconventional apsidal plan, pillared hall with intricate sculptures of Chamundeshwari and Mahishasuramardhini and curvilinear shikara over the sanctum (top is broken). The temple appears like a shiva linga due to its curved, nearly oval corridor running around the mukhamantapa.

Right next to the Durga temple, are three small temples and a tank. Walking ahead, one hits the Suryanarayana Gudi. The temple houses a statue of Lord Suryanarayana with his consorts – Usha and Sandhya and bears a broken, nagara style tower over the sanctum.

The Lad Khan temple stands next, quite different from the other temples nearby, presenting a two-storied facade. The mukhamantapa is adorned with 16 intricately carved pillars and the arthamandapa with lattice windows. The temple has a sloping roof and appears like a village house with a thatched roof. Initially, claimed to be a royal assembly hall or a marriage hall, Lad Khan temple got its name from the name of the person who made this temple his abode. The temple has a big sabhamantapa apart from the mukhamantapa, believed to have been used by the Chalukyan king, Pulakesin I for performing Ashvamedha Yagna (Horse sacrifice).

Gaudara Gudi, a primitive structure attracts one with its simplicity. It is the oldest temple at Aihole dated 5th century. A tank separates Gaudara Gudi and Chakra Gudi, the next temple in the complex. Chakra Gudi has a beautiful, curvilinear shikara, still intact with a rounded top. The Badiger Gudi and Ambiger Gudi are other temples that lie close by.

Walking a little away from this complex, one reaches the Huchimalli temple of the 8th century. This temple has a highly decorated curvilinear, nagara style shikara on top of the sanctum. Moving from Gaudara Gudi, Lad Khan temple to Huchimalli, one can find stark signs of evolution in the temple building styles and the increasing attention paid to elements of decoration and grandiose.

Walking down the road away from Huchimalli Gudi, one reaches the Ravanphadi cave temple. A very promising sight it offers in that, the cave’s interior has a deeply inset empty hall on one side and on other side, tall sculpture of Lord Shiva, 10 armed, in dancing pose with a serpent in hand; with Ganesha, Karthik and Goddess Parvathy forming the audience. A rock cut shivalinga is present in the sanctum between these two sections. Ravanphadi is an absolute “must see” site and rewinds memories of the Badami rock cut cave temples.

The Mallikarjuna temple complex, Huchipayanamatha with simple, house-like construction and Tryambakeshwar temple complex are other sites closeby. Atop a hillock, lie the Megutti Jain temple and the two-storied Buddhist temple that can be reached by a well laid out flight of stairs. We were reluctant to climb up as we were reeling under hunger, heat exhaustion due to the overhead, midday sun and running short of time.

To sum up, Aihole is a perfect example of a remote village transformed into a tourist spot for being the cradle of Indian temple architecture and for the unfathomable historical value it holds.
Quick Tips:

How to reach: Hire an auto from Badami. Complete a round trip from Badami to Aihole and Pattadakal for Rs.500. Hotels in Badami arrange for this upon request.

Some important information: Aihole is a very small village. There are no hotels/restaurants here. Shops selling tender coconut water, some fruits and snacks exist close to the temple complex that houses Durga temple.

Places to see:
Temple complex consisting of Durga temple, Lad Khan temple and Gaudara Gudi. Durga Gudi and Lad Khan temple require a good chunk of time.
Huchimalli temple
Ravanphadi cave temple (very important)
Huchipayyana Matha
Jain Megutti temple and two storied Buddhist temple
Galaganatha group of temples at the bank of river Malaprabha

These are the most notable temples in Aihole. Can complete a tour of all these if one starts early in the morning from Badami so that the afternoon sun & heat exhaustion do not cripple your plans. We had to skip the last two as we visited the cave temples and Bhoothnath group the same morning and this delayed our trip to Aihole. There are innumerable temple complexes apart from those mentioned above. Stating that, it is just not possible to have a look at them all.

Guide: Guides are pretty expensive. Details from ASI boards and self exploration will suffice.

Best time to visit: Winter months - Nov – Feb. Even during winter, the afternoon hours are extremely hot. Wear a cap to avoid fainting and carry lots of water. There are no lawns around, it is rocks all over the dry village and it just cannot get any better with the scorching heat of the sun eating your head.


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