A Splendour in Caves

A Splendour in Caves
Aerial view of Badami in Karnataka, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The Malaprabha river valley is considered to be a cradle of temple architecture in India with cave temples that date back to the 6th and 7th century AD

Soham Deb
September 06 , 2020
04 Min Read

Located in the town of Badami and villages of Aihole, Nagaral and Pattadakal, along Malprabha river in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka is a treasure trove of cave temples dating back to the Chalukya Dynasty (6th-8th century CE).

At the mouth of a ravine between two rocky hills, the cave temples of Badami overlook the man-made Agastya lake. The place, earlier known as Vatapi, is situated around 150 km from the town of Belgaum and about 510 km from Bengaluru, and about 20 km from Pattadakal, a UNESCO world heritage site. Closeby is the 5th century Bhoothnath temple, Badami Fort and the Archaeological Museum.


Badami was the erstwhile capital of the Chalukya dynasty whose rulers were passionate about the arts, architecture and literature. They built the stunning rock-cut cave temples with a series of exquisite sculptures carved from the sandstone cliffs. The architectural stunner consists of four rock-cut caves dating back several centuries. 

The caves are part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site candidate under the title "Evolution of Temple Architecture – Aihole-Badami-Pattadakal". 

Aihole is about 35 km from Badami and about 10 km from Pattadakal. This designated UNESCO heritage site has Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments. Aihole's monuments are scattered around a small village full of innocuous farmlands and sandstone hills. 

As the UNESCO page on the structures states, "the temples at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal are the largest, earliest group of monuments which comprehensively demonstrates the evolution in Hindu rock-cut and temple architecture in India. The prototypes of 16 types of free-standing temples and 4 types of rock-cut shrines were developed in Badami and Aihole, which reached its most matured form in Pattadakal. This transformed the Malaprabha river valley into a ‘cradle of Temple Architecture’, where experimentation defined the components of a typical Hindu Temple."

It's best to stick around and see the caves as the sun sets, bathing the sandstone in a deep red hue. 

Erstwhile Chalukyan capital Aihole is home to 125 shrines built between the 6th and 12th century AD, the star attraction being the Durga Temple, which has a fusion of Dravida with Nagara architectural styles

The Durga Temple in Aihole has no connection with Goddess Durga; its name has come due to its closeness to a ‘Durg’ or a fort. This temple has provided the design of the Indian Parliament

Pattadakal, with its Virupaksha Temple, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the 10 temples in the complex are also the stunning Mallikarjuna and Papanath temples

The cave temples at the seventh century site of Badami represent the sophistication of Chalukyan architecture. Tickets for the cave temples are Rs100 for foreigners and Rs10 for Indians

The first cave is dedicated to Nataraja, the dancing figure of Shiva with more than 80 forms of the idol carved in red sandstone.

The second cave dedicated to Vishnu is much smaller than the first

The largest cave in the area is the third one with giant carved figures of different forms of Vishnu – Narasimha, Varaha and Trivikrama

The fourth cave is the smallest one among the four caves. Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, is depicted in a seated posture inside this cave.

The Badami Fort atop a hill was the residence of the Chalukyan kings when Badami was their capital city. The Pallavas destroyed the fort which was renovated by Tipu Sultan.

The strategically placed watch towers of Badami Fort which also consists of large granaries and an underground chamber.

 The Bhootnath Temple on Agasthya Teertha, a scenic lake at the foot of the Badami hills. Many believe the lake water has healing waters

Badami is a popular place for rock climbers as the hills have multiple climbing routes for professionals and beginners.


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