Beyond Hampi lie three cities that are proof of the architectural prowess of the Chalukyas.

Hampi is a relatively well-known travel destination in Karnataka. Resting on the banks of the Tungabadra, Hampi is 350 km from Bangalore and can be accessed by taking a train to Hospet, just 13 km away. While exceptional works of art can be found amid the stone ruins in this hilly city, try travelling further north for the real treat.

Approximately 150 km northwest of Hospet, in Bagalkot district of Karnataka along the Malaprabha are three very special cities: Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami. These cities were once the playground for Chalukyan artistes. The works of art that have been left here date back to as early as the sixth century AD and are simply breathtaking.

Aihole

Aihole was the first capital of the early Chalukyas. Founded in 450 AD, Aihole has about 125 temples. Said to be the experimental ground of the early Chalukyas, where they developed and refined their distinct architectural style, the architecture is a fine blend of the northern Nagara style and the southern Dravidian style. The first phase of temple building began in early 5th century. The Lad Khan temple, the oldest temple, dates back to the late 7th century. It is a relatively simple structure but its layout reflects southern influence and the window patterns are inherited from the north. The Durga temple is another prominent one. This temple, known for its apsidal structure, was once occupied as a military fortress. The name means fortress and is derived from the word ‘durg', though it can be misinterpreted as a temple for the goddess devi. The perimeter of the Durga temple is ornamented with beautiful carvings of deities such as Varaha, Narasimha, and Mahishasuramardhini. The pillars at the entrance are embellished with statues of deities in various unique forms and the ceilings display intricately carved patterns.

Pattadakal

Ten km away sits another cluster of exquisite temples. Pattadakal was the capital of the Chalukyas during the seventh and eighth centuries. On the green grass of a grand courtyard sit 10 majestic temples. Of these, one is a Jain sanctuary, four others are constructed in the Dravidian style, four in the Rekhanagara style, and one is a blend of styles. Your eye catches the dancing Nataraja above the entrance of each temple, the half broken statue of a female figure dancing on the outer wall of a temple, the simple yet perfect dome structure rising into the sky, and you wonder about those who laboured to bring these rocks to life.

Of the temples, the most noteworthy is the Virupaksha temple. Said to have been built by Queen Trilokamahadevi in 745 AD to commemorate her husband Vikramaditya II's victory over the Pallavas in Kanchipuram, this temple resembles Kanchipuram's Kailasanatha temple. The Mallikarjuna temple, built just a few years later by Vikramaditya's second queen, sits to one side.

All the temples here have the same features — a central structure, a nandi pavilion, a walled enclosure with gateway, and a pillared mantapa. Inside the sanctum, sunlight peers through the windows placed throughout the structure revealing panel work covering every inch of every pillar. Every few feet an amorous form of a god and his consort border the interior walls. The statues are brought to life by natural postures, a high sense of proportion, and simple but detailed ornamentation. Pattadakal has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Badami

Further along the Malaprabha, about 22 km away, is Badami. Founded by Pulakesi I in 540 AD, Badami was the capital of the early Chalukyas after Aihole. Earlier known as Vatapi, this is also the town from which the Pallava general Sirutondar removed a statue of Ganesha (now located in Tiruchenkatankudi near Thanjavur). This idol is the subject of Muthusvami Dikshitar's well known Vatapi Ganapatim kriti. Badami showcases the other prominent architectural form of early Chalukyas — the rock-cut caves. Four caves are cut into the rocky red sandstone hills of Badami, overlooking the Agasthya tank.

The caves have a similar structure: a pillared veranda leading into a larger pillared hall with a small sanctum. From the outside, it doesn't seem like much. Get closer and the highly ornate pillars reveal their beauty. The statues on the pillars, the walls and ceilings have the Chalukya characteristic of grand and detailed carvings. The cabves also are testimony to the Chalukya's religious tolerance. The first cave is dedicated to Siva and has statues of Ganesha, Subramanya and Mahishasuramardhini.

The most notable is the Natarajawith 18 arms showing 81 different dance poses, overlooking the entrance. The second and third caves focus on Vishnu and have statues of Trivikrama (Vamana), Varaha, Krishna, Narasimha, and Harihara. The caves' outer entrance display a running freize of ganas (bhutaganas), attendants of Siva.

The fourth cave is dedicated to the Jaina Tirtankara Parshavnatha. There are rows of Tirtankaras on the walls and Mahavira is depicted in a sitting posture. From the entrance to the fourth cave, one can see the Bhutanatha and the Mallikarjuna temples on adjacent sides of the Agasthya tank below. Badami was later seized by the Pallavas and over time lost its importance politically. However the art work that remains is a feast for the senses.

Vikram is a Management Consultant at Accenture and a student of Carnatic music .E-mail vikramkraghavan@gmail.com

Keywords: HampiAiholePattadakalBadami

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