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Badami Cave Temples in Karnataka – Amazing Ancient Rock Cut Temples

Badami Cave Temples is a prestige of Badami town, nearly the historical town reservoir, Agastya tirtha reservoir, in Bagalkot district of Karnataka, India. The temples have great values for Hindu and Jain tradition.

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A brief History

The temples are said to be built around the late 6th-7th century AD, after the initiation by the first ruler of Early Chalukya dynasty, Pukalesi I. He built a new capital for his kingdom around 540 AD. Initially named as Vatapi, the city was located at the mouth of the steep ravine. As all the great kingdoms go on with their view of building outstanding sanctuaries to be remembered in history, the Chalukyas built the exquisite Badami Cave Temples.

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The Chalukyan Royal Temples

The ancient artificial lake – the Agastya tirtha reservoir – gathers the water flowing from the ravine in Badami.

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There are soft sandstones made cliffs high above the water, and there are royal shrines made in this cliff with a grand view that looks towards the former capital city.

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Four cave temples were built in the reign of the son of Pulakesi I – Kirthivarman (ruled 567-598 AD), and his brother Mangalesha I (ruled 598-610 AD). Among the four caves, one is dedicated to Shiva, two to Vishnu, and one is a Jain temple. Like other several successful dynasties in Ancient India, Chalukyas showed great religious tolerance during their reign.

The architecture is quite similar to what the other ancient cultures were portraying. However, there is a unique Chalukyan style added to it in terms of art and architecture. However, it shows an influence of both South Indian Style (Dravidian style) and the northern style (Indo-Aryan Nagara style).

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The external areas of the temple look very simple and mundane, but the interiors are embellished with ornate finishing. A pillared verandah – mukha mandapa – is at the entrance and the pillars have square form in section. Below the columns lie a lavish frieze that enters the three cave. In all the main hall of temples, the maha mandapa stands on massive columns. At the back of the hall, there is a shrine – cella or garbhagrha. In ancient times, the caves were covered with exciting murals. But most are only traces of them now.

Image source – Wikimedia.org

The inscriptions written in Kannada and Sanskrit language are important features of the temple. There are about 18 cliff inscriptions in the Badami caves, and the oldest one dates back to 543 AD. The most important one is the one that talks about kappe Arahatta, local saint, and hero; the inscription consists of ten lines written in both Kannada and Sanskrit language, and with a nice carving of ten leaved lotus in the circle.

There is also a fifth cave, a natural cave used as Buddhist temple.

Cave 1:

It is believed that it was built during the 575-585 AD.

One needs to climb 40 steps to enter the portal, which contains four freestanding square columns and two semi-columns. There is a frieze with ganas – attendants of Shiva – below the columns.

At the back of the wall, square shaped shrines can be found. At the ceiling, one can find murals of amorous couples that have been preserved for more than 1400 years now. Exquisite reliefs embellish the cave; the most important one is that of Shiva and Parvati with a coiled serpent, the 18 armed Nataraja, when closely observed can be seen as portraying 81 dancing poses.

Cave 2:

It is believed to be built during the late 6th century and is dedicated to Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is portrayed as Trivikrama, with one foot on earth and the other directed to the north. One can also see Vishnu as a boar (Varaha) and Krishna avatars.

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After walking 64 steps from the first cave, one can enter this cave. There are reliefs of guardians (dvarapalas) with smaller female attendants on the entrance.

Cave 3:

This is the largest one and is said to be built around 578 – 580 AD. According to the inscription, Chalukya king Mangalesa organized the excavation of this Vishnu temple. The same inscription, which was made in 578 AD, claims that Mangalesa became a king in 597 and ruled until 609 AD.

Image source – Wikimedia.org

It is also oriented towards north-south, with the main hall going up to 14.5m deep into the mountain. The height of the main hall approximately is 4.5m.

To get to this cave, one needs to climb 60 steps from Cave 2. The façade of the temple is 21m wide and contains a row of six massive columns. A friese consisting of 30 smaller reliefs of ganas are below the columns.

There are paintings and magnificent adornments throughout the cave, along with a centerpiece of four-armed Brahma on his swan. There is a mural of lotus in the ground where offerings were used to be laid back in the days.

The monuments also contain Vishnu relics: standing Vishnu, Vishnu with a serpent, Vishnu as Narasimha (half human – half lion), Varaha, Harihara and Trivikrama avatars. They are as high as 4m.

The cave is also important as the art of culture and clothing in this region is the 6th century.

Cave 4:

Image source – wikimedia.org

This cave stands as a Jain temple and is said to be built around 6th-7th century AD. It is higher than other caves, but rather less elaborate and smaller. Still, one cannot say it is not beautiful and not rich with adornment. There are carvings of Tirthankara Parshavnatha with a serpent at his feet, along with a sculpture of Jain saint Mahavira in seated pose and standing Gomatesvara with creepers twisted around his legs.

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