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Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture

Salini Sasidharan http://pickpackgo.in/

Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture


The vast region below the Meguti hill in Aihole is the valley of the Malaprabha river. The river
Malaprabha is described in the ancient Indian legends as the place where Parasurama washed his axe.
Parasurama did a holocaust of the Kshatriyas to avenge the death of his father Jamadagni. After his
anger was quenched, Parasurama came down to river Malaprabha to wash his axe, which was drenched
in the blood of the Kshatriyas. The river turned red instantly. When the saw the blood red river, the local
women who was taking a bath at the river shouted Ayyo Hole (means Wow, the River!) The
agricultural village came to be known as Aihole later on.
These may be mere myths, but the remote village in the Northern Karnataka is indeed a wonder land of
ancient sculptures and temples. Majority of the temples in Aihole was built during the rule of Chalukya
dynasty starting 544 AD. Aihole has a history of thousand five hundred years, however the remote
village still seems to be stuck in that time period. There is no trace of development. Villagers still seem
to occupy the deserted temples of Chalukya period.
As I walked towards the Meguti hill, the first sight was that of a Buddhist Chaitya Gruha (or prayer hall).
This cave temple, dug into one of the sides of Meguti hills looks like a two storey building. It was built
during 580 AD and stand as a memoir of golden era when Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism existed in a
peaceful harmony.
Aihole was not only the nursery of south Indian architecture, it was also an important center of trade in
the Chalukya kingdom. The famous ayyovole 500 hails from this very place. They are a group of
legendary tradesmen. They were famous for their chivalry and courage. They traded elephant, horses,
precious stones like diamond, emerald and ruby, spices and incenses to the rest of India and even other
countries. Most of them were religious Buddhists.
I started climbing the steps that leads to the top of the Meguti hill, where there is an ancient Jain
temple. The Jain temple on top of the Meguti hill in Aihole is an important archeological monument. It
was built in 634 AD by Ravikriti, the court poet of Pulakeshin II, the famous Chalukya king. This small
temple houses the famous Chalukya inscription named the Aihole inscription or the Ravikriti
inscription. It was a key artifact that helped the archeologist to decode the history of Chalukyas and
even helped them dating the Mahabharata war.
This inscription praises Pulakeshin II, who defeated the famous Harshavardhan on the Narmada river
valley. It was an important conquest after which the Chalukya kings ruled almost the entire Deccan
plateau. Pulakeshin II was praised as the Dakshinapadeshwara- the lord of Deccan. The temple itself is
small with an idol of Mahavira in the sanctum sanctorum.
Meguti was a forted hill in ancient Chalukyan times. The reminiscent of which is still seen around the
perimeter of the hilltop. One can have a panoramic view of Aihole from the Meguti hill. There are
almost hundred red sand stone temples strewn all around the village. According to the historians,
Aihole was a famous architecture and sculpture school were thousands of Chalukyan artist learned their
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Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture


Salini Sasidharan http://pickpackgo.in/

temple-making lessons. Many of the temples in Aihole are just prototypes, experimenting different
styles and techniques of temple making. The Rashtrakuta temples of Ellora, the Vijayanagara temples of
Hampi, the Hoysala temples of Halebeedu and Belur all follows the Aihole school with small
localizations or improvements.
Even though there are around hundred temples in Aihole, the most important ones are situated in a
protected complex. Archeological Survey of India(ASI) maintains this lovely complex where there are a
number of temples worth a visit. Durga temple, Badigarugudi, Lad khan temple, Guadargudi,
Chakragudi, Trikudeshwara temple are some of them. Before ASI took over the temples, the villagers
were staying inside them. Each temple was known by the name of its occupant. Hence most of the
Aihole temple have strange names. For example, Lad Khan was a Muslim saint who used to live in the
temple. Hence the temple came to be known as Lad Khan temple. This must be the only Hindu temple
in India, known by a Muslim name.
The most elaborate and important temple in this complex is the Durga temple. It is not a temple
dedicated to Goddess Durga as the name suggests. This temple was built in AD 748 and was dedicated
to God Surya (the sun God). Later, with the changing ideologies of Hinduism, the temple was rededicated to God Vishnu. There was a small watchtower on top this temple locally known as Durg (or
Fort). The locals called this temple The Durg temple or later it was known as Durga temple.
The shape of Durga temple is very intriguing. It resembles the structure of Indian parliament house. Or
at least a crude form of it. The guide called it the Gajaprushta Akriti means, the form of this temple
resembles the backside of an elephant!
The oval shaped Durga temple is built on a raised platform which is almost four feet high. There are
steep steps leading to the front portico of the temple. It is highly ornate with carved pillars and
sculptured ceiling. One of the sculptures of particular importance is the seven headed serpent on the
ceiling. It is the carving of Adi Shesha the seven hooded serpent who is an attendant of Lord Vishnu.
The serpent holds a basket of flowers and has a delicately carved body.
As we pass the first portico, we enter into the Mukha Mantapa or the welcome chamber of the temple.
The door that leads into this chamber is also very interesting. It is carved to such an extent that, one
might doubt it is wood rather than stone. There are five layer of designs on this door frame. Each of
them is a well-known pattern in Chalukya sculptural school. The Naga-Shakha is the design of serpents,
Pushpa -Shakha the floral design, Kumbha-Shakha the design with overflowing vessels to show
prosperity, Manava Shakha the design that features human beings, Makara Shakha the design
shows crocodiles. The door frame in itself is nothing less than a sculptural master piece.
As I entered into the Durga temple, my eyes struggled to adjust with the darkness inside. There is no
proper lighting inside the temple. The ceiling of the temple is in gradual ruin as water seep through the
roof. The sculptures of beautiful beings like Apsaras have partially disfigured. One drawback that I have
observed in the Chalukyan temples is the insufficient light. The perforated windows dont allow much
light. In ancient times, the temple might have been properly illuminated. Also, my theory is that, the
human beings from the medieval time might have had better light sensitivity than us. Due to the
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Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture


Salini Sasidharan http://pickpackgo.in/

constant use of tablets, phones and computer our light sensitivity must be very low. Hence we dont feel
there is enough light inside the ancient temples.
I always carry a torch on my archeological expeditions. Here it came very handy. We entered into the
inner circumambulatory path known as the Pradikshina Path. The inner Pradikshina Path is built
around the oval shaped sanctum sanctorum of the temple, which once had the idol of the Surya. As we
pass through the unlit path, one can get a closer look at the oval shaped structure of the sanctum. It is
indeed a wonder that in an ancient age where there was no motorized machinery to cut the rock, the
masons have bended the rock with such a perfection. The inner sanctum is now devoid of any idol. It
might have been destroyed during the Adil Shahi attack in 1565.
One can also find a recurring symbol of Chalukyan art, the Keerthi Mukham on many of the pillars inside
the Durga temple. We exited the inner chamber of the Durga temple and entered into the outer
corridor.
The oval shaped outer corridor that surrounds the inner Pradikshina Path and sanctum is a specialty of
the Durga temple. Usually, Indian temples would have a single circumambulatory path around the inner
sanctum. The Durga temple have two. The outer Pradikshina Path is an ancient art gallery. It displays
various sculptures of high quality in the equally spaced niches cut into the wall. It must be the first art
gallery anywhere in the world. The Europeans conceive the idea of art gallery in the 12th century AD
during the renaissance. However, the Indian sculptures have experimented it 500 years earlier, here in
Aihole.
There are sculptures with varying themes displayed in this gallery. There are Gods and common folk. For
example, there is a sculpture of a married young women who is carrying her child in one hand and
accompanied by her husband. The ancient ornaments and cloths are very clear. She is wearing a
Mangal Sutra an ornament around her neck that indicates her married status. She is also wearing a
Kanta Sutra or an ancient style necklace. Her attire reaches just above the knees and it reminds us of
miniskirts of the modern world.
The main sculptures displayed in the oval art gallery are Tri-Bhangu-Shiva, Vishnu flying on Garuda,
Durga slaying demon Mahisha and Varaha rescuing the Bhumi Devi (earth goddess). Each of them are
master pieces.
Another interesting artifact in the Durga temple is the highly perforated windows. There are around
twenty windows around the oval shaped walls. Each of them have a different design. They are not even
resembling each other. Our guide told that as Aihole was an experimentation lab of the Chalukyas, they
tried different designs over here. Whichever the king liked, it was replicated in other temples across the
country.
The Durga temple stands on a 3 feet foundation the walls of which are also richly carved with themes
from Ramayana. One of the scenes that attracted me most is from Ramayana. Sree Rama, Seetha and
Lakshmana on their exile, reached the Sarayu river. They were worried as they did not find a wat to
cross the river. Guha the master sculptures of the Gods constructed a boat for them and the happily
sailed across River Sarayu. This scene is depicted in the wall panel.
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Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture


Salini Sasidharan http://pickpackgo.in/

After spending a few hours in Aihole, one thing that amazed me most was our tour guide Shivanand! He
was born into a remote village named Siddanakkolla in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka. He earned a
degree in history and turned into a tourist guide. His knowledge of Karnataka history and that of India in
general is impressive. His English is impeccable and he says he has never left the Bagalkot district ever!
We exited the Durga temple discussing about the excavation activities in Aihole. The entire Durga
complex was covered in 4 feet of earth until 1958, when the archeology department of India did an
extensive excavation under the guidance of Dr. S. R . Rao a veteran in Indian archeology. Many
sculptures have been recovered from underground later on. The archeological museum of Aihole
displays many of them. Unfortunately, we could not cover the museum as it was the weekly holiday.
There is an interesting sculptural panel placed near the entrance of the Archeological museum. It is the
depiction of Sapta Matrikas the women forms of the main Hindu Gods. It was very interesting as I
have never heard of such a cult. The Sapta Matrikas include - Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani,
Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narasimhi.
We moved to the next temple in the complex. It is a small temple with modest sculptures. However, it
has immense archeological importance due to the ancient idol present inside the sanctum. It is the
temple of Surya Narayana or the Sun God. There are not many Sun temples in India apart from the
famous on in Konark. However, Konark does not have an idol. The Surya idol inside this small temple
might probably the oldest Surya sculpture in India. It is made in green granite and almost five feet tall.
All the details are carved clearly depicting Usha and Sandhya the wives of Surya, the 9 planets around
him, his chariot drawn by seven horses etc. The alignment of the sanctum is also a wonder. There are no
windows in Surya temple, however due to the right direction, the light directly comes and falls on the
idol. It is nothing less than an architectural marvel. You can see this effect very clearly in my photograph.
Next we moved on to the Lad Khan temple. It is one of the ancient temples in South India named after
a former occupant of the temple named Lad Khan. He was a Muslim saint. Even though there are no
clear archeological evidences, this temple is believed to be built in AD 450. The construction of its roof is
of particular interest. Huge rock pieces that resembles wooden logs are placed on top of the roof.
Archeologists suggest that the ancient architects did not have any prior experience in building a temple
and neither they had exposure to other temples. So, they constructed it in form of a community hall in
the lower floor and a small sanctum in the upper floor. There is a monolithic ladder leading to the upper
sanctum. The historians also believe that the famous business group of Chalukyan times the Ayyovole
500- might have used this temple as a public meeting place.
Right next to the Lad Khan temple stands the Gaudargudi at a lower elevation. In front of it, we can
see two miniature temples. Our guide told me that they are the experimental temples built by the
sculpture students in Aihole. As I mentioned earlier, Aihole in ancient times was a famous university of
architecture and sculptures. It was similar to the ancient Indian universities like Nalanda, Takshashila
and Kancheepuram.
Gaudargudi is a good example of the Dravida style of temple architecture that prevailed in south of
Narmada river in ancient days. Another style of temple architecture is called Nagara style. The Nagara
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Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture


Salini Sasidharan http://pickpackgo.in/

style was popular in North India. One of the prime examples of Nagara style architecture is the Konark
sun temple in Puri. According the Dravida style, the roof of the temple is low and slopping. The
construction is quite simple. However according to Nagara style, the pinnacle or Shikhara of the temple
is built in gradually diminishing multiple layers. Usually they are intricately carved.
The later Chalukyan architecture clearly shows influences from the Nagara style. It might be due to the
military expedition of Chalukyan kings to the norther territories of India. Remember the second
Pulakeshins military expedition and defeating Harsha Vardan on the banks of River Narmada.
There are many other smaller temples in Durga complex. The Chakragudi is a temple built with Nagara
style Shikhara where as another smaller temple nearby named Badigarugudi is built in complete Dravida
style.
After having a glance at all the temples, we exited Durga temple. The next destination is almost a
kilometer away from the Durga temple. It is known as the temple of Huchi Malli. It literally translates
to The temple of insane Malli. According to the legends, an insane women named Malli stayed inside
this temple. Huchi Malli temple is of particular importance due to two reasons. Huchi Malli temple is
also considered as a complete temple with all the essential elements of an Indian temple. It has a Nandi
in front of it (Vehicle or Vahana of main deity), entrance hall (Mukha Mantapa), Main hall (Sabha
Mantapa), Antechamber (Antarala), Sanctum, circular path (Pradikshina Patha) and a Nagara style
pinnacle on the roof (Shikhara). It is only one surviving temple in Aihole where all these elements come
together.

This temple has a rare sculpture of Subramanian or Karthikeya the son of Lord Shiva. It is not very
common in the Chalukya temples.
Our next stop was a small cave temple known as Ravan Phadi located near the Huchi Malli temple.
Even though it stands unnoticed in a corner of Aihole, it contains one of the master pieces of Indian
sculptures. It is known as the Dashabhuja Nataraja or The ten handed dancing Shiva. The sheer
beauty and perfection of Shiva, dancing with consort Parvati, sons Ganesh and Karthikeya accompanied
by Sapta Matrikas is breathtaking. Standing in front of this master piece is a moment of great joy for
those who love art and sculptors.
This small cave temple was built during 540 AD and it is considered to be the predecessor of the famous
Badami cave temples. Apart from the ten handed Shiva, this cave temple has multiple sculptures
including Durga slaying demon Mahisha and Varaha rescuing the Bhumi Devi (Earth goddess).
Another interesting sculpture in the Ravan Phadi cave temple is the sculpture of Lord Shiva and Parvati
along with Bhagiratha. The sage Bhagiratha is doing a penance to bring the holy river Ganges from
heaven to earth. On top of Lord Shiva, there are 3 figures representing the Rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and
Sarasvati.
After Ravan Phadi, we started our return journey from Aihole.
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Aihole The birth place of South Indian temple architecture


Salini Sasidharan http://pickpackgo.in/

How to reach Aihole?


The nearest town to Aihole is Badami. Aihole is situated 35km from Badami. There are Karnataka
Transport Public buses ply between Badami and Aihole, however they are not very regular.
How to explore Aihole?
It is best to

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