The cave temples of Badami

The cave temples of Badami

Visiting the caves of Badami has been on my bucket list for a long time, and a few weeks ago I was able to take a trip to the temple towns, Aihole, Badami and Pattadakalu. The cave temples in Badami can be reckoned as the finest example of Indian rock-cut architecture.

Legend has it that Badami was earlier named Vatapi, after a demon, who reigned terror in the region. It is said that Vatapi along with his brother Ilvala would invite the victim for a meal; with Vatapi taking the form of a goat, which would be cooked and eaten. Once inside, Vatapi would regenerate inside the stomach of the person, tearing himself out within a short while and killing the victim.

Myths & places

Sage Agastya, who was known for his powers of digestion, when invited for such a meal, digested the cooked demon saying 'vatapi jeerno bhava', giving him no time to restore himself and thus the demon was killed. Over time, the town of Vatapi was renamed Badami, inspired by the colour of its surrounding sandstone hills.

Badami caves are located at the foot of a rugged, red sandstone outcrop that surrounds the Agastya Lake. There are four caves sculpted by the Chalukya kings into beautiful temples. These cave temples are dedicated to Hindu gods and Jain thirthankaras. Recently, more caves were discovered, of which one is a Buddhist temple and the other a Hindu temple with 27 carvings.

The first cave temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. At the entrance, the visitor is treated to a unique 18-handed Nataraja, the tandava Shiva. Some say that this signifies the 81 dance movements of Bharatanatyam, while others call it the cosmic wheel. Adjoining the Nataraja, the wall showcases Goddess Parvati, in the form of Mahishasuramardini, the destroyer
of the demon Mahishasura. Next to this, is the stunning fresco of Ardhanarishwara, signifying equality between man and woman.

Further inside, the idol of Harihara has been beautifully carved, bringing out the Chalukaya philosophy of equality between Shaivism and Vaisnavism.

Majestic sculptures

Caves two and three are dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Cave two can be reached by climbing 64 steps. These steps are a tad steep and one clearly feels the need of handrails for support, especially for elderly tourists. This cave takes the viewer through a beautiful depiction of the 10 avatars of Vishnu. A large relief of Lord Vishnu as Trivikrama is the centrepiece of the cave, both in size and grandeur.

Cave three is the most beautiful cave temple, which was built over a good 12 years. This is the largest cave and the most ornate. The highlight of this cave is the seated Lord Vishnu, which leaves one gaping in awe. Usually, the deity is shown as lying on an adishesha but here the deity is shown seated on adishesha. This cave also showcases the majestically standing Narasimha and Trivikrama, with narrative friezes of episodes from the Mahabharata and the puranas carved with a great deal of precision. The sad part of this cave is that the figure of Lord Vishnu is missing from the sanctum. This cave has been beautifully painted and offers a glimpse of its former splendour and also makes us extremely proud of our craftspeople who created such masterpieces.

The last cave is dedicated to the Jain tirthankaras. It is the smallest amongst the four. It is stated to be unfinished and follows the format of other caves. The veranda walls are adorned with sculptures of Lord Gomateshwara in penance and Lord Parshvanatha. On the rear wall of the sanctuary is the sculpture of Lord Mahavira delivering a sermon. There are several figures of other tirthankaras.

The caves are a very popular place, especially with schools. Children are taken to Badami on excursions. The icing on the cake is the good food available close by. However, bus facilities need to be improved, as also the roads. Despite these pinpricks, visiting Badami caves is like experiencing incredible India.

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