Romancing the stone

Right after we entered the gate of the Cave Temples of Badami, a monkey greeted us with a crack jawed smile.

Last evening, with my senior friend Amitabha, I arrived at Badami from Hampi by car. En route we visited Lakkundi. We put up in Hotel Mourya, a hotel governed by KSTDC. While having dinner in the restaurant of the Hotel Maurya, we found a group of school students were there and their teacher warned them about the do’s and don’ts. I recalled, the teacher forewarned them about the possible attack of monkeys. 

View of Badami from a cave of South Fort

I was a bit tense. My worry was not about monkeys but the probable chaos that might get caused by 60 teen aged students inside the cave temples. Later, we discovered three students were sharing a single room in the hotel. Knowing this. Amitabha said, “Don’t worry Amlan, they will need time to get cleaned up in the morning, so, there will be no chaos if we need to start early.”

North Fort, Badami

We started the day before sunrise. First we visited Banasankari and then came to Badami before the window of the ticket counter was opened. Even the gatekeeper of the complex alerted us about the monkeys.

However, Ignoring the welcoming greeting of the monkey, we started exploring the magnificent artwork of Badami. Founded in 544 CE, Badami was the capital of the Early Chalukya Dynasty. Then the city was named “Vatapi”.Fortification was started by the first Badami Chalukya King First Pulakeshi on both sides of Lake Agasthya, a horseshoe lake.

Agasthya Lake

We started from the South Fort, made of red sandstone. The fort contains four floors of rock cut cave temples. Each of the floors consists of a courtyard and a cave temple. The four cave temples are disposed along the stepped path which is patrolled by aggressive monkeys. Though the caves are numbered, the chronological order of the constructions are not known. However, the columns, beams, and brackets of each cave temple resemble constructed architecture.

The South Fort is patrolled by aggressive monkeys

The first floor, i.e, Cave 1 was dedicated to Lord Shiva. As we reached the floor, we saw an 18 handed dancing Shiva statue sculpted onto the rock face directly to the entrance of the cave. The image expressed the cosmic dance of the god. I was looking for goddess Parvati, the beloved wife of Lord Shiva. Amitabha showed me the image of Parvati and Laxmi, on the left hand side of Shiva. located at the bottom left side.

Shiva in Cosmic Dance Posture
Dwarpala with Shiva
Fusion of Shiva and Vishnu as Harihara

Next we moved into the cave. A Nandi (the bull of the Lord Shiva). The cave was divided into four sections. Inner sections were obviously dark. Beside the Shiva sculpture; there were sculptures of Lord Ganesh, Lord Kartikkeya and Lord Vishnu. Also, we found the sculptures of Ardhanarishvara, a surrealistic concept of the human figure consisting half male and half female – mostly Shiva and Parvati.

Fusion of Shiva and Parvati as Ardhanarishvara

The king of snakes, Nagraja was depicted in the ceiling of the cave. Other images we found in the cave were of Dharmadev (Yama: Lord of death), Harihara, Goddess Laxmi and Parvati.

Stairs between Cave 1 and Cave 2

We came out of Cave1 and climbed 64 steps to reach Cave 2. This is an interesting cave. I felt it was bigger than Cave1.

Facade and entrance of Cave-2

The rock cut sculpture of Vamana ( the dwarf form of Lord Vishnu) with one foot on earth and the sculpture of Varaha (boar form of Lord Vishnu) rescuing Bhudevi (the Earth) from the ocean  reflect the mythological knowledge of the sculptor.

Trivikrama – Vamana Avatara
Varaha Avatara

I liked the series of depictions related to the birth and youth phase of Lord Krishna. I was amazed to see the ceiling that contained 16 fish spokes.

Vishnu Avatara
Vishnu Avatara

Further up along monkey infested staircases we reached at the courtyard of Cave 3. First I was stunned to see the breathtaking view of Badami with North Fort, Agasthya Lake and colourful houses of the city.

Façade and entrance of Cave 3
View of Badami from the Veranda of Cave-3
Bhutanatha Temple as seen from Cave 3

Cave 3, the largest cave among them, was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. We found the rock  carved statues of Trivikrama, Vishnu, Garuda, Varaha, Harihara and Narasimha.

Trivikrama – Vamanavatara Relief
Varaha Avatara of Cave 3

Among them, the statues of Vishnu seated on a serpent Sesha (Snake) and Trivikrama were the  masterpieces. The ornamented outer pillar of the cave is a signature of the artistic excellence achieved in that era.

Vishnu seated on Sheshnaga
Ashtabhuja (Eight armed) Vishnu
First Tirthankara
Between Cave 3 and Cave 4

Further climbing up we reached Cave 4, the only one with a Jain affiliation. It was the smallest cave of the South Fort.

Façade and entrance of Cave 4

“This must be the latest cave among them,” said Amitabha, “see, there is a crude carving in the column detail.”

Interior of Cave 4 with the image of Parshvanatha

I agreed. Even I had the same assumption. In fact, Jain influence on the Chalukya Dynasty was observed in later days. 


Sculptures of Mahavira were present in the either edges of the front Veranda. The left one was the idol of Jain saint Bahubali with vines wrapped around his legs, and on the right, Parshvanatha with a multi-hooded cobra rising over his head.

After Cave 4, we retraced the steps and returned to the car parking area of the South Fort of Badami. We found that group of 40 students (we met the previous night) queuing up for climbing. It was 12.30 PM. We felt hungry. Thus we decided to have our lunch.

Way back to To ground floor

Gobbling up South Indian dishes we decided to stroll the town. There are few monuments scattered in the bilanes of Badami. 

Badami was conquered by Vijayanagara Emperor and then by The Deccan Sultanate. The Muslim rule that followed the Vijayanagara period added their signature to the heritage. This is attested by two monuments in Badami. One of them is near the entrance of the cave temples. The name of the domed structure is Markaj Jumma, the 18th-century tomb of Abdul Malik Aziz. Keeping the aesthetics of the other structures of Badami, the finely proportioned tomb was built by red sandstones. The Jali (perforated window) has similarities with North Indian structures.

Markaj Jumma

Walking a few meters north of the tomb, we reached Yellamma Temple. It was a typical Deccan Temple style of architecture with a main sanctum and open mandapa. 

Yellamma Temple

Further walking towards the North, we found Virupaksha Temple that has similar architecture to Yellamma Temple.

Virupaksha Temple

We liked the lifestyle of the ancient neighbourhood of Badami. It was my first time in any ancient locality of South India. Demographically and characteristically it is different. But the colourful walls have some resemblance with that of Northern India.

We continued walking towards the North. We reached Jambulinga Temple. The temple contains an open porch with balcony sitting next to a walled mandapa, off which open sanctuaries on three sides.

Jambulinga Temple

Next we walked towards the North Fort of Badami. At the car parking area, first we visited the Archeological Museum of Badami. The ticket we purchased for Badami was applicable here too. We went inside. We liked the open air museum.

Archeological Museum of Badami

Next we started to explore the North Fort of Badami.

the entrance of North Fort

Crossing the car parking of the North Fort, we started the stepped path. Crossing the first archway the path ascended through a spectacular ravine flanked by sheer cliffs. We crossed the open mandapas built upon a rock-cut terrace with open elephant torsos.

The Mandapas with Upper and Lower Shivalaya

“The mandapas seem never to have formed part of any temple, right?” I asked Amitabha.

North Fort

He nodded his head. We were almost spellbound after being inside the gigantic structure.

Walking further, we crossed another archway and crossed a short distance, we reached a monument – Lower Shivalaya. Traces of being dismantled were prominent.

Lower Shivalaya

We came back and continued climbing on the main path. The stepped way led us to a ruined rubble structure with two long chambers. I think, these were the armoury. By using side path we reached to a circular lookout – a perfect spot to keep eyes of the town. This was probably added by Tipu Sultan.

Circular Lookout to keep watch on the city

Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore conquered Badami. He was also impressed with the archeological value of the town. He created the rampart towards the circular lookout in European Style. Just before arriving the top level of the fort we passed by three Circular Granaries.

Circular Granaries

We reached the top the North Fort. Atop the fort we found a temple, known as Upper Shivalaya. The temple belongs to early Dravidian Style of architecture. We met the priest. He was from North India. He mentioned, “The worship of Lord Shiva was never stopped in this temple. Even Tipu Sultan appointed a priest for the same.”

Reflection of Upper Shivalaya
Upper Shivalaya

We found, three Muslim ladies were approaching towards the Shivalaya. Actually, their destination was a Dargah about 50 meters away from the Shivalaya. That is the second Islamic monument  of Badami of the modern era – a Dargah of Sayyid Hazrat Badshah. We noticed, while passing by the Shivalaya, the Muslim ladies showed respect to the Shivalaya. The example of secularism made our day.

Way towards Dargah

We stepped down by the same path. Suddenly we found a narrow stepped path. We decided to go by that path. Though both of us were thin but we found it difficult to climb by the narrow way. 

“I am feeling like Mackenna’s Gold” said by Amitabha. 

An alley inside the North Fort

He was right. Finally we reached the top. A open area where the open mandapa (we found during the entrance) were standing. Also we got an amazing view of the fort.

Atop the North Fort

We climbed down.

Alleys inside North Fort, Badami

Next we went to Malegitti Shivalaya. A rock cut elevated way and stairs led us towards the temple. It seemed like the stoned way was built later for the tourists. Lovely gardens containing carpet like grass and flower gardens were there on both sides of the path.

Malegitti Temple

Our last destination was Bhutanatha Temple. Located at the extreme end of Agasthya Lake, Bhutanatha Temple is believed to have been constructed in the 8th Century. Bhoothanatha is the name of Lord Shiva. The temple is surrounded by water from three sides. Personally I liked the atmosphere the most.

Bhutanatha Temple
Bhutanatha Temple – a closure view

walking behind the temple found a temple and excellent carvings.

Behind the temple, there is an excellent carving of the Hindu gods on the rock. These carvings are formed in a single rock and have the images of Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesha, Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Narsingh Avatar of Lord Vishnu, A Shiva Lingam, and Nandi Bull.

Rock carving containing the images of Hindu Gods

On the way back to hotel both of us were thinking, about the excellence that India achieved in in its golden days. It was not only art, but also flawless engineering. The Hills were first broken from the top followed by systematic geometric fine cutting that made the shapes of the idols. They had the knowledge of technology and the sense of art. This made ancient India culturally rich.


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