Karnataka/pattadakallu : I was a fatiguing eight-hour journey from Bangalore on roads which were good, bad and indifferent, in gloom-inducing rainy weather, but the beauty of Pattadakal was worth the toil. Aihole and Badami were also near by to continue our exploration. Besides, the skies cleared up, so the rigours of the journey were forgotten in no time. We decided not to get too bothered by the importunate beggars and trinket-sellers we encountered.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pattadakal, which represents the high point of Chalukyan art, has a complex of several Shiva temples and a Jain sanctuary, all said to have been built around the eighth and ninth centuries. Situated near a small village close to the Malaprabha river, together with Aihole and Badami, it makes for one of Karnataka’s best-known tourist triangles. Since we were here to do the touristy thing, we started off with Pattadakal.
Two monumental gates form the entrances to the cluster of temples at Pattadakal. We encountered a colossal nandi in black stone on a pavilion before we saw the shrines to Shiva.
According to legend, this sacred bull, an ardent devotee of Shiva, received a boon to be ever-present before Shiva. Nandi also receives ritual worship as does the Shiva linga in all temples dedicated to this god. Single depictions or narrative panels about the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Bhagavatham, Panchatantra as well as contemporary social life can be seen in the sculptures at Pattadakal, whether on walls or ceilings. The intricate lattices on the walls and exquisite figurines in the niches are other remarkable aspects of some of the temples in this complex. Of the nine temples to Shiva, eight were clustered close to each other and there were sub-shrines too. A short distance away was the ninth temple – dedicated to Papanatha as well as the Jain structure. The central area had temples to Shiva in his various forms – so there was Kashi Vishweshwara, Mallikarjuna as well as Galaganatha (where you can see the famous statue of Shiva vanquishing the demon Andhakasura) and Sanghameshwara. “I am named after this god,” said our guide, beaming proudly as he flashed his badge, which bore the name, M Sanghameshwara, at us. The twin temples of Kadasiddheshwara and Jambulinga were small but impressive. The smallest and simplest appeared to be the Chandrashekhara temple and we had no fellow-tourists delaying our photo-ops!
Widely known temple
The best-known temple at this site is that of Virupakasha temple – the name given to Shiva because he has the third eye. This widely renowned masterpiece of Chalukyan art was built around 740 AD. Many Pattadakal temples are all in classic Dravidian style and have square-shaped shikharas with curved edges (complex roofs with storeys) and cornices on the walls. The wide porches are another typical Chalukyan feature.
However, there is an influence of northern-style architecture in some of the temples including the Jain sanctuary so there is something eclectic about Pattadakal. It is regarded as a harmonious blend of the Dravidian or southern style and the nagara or north-Indian style.
While Aihole is considered the “laboratory” of Chalukyan art and architecture i.e where experimentation was done, Pattadakal represents a more evolved state and the pinnacle of Chalukyan art.
We spent a lot of time at the large Virupaksha temple which is rich in fine sculptures, among them Nataraja, Lingodbhava, Ugranarasimha (Lord Narasimha in his fiery form), etc.
Bearing a strong resemblance to the Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram, it was built by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over the Pallavas of Kanchi.
We took the pradakshina route or a circumambulating path around the temple. Our guide led us to the Jain temple and the Papanatha temple which were a short distance away. The Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta are believed to have built the Jain temple which is rather simple; nowhere as elaborate as the Jain structures you see in north India.
The Papanatha temple’s wall-niches and carved pillars are its big draw, we were told. Nandi and Veerabhadra stood guard at the entrance.
It had a porch, a large antechamber and a path for pradakshina along which many faithful were walking, some murmuring Shiva mantras.
Our guide, also accompanying us, kept up an incessant chatter on his cellphone with the leader of another group that he was to meet the next day.
Temple-hopping over, we left him with a generous tip as we walked to our car, but he also wanted us to promise that we would use his friend as our guide at Badami where we were headed the next day. We kept our promise.
The prominent temple groups at Aihole are the Kontigudi group and the Galaganatha group of temples. The oldest temple at Aihole is the Lad khan temple dating back to the fifth century.
The Durga temple is the best known of the Aihole temples. It has been built on the lines of a Buddhist chaitya. A pillared corridor runs around the temple, enveloping the shrine, the mukhamantapa and the sabhamantapa. The temple is full of beautiful carvings. It appears to be of the late seventh or early eighth century.
Ravana Phadi cave is one of the oldest rock-cut temples in Aihole, is located south east of Hucchimalli temple. This temple dates back to the sixth century, with a rectangular shrine, with two mantapas.
The Durga temple is one of the important temples of Aihole and the architectural style resembles a Buddhist chaitalaya. The temple stands on a high platform. The temple has a rekhanagara shikhara.
The rock-cut Badami cave temples were sculpted mostly between the sixth and eighth centuries. Landmarks in Badami include cave temples, gateways, forts, inscriptions and sculptures.
A Buddhist cave in a natural setting that can be entered only by crawling on knees. The Bhutanatha temple is a small shrine, facing the lake, and was constructed in the fifth century. The Mallikarjuna temple dating back to the 11th century, has been built on a star-shaped plan.