Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Journey into the Chalukyan epoch - Badami

Day 2 of Christmas 2008 vacation, we left Bijapur and headed to Badami. Badami can be reached via two routes – Bijapur – Kerur – Badami, Bijapur – Bagalkot – Badami. Direct state buses to Badami are virtually non-existent. We boarded the NWKRTC Hubli fast bus service to reach Kerur from Bijapur Bus stand. Kerur is about 90 km from Bijapur and closer to Badami (Kerur is about 20 km from Badami) than Bagalkote. From Kerur, there are frequent buses to Badami.

We reached Badami, also referred to as Vatapi in history, the seat of the Chalukyan empire. The Chalukyas of Badami were the early Chalukyas who ruled the Deccan (mostly Northern Karnataka) from 6th to 8th centuries. The empire rose to prominence under the rule of Pulakesin I. Not only was the empire known for gallantry on the battlefield, repeated victories over the Pallavas, but also for its unlimited aegis to Hindu temple architecture. The rock cut cave temples of Badami, over 100 temple complexes present today at Aihole, temples in North Indian nagara style and South Indian Dravidian style at Pattadakal ratify the unprecedented efforts in taking temple architecture from a nascent stage to a fully evolved phase. The later empires - Chalukyas of Kalyani, Hoysalas, Vijayanagar empire, and the Mysore kings added more elements of sculptural detail and finesse to this evolved temple architecture.
We were at the entrance of the rock cut cave temples in Badami at 5.15 pm. Again, buses full of school children alighted at the temples and we decided to avoid the crowd, visit rock cut temples the next morning. We proceeded to the Museum, it was a Friday – a museum holiday. Right next to the museum, we found a board directing us to shivalaya (temples) and fort atop the hillock. Flights of stairs laid out between huge rocks took us to the lower Shivalaya (temple). A deserted temple, wearing a worn out look, in brown-red sandstone, in perfect unison against the background of huge, rocky hillocks of the same color, heavily inhabited by very notorious monkeys was the first frame we captured of Badami. A big, green colored tank called Agasthya Theertha between two hillocks glistened in the evening sunlight. It was beautiful and we yearned to get a better view by proceeding to a greater height following the carefully laid out flight of stairs which gave way to two diversions at a certain point. Going along one, we reached some fortification at the top of the hillock. Trailing the other, we reached the upper shivalaya (temple). The view from here was a perfect treat, the Agasthya theertha with its green expanse, bearing few temples on its banks, the hillock opposite to the one we were standing on housed the 4 cave temples, they appeared as small cavities amidst huge rocks and were teeming with people, while we stood alone, soaking up the beauty of Badami at peace. Close to sunset, we climbed down the flight of stairs, saw two mantapa en route (an alternate and very narrow flight of stairs leads to these mantapas) and got down to the museum. We walked on the road flanking the Agasthya Theertha and saw the Kappe Arabhattan inscription.

We were at the rock cut cave temples next day morning at 7.30. Constructed by the Chalukyan kings – Kirthivarman I and Mangalesha in the late 6th century, these wonders lie at the mouth of a ravine encapsulated by hillocks which empties its water into the Agasthya Theertha. These cave temples are etched out from the sandstone rock faces of the hillock.They have an exterior, sharply discontinuous from the plain rock face, pillared halls with walls full of sculptures and a deeply inset sanctum. There are 4 cave temples plus a natural cave formation to see at this site.
The cave 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva, caves 2 and 3 to Lord Vishnu and cave 4 to Mahaveera (Jain influence). The natural cave formation is dedicated to Buddha. The Chalukyas of Badami were Vaishnavites but were well known for their tolerance towards other religious sects and Shaivite influences.

The cave 1 has some striking features - an 18-armed Shiva’s dancing sculpture, sculptures of Harihara and Ardhanareeshawara, Mahishasurmardhini, Karthikeya and Ganesha. The sanctum (garbagriha) has a shiva linga.

Cave 2 is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and has sculptures of Thirukvikrama and Varaha. The pillared verandah and an internal hall with many columns lead to the sanctum which is empty. The ceilings have very intricate and symmetrical designs.

A flight of stairs leads to the cave 3, the largest and the oldest cave of all the 4 (Cave 3 is dated 578 AD). This cave is also dedicated to Lord Vishnu and has astoundingly tall, full relief sculptures of Narasimha, Bhuvaraha, Thiruvikrama. There is also a sculpture of Lord Vishnu seated on a lotus under a serpent hood. The pillars in the verandah of this cave are very precisely cut out and highly symmetrical. There are multiple columns and bracket supports bearing sculptures of an amorous couple. The cave 3 displays impeccable workmanship and keeps you hooked to its beauty for long.
From here, another flight of stairs leads to cave 4 of Jain influence. This cave is adorned by a pillared verandah, full relief sculptures of Parswanath, Bahubali with beautiful locks of hair, Mahaveera and Tirthankaras. The sanctum has a Mahaveera statue in sitting posture.

Between Cave 2 and Cave 3 is a natural cave dedicated to Buddha with the statue of Padampani Buddha. A flight of stairs between these two caves leads one to the top of this hillock. At the top of the hillock, is some fortification and a cannon supposedly placed by Tipu Sultan. A small wicket before the flight of stairs remained closed and we were not able to make it to the top.
We walked around the Agasthya Theertha and visited the Bhoothnath group of temples on its bank. En route, we stopped at the Rashtrakuta temples - a group of 4 simple temples right after the Kappe Arrabhattan inscription. A well-maintained lawn with big rocks having sculptures of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga, Narasimha etched on them exists behind the Bhoothnath group of temples.
Quick Tips:
How to Reach:
From Bijapur, bus to Kerur is preferable than to Bagalkote. Kerur to Badami has very frequent bus service. KSRTC bus service exists from Bangalore to Badami/Bagalkote.

Where to Stay: Hotel New Satkar (opp. Badami bus stand) offers a good stay at nominal rate. The rooms are overpriced for their standard but it is just unavoidable as Badami is frequented by foreign tourists. Hotel Rajsangam International, close to the bus stand has rooms with tariff starting from Rs.800.
For contact details of hotels, please refer to:

Food: Rajsangam International hotel has a restaurant in its premises which provides simple vegetarian food. Hotel Badami Court, a little away from Badami bus stand is a place to check out if one wants a varied cuisine (veg/non-veg, tandoori stuff etc)

Places to see:
Upper and lower Shivalaya with two mantapas, fort on a hillock close to the museum.
Agasthya Theertha with Bhoothnath group of temples.
Kappe Arabhattan inscription
Badami rock cut cave temples (preferably early in the morning to avoid school crowd)
Malegutti Shivalaya
All monuments are open from 6am to 6pm.

Guide: Guides are very costly. They charge Rs 200 for taking you around the 4 cave temples. There are boards with elaborate details. Capture a picture of these boards and refer to the details in them from the screen of your digital camera whenever you require. That will suffice.

Options for sightseeing: Keeping Badami as the base, one can travel to Aihole, Pattadakal, Mahakuta and Banasankari. An auto can be hired to visit all these places starting in the morning for an amount of Rs.550 inclusive of waiting charges at the monuments. Hiring an auto for a round trip (Badami – Aihole – Pattadakal – Badami) is the most convenient option and most hotels make arrangements on request.

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