Divine India

The Chalukyas: Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal
  |  Gorp.com

The Chalukyas' realm was mainly the central Deccan (southern Indian) region. With the exception of a rather long interruption by the Rashtrakutas (753 - 972 AD), they ruled as emperors from 543 to about 1189.

The Chalukyas are best known for their first capital, known then as Vatapi and today as Badami. Surrounded by rust-colored sandstone hills, Badami, as well as the nearby cities of Aihole and Pattadakal, are today home to important and impressive 6th- and 7th-century Hindu and Jain cave and Dravidian temples. Known to have been religiously tolerant, the Chalukyan temples include elements of many of the religions of the times.


Badami was the central Chalukyan city from about 540 - 757 AD. Built into a dead-end canyon, the ancient site consists principally of five, red sandstone, richly sculpted cave temples hollowed out of the canyon rock face and looking out over the tank of Agastyatirtha (a large 5th-century pool) and the surrounding countryside. Two caves are Vishnu shrines, one is dedicated to Shiva, one is a Jain temple and the last, a natural cave, is Buddhist in character. The caves are connected by steps and easily accessible.

The Chalukyans were not the only people to leave their mark on the area. Each occupying force, including the 17th- and 18th-century Marathas, built something or commemorated an event. With so much stone around, who could resist? A fort was built on the heights above the canyon (the stone-cut steps up to it are even worth an ogle); there are carvings and descriptions everywhere the eye lingers; the two groups of poolside temples (the Bhutanatha temples) are quite beautiful. Don't miss the Archaeological Museum on the north side of the tank. Years of washing using powder detergents have rendered the pool phosphate green; from the temples above, you can still hear the slapping of wet cloth on the stone steps of the dhobi ghats, or waterside cleaning spots.

The modern city of Badami, stretching out beyond the Agastyatirtha tank, is an active center built around one dusty main road and crowded neighborhoods bordering the archeological areas. Monkeys are so plentiful, especially on the rooftops, that local hotels have put up chain link fence walls and ceilings to protect their rooftop restaurants.

Aihole and Pattadakal

Not far from Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal are certainly worth a detour. Aihole was the Chalukyan regional center from the 4th to 6th century and Pattadakal was the second Chalukyan capital in the 7th and 8th centuries. Both are littered with scores of temples from this time period.

Aihole more than Pattadakal is an architectural experimental playground. With two early 8th-century cave temples and over 70 structures scattered in and around the city, a discerning eye can trace the development of Hindu temple design. The 7th-century Durgigudi or Durga Temple is particularly noteworthy for its unusual circular shape and for the early form of roof adornment that later became typical of the area.

Pattadakal was the site at which all royal Chalukyan coronations occurred. The two great attractions the Lokeshwari (or Virupaksha) and Mallikarjuna Temples are rich in stone narrative carvings illustrating episodes from great Hindu epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavadgita.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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