Badami, a sleepy town in the Bagalkot District of Karnataka wouldn’t appear appealing at all if one is oblivious to the historical importance of the place but it is the site of the Badami Caves. While at first sight, the town appears to be a linear stretch of shady buildings, mostly houses and small stores. At the farthest end of the town is the Agastya Lake, and outlining the lake is a rugged, red sandstone outcrop.
Moving closer to the lake and the rocky outcrop, you would notice that the rocks are not simply huge ‘rocks’, rather they are temples, cave temples. These are the famous Rock-Cut Cave Temples of Badami. The town is in fact located at the mouth of a ravine with steep hills on either side. The temples are carved out of the sandstones of these cliffs.
Badami Caves – History
The town of Badami was founded by the first ruler of Chalukya dynasty, Pulakeshin I in 540 A.D. It served as the capital of the Chalukyas. There are four cave temples in total in Badami all of which were built by the two sons of Pulakeshin I – Kirthivarman and Mangalesha.
There are four caves in total dating back to the 6th Century, which are a combination of Hindu and Jain temples. They also shed light into the secular nature of the rulers at that time. All the temples share the same architecture – a veranda with columns and brackets leading to the pillared maha mandapa which in turn leads to the small sanctum in which houses the sculpture.
Places to Visit in Badami Caves
The first temple is dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva. It is believed to be the earliest of the four temples. Shiva is depicted in his dancing form, Nataraja, with his 18 arms. The cave also contains depictions of all the 81 poses of Nataraja.
Gigantic carvings of Ardhanareeswara and Harira can also be found inside the cave. The cave entrance can be reached by 40 steps.
This is dedicated to the Hindu Lord Vishnu in his magnificent Trivikrama avatar. The depiction shows Vishnu measuring the Earth with his one foot, the sky with another, and a third foot resting on the head of Mahabali.
On the ceilings are the carvings from puranas, and Vishnu on Garuda. It takes 64 steps from the first cave to reach the entrance which has the sculptures of his dwarapalakas.
This one is also dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Here he is depicted in his various forms; Vamana the dwarf, Trivikrama the giant measuring the world, Narasimha the man-lion, and Varaha lifting up Mother-Earth from the sea.
It is the largest, and most renowned temple out of all the four, and the inscriptions and paintings here provide important information about the culture and clothing in the place during that era.
The entire cave is embellished with beautiful artworks with paintings on the ceiling. Apart from the above mentioned depictions of Vishnu, the cave also contains a beautiful sculpture of Vishnu resting on the serpent king, Adisesha.
This is the latest addition with less elaboration compared to the other three caves;less in the sense that it is smaller in size. In terms of the artwork, this one is also as heavily and beautifully developed like the rest of them.
This is the only Jain temple among the lot, and is located quite higher than the others. The carvings of Tirthankara Parshvanatha, and the sculptors of Jain saint Mahavira in a seated position, and that of Gomateswara standing with creepers around his legs can be seen inside the cave.
Off the record, there is also a fifth cave which is a natural one with a Buddha statue carved inside. The site also has numerous other temples. Rumour has it that the more popular caves of Elephanta and Ellora were modelled from the ones in Badami.