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Sculptural splendour in the South

The exquisite temples of Pattadakal and Badami in the southern state of Karnataka are yet another illustration of the rich and unique heritage of India.

Sculptural splendour in the South

A journey in faith: The temple complex at Pattadakal consists of about 10 temples, most of which are Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva Photos by the writer



Rashmi Gopal Rao

The exquisite temples of Pattadakal and Badami in the southern state of Karnataka are yet another illustration of the rich and unique heritage of India.  Located less than 500 km from Bangalore, the temples at Pattadakal and Badami demonstrate excellence of the Chalukyan School of Architecture and date between the fifth and eighth century AD.

The Pattadakal complex

Situated on the banks of the Malaprabha river, Pattadakal is a Unesco World Heritage Site and home to a group of temples dated between the 7th and 8th century. Also known as Pattada Kisuvolal, Pattadakal was the erstwhile capital of the Chalukayan empire and was the place where the early Chalukyan kings were crowned. One among the three centres where the Chalukyan school of temple architecture evolved and perfected (the other two being Aihole and Badami), the complex at Pattadakal consists of about 10 temples, most of which are Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Along with a multitude of shrines and plinths, the temples have been built in multiple styles, four of them being in the Chalukya Dravida style of the South and four in the Nagara style of the North and some in a fusion style. It was here that the Rekhanagara Prasada and Dravida Vimana styles of temple architecture reached its final form. Some of the major temples here include the Kadasiddheshvara Temple, Jambulinga Temple, Galaganatha Temple, Chandrashekara Temple, Papanatha Temple, Mallikarjuna, Kashivisvanatha Temple and the Jain Temple.

While the grandest of the temples is the Virupaksha temple, the Sangameshwara temple is the oldest. The former was built by Queen Loka Mahadevi, wife of Vikramaditya II, to commemorate his victory over the Pallavas of Kanchi.  The basic structure of each of the temples consists of the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), an antarala (a vestibule) and a mandapa (pillared hall).  The temples have ornate ‘shikharas’ that rise above the sanctum and many of them have detailed relief sculptures. The main shrine of Lord Shiva faces the east in most of the temples. The Jain Narayana temple was the last temple to be built here during the 9th century under the reign of the Rashtrakutas.

Cave temples of Badami

Just about 20 km from Pattadakal are the spectacular rock temples located in Badami (formerly called Vatapi).  Translating into ‘almond’ in Kannada, Badami is so called due to the characteristic sandstone colour of its caves and the surrounding landscape.  A stronghold of the Chalukyas and its capital from 540 AD to 757 AD, these four cave temples stand tall as a symbol of the secularism and religious tolerance. While Cave 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva, Caves 2 and 3 are to Lord Vishnu and Cave 4 is dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras. Architecturally and archaeologically significant, the caves have several inscriptions that are of historic importance.

Cave 1 that dates back to 550 AD is dedicated to Lord Shiva that is in the form of a resplendent Linga. With an open porch and a pillared hall, the side walls of the porch have imposingly beautiful life-size sculptures of Harihara on the left and Ardhanari Shiva on the right. The unique 18 armed dancing Shiva in the form of Natesha is a highlight on the façade of the cave.

Cave 2 excavated in the 6th century has a pattern similar to cave 1 and has magnificent relief sculptures of Vamana Trivikrama on the right and Bhu Varaha on the left. The ceiling panel featuring the fish wheel or “matsya chakra” is elaborate.  The largest and most ornate of the caves is Cave 3, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Replete with several life-size relief sculptures, including the magnificent 8-armed Vishnu seated on Anantha, the cave is beautifully painted.  Sadly, most of the latter is damaged.

Cave 4 is the smallest. The seemingly unfinished monument dates back to the 7th century. It has a large statue of Bahubali (also called Gommata) and Parsvanatha among sculptures of other smaller and larger Tirthankaras.  

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