Amazing Architectures of Aihole

Aihole was our last destination on our Karnataka Tour that included Hampi, Lakkundi, Badami, Banasankari, Mahakuta, Pattadakal, Aihole. We started early in the morning from Badami, en route we visited Pattadakal and reached Aihole. Once known as ‘Aryapura’, this temple town houses a unique semi-circular pattern of architecture founded during the Early Chalukya period. Thus, Aihole is known as the ‘Cradle of Hindu Rock Architecture’.

Durga Temple Complex, Aihole

Located in the western bank of Malaprabha River, Aihole has its mention in Puranas. It is believed that Parashurama, the sixth Avatara of Lord Vishnu. After killing the abusive Khatriyas he washed his axe there. But the documented history of Aihole is traceable to the rise of the Early Chalukya dynasty in the 6th century, during the Early Chalukya Dynasty. The city became a religious and cultural hub of the Deccan. Like Pattadakal, all of the ancient architectures belong to Hindu, Jain and Buddhist Temples.

Jain Temple atop Meguti Hill
Magnificent Architectural Work at Aihole
Ancient Fort Wall of Aihole

Since we were travelling from Pattadakal, we reached Aihole from the Southern End of the town. First, we visited Galaganatha Temple Complex. The temple complex looked unadorned.

Galaganath Temple Complex

This is an early Chalukyan Temple. The mandapa of the main temple is a stepped pyramidal tower. Its small porch has an angled balcony with auspicious pot motifs.

Galaganath Temple

We did not stay there for long. Instead, we drove towards Meguti Hill. Leaving the car in the foothill, we stepped up along the staircase. Just below the crest of the hill is a two storeyed Buddhist Temple. The temple presents two superimposed colonnades.

Buddha Temple on Meguti Hill

Further ascending, we reached the summit of the hill. There is a north facing Jain Temple. This temple has both historic and aesthetic value. Set into its side wall is a grey stone slab with an inscription. Dated to 634 AD, this consists of poems employing different metres in Sanskrit composed by Ravikriti, the court author of the Chalukya King Pulakeshi II.

Jain Temple on Meguti Hill
Top View of Aihole from Meguti Hill

We retraced our steps and descended to the foothill by the same stepped path. Walking a few metres, we reached Mallikarjuna Temple Complex located behind Meguti Hill. The main shrine has a stepped pyramidal structure. There is a stepped tank in this temple complex. I liked the reflection of the temples in the tank.

Mallikarjuna Temple

Leaving the main road, we detoured towards Ravana Phadi – a cave temple founded in the first phase of Early Chalukya Dynasty.

Ravana Phadi Cave Temple

In front of the cave stands a worn fluted column with an ‘amlaka’ capital fallen to one side – a Nandi image and three small shrines.

The entrance of the main temple is flanked by worn, relief images of potbellied Nidhi seated within the Dravidian style pavilion.

Ravana Phadi

The temple possesses magnificent rock cut idols depicted on the inner walls.

Dancing Shiva inside Ravana Phadi Cave temple

With a short walk towards the North, we reached Hucchimalaigudi.

Hucchimalaigudi

The Hucchimalaigudi consists of a mandapa and a sanctuary with the passageway contained within a rectangle of walls. Its plain exterior, with small perforated windows, contrasts with the comparatively well preserved Nagara Style towers that rise above the sanctuary.

We felt hungry. So, we planned to have lunch at KSTDC Maurya Yatri Nivasa, the hotel that belongs to the Karnataka Tourism Department. Tourists can stay there for a night.

Post lunch session, we visited the Durga Temple Complex – the principal attraction of Aihole.

Durga Temple Complex

Durga Temple Complex houses five temples and the museum inside the complex. Along with the iconic Durga Temple, there are Ladkhan Temple, Suryanarayana Temple, Gaudagudi, Chakragudi and Badiagudi. The Archeological Museum is also placed inside the temple complex.

Romancing the rocks – Inside Durga Temple Complex

Obviously we started with the Durga Temple – the most richly embellished Hindu Temple of the town.

Durga Temple Complex – A different view

Surprisingly, this temple is not dedicated to the Goddess Durga. Instead, Surya was supposed to be the prime deity of the temple. The name of the temple might be misleading. But since a stone rubble ‘durg’, or fortified lookout was raised upon its roof (now removed), the temple is known as the Durga Temple.

Cloud capped Durga Temple

Architecturally the temple is unique with its cylindrical structure. The covered Verandah consists of the panels of Shiva with Nandi, Narsimha, Vishnu on Gauda, Varaha, Durga Spreading Mahisha and harihara. All of the panels are depicted in the Verandah.

Walking along the Verandah was a remarkable experience of my life. All of the idols are not only beautiful but also the geometry is really surprising.

Next one was the Archeological Museum. A large scale of idols and its monuments are displayed inside the museum. I felt like a miniature of Aihole was displayed there.

Next, we visited Suryanarayana Temple. The temple was constructed in Nagara Style with a noticeable curved profile, now missing its upper tires and capping ‘amlaka’.

Suryakanta Temple
Suryanarayana Temple as seen from behind

Ladkhan Temple curiously retains the name of a Muslim leader in former times. This temple was probably built during the Rashtrakuta Dynasty. The entrance to the ‘mandapa’ is through a rectangular porch on the east, the outer columns of which have carvings of river goddesses and human couples embracing beneath trees, including a horse-headed woman with her male companion.

Ladkhan Temple
Erotica in Ladkhan Temple

A few metres away stands Gaudagudi. The temple is located on the lower level. It seems the temple was built far earlier than Ladkhan Temple.

Gauda Gudi

Chakragudi Temple is also a very interesting monument. Its well preserved Nagara styled tower is a treat to the eyes. The tower is crowned with ‘amlaka’ and vase finial.

Chakra Gudi

Last monument of this temple complex is Badigargudi. Located on the south-east corner of the complex, this temple was probably built during the Rashtrakuta Era.

Badigar Gudi

We came out of the Durga Temple Complex. And drove towards the North of the town. Our destination was Ambigergudi Temple Complex. This comprises three separate structures. The main temple belongs to Nagara-Shikhara Structure with a sanctum and mandapa. The doorframe of the structure is highly embellished.

Ambiger Gudi

The other temples were ordinary structures.

Our final destination was Jyothirlinga Temple Complex. This complex comprises one main shrine with carved pyramidal structure and few ordinary temples.

Jyothirlinga Temple Complex

There are many other temples in Aihole. It would be great if we could stay there for one night. Actually, it takes two days to visit all the ancient temples in detail. But we had to get the train. Thus, we waved goodbye to Aihole and drove back to Hospet.

Reference:

1. Badami Aihole Pattadakal by George Michell

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