Aihole: A Peep into Chalukyan Temple Architecture

Karnataka is a veritable treasure chest of temples and monuments. Karnataka’s monuments can be depicted stratigeographically from north to south. In the north, the group of neighbouring districts Bidar, Gulbarga and Bijapur perhaps has the largest cluster of tombs and monuments owing their lineage to the Bahmani Sultanate. Moving south 100 kms will bring you to the amazing temple sites of Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole showcasing the temple building skills of Early Chalukyas. Moving further south by 150 kms will bring you to the glorious and lonely ruins of Hampi, capital of the once mighty Hindu empire of Vijayanagar. Continuing our journey southwards by 130 kms will bring us to the Stupendous Chitradurga Fort ( Journeying down another 170 kms brings us to Belur with its beautiful temples belonging to the Hoysala Empire. Continuing our voyage of discovery, Shravanabelagola with its Jain Temple Complex and Gommateshvara Bahubali statue lies about 90 kms south east of Belur. Srirangapatna lies about 70 kms south of Shravanabelagola. Srirangapatna has temples belonging to Ganga dynasty and forts and tombs associated with Tipu Sultan. Another 20 kms is Mysore, the capital of Wodeyar dynasty. This roughly 1000 kms journey provides a sumptuous treat of tombs, temples, palaces and ruins. No wonder Karnataka Tourism’s tagline is ‘Karnataka – One State. Many Worlds’.

Aihole on the banks of Malaprabha river was the first capital of the Early Chalukyas. The Chalukya Dynasty was founded by Pulakesi I in 543AD and ruled over Deccan India for over 600 years. To put history in perspective, this was the Vedic Renaissance period. Elsewhere in India, Magadh dynasty had bit the dust and Gupta dynasty was on the verge of extinction; Ajanta Caves already had frescoes of Buddha, Aryabhat I had calculated the Pi value, and Balipal & Mahipal ruled Delhi.

According to legend, Parashuram vowed retribution when his father, the sage Jamadagani was killed by King Kartavirya. Jamadagani had refused to hand over his blessed Kamdhenu calf to the King. Parashuram vowed to kill all the Kshatriyas twenty one times after seeing his mother beat her chest twenty one times in grief. After killing all the Kshatriyas, he washed his axe in the Malaprabha. The river turned red from all the blood. Women washing clothes downstream were alarmed and exclaimed “Ai Hole!” or “What a river!” And thus the place got the name Aihole. Some inscriptions in the temples also refer to Aihole as Aryapur.

Pulakesi I was the son of a chief of Kadamba dynasty of Banavasi. As Kadamba’s power waned, Pulakesi I saw his chance, wrested control, and set up the independent Chalukya dynasty. The dynasty was called Chalukyas of Badami or Early Chalukyas and it ruled between 6th and 8th century. During these 600 years, the Chalukyas ruled as three independent but related dynasties – Chalukyas of Badami, Chalukyas of Kalyani or Western Chalukyas, and Chalukyas of Vengi or Eastern Chalukyas.

The Badami Chalukya era was a watershed time in the annals of Indian Temple Architecture. The construction style was called Chalukyan Architecture. Both rock cut or caves and structural temples were built. The Badamis went on wild spree of temple construction in the Malaprabha river basin. Locally found golden coloured sandstone provided the building material. In a small concentrated area of about 40 kms more than a hundred temples and monuments were built. Aihole alone has 125 temples divided into 22 groups and therefore, Aihole is rightly regarded as the cradle of Hindu Temple Architecture. Aihole is also regarded as the laboratory where the Chalukyan Architecture was perfected through fusion of northern Nagara style and southern Deccan style and which was then practised in Badami and Pattadakal. Aihole also served as the commerce centre of the Chalukyas with the trade guild headquartered here. It is believed that this guild sponsored the construction of several temples.

The temple construction stretched into three phases: In the first phase, in around 580AD, some rudimentary cave temples in Aihole and four developed cave temples in Badami were built. In the second phase, beginning from 600AD, majority of the 125 temples in Aihole were built. The temples built in Pattadakal in the 8th century represent the golden era of temple building of Badami Chalukyas.

If planning to visit Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami on the same day then it is recommended to visit the most popular temple complex in Aihole that houses the museum, Durga Temple and Lad Khan Temple in a small fenced area. This complex is ticketed by ASI and is neatly maintained with couple of temples undergoing renovation. The pretty temples are surrounded by houses in all colour shades on all sides threatening to soon have their balconies hanging over the temple structures. With the sun burning down, only a few intrepid visitors are seen clutching water bottles. You don’t want to be down with sunstroke before Hampi. You take it easy in the cool environs of mantapas.

Durga Temple

Durga Temple

Durga Temple - Intricate Carvings

Durga Temple – Intricate Carvings

Durga Temple

The Durga Temple is the most unique temple you have ever seen. It almost resembles a mini fort. And therefore probably it is named Durg or a fortress rather than dedicated to Goddess Durga. The sign says that it has apsidal plan but non-apsidal curvilinear shikhar. Can the ASI be more esoteric? But what you can understand is that the temple is a delight to look at and is emblematic of Aihole town. A colonnaded corridor runs around the temple that allows parikrama or circumambulation. The pillars have some great carvings. The garbha griha or the sanctum sanctorum is topped with a broken shikhar. The temple was built in the 8th century during the times of the later king Vikramaditya II. The exquisite and detailed carving clearly shows that in 2 centuries since they started temple construction, the Chalukyan Architecture had reached its peak.

Lad Khan Temple - Rear View

Lad Khan Temple – Rear View

Lad Khan Temple - Latticed WIndows

Lad Khan Temple – Latticed WIndows

Lad Khan Temple - Central Square with Nandi

Lad Khan Temple – Central Square with Nandi

Ladkhan Temple

Ladkhan Temple is one of the oldest temples in the complex probably built in 450 AD. It was initially used as a panchayat hall where Pulakesi I performed horse sacrifices. Later it was turned into a temple – first Surya Temple and then Shivalay. Since it is early construction, the pillars are relatively carving free. The most beautiful part of the temple is the lattice windows with intricate carvings taking inspiration from northern temples. The carving could have been a later addition to the temple once the appropriate skills had developed. The central square with flat roof houses the Nandi. The Nandi is surprisingly completely intact. Over the central square there is a broken shikhar which again could be a later addition. The temple got its name either from a general or a mendicant who lived here.

Gaudara Gudi

Gaudara Gudi

Gaudara Gudi

Gaudura Temple appears to be the oldest of all Aihole temples. The temple has 16 pillars, a sanctum and parikrama path. This could be the Bhagwati Temple which was worshipped by the trading community of Aihole.

Suryanarayan Gudi - View from Ladkhan Temple

Suryanarayan Gudi – View from Ladkhan Temple

Badiger Gudi

Badiger Gudi

Twin Temples

Twin Temples

There are few more temples in the complex: There is a 7th century Suryanarayan Temple with a Rekhanagar (curvilinear) shikhar; Badiger Gudi, a 9th century Surya Temple with a stepped well and ‘Twin Temples’ for lack of any identification sign. Most of the photos carry rear views as all temples in the complex are east facing. With the low Sun shining brightly in the late afternoon western sky it was practically impossible to photograph temples from the front.

Getting There:

Make Bagalkot district centre as your base. New Bagalkot is a clean and planned city about 550 kms north of Bangalore. You can visit all three sites Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami in a single day. But in case you want to visit all 22 or so groups of temples and the museum, then Aihole deservedly needs entire day. Also, try to choose a cool day. The rocky terrain in May and June turns pretty hot with the temperature a nice scorching 42 degrees.


  • Archana says:

    A peep into the history and the architecture of the Chalukya dynasty! Great post Nirdesh…

    I admire the way you have kept the content very much aligned with your intention of describing the architectural elements of the dynasty and its monuments. It looks more like a Wiki page with various facts about Aihole.

    Overall, impressive :)


    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Archana,

      Thanks for the appreciation and for setting up the post.

      I have seen a lot of posts on temples here on Ghumakkar so thought I will also take a jab at it. Also since it is from early times, which meant more net trawling for facts.

      Thanks again!

  • Wow! another marvel post about a place unknown to me. So ancient place but well preserved and does not look so ancient but probably the recipe is in the granite and almost uniform weather of South India.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Praveen,

    Yes, coming from you then it is something. If you had moved eastwards from Hubli then you would have hit all these places like Gadag, Kampali, Bagalkot and Gulbarga that were centres of several dynasties like Rashtrakutas, Western Chalukyas and other early Hindu kingdoms.

    This complex is well maintained since it is ticketed and houses the museum. There are bunch of temples all around in not so good condition. There is a proposal to shift the entire village of Aihole so that the site is better maintained and gets the Heritage tag.

    The red sandstone seems really god gifted, looks golden and has weathered well all these years.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Rajat says:

    Dear Sh Nirdesh

    these are really very nice photos.

    Thanks & Regards

    Dr. Rajat Goel

  • Dear Nirdesh,

    It was really my mistake to open your post now when I must log off and get ready for my bank to avoid the embarrassment of reaching late to my office. But your post kept me glued to the screen and I am saying to myself – ‘just one more minute’.

    Will go through the post again with patience in the evening. Right now, salutations for brilliant visuals.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Sushantji,

    I would never want you getting late to work. It was not my intention when I wrote the post!

    As always, thanks for your encouraging words. Still waiting for the Mandu post. I was there last year but never got around to writing a post about it since there is so much there. It will need a series of posts. In case you need help, you can visit the below link. This guy is phenomenal and I am a big fan of his.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Vipin says:

    Nirdesh bhai, you very well know how to weave beautiful historical anecdotes together to make it more connected and interesting….was just hearing the above Parshuram episode in a TV serial yesterday (reminded me of my Renuka Ji trip)…amazing history trivia & wonderfully woven & presented by you…loved it thoroughly! Karnataka has been very fascinating & your post (including the coming ones) will further make it more so…photos too were pretty impressive…look forward to more of Karnataka flowing through your posts…

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Vipin,

    Thanks for the appreciation!

    Karnataka has so much to offer that probably I have covered only about 40% of the places in the first para. I will try to put up more posts.

    Thanks for helping discover more places in the Humayun Tomb Complex – even Lucy Peck will be impressed.

    Now its time to smell Khushboo Gujarat Ki!

  • Giriraj Shekhawat says:

    Hi Nirdesh Ji,
    This is the first time i am reading your post. Your post is rich in descriptions with a very good garnish of ancient history and architecture . I particularly liked the way you stratified your post beginning with excellent descriptions of the various architectural marvels of the Karnataka state which are geographically dispersed. You described the way they are different in architectural designs owing to the socio-political and religious influences of those times …Example -the tombs in gulbarga and bidar owing their Islamic inclinations and the rock cut temples of Aihole and Badami belonging to the Chalukyan era. I had heard of Aihole some time ago and always wondered how it derived its name …you have very well answered that in this post … Aihole – – (what a river — that runs red)
    The Suryanarayan gudi .. resembles the ancient Pandav temples of Mahabalipuram belonging to the Pandyan’s of Tamil Nadu … and i believe they belong to the same historical timelines… Durga temple is amazing in its structure… You have taken excellent photographs of these marvels depicting it in its truest form …i liked the pics.

    The temple architecture evolved and became more elaborate only after the fall of the Gupta dynasty nearly around 400 AD. The Mauryans declined soon after Ashoka ,who was more inclined in the propagation of the Buddhist School of thought …Ashoka was a pioneer in constructing the Buddhist Stupa’s with less or no emphasis on the usage of stone . It was only in the later centuries stone became the prominent in temple architecture and construction.
    In the later years with the emergence of various other dynasties in North and western India like Pratihar’s, Parmar of Malwa ,Chaouhans,Chandela’s of Rewa …Gohils of Mewar etc …, the evolution of various forms of temple architecture came into prominence. There was a competition between the patrons of these temples wanting to show their architectural leanings and prowess.
    The Solanki’s of Gujarat were the descendants of Chalukya’s… Solanki’s were the one who have built the famous Jain temples of Delwara in Mount Abu,Rajasthan. They were really instrumental in giving to the world their school of architecture…

    Nirdesh Ji ..i am eagerly looking forward to learn more from you on these areas through your intellect.
    Thank You for sharing this wonderful historical marvel.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Giriraj,

    I am speechless. I am pretty sure you wrote your comment extempore whereas I had to spend hours trawling the net. I would love to read your posts about the temples and the patrons who built them. You seem to be quite a historian. Dilwara Temples are amazing. Of course, they do not let them photographed. I had no idea Solankis were descendents of Chalukyas. Yes there was quite a competition among the various dynasties you mentioned. Also, the Rashtrakutas who commissioned the grandest of all in the sense of design and ambition The Kailash Temple at Ellora.

    Thanks much for the history lesson and for reading. I will be writing about the different Karnataka sites in the coming days.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Dear Nirdesh ,

    I love road travel so I paid extra attention to the southwards travel. With every stroke, we were going by 100+ kilometres. I am so glad that you stopped else both of us would have been in Indian Ocean. Is Karantaka so deep ? , must be and guess the tourism slogan is so apt.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful marvel. I think it is a FoG (First on Ghumakkar). The pics and the narration sounds so modern and it is a miracle that these structures have withstood so long (even after compensating for what Praveen said). As for temple-constuction-spree, we are now following it up with housing-apartments-consructions-spree. At the cost of sounding like a nagging-old-man, on my recent trip to UK I learnt that even to change the facade of your own house, you need to get a permission and in most of the cases you can not change it. The temples would have seen so many dynasties and the fact that they waited all these years for ASI is almost like an urban legend.

    I am a novice in Temple Architecture (or most of the things related to fine arts) but I am leaving a small link. Please read it when your time permits and if you like it then request Manish Khamesra to write more often here.

    On to Badami ?

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Nandan,

    My bad for missing out on replying! Oh yes, Karnataka is as long as MP is wide. And just like MP Tourism, Karnataka Tourism is also doing a great job. Most of the ASI tourist places are in good shape. If you want to go swimming you can go to the long coastline but it will be Arabian Sea and not Indian Ocean!

    Yes Badami was the next post and I will try reading Manish’s seminal post on temples with the hope he comes back!

    Thanks for writing!

  • Aadil Desai says:

    Another great place to visit, Aihole is wonderful and well maintained too. There are some Jain temples atop the hill as well.

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