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The Temple Legacy at Badami

By Rahuldev Rajguru

Last Updated: 17 Apr 2023

We arrived at heaven in the midst of chaos. I navigated with anticipation through extremely disorderly traffic amid high-decibel honking in the center of Badami, Google Maps prompted "you have arrived." After stopping the car, we looked around and found ourselves surrounded by a few snarling faces and continuous honking coming from all directions. We obediently followed Google Maps instructions to proceed, as I double checked, the destination still read "Badami Caves Temple." The chaos confused us. But, we finally spotted a tiny signboard suggesting we enter an arch-shaped open gate. The 300 meter long treacherous, narrow, and uphill road was flanked by a dense cluster of dilapidated structures stacked like a house of cards.

Following a pothole-ridden drive through freely roaming goats and flocks of chickens, we arrived at a large entrance gate with a parking area. The sunlight was falling on a massive boulder, which glistened like gold, drawing our attention as I backed up to park in reverse. We were completely gobsmacked by the splendor. Flamboyant and subtle, the natural beauty riveted us. It was nature at its beautiful best. We were more than awed by this gorgeous vision, which was more appealing than the pictures we had seen on the Internet.

An early morning view of the gorgeous Badami Caves

An early morning view of the gorgeous Badami Caves

During the time of our visit, the Karnataka government had granted school children free stay and access to heritage sites around the region. As a result, Badami was inundated with school buses. This resulted in the stairs of Badami Caves becoming louder with happy shrieks of school children rushing up and down in a frenzy. Therefore, the staff at Badami Heritage Resort, where we stayed, advised us to visit the cave temple early in the morning.

We met Basavaraj, a government-approved guide, at Badami Caves. He suggested that we first visit Aihole, since the next day was Sunday and he anticipated that the cave temple would be crowded. He also gave us a brief history lesson on Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal, which set the tone for our heritage sojourn. Following his advice, we kept Badami Cave temples and other places at the very end of our relaxed itinerary. My family prefers a slow travel approach.

Nothing beats the serenity of Badami caves early in the morning

Nothing beats the serenity of Badami caves early in the morning when there are no tourists

History of Badami: An Overview

Badami, formerly known as Vatapi or Vatapipura, is located in the state of Karnataka in India. The city has a long and interesting history dating back to 540 CE when it was ruled by Chalukya King Pulakeshin I (535 - 566 CE), who is also considered to have been its founder. The city was once the capital of the Badami Chalukyas (also known as Early Chalukyas) from 540 to 747 after the king moved it from Aihole. Due to its location at the base of a rocky plateau, protected on three sides by rugged sandstone cliffs, and close proximity to the sea, it was a natural fortress for governing the Deccan region between the 6th and 8th century. The region included much of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. For centuries, Badami had been a major center for art, religion, and politics in the Malaprabha valley. The amazing Badami Chalukya Temples inside the caves and dedicated to both Hinduism and Jainims, carved out of red sandstone, were constructed during this period. To this day, Badami remains deeply rooted in Chalukyan history and contains some of the most renowned examples of rock-cut architecture from that era.

Mythological Story of Badami

Legend has it that there were two tyrannical demon brothers, Vatapi and Ilvala. Ilvala once worshiped a saint and asked for a son like Lord Indra as a boon. The saint did not accept his worship. Angered by this, he decided to take revenge on the Brahmins by killing them all. His brother Vatapi knew black magic, and used this skill to transform himself into any life form. As a skilled master of the "Mrit Sanjeevani'' mantra, Ilvala could bring the dead back to life. They used to invite people and offer goat meat to them by transforming Vatapi into a goat. After the guests finish eating the meat, Ilvala would recite the mantra, causing Vatapi to come alive and tear apart the body of the person.

To get rid of them, Sage Agastya decided to nullify their malicious power by tricking them with their own magical corruption. He approached them one day claiming to be a brahmin looking for food. Immediately after eating the goat meat, Sage Agastya digested it before Ilvala could chant the mantra to resurrect Vatapi. This resulted in Vatapi's death.

It is believed that the two hills of Badami represent two demon brothers, Ilvala on the northern hill and Vatapi on the southern hill. As a tribute to the revered saint, the man-made lake situated between the two hills is known as "Agastya Lake."

Agastya Lake, surrounded by Vatapi Hills, plays a role in the history of Badami

Agastya Lake, surrounded by Vatapi Hills, plays an integral role in the history of Badami

Badami Cave Temples: A Fusion of Architecture and Culture

Kirtivarman I (567 - 598 CE), son of Chalukya King Pulakeshin I, commenced the process of building rock-cut temples in Badami. It was his brother Mangalesha (598 - 610 CE) who carried out the same task. Agastya Lake (formerly Vatapi Lake) was constructed in the 7th century as the kingdom's primary source of water.

History holds a special place for the Badami Cave Temples. A cluster of Hindu and Jain temples represent Indian rock-cut architecture, or Badami Chalukya architecture. Among the oldest temple structures in the Deccan plateau, these structures provide a valuable insight into India's history. Consequently, they offer an incredible combination of architectural scholarship and cultural heritage.

Structure of Badami Cave in the southern hills

Structure of Badami Caves in the southern hills

Architecture of Badami Cave Temples

Above Agastya lake, on the escarpment of Vatapi hill (southern hills), there are four cave temples built in red sandstone formations. Cave temples are almost identical in structure. Mukhamandapa (the front hall) is accessed through an elevated entrance that is framed with beautifully carved stone columns and brackets. This leads to Mahamandapa (the main hall), which is again supported by columns but has few carvings. Within the cave is the relatively small Garbhagriha (sanctum). I found this architecture somewhat reminiscent of the Modhera Sun Temple, a masterpiece created by Solanki Chalukyas in 1024.

The sandstone in Badami is almond-red, hence the name (badam in Kannada means almond). West of the mountain is the lowest point, which is where the first cave temple is located. Climbing the stairs towards the east end will lead you to the remaining three cave temples. There are different names for Badami Cave Temples depending on the deity worshiped there. The first two cave temples exhibit rock-cut artwork in the Deccan style (also known as Dravidian style). A fusion of Nagara (North Indian) and Dravidian styles is evident in the artwork of the third cave. Fusion is also sometimes called "Vesara" style. Unlike free-standing sandstone temples, Badami cave temples are protected from the sun and rain by cutting the rock.

Badami's first cave temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva

After climbing a long flight of steps from the platform near the garden, you will find Lord Shiva temple, which is number one in the list of Badami temples. Mukhamandapa is accessed via a small flight of steps decorated with carvings of dwarfs (ganas) holding the cave floor in various postures. Columns sculpted with flowers and jewelry support the Mukhamandapa.

The first cave temple in Badami with various postures of "ganas"

The first cave temple in Badami with various postures of "ganas" on each side of the steps

Turn right at the stairs and you'll stumble upon an 18-armed portrait of Lord Shiva in the Nataraja posture. 9 arms on each side can form 9x9=81 different combinations of Natya mudra (symbolic gestures). Shiva is shown here performing a Lalitha Natya Chatur tandava (happy dance) on a lotus flower. Accompanying him are his sons Ganesha (dancing) and Kartikeya (playing music) along with Nandi. According to a study by Alice Boner, a famous Swiss historian, these dance positions are arranged in a geometric pattern that represents the cosmic wheel.

Sculpture of Lord Shiva as Nataraja outside the first Badami cave temple

Sculpture of Lord Shiva as Nataraja outside the first Badami cave temple

On the left side of Nataraja statue is Parvati (wife of Shiva) as Goddess Durga. This sculpture shows Mahishasuramardini killing a demon with her four hands. Mukhamandapa, the cave's entrance, has two prominent statues. On the right side wall is Ardhanarishvara (half Shiva, half Parvati). You can observe Shiva (the left-half) with a half-moon on his crown (mukuta) and a snake in his hand. A jewelry-clad Parvati occupies the right half of the statue. The left side of the statue shows Nandi and the skeleton of Bhringi Rushi, while the right side shows Parvati's attendant holding a tray of jewels. It is evident from the carving of Bhringi Rushi's skeleton that the designers had a thorough understanding of human anatomy in the 6th century.

Ardhanarishvara carving inside Badam cave temple

Ardhanarishvara carving on right side of Mukhamandapa

A statue of Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu) is on the left side wall of Mukhamandapa. Goddess Laxmi and Parvati are seen on either side of the statue. These carvings depict a vision of Chalukya kings with a message of equality and mutual respect for men and women.

Harihara carving inside Badam cave temple

Harihara carving on right side of Mukhamandapa

It is easy to become mesmerized with the carvings of Mukhamandapa and not notice the beauty of the ceiling. A total of five carved panels adorn the ceiling, and two of them are the most remarkable. One of the figures in the center is Nagaraja, who is half serpent and half human. A demi-god couple of Vidyadhara rejoicing with laughter is another notable sculpture.

Sculptures on the ceiling of the first Cave temple in Badami

Sculptures on the ceiling of the first Cave temple in Badami

Once you cross Mukhamandapa, there is a big dark hall called Mahamandapa. Over there, is a seated Nandi facing the Garbhagriha which contains a Shiva linga. Whether the linga is original or a later installation, is unknown.

Nandi facing Garbhagriha surrounded by ornate pillars in Badami caves

Nandi facing Garbhagriha surrounded by ornate pillars

Badami's second cave temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu

A flight of 64 steps will lead you to the second cave temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is towards the east of the first cave temple. Although it is a bit smaller than the previous one, its plan and structure are almost the same. However, a pair of dwarapalakas (doorkeepers) hold flowers instead of spears on both sides of the entrance.

Badami's second cave temple with two dwarapalakas on the sides

Badami's second cave temple with two dwarapalakas on the sides and ganas at the base

Mukhamandapa's sidewalls display large sculptures of Lord Vishnu in two different avatars (incarnations). Trivikram, the fifth incarnation of Vishnu, has his leg raised on the right side wall. Trivikrama means three strides. Vishnu as Vamana (Dwarf) is seen here placing his foot on the demon-king Bali in his third stride. Under the sculpture is a frieze depicting a group of Vamanas.

Vamanas play music inside the cave temple of Badami

Vamanas play music underneath the Trivikrama statue, while Vishnu rides Garuda on the ceiling

On the left side wall is a large relief depicting Varaha (a wild boar), Vishnu's third incarnation. Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) is being rescued from the cosmic ocean by Varaha with the help of a multi-headed serpent.

Varaha holding Bhudevi and a flying couple on the ceiling of Badami caves

Varaha holding Bhudevi and a flying couple on the ceiling

The center part of Mukhamandapa's ceiling has more exquisite carvings. Matsya and Swastika symbols are notable examples. Matsya carvings feature a wheel with sixteen fish spokes. It is a testament to the skills of architects and designers during the Badami Chalukya dynasty almost 1,500 years ago. Both the caves 1 and 2 are built with northern Deccan style architecture similar to the one in Ellora Caves.

Exquisite carvings on the ceiling of Mukhmandapa in the second Badami cave temple

The third and largest Badami cave temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu

Following another flight of 60 steps toward the east of the second cave temple, you will reach the third Badami cave temple. It is also dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Among the list of Badami cave temples, this is the best and largest. Additionally, it's at the highest elevation.

The steps leading to third Badami cave temple

The steps leading to third Badami cave temple

The inscription found near the cave suggests it was built in 578 CE and hence, it is the earliest dated Hindu temple in the entire Deccan region.

Panoramic front view of the third Badami cave temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu

Panoramic front view of the third Badami cave temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu

This cave temple has the largest carvings of Lord Vishnu and his different incarnations among all cave temples. Each is made with the highest level of craftsmanship. After your visit, you will be unable to decide which is the best. I highly recommend taking at least 45 minutes to fully enjoy and comprehend Cave Temple 3. A knowledgeable guide is the best way to explore this temple. Also, don't miss the carvings on the ceilings and pillars. They narrate fascinating stories. In order to be able to properly interpret the description of each carving, let us first understand the layout of the temple.

The layout of third Badami cave temple

The layout of third Badami cave temple

The elevated entrance features two carved statues on either side. On the left is Lord Vishnu standing with eight arms. On the right side there is a huge carving of Trivikrama (Vishnu's 5th incarnation). It is more impressive and intricate than the one in Cave temple 2. You can see this carving from a distance as you climb the stairs on the way back from the last cave temple.

Various carvings inside Badami cave temples

Carvings on both sides of the entrance

Left: Vishnu with 8 arms

Right: Trivikrama, an incarnation of Vishnu

The Mukhamandapa of this cave temple measures 70 feet long and 7 feet wide, making it the largest temple in the complex. On the left side is the most creative carving, Vishnu seated on Adishesha (a serpent). This is the hallmark of Badami that you will find virtually everywhere on the Internet when searching for this location.

Vishnu on the serpent Sesha in Badami caves

Vishnu on the serpent Sesha, a Badami hallmark. A portion of frescoes (paintings) still remain on the ceiling.

A distinctive feature of this cave temple is the presence of two elegantly carved statues on each of the adjoining walls on each side of Mukhamandapa. A wide corridor and separating pillars that extend the width of the side wall made this possible. Another carving on the left depicts Varaha, who was the third incarnation of Vishnu.

Sculptures of Varaha and Vishnu inside Badami caves

Sculptures of Varaha and Vishnu on Adishesha flank each other on adjacent walls

This is one of the most decorative Mukhamandapas you will ever see in Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal. Separating Mukhamandapa from Mahamandapa are four pillars with uniformly carved capitals.

Pillar structure and carvings at the entrance and in Mukhamandapa and Mahamandapa

There are two more beautiful carvings of Vishu on the right side of Mukhamandapa. At the end of the wall is Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu. On the adjacent wall is Harihara, half Shiva and half Vishnu.

Lord Narasimha sculpture on the right side wall of third Badami cave temple

Lord Narasimha sculpture on the right side wall of third Badami cave temple

Harihara is carved next to Narasimha on the right side of Mukhamandapa

The statue of a baby holding the hand of its mother as seen from Mukhamandapa (right)

The statue of a baby monkey as seen from the cave's entrance (left)

Another striking feature of this cave temple is the fresco paintings on the ceiling. There are very few of them left, many of which have faded. It is quite fascinating to see their designs, themes, and colors. The frescoes are believed to date back to the 6th century. On the floor, there is a paint palette where the painter would have arranged and mixed colors.

7th century frescos on the ceiling of third Badami cave temple

7th century frescos on the ceiling of third Badami cave temple

The floor of the temple has been ground with a palette for mixing paint colors

I was in splits while I walked through this cave temple, as my brain urged me to move to the next cave, but my heart was still engrossed with the beauty of this temple. It is probably for this reason that benches have been provided outside on the porch so that you may sit and enjoy the view for as long as you wish. I spent 15 minutes there indulging in the ambience and the royal aura of everything around me. I stayed still, reflecting and meditating. It was a glorious experience. My memory of the cave is still vivid today.

The view on opposite side of Badami's third cave temple

The view on opposite side of Badami's third cave temple

As I walked closer to the edge of the mountain opposite the cave temple, I was able to see a panoramic view of Agastya lake and Badami fort. It was early morning, with the sun rising on the opposite side and splashing its rays on the mountain which made it sparkle like gold. It is best to visit the third cave in the early morning to see such a beautiful view.

Breathtaking view of Agastya Lake and Badami Fort

Breathtaking view of Agastya Lake and Badami Fort

Badami's fourth cave temple is an intricate Jain temple

In a short flight of 10 steps towards the east, you'll reach the last Badami cave temple. Among the list of all Badami temples, it is the smallest and is dedicated to Jainism. It was the last cave to be constructed in the 7th century. Some historians believe this was partially constructed in the 8th century and later completed by the Kalyani Chalukyas in the 11th century.

Continuing west to east, Jain Cave Temple in Badami is the last in a row

Continuing west to east, Jain Cave Temple in Badami is the last in a row

As with other cave temples, this one also has columns with carved brackets and capitals. On the sidewalls of the Mukhamandapa are beautiful carvings of Lord Mahavira and the first and second Tirthankars of Jainism.

Beautifully carved statue of Rishabhnath, first Tirthankar of Jainism

Beautifully carved statue of Rishabhnath, first Tirthankar of Jainism

As you move from Mukhamandapa to Mahamandapa, the carvings become more intricate. In the interior of each pillar are small images of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras. Right side wall depicts Lord Parshvanatha, 23rd Jain Tirthankara. The goddess Padmavati is holding a diamond umbrella in order to protect him from the pelting of stones by the demon Kamata. The seated Kamata, on the right, eventually repents and worships him.

Parshvanatha meditating under a five-headed cobra hood in Badami Jain temple

Parshvanatha meditating under a five-headed cobra hood in order to attain enlightenment

On the right side wall, another magnificent carving depicts Lord Bahubali in the Kayotsarga meditation posture. Sitting beside him are his sisters, Brahmi and Sundari. They are both there to remove creepers from his legs.

Statue of Bahubali with his two sisters inside Badami cave jain temple

Statue of Bahubali with his two sisters removing creepers from his legs

The cave ends with Garbhagriha, which contains a statue of Lord Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara of Jainism. The pedestal upon which Mahavira rests has an inscription from the 12th century in Kannada. Kalyani Chalukyas carried out work on this cave temple in the 11th and 12th centuries, as evidenced by this inscription.

An elevated sanctum of Jain Cave Temple in Badami caves

An elevated sanctum of Jain Cave Temple

All caves are done. The time had come for us to return, but not before capturing some breathtaking views from the top of Vatapi mountain. The Bhutanatha temple view is one of them. As Badami cave is notorious for monkey menace, be careful not to leave anything loose or unattended while you wander around. A lady almost lost her purse full of money to a monkey before the gang fought internally. It gave the guard a chance to retrieve it.

Mountaintop view of Badami's Bhutanatha temple and surrounding area

Mountaintop view of Badami's Bhutanatha temple and surrounding area

After the Chalukyas, Badami was ruled by the Rashtrakuta and Vijayanagara empires, followed by the Deccan Sultanate. The muslim rulers built their own heritage in Badami. The Markaj Jumma, adjacent to the caves, is a testament to that period. This tomb was constructed of sandstone and features carved jhalis that are indicative of the North Indian style of Indo-Islamic architecture.

Markaj Jumma, the tomb of late Badami governor

Markaj Jumma, the tomb of late Badami governor Sidi Abdul Malik Aziz from the 18th century

Should you require a knowledgeable guide during your visit to Badami Caves, you can reach Basavarj on +91 81475 10691.

The picturesque Agastya Lake in Badami

We kept an evening aside for Agastya Lake, especially when the caves were filled with students and other tourists. Having explored ancient temples all day, the picturesque Agastya lake is the perfect place to relax. Meeting locals and understanding their lifestyle as they wash their clothes and utensils by the lake is a great way to experience life from a different perspective.

Agastya Lake's picturesque surroundings in Badami

Agastya Lake's picturesque surroundings

A stroll around the lake provided much needed respite after the guided tours to Aihole and Pattadakal. It is even possible to cross the lake to reach the northern hill and archeological museum. There are a few ancient temples on the way, some of which are dilapidated. Many people live in houses along the lakeside. It appears that the lake is the main source of water for them.

A Kalyani Chalukya style Yellamma temple in Badami

A Kalyani Chalukya style Yellamma temple on the lake shore with an open Mukhamandapa

Bhutanatha Temple: a fusion of Badami and Kalyani Chalukya architecture

The next evening was reserved for visiting temple complexes on the other side (northern side) of Agastya lake. First on our list was Bhutanatha temple, which looked stunning from the cave. We were intrigued to go inside and explore its beauty. Bhutanatha temple was built by Badami Chalukya in Dravidian style architecture around the 7th and 8th century.

Bhutanatha temple on the east side of Agastya Lake

Bhutanatha temple on the east side of Agastya Teertha

Rear view of Bhootanatha Temple in Badami

Rear view of Bhutanatha Temple in Badami

The temple has a Mukhamandapa that faces the lake. This leads to Sabhamandapa, a structure supported by four large pillars. Part of these pillars are octagonal with rounded capitals in the Kalyani Chalukya style. It is believed that parts of this temple were either resurrected or constructed by Kalyani Chalukya in the 11th century. There is a Nandi statue in Sabhamandapa.

The Sabhamandapa of Bhutanatha temple has rounded pillars and a Nandi

The Sabhamandapa of Bhutanatha temple has rounded pillars and a Nandi

Garbhagriha's entrance from Sabhamandapa has a door frame with shakhas and rivers Ganga and Yamuna at the bottom. It appears that the image of River Ganga has been damaged. A close look can reveal remnants of some mythological beast with long tails on the adjacent walls of the door.

Remnant structures are visible on the walls and bottom of the door frame of Garbhagriha's entrance

On the back side of Bhutanatha temple are large boulders carved with various images of Lord Shiva and other deities. These are believed to date back to the Rashtrakuta dynasty in the 8th century. This suggests that the temple was originally a Shiva temple.

Images of Varaha, Ganesha, Shiva and Mahishasuramardini carved on the large boulder

North Fort of Badami: a trek through history

You can reach the North Fort (also called Badami Fort) in two ways. You can walk along the bank of Agastya Lake from the lower part of Badami caves. Another one is through narrow lanes from the main city. Having a good driver in you, can take your car all the way. The road is narrow, with heavy vehicles, such as tractors, coming your way. Avoid the trap of auto drivers and local guides who tell you that only autos can get you there. They will then charge you INR 400-500 for a 4 km round trip. At the archaeological museum, you start your climb to the Badami Fort. Be aware that Google Maps is not accurate and you might end up in the middle of narrow and crowded streets with nowhere to go. Instead, ask locals for directions, particularly shop owners.

Taking a look at the North Fort Badami from the southern hills

Taking a look at the North Fort Badami from the southern hills

The fortification of Badami began with a lower fort on the plains surrounded by two rock forts on the hills. By doing so, Chualukyas protected Badami from invading forces. The two forts (separated by the lake) were 300 yards apart. Their names were North and South Forts, respectively. There were still ruins of the northern fort while the southern fort had been completely demolished. A northern fort was known as Bavanbande-kote or 52-rock fort, whereas a southern fort was called Ranamandala-kote or battle-field fort. The northern fort, the larger of the two, was built by cutting steep rocks into blocks.

Museum of archaeology at the base of Badami Fort

Museum of archaeology at the base of the northern fort

A one-way trek through nicely carved steps will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Massive orangish red rocks flank the steps, some with intriguing narrow clefts. There are some passageways that are so narrow that it would be difficult for people from both sides to pass each other. This reminded me of my trek to Idar mountain in the state of Gujarat where a fort was cut out of large boulders in a similar manner.

Steps between red-colored rocks divide narrow alleys

As we trekked further along, the surrounding view became more spectacular. The majestic sight of the red-hued rocky mountain with its narrow clefts and steep alleys was one that took my breath away. Standing at the corner, I could see the array of colors with the texture composed of a beautiful blend of pinks, oranges and maroons. Its winding paths were an invitation to explore, inciting a sense of adventure in even the most cautious traveler in me. It brought forth stories that may have been forgotten in time. However, the view from atop is incomparable which dominates the town and lake beneath.

A beautiful red rock landscape inside Badami North Fort

A beautiful red rock landscape inside North Fort with mandapas on top

A cleft between two red boulders

Lower Shivalaya Temple

Our path to the Lower Shivalaya Temple deviated a bit after we walked a series of stone steps and crossed a narrow gate. Due to their differing elevations, there are two temples atop northern forts named lower and upper.

A view of the Lower Shivalaya Temple from the Badami Caves

A view of the Lower Shivalaya Temple from the Badami Caves

It is believed that the lower Shivalaya temple once housed the Vatapi Ganapati idol, which is now housed at the Uthrapathiswaraswamy Temple in Tiruchenkattankudi. When the Pallavas defeated the Chalukyas in 642 CE and captured Badami, they took it from here. Afterwards, the temple suffered a lot of damage and now only the central column remains.

The path to the 6th century Dravidian style Lower Shivalaya Temple in Badami

The path to the 6th century Dravidian style Lower Shivalaya Temple

Behind the temple is a cannon engraved with 1550. It is believed to have been installed there by the Marathas. From this temple, one can see the entire city of Badami, the southern hills (Badami Caves), and blue waters of Agastya Lake.

Badami's beautiful landscape seen from Lower Shivalaya

Badami's beautiful landscape seen from Lower Shivalaya

We returned to the original route and continued ascending. We reached the summit after 10 minutes of navigating narrow passages among birds' chirping. Two conical structures, resembling the shape of igloos, caught our attention and we wondered what they were. According to the archaeological description, they were granaries, but no concrete evidence exists to support this claim. According to our guide, they were watchtowers built after the Chalukyas, by the new rulers of Badami.

Watchtowers or granaries with cone-shaped domes

Upper Shivalaya Temple

Eventually, we reached Upper Shivalaya Temple, which is the highest point of the northern fort. It was built in the 6th century by Pulakeshin II. Temple walls display intricate carvings depicting Hindu mythological events including Krishna carrying Goverdhana, Narasimha killing Hiranyakashyapu, etc. Since the sun was about to set, the guards on duty began whistling as a signal to descend.

View of the highest point in northern fort, the Upper Shivalaya Temple

View of the highest point in northern fort, the Upper Shivalaya Temple

The northern fort is best visited during sunrise or sunset. However, this area falls under the forest department, so entry starts only at 8 am. We were therefore limited to viewing the sunset from the top of the mountain. As a result, we timed our visit accordingly. Certainly, it was a sight to behold.

Orange hues dotted the sky from Badami fort

Orange hues dotted the sky as giant trees loomed in the background

Circular Bastion, another point of interest, was slightly off the main path. Unfortunately, we couldn't visit there due to time constraints. After sunset, you are not allowed on the hills.

Circular bastion built by Tipu Sultan of Mysore atop northern fort

Circular bastion built by Tipu Sultan of Mysore atop northern fort

Glorious Badami: a visual feast beyond imaginations

It was the end of our trip to Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. We were all set for our next sojourn from the next day, which was Hampi.

Badami exceeded my expectations. It was a visual feast that was glorious, breathtaking, and resplendent. Carvings show a beautiful history and are indicative of the kind of talent at that time. In Indian history, art and culture have played a significant role in the creation of monuments that define the country's legacy. We enjoyed every minute of it. We were mesmerized by the intricate temple carvings. I was amazed at the attention to detail and even more by the level of indulgence displayed in the carvings. Stories splashed on the stones and memories created along the way were wonderful.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How many caves are there in the Badami complex, and what are the architectural features of these caves?

A group of four cave temples are located in Badami, a town in Karnataka. The caves date back to the 6th and 7th centuries, and are carved from soft sandstone cliffs surrounding a man-made Agastya lake.

The Badami caves are famous for their intricately carved pillars, friezes, and sculptures, as well as the use of natural light and space. These structures are considered to be some of the finest examples of rock-cut architecture in India.

Are there any timings or entrance fees associated with visiting the Badami caves?

Badami cave temples are open every day, including weekends and holidays, from 6 AM to 6 PM.

Badami caves require an entrance fee of INR 25 per person for Indians, and INR 300 for foreigners. There is no fee for children under the age of 15.

There is an additional fee for hiring guides, which can be arranged at the Badami cave complex entrance. The guides can provide valuable insights into the history and architecture of Badami and nearest temples.

Are there any dress codes or other rules for visitors to Badami caves?

Since Badami cave temples are not active temples there is no specific dress code. Nevertheless, visitors are expected to dress modestly to maintain the temple's sanctity. It is allowed to take photos inside the caves. The cave complex is a strict no-smoking and no-littering zone. Please refrain from touching or defacing the sculptures or carvings.

What are my transportation options to reach Badami caves?

You can reach Badami via two primary routes. One route is from Bangalore (480 km) or Hubali (170 km), and the other is from Belgaum (170 km) or Goa (250 km). There are many flights and trains to Bangalore and Goa, but fewer options for Hubali. Badami has a train station, but it only connects to major cities nearby.

What other attractions or places of interest are nearby that I can visit along with Badami caves?

Besides the cave temples, Badami is a historical and culturally rich town with many other places of interest nearby. Check out these top attractions:

Banashankari Temple: A temple dedicated to Goddess Banashankari, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, is about 5 km from Badami. It dates back to the 7th century.

Pattadakal: The is a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 22 km from Badami. Pattadakal is an 8th-century temple complex with elements of both North and South Indian architecture built in the Chalukya style.

Aihole: The village of Aihole lies about 35 kilometers from Badami and is home to some of the most important temples and monuments in the region. Over 100 ancient temples make up this village, many of which date back to the 5th century.

What accommodation options are available near Badami caves?

Badami has limited accommodation options available to suit different budgets and preferences. Listed below are some of the top accommodations near Badami caves:

Clarks Inn Badami: This is a mid-range hotel located in the outskirts of Badami.

Krishna Heritage: Located about 5 km from the Badami caves, this boutique hotel offers local and international cuisine in its restaurant.

Heritage Resort Badami: Located about 3 km from the Badami caves, this luxurious resort features villas and suites, as well as a no-alcohol restaurant that serves 100% vegetarian Indian cuisine.

Badami Court Hotel: It is a mid-range hotel with comfortable rooms and basic amenities close to the Badami bus stand.

During the peak tourist season, booking in advance is recommended to make sure you get the best rate.

Are there restaurants or food stalls near Badami caves?

There are a number of restaurants and food stalls near the Badami caves which serve a variety of local and regional cuisines as well as some popular fast food options. These are just a few.

Nataraj Hotel: This is a popular restaurant near the Badami bus stand and famous for South Indian meals, including dosas, idlis, vadas, and thali.

Swadisht: This is a vegetarian restaurant near the Badami bus stand.

Cafe Aishwarya: This is a small coffee shop located near the Badami bus stand, and it offers a variety of hot and cold beverages, as well as some snacks.

Is it safe to take children and the elderly into the Badami caves?

Since the caves involve climbing up and down a number of stairs, it may not be suitable for those with mobility issues or difficulty in climbing stairs. The caves are not disabled-friendly. Wearing appropriate footwear will prevent slipping and tripping. The caves should be explored with children under supervision, particularly younger ones. For the sake of everyone's comfort and safety, visitors with elderly companions may want to take breaks and move slowly.

How long does it take to explore the Badami caves?

An average visit to the Badami caves and the surrounding area can take between 1.5 and 3 hours depending on individual interests.

What safety measures visitors to Badami caves should follow?

Visitors to the Badami caves should be aware of the monkey menace in the area and take necessary precautions to avoid any unwanted incidents. Visitors can follow these safety measures:

  • Do not carry food or eatables
  • Keep a safe distance from the monkeys
  • Do not leave your belongings and mobile phones unattended
  • Do not feed or tease the monkeys

Is it necessary to book tickets in advance to visit the Badami caves?

There is no online booking option for Badami cave temples. You can walk into the cave complex and buy the ticket from the ticket counter with cash or via a mobile app.

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Things To Consider

Badami remains extremely hot during the summer months, so avoiding it between March and June is recommended. The weather is pleasant from October to February because it doesn't get too cold during the winter. During the monsoon, it rains heavily.
Badami is a paradise for art and heritage enthusiasts. An excellent theatre for learning about ancient Indian culture during the Chalukya dynasty.
Badami has a large number of restaurants serving authentic local foods. You can find local meals in a variety of dining halls near the bus depot.
It is safe for tourists to visit Badami. Some touts present false information to sell their services, and be cautious when dealing with them. Auto drivers will tell you the temples aren't accessible by car and only autos can get you there.
Badami is not as popular as Hampi, so there are fewer tourists here. There are plenty of walking trails that lead to beautiful temple ruins in the interior of the city.
It takes at least a day to explore Badami’'s heritage. A knowledgeable guide is strongly recommended as it is difficult to understand temple design & architecture on our own. Get there early in the morning. It closes at 6 pm.

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