Chalukyan masterpieces on sandstone

Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal represent the glory of the Chalukya dynasty, a period stretching from about the 6th century to the 12th century CE with some period of Rashtrakuta rule in between. These towns in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka, in a region stretching across 40 kilometers, have been the centres of the Chalukya rule at different times. Consequently, each of these places hosts several gems of Chalukyan architecture in the form of temples with exquisite carvings. Among these, Badami is more known for its cave temples. While Aihole also boasts of a few cave temples, both Pattadakal and Aihole are known more for the standalone temple structures that dot their landscapes. One of the highlights of the temples in this region is the assimilation of different styles of architecture.

Pattadakal is the only UNESCO World Heritage site among these, as Badami waits for its inclusion in that list. Most of the temples in Aihole and the ones in Pattadakal had to be excavated from under human settlement and hence involved relocation. A look around some of the temple complexes scattered around Aihole, will tell you how human settlement has grown around these temples with some of the village houses sharing walls with these structures.

The temples are largely made of sandstone, that is available in abundance in the area. Weathered sandstone rocks stand exposed all around in the hills that run across this region. Being among the softer of rocks, sandstone offered ample opportunities to the ancient builders to carve out some of the most amazing sculptures on the walls and pillars of the temples. No binding material holds the blocks that make up the walls, roofs, pillars and beams of the temples. All blocks were cut with precision to interlock into each other to be able to support these heavy structures.

This post is intended to kindle an interest in you about this region that is the seat of Chalukyan splendour, without getting into too much of details. No amount of writing, images or videos can substitute the contentment of learning and discovering things for yourself.

Aihole

If you thought this region was all about Chalukyan temple architecture, you are in for a surprise. There have been discoveries of pre-historic dolmens in and around the region. There is one isolated dolmen on the way to Pattadakal on the right of the highway and many on the top of the Meguti hill (the southern face of which has a Jain cave temple) . Dolmens are megalithic structures that were built for the departed, generally as a tomb. Modern India keeps discovering various locations with such structures. Dolmens are commonly seen in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom and France.

Pattadakal

Window “jaali” designs in the temples of Pattadakal

Badami

Views from around the Badami temple complex. Notice the dots and the lines on the rock in the picture at the bottom right. Those are marks of attendance of the sculptors.

Badami, the town that serves as the base for travel to this region, does not have too many options for stay. We stayed in the Heritage Resort, which was a reasonably spacious property with decent facilities, at least in the cottage category accommodation that we had chosen to put up in. There are a few other hotels of fame but this Heritage Resort had the best reviews when we checked. It had intrigued me that the region has such limited accommodations for tourists. Once there, I realized that many people visit Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole in a day trip from Hampi, which is a good three and a half hours drive each way. I would strongly discourage visitors to attempt that, as that would do no justice to the wonders that this region can treat you to. I would recommend that you reserve one and half to two days for covering these three Chalukyan cultural bases, if you intend to have a fulfilling trip.

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