The modern Indian state of Karnataka is a land of many wonders. Lovers of nature and connoisseurs of history flock to the cities, towns and verdant ranges of the state to immerse themselves in its beauty and culture. Some of the famous sites here date back millennia and tell stories of the many kingdoms and rulers that called this region home. One of the most influential dynasties that ruled the region, the Chalukyas were the predominant force between the 6th and 12th centuries and have contributed greatly to the legacy of the state.
The Cave Temples of Badami
Situated in the North of Karnataka in present day Bagalkot, Badami was the erstwhile capital of this great kingdom. Situated at the mouth of a ravine, the settlement is flanked by sandstone hills. One of the fascinating sites of Badami is the set of cave temples carved out of the sandstone rocks. The set of four cave temples were built over a period of time and three of them are dedicated to Hindu deities. The fourth cave temple is devoted to Jainism. The temples are connected to each other by flights of stairs.
The Temples in Detail
The first Badami cave is also the oldest and is dedicated to Lord the dancing form of Shiva, popularly known as Nataraja. There more than 80 different forms of Nataraja depicted in this red sandstone cave temple. Highlights include the pillared hall and the square sanctum at the back. The first cave also has reliefs of Harira and Ardhanareeswara manifestations of Shiva along with Ganapati, Shanmukha and Mahishasuramardhini.
The second of the Badami Caves is famous for its ceiling carvings. This temple is that of Lord Vishnu, who is depicted in Trivikarma form. Some of the carvings include scenes from the Puranas and Vishnu on Garuda.
The third of the four rock-cut temples can be reached from the second by a flight of 60 stairs. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, some of the carvings here depict the deity in many forms including Trivikarma, Vamana and the man-lion Narsimha. One of the highlights of the third cave temple is the statue of Vishnu sitting on the serpent Adisesha. Murals in the temple depict the marriage of Shiva and Parvati.
The fourth temple is devoted to the founder of Jainism, Lord Mahavira, depicted in the seated posture. It is estimated that this temple was built almost a century after the previous three. A highlight here is the Tirthankara Parshavnatha carvings (with a snake at the feet).
Golden Age of Architecture
The cave temples are lasting remnants of a golden age of building styles. They were the earliest examples of a temple architecture style that would be celebrated across South India over the next few centuries. Featuring a style that blends the Nagara style from the north with Dravidian elements, the temples stand on the precipice of a hill and watch over the surrounding valley like auspicious spiritual windows.
Sightseeing in and around Badami
Badami Museum: Badami is also home to an archaeological museum which houses precious local curios and artifacts that give more insight into the civilization and cultures that thrived here. The portrayals of the goddess Lajja-Gauri here are very famous and represent a sect which flourished in the era.
Agasthya Teertha: The sites of Badami paint a very scenic canvas, and at the base of this picturesque portrait lay the Agasthya Teertha, a small lake at the foot of the hill. This serene spot is an ideal stop when you are done exploring the landmarks of Badami. The waters of the lake are believed by many devotees to contain healing powers.
The Bhootnath Temple: Facing the lake is the Bhootnath temple which is said to date back to the 5th century AD, another example of the rich civilizations that have continuously existed in this region. The Bhootnath temple is actually a complex of many structures and shrines, including two main temples. The temples have been built over a period of time spanning centuries. Visitors here get to witness to the fusion and evolution of many architectural styles that would later add to the vast palette of South Indian temple architecture.
Badami Fort: Opposite the famous cave temples, you will find Badami fort, another landmark featuring many old and precious temple carvings and sculptures. The hill-top fort features a large granary and an underground chamber. One of the region’s oldest temples dedicated to Shiva – Malegitti Shiva is located here. The route to the top of the fort is steep and there are many scenic viewpoints where you can stop and soak in the beauty of the place.
The famous Upper Shivalaya was built by the Chalukya ruler Pulakesan II and features sculpted representations of mythological tales on its walls. The lion and elephant heads above the temple stairs are one of the striking highlights of this temple. The lower Shivalaya honours Lord Ganesh and a highlight here is the 16th century canon that stands like a sentinel looking over the town.
Fairs and Festivals of Badami
Being an important centre of worship, Badami has religious and social significance to this day. For those who want to experience the town’s modern day relevance, a visit during the temple festivals is much warranted. The festival at Banashankari held in the winter months is a sight to behold. Other important festivals of Badami include the Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha Temple Festivals.
Getting around Badami is quite easy as it is a small town. Early morning or evenings are best for visiting the caves and one can get perfect photography opportunities during these timings. The best way to experience the place is on foot as there are many sights to withhold aside from the iconic and popular ones. Auto-rickshaws are the most preferred choice of travel within Badami.
How to Reach Badami
Badami has a railway station that is 5 kms from the town centre. You can get regular trains from Bangalore and Bijapur that pass by the station. Trains can also be taken to nearby centres like Hubli or Solapur. From here passengers need to change trains or choose different modes of transport.
Badami is 450 kms away from Bangalore, via the NH48 and NH50. The route would take around 9 hours to cover. There are also regular buses plying between Badami and cities like Hospet, Bangalore, Gadag and Bijapur.
The closest airport to Badami is Hubli Airport, which is just 84 kms away. Another airport close by is the Sambre Airport in Belgaum, which is 123 kms away.
Badami is a place where one can feel Karnataka’s heritage come alive. Take a step back to a glorious age by visiting this old town, which offers a kaleidoscope of South India’s rich traditions, beautiful architectural evolution, and deeply layered mythologies. Badami is a destination for the history buffs and the spiritual folks. It is a town that attracts the worshippers of art and those who simply seek solace from the urban grind.