In India’s southern state of Karnataka lies the town of Badami, an ancient capital of the Chalukya Dynasty. Pulakeshin I was the leader of the Chalukya Dynasty when Badami was constructed; evidence of this was found in an inscription dated 535 A.D (Reddy 58). Badami is famous for its five cave temples carved into the rock, dating as far back as the 6th century. The five temples and their ornate carvings stand frozen in time, making them an excellent example of early Dravidian (southern) temple architecture. Chalukya rule spanned from the 6th to the 12th century. Over this period it is likely that different religious views came into play and this can be seen in the changing temple architecture. The earliest temple motifs are Hindu and later Jain and Buddhist carvings can be seen. These changing religious themes show a degree of tolerance for new ideas and this allowed the region to display a syncretic nature. To the west of Badami is the Malprabha River that brings life to the city. In the center of the cave complex is Agastya Lake and surrounding the complex is a ravine. The red sandstone structure of the temples contrasts beautifully with the lake and surrounding greenery, creating a truly spectacular scene that rivals any of the great archaeological discoveries. Badami has been recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site (Cohn 3).
As you walk through the town you can see a long set of steps carved into the rock that leads to Temple I, close in proximity to the village. Dwarves of Siva (gana) are placed on each side of the steps and serve as guards of the temple and are commonly found in most of the Badami temples. Temple I has a focus on Siva, the God of the Yogis, and the destroyer of the universe. Henotheism is displayed in the temples, where there are multiple gods and goddesses worshipped but one is raised above the rest. A carving of Siva with multiple arms is found in Temple I, which is the most notable of the motifs in the temple. Siva is depicted as dancing and in Hinduism dances are very spiritual and are often dedicated to gods. Some sources indicate that Siva can be worshipped as the God of Dance and use the Dancing Siva at Badami as evidence (Koostria 6). Siva is dancing the tandava, a fierce dance he performs before he is to destroy the world (Russell 9). To the right of the Siva, there is a smaller carving of Ganesa, who is regarded as his son. Dance and the connection to the divine has always been an important theme in Hindu culture, elevating the significance of the carving in understanding early religious practice of the region. Also, within the temple stands a chapel which is supported by two pillars and on the back wall is a depiction of Mahishasura in a battle with a buffalo demon. Decorating the base of the chapel are more dwarves. To the left of Siva is a carving of a bull, which is named Nandi and is regarded as sacred (Mandala 125). On another wall in Temple I, there is a Kartikeya riding a peacock. Kartikeya is the Hindu God of war (Tyomkin 84).
Temple II is dedicated to Visnu, one of the gods responsible for maintaining the order of the universe. Temple II is rectangular in shape and at its entrance are four pillars and below are multiple carvings of the guardian dwarves as seen on the entrance to temple one. Temples I and II are very similar in styles and carving technique, leading scholars to believe they were constructed around the same time (6th century). An interesting carving within the temple is Varaha, the boar, who is an incarnation of Visnu and in his hand is the Goddess Bhudevi. Bhudevi metaphorically represents the earth in this depiction and Visnu is saving her. Traces of frescos that are no longer intact have been found on the side walls of the temple (Reddy 60). On the roof of the temple is a panel made up of a wheel of fish and svastikas. Multiple stories of Krsna and Visnu are also found carved throughout the temple on the roof. The rafters are adorned with elephants and lions.
Temple III is the grandest temple at Badami and one of the most unique and intriguing Brahmanical temples in India. An inscription was left behind in this temple by the Chalukya King Mangalisa, the son of Pulakeshin I. This inscription allowed for the temple to be accurately dated. As you enter there are beautifully carved symmetrical pillars that line a long aisle. At the end of the aisle there is a large carving of Visnu and similar to Temple II, this temple is primarily devoted to Visnu. Visnu is depicted as having four arms sitting on the cosmic serpent Ananta, which means without end. Visnu is seated cross-legged with his eyes closed and in his two raised hands, Visnu holds a discus (cakra) and a conch shell (sankha). These objects are commonly found in depictions of Visnu (Burgess 408). Visnu is wearing three necklaces and a belt made out of gems. Temple III features a veranda, which is a common feature among a few of the temples. Walking through the veranda and into the temple you encounter a carving of a man and women covered in foliage, most likely depicting a scene from the Kama Sastras. On the roof of the temple there are carvings of Agni, Brahma, Varuna and Deva seated on a ram. On a back wall of the temple there is a large carving of Narasinha, son of Siva (Burgess 411).
Temple number IV is dedicated to Jainism. While the first three temples are Brahmanical, Temple IV was the last to be constructed and displays the religious tolerance of the Chalukya dynasty. Temple IV is the highest of the four and is located east of Temple III. Similar to other temples, you enter the temple from a set of steps leading to a veranda propped up by pillars. Temple IV features a carving of Mahavira sitting in a meditative position on a throne. Mahavira is a spiritual teacher who teaches students about Dharma. Accompanying Mahavira are two smaller figures holding fans (chauri) (Burgess 491). Adjacent to the row of pillars is a tall carving of The Tirthankara Parshvanatha, the first Jain spiritual leader featuring cobras surrounding his head. Another carving shows Guatama Swami surrounded by four snakes. Temple IV is believed to be constructed in the late 7th century or early 8th CE (Burgess 492).
Burgess, James (2013) The Cave Temples of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Russell, Jesse, and Ronald Cohn (2012) Badami Cave Temples. Stoughton WI: Books On Demand.
Tartakov, Gary Michael. “The Beginning of Dravidian Temple Architecture in Stone.” Artibus Asiae, Vol. 42, No. 1. (1980), pp. 39-99.
Chavda, Jagdish (2011) The Badami Cave Temples Supporting Cultural Differences. Orlando: University of Central Florida.
Koostria, Orser, Emma Jayne and Prithvi Chandra (2014): The connection between dance and the divine. Sackville: Bharata Natyam.
Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya (2003) Dancing with Siva: Hinduism’s contemporary catechism. Delhi: Himalayan Academy Publications.
Reddy, VV Subba (2009) Temples of South India. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.
Article written by: Sam Adams (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.