Where heritage takes a red hue

Where heritage takes a red hue

Badami’s topography consists of red sandstone hills and therefore its temples and other architecture of history and heritage take the distinct red colour, writes B V Prakash .

It was still dark and cold as I arrived in the heritage town of Badami on a winter morning. Though this was not the first visit, the excitement of rediscovering the monuments yet again was palpable.

With the morning ablutions over quickly, I was ready to take in the sights as the sun rose, tracing the silhouettes of the hills.

Pre-historic structures

Badami is a taluk in the Bagalkot district in a dry arid area. The topography largely consists of red sandstone hills. The highlight of the place is the narrow ravine between the two tall hills with a picturesque lake.

It is no wonder that this beautiful place was chosen by the Chalukyas of Badami during the pre-medieval period. And it was during their rule between 6th and 8th centuries and a little later, that the architectural extravagance flourished here.

The group of monuments that are artistic and still in good shape is what  draws hordes of visitors all through the year. The southern hill is quite tall with bastions of the fort at the top and a group of four caves cut across its northern face  The northern hill has few temples and remnants of a fort.

The familiarity of the place helped orientate easily and the I chose to first visit the caves on the southern hill. Walking  through the busy narrow lanes strewn with dwelling units, I reached the entrance to the caves.

The surroundings are neat with decorative plants lining the steps. Historians and researchers who have studied the caves of Badami have often felt the tolerant attitude behind the carving of these cave temples.

This is because, the first cave is dedicated to Shiva while the second and third cave display forms of Vishnu. The last cave is attributed to Mahaveer, the Jain theerthankara.

Shiva’s cave with its pillared entrance displays a few carved sculptures. But the one that steals the show is the 18 - armed dancing Nataraja. The combinations of pairs of hands display as many as 81 different postures!

From here the steps go up, between the main hill and a rocky tower to the second cave. The avatar of Vishnu here is that of varaha (the boar) with one leg on the earth with the other extending to the sky. The different forms of Vishnu continue to the third cave as well where well sculpted amorous couples look life - like.

The last cave has many figures of Jain theerthankaras with the image of Mahaveer being prominent. It is also from this place that the panoramic view of the   northern hill and its monuments can be enjoyed. The hill itself looks like a ship complemented by the green waters’ of the Agasthya Lake below .

Cave calling

Reserving the sights of the northern hill for the evening when sunlight would be golden, I headed on for an interesting place often missed by many tourists. The place is Sidluphadi, a huge natural cavern in the wilderness.

Situated in the midst of sandstone hillocks and shrub jungles about six kilometres from Badami, the only way to go was on foot. Reaching Konammana Gudi, the nearest point on the highway, I followed the direction of a board and trekked up the stony path.

Arriving at the cave, I was astonished to see the wide stone arch extending between two hillocks. According to archaeologists, this is a pre - historic cave where the early man dwelled. Some artefacts of the bygone era have also been found here.

The rock painting done in prehistoric times have also been discovered which have, of course, faded with time.

Open at both ends and on the ceiling, the broad cave must have easily accommodated a small settlement.

Back in Badami by evening, I wandered into the Bhutanatha group of temples adjoining the lake before trekking up the fort.

The museum here has, besides an array of artefacts, a model of the Sidluphadi cave. The steps leading to the top with Malgitti and Shivalaya temples have intricate carvings of figurines and Dravidian-styled towers.

The setting sun cast a golden hue on the monuments and the red sandstone hills as the day came to a close and thus brought an end to my sojourn.

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