Hybrid styles of Aihole

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Unusual: An apsidal temple.
Unusual: An apsidal temple.


The early Chalukya kings built the temples during the fifth and eighth centuries.

The region comprising Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole in Karnataka is an architectural lab. Geographically, this region is a gateway between north and southern regions of India. Hence it is not surprising to see that ideas from different parts of the country were simultaneously used and interesting hybrid architectural styles produced.

The early Chalukya kings built the temples of this region during the 6th and 8th centuries A.D. The inscriptions and styles confirm that these temples are the “earliest group of standing temple structures in south India.”

Among the many important temples of this region, Durga and Ladhkhan temples at Aihole stand out as unusual types. These temples represent two different planning concepts and style.

Shape and design

The Durga temple is an apsidal temple. Apse is a part of a building, usually the rear that is semicircular in plan. This shape in the Indian traditional architecture is called gajaprastha meaning a shape that resembles the back of an elephant. The Durga temple does indeed resemble the back of the elephant. It has an apsidal plinth, an apsidal sanctum and an apsidal circumambulatory passage encircling it.

Some historians think that apsidal form is of a Buddhist origin. But later studies have established that apsidal temple belongs to a pan-Indian tradition and were in existence even before the Buddhist period.

The name Durga is misleading. The temple is not dedicated to Goddess Durga but to Surya. The temple takes the name from the fort (Durga) with which it was associated. The inside walls of the Durga temple and ceiling are carved while the outside is bereft of ornaments.

The vimana or tower over the sanctum is of the north Indian style. The superstructure and vimana together produces a peculiar effect. Many historians are unsympathetic to this combination of styles.

However they cannot deny the early architects the credit for going beyond the textual prescriptions and experimenting with new forms. These intentions to mix styles, subsequently in the 11th century, evolved into a more complex and sophisticated vesara or hybrid form of temple.

Ladkhan temple situated near Durga temple is shaped like an assembly hall. Unlike a typical temple with a shrine in the middle and circumambulatory passage around, this temple has a porch in front and a large mandapam. The sanctum is placed against the rear wall of the mandapam. The temple appears like a meeting place and has balcony seats. The roof of the temple is sloping and is made of stones with the joints sealed by another strip of stone. There is a monolithic stone ladder that takes the visitor to the first floor shrine. The whole structure appears like a wooden archetype that has been replicated in stone.



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