Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
I had heard a great deal about the famous rock-cut cave temples of Badami in Bagalkot district of North Karnataka and the nearby stone temples of Pattadkal and Aihole, but my opportunity to see them for myself came only very recently, in November last year, when I went on a trip to visit these places along with Bijapur and its Gol Gumbuz. I was part of a family of six, the same as the one who had spent three days in Wayanad district of Kerala exactly a year before and on a similar mission [see my earlier blog post: 37) Nature's Bounty in God's own Country Wayanad – Personal Photo Album Part 12 (Nov 11)]. Though Badami was the last in our itinerary, I am writing about it first, reserving the others to later blog posts.
It was rather fortuitous that we visited Badami on the afternoon, for our morning visits to Pattadkal and Aihole had been greeted with the kind of foggy and dull weather that would have been positively unwelcome at this beautiful hilly locale. We were greeted by clear blue skies and a bright sun that had lifted the haze sufficiently to provide good visibility as evident from most of the photographs that follow.
The Chalukyan Citadel
With its rugged hilly terrain surrounding a large lake providing natural defenses, Badami, formerly known as Vatapi after a legendary character from the Ramayana epic, was the obvious choice as the capital of the early Chalukyan Empire that ruled large parts of south central India between the 6th and 8th centuries AD. The four fabulous cave temples carved into the sandstone rock near the base of a hill were sculpted during this period and constitute an enduring symbol of this empire. The Badami fort that once provided defenses to the inmates is located atop another hill opposite the one in which the cave temples exist. Here is a Google Map of the whole region showing some of its prominent sights, with the caves on the lower left, the fort on the upper left and the large Agasthya Lake in between on the right:
The Cave Temples
The architecture of the four Badami cave temples is among the earliest known examples of entire edifices sculpted out of a solid body of rock from inside an abutting hill by craftsmen with little more than chisels and hammers. It is in sharp contrast to other structures assembled from pre-cut blocks of rock as in neighboring temples and buildings at Badami or elsewhere or even those chiseled out of monolithic solid rock like the ones in Mahabalipuram, Tamilnadu. It is a remarkable testimony to the astonishing skills of the planners and craftsmen, who had to visualize everything from scratch, carefully and laboriously carving out the material from the sandstone and produce the finished product without any slip up. In doing so they couldn’t afford to make any errors or mistakes that would otherwise leave an irreparable imprint upon the end product.
The following picture gives a head-on view of the main cave temple as seen from the ground at the entry point to the whole complex. Excellently maintained by the Geological Survey of India, its rich greenery and inviting ambience welcomes the visitor to this unique UNESCO heritage site.
[As in my previous albums, all pictures are in high resolution and can be blown up to their full size by clicking on a picture and opening it in a separate window]
The next picture shows an angular view of the main cave with the roughhewn pathway sloping up to the higher level cave temples on the upper left. The rugged beauty of the hill is sharply accentuated in this picture.
To the right of the entrance to the main cave temple is the magnificent sculpture of a dancing deity shown in the next picture. One of the most outstanding pieces of work in the entire complex, It depicts an eighteen-armed dancing Shiva demonstrating nine bharatanatyam postures. Despite the ravages of time and centuries of exposure to a generally harsh environment the state of preservation of this and other cave sculptures is still pretty good. Its three dimensional form, clearly noticeable in the picture, is one of its distinctive features.
All four caves are distinctive for the fine sculptures of gods, goddesses, animals, mythological characters, etc., embellishing the interior walls, ceilings and the sides of the ornate pillars. Here are the interiors of two of the caves showing all these in rich abundance:
The third cave temple, the biggest and probably the best of the four, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu whose sculpted figure at the left end is the centerpiece of the next picture. It also has numerous other exquisitely sculpted mythological figures.
The fourth cave temple is dedicated to Jainism and features an exquisite sculpture of Parshvanath.
The next two pictures show the entrances and surroundings of two of the upper level caves. The serrated layers of rock with starkly contrasting shades around the second one are both spectacular and awe inspiring.
Opposite one of the caves is this mighty rock formation sticking out skyward and providing a majestic background to the paved courtyard with benches and an embankment for visitors to sit on, relax, and look at the cave front that is dwarfed by the surrounding hill.
Around the Lake
The Agasthya Lake is a large body of water around which we see all the major landmarks of Badami (see the Google Map) – particularly the cave temples to the south west, the Fort and the upper and lower Shivalaya temples to the north west, the Museum on the north west corner, the Upper Boothanatha Temple to the north and the spectacular Lower Boothanatha Temple on the upper right corner. Here is an aerial view of the lake looking directly north, taken from near one of the cave temples atop the southern hill, showing some of the landmarks to the north of the lake:
The next picture presents an angular view of the lake, looking north east ward from one of the cave fronts atop the southern hill and captures some of the rich greenery below the hill. In striking contrast to this tranquil sight of nature at its pastoral best, we also see a deeply disturbing scene – that of callously indifferent human activity, of people in shanty dwellings on the lake bund hanging up their washings in their backyards in full view of everybody. Incidentally, this washing of dirty linen in public could also be seen at many places along the western bund of the lake.
Also in this picture, part of the northern hill above the archaeological museum is prominently seen at upper left. The Lower Boothanatha Temple at the far (north eastern) end of the lake can barely be seen in this picture, but shows up better when enlarged.
The Lower Boothanatha temple, barely visible at a distance in the previous picture, is quite a sight in the following super-zoom view from atop the southern hill, especially against the backdrop of the vast rugged hill:
Here is a close-up view of this spectacular temple taken from the northeastern lake bund after travelling a considerable distance from the cave temple complex:
The next picture captures the tranquility of the lake side on the northern end from behind a great tree, looking towards the southern hill range:
The following picture shows the picturesque and well maintained surroundings of the archaeological museum at the base of the northern hill:
The next picture is a zoom-in view of the northern hill showing the upper Shivalaya temple shot from the southern hill near one of the caves. In the foreground is another temple and part of the lake.
Here is a spectacular close-up view of the upper Shivalaya temple atop the northern hill. It was taken from a vantage point while I was making my way uphill from an entry point near the museum.
As we wound our way back from the Badami cave complex I shot this parting view of the top of the rugged southern hill with its two ramparts and fortifications which once provided the defenses to the Chalukyan settlements:
Our visits to Badami and other places that entire day was ably guided and managed by a professional associate of my daughter who happened to hail from the heart of Badami town, with his home situated within a stone’s throw of the foot of the massive northern hill. Next to the sightseeing, the best part of the visit was a very sumptuous traditional vegetarian lunch of the local variety hosted by his family at his ancient little ancestral home, the visit to which was in itself a memorable experience for all of us. For good measure, he provided us enough cooked food to eat and take home on our return train journey to Bangalore that night from his place.
In Kannada, badami means almonds and our visit to the place felt much like munching on these tasty, protein rich and expensive dry nuts.