The picturesque town of Badami (in Bagalkot district of Karnataka) is renowned for its Badami Caves Temples. These monumental caves are carved out of red-stoned mountains. Badami caves are a pantheon of Hindu divinities.
Badami was once capital of the mighty Chalukya Empire. The Chalukya dynasty ruled the land of Karnataka from 6th to 8th century. The Badami Chalukya era was an important period in the development of South Indian architecture. Their style of architecture is called “Chalukyan architecture” or “Karnata Dravida architecture”.
Badami caves are a masterpiece of Indian rock-cut architecture. Almost 100 monuments built by them are found in the Malaprabha river basin Bagalkot. The building material they used was reddish-golden Sandstone found locally. Color of these sandstones is similar to color of almonds (called Badam in Hindi), giving them the name “Badami Caves”.
Badami caves have many paintings on walls and ceilings, categorized as Fresco painting. A fresco is painted onto plaster that is fresh. The plaster has been laid on the wall that day and is still damp. Badami caves are among the earliest known surviving evidence of fresco painting in Indian art.
Badami Caves Layout
There are four Hindu, Jain cave temples in Badami caves. Badami caves temples have rock cut halls with three basic features:
- pillared veranda
- columned hall
- Sanctum cut out deep into rock.
Cave on the north-west side of the hill portrays the Tandava-dancing Lord Shiva as Nataraja. Entrance to the cave is through a series of steps that depicts various ‘ganas‘ (companions of Lord Shiva) in different postures. This cave is considered to be oldest out of the four, dating back to 578 AD. The sculpture of Lord Shiva with 18 hands in a Nataraja dancing posture.
Art historians believe that the 18 hands of Lord Shiva are positioned in such a way that they depict the Time-division symbolizing the Cosmic Wheel. Most of the hands symbolize ‘mudras‘ (symbolic hand gestures), while others are holding various things like Trishul (trident), Damru (small drum), etc. Sculpture of Lord Ganesha (Lord Shiva’s son) is shown beside Nataraja On the left side, Lord Shiva’s buffalo ‘Nandi‘ is shown.
The temple have many other paintings and sculptures of Hindu deities on all the walls and pillars, even on the ceilings. They are breathtakingly beautiful, intricate designing and detailing in these sculptures will leave you awestruck.
Just above cave 1, there is a north-facing cave. This is the second cave, similar to first one in terms of layout, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu is “The Preserver & Protector”, who takes various avatars (descents) whenever the world is threatened with evil, chaos, and destructive forces. The cave entrance is a veranda divided by four square pillars. Entrance of the cave also has two armed guardians holding Lotus flowers rather than weapons.
This cave have various sculptures of Vishnu in different avatars. One is Varaha (a boar) shown rescuing Bhudevi (symbol of the earth) from the depths of ocean. Other avatars like Krishna and Trivikrama (Vamana) along with a penitent multi-headed snake. Ceilings and side walls have traces of colored paints, suggesting that the cave once had Fresco paintings.
Some other beautiful sculptures like “Samudra Manthan“, battle scenes, Vishnu asleep on Shesha, birth of Lord Krishna, etc. The sculptures of this cave are quiet similar to those in Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, India.
Cave 3 is the largest & most attractive cave out of all four caves. This cave is also dedicated to Lord Vishnu.There are sculptures of Narasimha, Trivikrama, Bhuvaraha (Varaha), Paravasudeva, Harihara and Anantasayana. One important feature of this cave is the spectacular sculpture of ‘Harihara‘- Half Vishnu & Half Shiva fused together as one.
Cave 3, also facing north, is 60 steps away from Cave 2, having six pillars, each of them carved with wide, deep bases crowned with capitals that are partly hidden by brackets on three sides.
Cave 3 also shows fresco paintings on the ceiling, some of which are now faded and unclear. Lord Vishnu is shown with eight arms; Vishnu seated on the hooded serpent Shesha; Vishnu as Narasimha (half human, half lion) & Varaha fully armed in the back wall of the cave.
There is an astonishing sculpture of Vamana with Ashtabhuja (Ashta: eight, bhuja: arms), holding various types of weapons like sword, chakra, bow, etc.
To the east of cave 3, a cave temple dedicated to revered figures of Jainism is there. Many Jain Thirthankara images adorn the inner pillars and walls. Most scholars believe Cave 4 was created in the mid-7th century, but some place its creation in the 8th century.
The cave has a sculpture of Mahavira (God of Jain religion) sitting on an Iron Throne. The end walls of cave have Parshvanatha with his head ‘crowned’ by a multi-headed cobra. Carvings include Indrabhuti Gautama, and Bahubali along with his daughters Sundari & Brahmi.
Other Attractions in town Badami
Badami is on the banks of a very beautiful lake, named ‘Agasthya Tirtha’. Apart from The Badami Caves:
A natural Buddhist cave
There is another cave which is so low that one can only enter it only by crawling on their knees. Inside, there is a carved figure seated on a throne along with elephants and lions in attacking pose.
Newly Discovered Caves
In 2013, another cave (about 500m from Badami Caves) with 27 rock carvings was discovered by archaeologists. It depicts Vishnu and other Hindu deities, and features an inscription in Hindi (Devanagari script). Archaeologists are still trying to figure out the age of these newly discovered caves.
Some people believe Agastya Lake possesses healing powers. This lake can be seen from all of the Badami Caves. Some ancient temples made from beautiful red sandstone surround this lake.
Bhutanatha & Mallikarjuna Temples
These temples are sandstone structures dedicated to deity Bhutanatha. It’s a collection of sandstone shrines built on eastern side of the lake Agastya. The structures are built in South Indian styles by the Chalukyas who ruled Badami (Vatapi at that time). The Bhutanatha temple and the MallikaArjuna temple are the most important of all.
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Banashankari Devi Temple
Banashankari Devi Temple (dedicated to Shakambhari Devi) is situated at Cholachagudd near Badami. The temple now stands built in Vijanagara architectural style, but was originally built in Dravidian style.
Mahakuteshwara Temple is about 15 km away from the town of Badami. This place was once a center of Shaiva cult. The temple is sometimes called as Dakshina Kasi beacuse of its religious importance. Mahakuteshwara temple were built in 6th or 7th century in the reign of Chalukya dynasty. Mahakuteshwara is actually another form of Lord Shiva.
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Badami fort near Bhuthnatha temple & the Badami cave temples. The entrance to this temple is right through the Badami museum. The fort stands tall on the top of a cliff and the climb is steep, dotted with little shrines.
- Timing: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Friday closed)
- Photography: Allowed
- Average time spent: About an hour
- Best time to visit: October to March
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