"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday"
-Pearl. S. Buck
I am not sure about the exact time since I started getting these pangs to visit the fabled cave temples of Badami. It could be during my childhood years, when I stood staring at the framed painting of the famous eighteen-armed Nataraja that my Grand Uncle had recreated on canvas. Or it could have been during those times when I was studying the rise and fall of the Chalukyan Empire in school. Or did that desire arise when I brought this book called Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal- By George Michell? Even though I am not sure about the exact moment, I am sure that my imagination was kindled and created an incipient urge to see the fabled cave temples of Badami. However, my trip to the temple town could only materialize in 2016.
My sister and I began to plan for this trip during May, 2016. We decided to visit Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal during the month of July. My baby sister made the hotel reservations and the other necessary arrangements. It was an all Girl’s trip and we spent five glorious days exploring Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal, Bijapur and a few other places around this region. Since I have a lot of memories and photographs to share with you, I decided to break this post into a five-part travelogue. I hope you enjoy these posts, As much as I enjoyed writing them.
Since we planned the trip during the monsoons, we were a little apprehensive about visiting badami. “What if there is a storm and we get stranded in the middle of nowhere??” we thought. However, we couldn’t have visited the place during a better time. The sand stone mountains seemed to come alive during the monsoons. I somehow felt that the rainwater extracted all the hidden beauty of the temple town. The small town magically turns greener and offers breathtakingly beautiful views that can be savored by nature lovers.
Badami, which is now a small town, was once a thriving capital of the Chalukya dynasty. Who are the Chalukyas? I hear you ask. According to the legends, The Chalukyas belonged to northern Kshatriya Race, who migrated from Rajasthan during the 5th century. The founder of the Chalukya dynasty is said to be one Jaya Simha. He was followed by his son Rana Raja who was in turn Succeeded by his sun Pulakesin the first. Pulakesin the first ascended the throne and established Vatapi or Badami as his Capital.
The credit for the incredible architecture goes to Pulakesin’s sons, Kirtivarman and Mangalesha. It feels like every nook and corner of Badami tells the tale of the Borthers incredible contribution to art and architecture. These Cave temples are both mind blowing and captivating at the same time. I couldn’t help but wonder how one could transform something as dismal as sand stone into architectural marvels, way back in 6th century. The stones are carved to surgical precision and it seems like each wall in the cave has a story to tell.
The cave temples of Badami are segregated into four sections. The first three caves are dedicated to Hindu deities and the Fourth and topmost cave is dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras. This shows that the Chalukyans were tolerant to Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The first cave is dedicated to Lord Shiva. You will find a Dwarapalaka or a Guard on the left side and on the opposite wall you will find the five feet tall, Eighteen armed Shiva, dancing the Tandava, welcoming you. This Nataraja is carved in such a way that each combination of a pair of hands represents a Mudra in Bharatanatyam. It is said that a total of eighty-one Mudras are depicted in this amazing Sculptre.
Inside the first cave, you will find Harihara with four hands and Snakes on hair and waist and on the other side there is Ardhanarishwara, attended by the bull and the skeleton Bhiringi. The ceiling of the cave is decorated with a very realistic Adi sesha or the serpant king.
The Second cave is dedicated lord Vishnu. Vishnu is depicted as the Trivikrama or Vaamana with one leg on the earth and the other pointing towards the sky. He is also depicted as the Varaha Avatar rescuing mother earth from the clutches of demon, hiranyaksha. Another Dwarpalaka or guard can be found at the entrance holding a flower.
The third cave is perhaps the grandest and the biggest of them all. This cave has six pillars and each one is exquisitely carved with festoon like chains. There is a glorious eleven feet high Statue of Narasimha on the west wall and a statue of Harihara on the southern wall. There are also depictions of Trivikrama (vamana) and Varaha avatars in this cave. But the most beautiful sculpture in this cave temple has to be of the one where Vishnu is seated on the coiled Adi Sesha. It is a rare pose and one doesn’t get to see this often. These sculptures left me humbled, dwarfed and in a state of awe!!
The fourth cave is a jain temple and is dedicated to Jain tirthankaras. Unfortunately I could not photograph in this cave because of the fading light and the lingering monkey menace. All I could manage was a couple photographs on my cell phone.
One word of Caution!!! These caves are full of monkeys. They have the reputation of snatching handbags, food, water, etc. One monkey almost snatched my mother’s handbag. It would have disappeared with it too had my mother not put up a brave fight.
As we left the pinkish-brown sandstone mountains of Badami, turning golden in the setting rays of the sun, I felt humbled and content. It truly melted my heart and made me wish that I return to this amazing place again. I hope that my travelogue entices you to pay a visit to this magnificent place called Badami.