Badami Delight

Pulakesi I knew that soon he will have to look for a more secure capital for his fledgling kingdom of the Early Chalukyas. The Pallavas who ruled Northern Tamil Nadu and Southern Andhra Pradesh from Kanchipuram were a constant threat. The Pallavas would later disrupt the Early Chalukyas dynasty for thirteen years. Threat would also come from Rashtrakutas who were feudatories of the Early Chalukyas and will ultimately overthrow the Early Chalukyas. Rashtrakutas established their capital in Malkhed about 300 kms North East to Badami in the district of Gulbarga. The Rashtrakutas later commissioned more temples in Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal and built the most magnificent temple of all, the Kailash Temple in Ellora.

Aihole lies on relatively rocky plain land. Only the Malaprabha river provided some defence in the West. Pulakesi I did not have to look far. Badami, then known as Vatapi was just 30 kms to the West. Badami by some quirk of nature had high rocky outcrops which could be easily defended. Pulakesi I shifted his capital to Badami in 540 AD and it remained the capital till 757 AD. So while Badami became the political capital, Aihole continued to serve as the commerce capital.

The Badami Temples are attributed to the sons of Pulakesi I – Kirtivarman I (566-597 AD) and Mangalesa (597-610AD). Mangalesh commissioned the grandest Cave Three temple and is regarded as the Father of Chalukya Architecture. Pulakesi II, son of Kirtivarman I, killed his ambitious Regent uncle Mangalesh and ascended the throne. Apparently, this trait of killing family members was not unique to the Mughals and possibly extends to the entire ruling class. Pulakesi II was perhaps the best known Chalukyan King when the kingdom was at its peak and extended from Narmada to Cauveri. He led several victorious campaigns against the Pallavs in South and Harsh of Kannauj in the North. The Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang’s memoirs records Pulakesi II victory over Harshvardhan on the banks of Narmada River. Hieun Tsang who visited Pulakesi II’s court was impressed with the administration and the state of the people. Badami Chalukyas went into a brief decline upon the death of Pulakesi II in 642 AD when the Pallavs ruled for thirteen years.

Vatapi which was the original name of capital has mythological connection to Ramayana. While Chitradurga had the demon brother & sister Hidimba and Hidimbi snacking on people, Badami had its own demon siblings Vatapi and Ilvala who, surprise, also had affinity to human meat of mendicants. The elder Ilvala would turn Vatapi into a sheep and offer its meat to the passing poor person. Once the person ate the meat, Ilvala who had the gift of calling a person even from netherland, would call Vatapi’s name. Vatapi would emerge from the person’s body, thus killing him. However, Sage Agastya had other ideas. He digested the meat of the sheep before Ilvala could call out Vatapi’s name thus significantly increasing mendicants’ life expectancies in the area. The two hills in Badami are believed to be the demon brothers. Later the place was named Badami probably because of the almond (Badam) coloured rocks in the area.

Bhootnath Temple - View from South Hill

Bhootnath Temple – View from South Hill

South Hill with Fort on Top - View from Parking Lot

South Hill with Fort on Top – View from Parking Lot

North Hill, Lake and Badami Town - View from South Hill

North Hill, Lake and Badami Town – View from South Hill

You have started from Bagalkot and your first stop is Badami. You have only one day to see the triple wonders of Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole. It is hot and the area is drought affected. You drive into the dusty town and abruptly turn left into the parking lot. The parking lot seems to be at the foot of this ravine with sandstone hills rising on either side. On the right, the red rocky outcrop rises almost vertically housing the rock-cut temples. On the top of this South Hill sits the Badami Fort. Few yards straight ahead to the parking lot is the lake called Agastya Teertha hemmed in between the two hills. On the left of the lake is the North Hill of Badami. North Hill also has fort ramparts, few temples, guard posts and the ASI Museum. The forts were initially built by Chalukyas & Rashtrakutas and then Tipu Sultan installed cannons and his treasury to the original structures. On the west, the town is threatening to push into the lake with houses built on the edge of the lake. Beware of a snarling dog that apparently dislikes city slickers and is ready to chew your neck. Into the east, you can see the Bhootnath Temple complex built on the edge of the lake with another hill rising behind it. Kids bathe in the cool lake water and women wash laundry spreading it on the steps.

While the hills provided the needed security, they also provided the fabulous looking red sandstone that was scooped out to build the magnificent rock- cut cave temples Badami is famous for. Four such rock cut temples have been sculpted out of the South Hill. Each temple has the basic architecture: The mukha mandapa or verandah with stone pillars and corbels leading to the columned mandapa or the main hall. Deep inside is the square garbh graha or the sanctum sanctorum. The temples date from 6th to 8th century. The richly carved temples provide testimony to the developed skills of the Early Chalukyas’ craftsmen. Here in Badami they exhibited their considerable skills acquired in the laboratory of Aihole.

Cave 1 - Ardhanareeshwara

Cave 1 – Ardhanareeshwara

Cave 1 - Dancing Natraj with 18 Arms

Cave 1 – Dancing Natraj with 18 Arms

Cave 1 - Harihar

Cave 1 – Harihar

Cave 1 (543 AD) is a Shiva Temple and was the first to be excavated. The temple walls depict the family of Shiva including Durga-Mahishamardini, Kartikey and Ganesh. The most celebrated sculpture is that of the 18 armed dancing Nataraj demonstrating eighty one mudras. Nataraj, Lord of Dance, is the cosmic dancer Shiva, performing divine dance to destroy the universe paving way for its creation. The entire panel radiates vigorous energy and motion of the Shiva Tandav Nrutya with Ganesh and Nandi also joining in the dance. The musician is playing tripura vaadya. Another magnificent statue is that of Ardhanareeshwar – composite form of Shiv and Parvati. The statue is flanked by the three legged, tenacious and almost skeletal Sage Bhringi, a great devotee of Shiva; the bull Nandi who is Shiva’s vehicle; and a friend of Parvati. Notice the mythical animals depicted on the corbels above. Another statue depicts Harihar or Shiv Narayan, the fusion form of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiv (Har). Shiv’s side has Parvati and Nandi, with snakes on arm and ardh chakra, while Vishnu’s side has Lakshmi and Garud, jewelled crown on the head, arm holding the conch and adorned with jewels. The frieze below contains several dwarfs or gan in various postures. Some celestial couples adorn the ceiling.

Cave 2 is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

Cave 2 - Varah

Cave 2 – Varah

Vishnu’s third avatar Varah – the Wild Boar is depicted zoo-anthropomorphically with one hand rescuing the earth Bhudevi from the ocean and with one foot resting on the netherland or pataal. This probably was the first time when a human neck was shown attaching the boar head with human body. The Nag King Vasuki worships the feet of Lord Vishnu. During the Samundra Manthan, Vasuki allowed himself to be used as the churning rope. Varah was the royal emblem of the Chalukyas and was later adopted by Vijaynagar Empire.

Cave 2 - Vaman

Cave 2 – Vaman

Another statue depicts Vaman – Vishnu’s fifth avatar. The panel depicts Vaman in King Bali’s court measuring earth with one foot and the other foot reaching the sky, Vaman the dwarf Brahmin, Bali – the pious King of Demons, King Bali’s guru Sukracharya and King Bali falling at Lord Vishnu’s feet.

Cave 2 - Swastik on Roof

Cave 2 – Swastik on Roof

On the ceiling is an incredible four branched Swastik.

Cave 3 (578 AD) is also dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is the most eye popping. Mangalesh built this temple in memory of his brother Kirtivarma’s rule. The cave looks splendid with mix of painting and sculptures on every available inch of stone; something similar to First Cave in Ajanta but on a smaller scale. The statues and sculptures are more elaborate as if the second cave just whetted their appetite and the master craftsmen now wanted to create more masterpieces.

Cave 3 - Narasimh & Vaman

Cave 3 – Narasimh & Vaman

The cave has statue of Narasimh, the lion-man incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Narasimh has head of lion, body of human and claws. Prahlad’s devotion to Vishnu brought his demon father Hiranyakashyap’s end at the hands, er, claws of Narasimh. Narasimh is usually shown sitting and angry but here the statue is standing and probably even smiling. The corbels surrounding Narasimh are exquisite.

Cave 3 - Lord Maha Vishnu

Cave 3 – Lord Maha Vishnu

On one side of the mukha mandapa, Lord Maha Vishnu is depicted sitting – instead of the usual reclining position – on the coiled five headed Anant Shesh. The carving includes diamond crown, ornamented arms, karna kundal around the waist.

Cave 3 - Paintings on the Ceiling

Cave 3 – Paintings on the Ceiling

The ceiling has several painted panels probably restored.

Cave 3 - Lord Indra and Eight Guardians of Directions

Cave 3 – Lord Indra and Eight Guardians of Directions

True to tradition, Asht Dikpalaks or Guardians of Directions are represented on the ceiling. In the centre is Lord Indra, the King of Gods, Lord of Heaven and God of rain and thunderstorm. Also seen is Indra’s vehicle Airavata.

Cave 3 - Divine Couples

Cave 3 – Divine Couples

Cave 3 - Sculpted Pillars and Corbels

Cave 3 – Sculpted Pillars and Corbels

The corbels have divine couples or yakshs in various postures.

Cave 4 - Bahubali

Cave 4 – Bahubali

Cave 4 is dedicated to the Jain religion. Bahubali or Gomateshwar was the second son among the hundred sons of first Tirthankar Rishabh. The carving shows Bahubali meditating while vines climb the legs and serpants come out of the anthills hissing. Also, seen are Bahubali’s sisters Brahmi and Sundari.

Cave 4 - Parshvanath

Cave 4 – Parshvanath

Parshvanath was the twenty third Tirthankar and the most popular among Jains. Adishesh hoods the head. The voluptuous Padmavati Yakshini holds an umbrella while her husband Dharanendra sits. The statues do not have clothes following the customs of Digambar Jains which means renunciation of all worldly possessions.

You have learnt more of Religion and Mythology from a single visit to Badami than your entire life. It is not even twelve in the afternoon and the heat is searing. When you reach a place you first hit the fort and then if time permits you go see other attractions. But the height is too intimidating in this heat. You need to conserve energy for Pattadakal and Aihole. The steps leading up to the South Hill fort are supposed to be narrow and steep and are closed for visitors after a fatal mishap. The closed gate is near the second cave. Fort hunters hire local guides and climb the hill from the back to reach the fort. North hill fort is open to visitors.

Monkey Family Enjoying Afternoon Siesta

Monkey Family Enjoying Afternoon Siesta

You don’t ever remember reading an ASI sign warning you of monkeys in the precincts of a monument. But here in Badami right at the entrance there is a warning that you are a fair game to a big community of monkeys. And it is so true. They are everywhere and every few minutes there is a scream, some clamour and you see a monkey gleefully flaunting a bottle or footwear or potato chip packets. But the May heat has wilted the monkeys and they decide to take a power nap before menacing the next visitor.

These Cliffs will turn Magical in Monsoons

These Cliffs will turn Magical in Monsoons

Best time of course to visit Badami or any place in India as you have found out are the rains. The hills would become lush; water streams forming the Akka-Tangi Water Fall cascades down the cliffs flowing into the Agastya Lake. The site would turn magical. Also then you can climb the hills, visit temples on North Hill along with the museum.

When in Badami Wear Flowers in your Hair

When in Badami Wear Flowers in your Hair

Though it is does not say on any sign but it is recommended that if you are going to Badami; be sure to wear some flowers in your hair!

Credits – Anu Shankar’s blog that helped me identify the various sculptures and also for the mythological stories. She writes at Also, consulted is the quite informative Tourist Guide written by Veeresh Angadi of Aihole. Since I am not an expert on mythology or religion, any misinterpretation or error is purely unintentional.

Getting There: Badami is 40 kms district centre of Bagalkot, 22 kms from Pattadakal, 36 kms from Aihole and 500 kms north of Bangalore. Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole can all be visited in one day. But if you have time and it is the rainy season, Badami has enough to keep you there for two days. Trek up the hills to the forts, enjoy the rock formations, visit Sidlaphadi – probable home to prehistoric men, and admire Banashankari & Mahakoota temples.


  • Giriraj Shekhawat says:

    Hi Nirdesh bhai ,
    Here comes a masterpiece(badami) from an another masterpiece (nirdesh bhai) .This time it is a history lesson about the chalukyan school of architecture … I am glad to have started my day happily reading this historical and cultural commentary ..which is well documented by you …
    i liked cave no.2 depicting vishnu in the varaha avtar … He rescued mother earth or bhudevi when demon hiryanksh drowned her into the deep ocean… I have seen the varaha being installed in many vaishnav temples …but never seen vishnu being depicted with a head of a wild boar … Most of the caves are dedicated to vishnu except one which is housing ardhnareshwar roop of mahadev shiv…does that mean the chalukya’s were vaishnavites in faith … Im a bit dubious in this regard..i hope you can better answer this …. i simply loved your pictures ..they were narrating and testifying the cultural and artistic leanings of their patrons … Seeing the ferocious lord narasimha smiling was surprising … I would love to have you as my Satyaki — Saarthi whenever i wish to explore karnataka …


    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Giriraj,

      All I know is that the Early Chalukyans were pretty secular – they were okay with all religions and beliefs. Badami was the proof.

      Udaygiri Caves too have Varah with wild boar head – I swear, I saw it yesterday!

      Out of four temples – one is dedicated to Shiv, two to Vishnu and one to Jains. So probably they were Vaishnaivites. I really do not know. Will need to look for answers.

      Hey man, I will be your Saarthi anytime!

      Thanks for reading and that too at 5 in the morning. What’s up with that!?

  • Vipin says:

    Wow, it was really a delightful badami breakfast…fabulous post, Nirdesh bhai! The detailing around the sculptures & the mythological connections attached to them were pretty good & revived those little stories that we would see or hear while growing up…loved all the photos (especially the one with the lake), truly captured the essence of this ancient site & the culture…the photos reflect how harsh the day would have been, so you were lucky to have saved your energy while the monkeys were taking a nap…:)

    Do you have any story about Sage Agastya’s association with this place?…Monsoons surely is the best time to relish such marvels…we are planning to explore, the heart of India, MP this July, would be great if you could join us…thanks for sharing other blogs too!

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Vipin,

      Thanks for reading!

      Yes, the temples here provide snapshots of the mythological stories – instead of photos or books they are sculpted in solid rock. Writing the post made me more knowledgeable about the mythical stories. That is all I know of Agastya Muni that he got rid of the demon brothers here in Badami!

      Yes rains would be the best time to visit this triad of places.

      Hope you enjoyed your Alwar trip. MP has so much to see. And if you believe the MP Tourism Ad, your kid will call you Mamaji once you return after seeing everything MP has to offer!

  • Prasad Np says:

    Both the posts on Aihole and Badami are really good, and you have taken a lot of time to do research on the facts and history. Though I liked the second one better, it could purely be because the carvings are much more intricate on the temples as shown in pictures. Overall wonderful posts and whenever I go to Badami I have to come back to these posts.

    Loved the way you described monkeys :)

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Prasad,

      Thanks for visiting!

      Yes, If Aihole was the middle school, then Badami was the High School for the craftsmen. They were getting better and Badami was the proof. Later, Pattadakal was the result when the Chalukyan architecture reached its zenith and they built beautiful structural temples.

      Monkeys are notorious there so you just have to fend for yourself!

  • Great post about Badami, I never been there but this post prompts me to visit this splendid Badami.
    I never had any idea if Chalukyas ever had any Jain connection.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Praveen,

      You went west from Hubli, this time go east and visit Gadag, Bagalkot and of course Hampi.

      Yes they positively did at least here in Badami. Pattadakal has only one Jain temple out of about 10 temples.

      Thanks for reading!

  • injamaven says:

    Don’t forget Mahakuta! & Nagaral.

  • injamaven says:

    so many gorgeous things to see. Look carefully, climb to the North Fort hill, see most beautiful temple in all India [my opinion only] Malegitte Sivalaya, at the NW end of the tank, temples & caves.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Injamaven,

      Because of the heat , I could not climb the North Hill. But the Malagitti Shivalaya looked beautiful from the water tank below.

      And Mahakuta involves a little trek from the North Hill. If I happen to go again, I will visit both these temples.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Hello Nirdesh,

    Your writing to the very minute details of a location and related information is exceptional. Masterpiece.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Deependra,

      How are you?

      Yes, writing the post was a challenge since I am zero in mythology. It was a learning experience for me.

      Thanks for the appreciation!

  • Sp Singh says:

    Hi Nirdesh

    Very good insight , Your article is encouaging enough to make sure , we visit the site

    keep it up



    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Simar,

      Next time you are in that part of the world, do go visit. You need to check up on your Bagalkot dealer!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    I was saving this read for a time when I could read it in leisure. Delhi is getting warm (and humid) and I stole enough time to ensure that I follow, at least some bits of, Chalukyas, Pallavas and Rashtrakoots. All these dynasties sound familiar and thats about it. Unlike Mughals where we still have some clue, the southern kingdoms have been a blind-spot for me. So many thanks for helping me place them on time-map.

    The temples, caves and everything else has been brilliantly explained. The benefit of reading late is one also gets to read such valuable and interesting comments. Thank you once more. Hope MP trip is going fine.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Nandan,

      Hope Delhi gets cooler soon, just like it is in Wn India.

      Yes, learning about the Southern Kingdoms was a challenge in school and also they dont get their due in the textbooks. They also kept sparring with each other through successive decades and dynasties until the time of Vijaynagar and Hoysalas and then the Bahmani kingdoms.

      I will be soon delving into the fascinating Bahmani Sultanate and its breakup into separate kingdoms.

      Badami is really beautiful and with its hills and lakes, right now with plentiful rains in Northern Karnataka will be good time to visit them.

      There is so much to see in MP that I have barely scratched the surface. However, Chanderi is charming – a mini Mandu of sorts.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Aadil Desai says:

    Badami is really nice with the pink rock carved out with many wonderful images from different religions making it a beautiful heritage site to visit. The views from the top are just great and a walk around the pond is really beautiful at sunset. Only problem there is the children who are worse than the monkeys you describe, they are monsters actually compared with the monkeys who only snatch away food or fruits or bottles. These children spoil the name of our country when they come asking for gifts from foreigners and if they are denied, then they start throwing stones at them, especially targeting their cameras. These are small girls and boys who are just about five to seven years old who mistreat foreigners just because they did not give them money or pens or chocolates. Wish this behaviour stops as soon as possible.

    • Nirdesh Singh says:

      Hi Aadil,

      I have heard about these kids throwing stones at foreigners but I thought it was one off case. And now that you mention it again, it seems it is quite regular affair. I think I will call someone in Karnataka ASI through local friends.

      Badami is beautiful – the day I visited it was quite hot, so i could not climb the other hill or take a walk around the pond. Next time will definitely do it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Aadil Desai says:

        Thanks for your concern and reporting to Karnataka ASI about the foreigners being attacked by these little monsters and wish they would learn to treat them with the adage Atithi Devo Bhava instead of their cruel and audacious behaviour which only gets India a bad name and the foreigners a few bruises and damaged cameras in return. There are hardly any guards at the caves and those who are there are mainly at the entrance and first cave but most of these atrocities happen on the way or the steps in between the higher caves so it does not help much.

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