Let us see if Pattadakal is like the high school, we can compare Aihole and Badami to primary and secondary schools,” laughs our guide Ashok even as he points to us the many intricate stone carvings at Pattadakal. The ancient art and science of temple building is regarded to have reached its culmination in Pattadakal while the other two places of this triad are considered prototypes. My education then, has begun in the reverse pedagogical order.
Every aspect of the temple complex is material enough for a doctorate, it appears, as we gather more and more information from the guide and the highly recommended book by George Michell. Despite the harsh sun and the steep entrance to each of the many temples in the complex, I want to visit them all. Hidden within the dark and musty interiors are pieces of temple architecture so outstanding that Pattadakal temple complex has been granted the status of World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The imposing temples, most of which are dedicated to Shiva, stand in majestic grace. Built during the 7th-8th century by Chola rulers, Patta refers to coronation — the place is said to have hosted the coronation of several kings. The presence of both North and South Indian styles of architecture is the highlight here. Inscriptions regarding donors, artists and the feat commemorating the construction appear here and there. Tales from mythology carved on wall panels, the delicate jaali windows, sculptures of ladies with their intricate hairstyles fill the eyes. I am wonderstruck by the artistry of our ancestors. Even as I am mulling over the time and patience it took to create these monuments and the loss of life and limb that the construction must have entailed…. Ashok breaks my reverie. “If you plan to cover Aihole today, it is better to leave now.”
Our autodriver from Pattadakal acts as our guide to Aihole. As we enter Aihole it is difficult to make out where the ancient ends and the present begins. Old fort walls loop around modest concrete dwellings, an ancient temple stands right behind a leaky tap. The most famous temple here is the Durga temple, incidentally named not for the goddess but because of a fortification or Durga. The temple, apart from the customary statues of gods and goddesses, even has some amorous sculptures. LadKhan temple in the vicinity has a linga but is named after a Muslim commander who resided here during the reign of Adil Shah a thousand years after the temple was built. The roof of this temple is eye-catching — decorated as it is with log shaped stone strips. Right near is the Gaudara gudi and a step well. With other equally interesting names like Huchchimalli gudi and Ravanphadi beckoning us, I decide to pick on the latter for a visit. The magnificent Ravanphadi cave houses Ardhanarishwara, no sign of Ravana as assumed.
A rickety ride through narrow muddy lanes brings us a little later to a Jain cave temple. Said to be incomplete, it houses a thirthankara in the centre. The entire ceiling is done up with rich lotus carvings. With nary a soul in sight and a beautiful bird singing joyously on a tree, it feels like the right time to wrap up my Aihole trip.
“Ditch Badami. If you find steps at Pattadakal and Aihole steep, you won’t be able to scale Badami caves,” our not so helpful autodriver warns me. I decide to ditch him instead and leave for the world famous caves early next morning by another auto. To say that the caves are imposing is an understatement. Cut from a monolith, a series of four caves ascend to several hundred feet. They consist of pillars, verandahs, stone idols and other embellishments of immense beauty. They are very well-maintained and it is exhilarating to emerge from narrow rock cut steps to wide landings and take in the view of the Agastya tank and the town below. An inscription in Halegannada dates the third cave to 6th century. Descent from the caves is along the same path as the ascent.
Caves done, we walk along a narrow path hemmed by what look like stone walls from days of yore to the tank bund. Villagers use the tank and the wide steps surrounding it to do their washing. More temples maintained by ASI can be accessed from here. A cavern beneath a rock overhang contains a Buddha statue and we have to crouch down to see it. Bone weary but satiated by all the sights we decide to bid goodbye to Badami. I am delighted that with this “secondary” education one more item on my must-visit list is ticked off.