Many wonders of Badami

TRAVEL

String a series of notes together, one after the other, and you have a melody. String different notes of architecture, appeal and adventure, side by side, and you have Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal – the less explored Chalukyan towns of Karnataka. Located in the Bagalkot district of North Karnataka, they offer an awe-inspiring experience to the visitors, given the unique mix of these three aspects.

ARCHITECTURAL MARVELS The town of Badami. (Left) Women washing clothes near the Bhuthanatha  temple. Photos by the author

Think of a town located at the mouth of a ravine between two rocky hills and surrounding a water lake on the three other sides? Badami is that town.

My three-day journey started by exploring this town on foot. It seemed like walking in a red town, with most things around built of red sandstone. I instantaneously could see that the glory of the Chalukyan architecture still remains (almost) intact.

The cave temples

The Badami temples reflect the emergence of the Chalukyan style of temple architecture – reputed for its classical rock-cut creations. Their style is an intricate blend of the North Indian Nagara style and the South Indian Dravidian style. Situated in a ravine at the foot of a red sandstone outcrop; the Badami caves extend to a large height with layers of rocks. The area surrounds the Agastya Lake, with distinct greenish-tinged water, adding to the contrast of the red sandstone.

Badami caves are the world’s first monolithic shrines of the Vedic tradition, against the long tradition of such Jaina or Buddhist creations. The noteworthy four caves with four temples of rare sculptural excellence offer a thrilling trek to reach them. Of the four temples, three are dedicated to Hindu gods, and the fourth is a Jain temple. This goes to represent the secular nature of the Chalukyan rulers with tolerance and religious beliefs inclined towards Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

Indian rock-cut architecture personified, the caves are carved out of soft sandstone on a hill cliff stacked one above the other. There are steps beside them for climbing. As if adding masala to the magic, the steps are inconsistently steep, with amoebic rock formations making special appearances. Crouching through the narrow caves, I went up to see the formations of the Badami caves and the town on the other side town – and shot a rewarding photograph through the opening of this cave.

Not an inch of space inside the caves is left untouched by the artist’s chisel. Each shrine is decorated - murals, artistic columns with bead chain inscriptions, sculpted deities, bracket figures and dwarpalakas; on the interior and ceilings. One cave had 81 different poses of Lord Shiva – apparently the most popular cave and why not? At the foothill of the Hindu-style caves, there is a mosque of the Adilshahi times. This impressive black Gumbaz had inscriptions in Arabic. Religions co-exist, indeed.  

Legend of the demons

There seemed to be a reason why the lake was named after the Sage Agastya. Legend has it that there were two demon siblings Vatapi and Ilvala, who used a peculiar trick by which they could kill and make a tasty meal of mendicants passing by. Their tricks worked well, until the revered sage Agastya came by – who counter-tricked them and brought an end to demon Vatapi’s life, thus ending the threat to the mendicants. I was told that two of the hills in Badami are supposed to represent these two demons.

Around Badami caves

Walking around Badami unfolded so much of North Karnataka lifestyles amidst some of the best Chalukyan creations.

Perched on the edge of a rock– Malegitti Shivalaya, a seventh-century Shiva temple was the first of the many to unfold. Local children followed me even as the sunlight filtered through the structure forming patterns on the rocks. There are Shivalayas galore here and it looked like the legends associated with these temples had a great influence on local people.

Down the hill and past the Agastya Lake, I walked into a small shrine. Women were washing colourful clothes and used the steps of the lake to dry them. This shrine of the fifth century was the Bhuthanatha temple, which had a calm and mystic appearance with the caves in the background. I sat in the temple for hours photographing every possible angle and picked up a conversation with the priest.

He revealed that this temple was chosen in the wedding scene of the famous Bollywood movie Guru (based on Dhirubhai Ambani’s life). Local people take pride that such a famous film had captured the Bhuthanatha Temple.

Dattatreya, star-shaped Mallikarjuna and Banashankari temples, Badami fort and dargah can satisfy the appetite of a religious traveller.

A little distance away was a Buddhist cave in its natural surroundings that could be entered only by crawling on one’s knees. The trip was nearing an end. Having absorbed the beauty of this land, I ventured off one early morning, to the highest point of the caves.

The elevation provided a 360-degree view of the town, the caves around, red stone formations, and the greenish lake of Agastya – all so harmoniously standing beside each other, even as the first rays of sunrise added its colour to the scene.

I had read that Badami was the regal capital of the early Chalukyas who ruled Karnataka during sixth to eighth centuries. It seemed as if the town had retained its aura for generations to experience. Truly, Badami seemed like a medley of tunes – tunes of magical appeal, excellent architecture and rib-tickling adventure! This, I was sure, would stay with me, for time to come.

Getting there

Around 450 odd kilometers from Bangalore, Badami is well connected through bus routes. Badami also has a railway station and the nearest airport is Belgaum, located 150km away.

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