The historic ramparts of Chitradurga Fort

Chitradurga Fort is an ancient fortress located in the Chitradurga district of Karnataka. This imposing structure, which covers an area of approximately 1,500 acres, is perched atop a hill surrounded by seven towering walls, making it one of the most impressive fortresses in South India. The city also takes pride in its historical ties to the Mahabharata legend and the mythological figure of Hidimba.

Located at a 3-hour drive from Bangalore, the fort is locally known as “Kallina Kote” or Stone Fortress, formed of two Kannadiga words “Kallina” which means stone and “Kote” which stands for fort. Because of its huge defensive fortification and tenacity to hold up against long aggressive raids, it is also referred to as Ukkina Kote or “Steel Fort”. Situated almost on the highway that connects Bengaluru to Hospet, this is a prominent point of interest in Chitradurga and was the center of Deccani politics for over three centuries.

We were lodged at the Hotel Mayura Durg. It offers excellent value for your money, and the standout feature is its prime location, just a brief 5-minute stroll from the Fort.

Admission tickets to enter the fort can only be purchased using UPI payment apps at the main gate. If you are not using any, you have to visit a website to use online banking to purchase the tickets. At the time I visited the fort, entry tickets for Indian nationals and visitors from SAARC countries were set at Rs. 20 per person, whereas for foreign visitors from other countries, the fee was Rs. 250 per person.


Chitradurga has a rich history of being ruled by many dynasties. Edicts of Emperor Ashoka from the 3rd century BCE were found near Molakalmuru, a taluk in the same district. To the west of Chitradurga, there was once an ancient city called Chandravalli, where excavations revealed the presence of a prehistoric city.

The fort rests on the seven hills of Chinmuladri range which are some of the oldest granite formations of the Indian subcontinent. As you enter through the Rangayyana gate, the first thing you see is a large water tank known as Kamana Bavi.

The fort’s history dates back to the 10th century when the region was under the control of the Rashtrakutas. Initially, it was mostly a mud fort surrounded by boulders. It was later taken over by the Chalukyas and then the Hoysalas, who added several temples to the fort’s architecture.

In those times between the early 1300s to 1500s, regions like Chitradurga were mostly governed by local chieftains, and the land was largely dominated by Bedar (Valmiki) tribes. The Bedar tribes claim descent from Brahminic rishi Valmiki and trace their origins to southern Andhra Pradesh from where they had emigrated with their herds.

In Kannada language the term ‘Bedar’ means Adivasis or hilly people with mostly hunting as their occupation. The Bedar community is also called as ‘Valmiki’ tribe, ‘Balmiki’ tribe or ‘Beda’ tribe.

However, it was during the reign of the Nayakas in the 17th century that the fort was transformed into its current formidable form.

Timmana Nayaka who was a chieftain under the Vijayanagar empire was given the rank of governor of Chitradurga as a reward for his excellence in military achievements. The first instance of fortification at Chitradurga was by Kamageti Timmanna Nayaka by about 1562 CE. Obanna Nayaka, also known as Madakari Nayaka, declared his independence from the Vijayanagara Empire. In 1602 CE he was succeeded by Kasturirangappa Nayaka, Madakari Nayaka-II (1652 CE), Chikkanna Nayaka (1676 CE), Linganna Nayaka (Madakari III), Bharamappa Nayaka (1689-1721 CE), Hiri Madakari Nayaka, Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka II. The Nayakas of Chitradurga made significant additions to the fort, including the seven concentric walls, which are the hallmark of the fort today.

At its prime, the Chitradurga fort is said to have 19 impressive doors, 38 smaller doors, 4 secret entrances and about 2000 watchtowers.

The fort is structured into seven tiers. Three lower tiers are adjacent to the hill and four tiers are on the slopes of the hill. The first tier has four gates (called Bagilu in Kannada):

  • Rangayyana bagilu (Rangaiyya’s gate) on the east
  • Santhe bagilu (market gate) on the north
  • Seenirina hondada bagilu (sweet water pond gate) on the northwest and
  • Lal Kote bagilu (red fort gate) on the south

The entrance of the rocky gateway is adorned with engravings of Gods and a huge snake on the rock wall. These walls were constructed using massive granite blocks, some of which weigh as much as 50 tons, and are separated by moats, which are now mostly dry. Depending on the topography and the geological strata of the land, the fort walls were built with a height ranging from 5–13 meters. Initially, it was built in mud these walls were subsequently strengthened in stretches with granite stone slabs in the 18th century. The three outer walls of defense are provided with deep broad moats.

An outstanding feature noticed in these stretches of the fort walls is that no cementing material was used in joining the large granite cubes that have been neatly sized, cut, trimmed, and placed in position. The total length of the exterior fort walls is about 8 kilometers and covers an area of about 1,500 acres. The narrow winding path leads to Kamana Bagilu, the start of the second tier of the fort.

The Nayak Palegars built the fort as an impregnable fortification for defense purposes with 19 gateways with bent passageways, a palace, 18 temples, 38 posterior entrances, 4 secret entrances, and subsidiary structures like multiple reservoirs, granaries, oil pits, along with 2000 watch towers to guard and keep a strict vigil on the enemy incursions. The storage warehouses, pits, and reservoirs were primarily designed to ensure the food, water and military supplies required to endure a long siege. Underground tunnels were built that served as escape routes in case of an attack. The fort’s strategic importance increased during the Vijayanagara Empire, and it was used as a garrison to protect the empire from invading forces.

Beyond the kamana Bagilu, there is a wide open space. It is up to you to choose which area you would like to explore first. We decided to head straightaway to Maddu Besuva Kallu, an area where gunpowder was ground. This lies in a secluded area on the southern side of the fortress. Once you cross the Kamana Bagilu, turn left and walk about 200m.

Maddu Besuva Kallu which means “gunpowder grinder” contains four stones at four corners similar idea to what we used to have to grind grains to make flour. These were used to grind the gunpowder for the cannons. The stones were powered by the animals either elephants or bullocks, which would rotate them in a circular motion. The grinders have teeth to break the lumps in gunpowder to make it fine so it can be bunt more efficiently with less oxygen inside the cannon chamber. A gunpowder storage room is also located near this place.

From Maddu Beesuva Kallu, we walked to the Chitradurga Fort jail. These are located directly opposite to each other but we wanted to cover these areas before hiking up the hill toward the upper echelons of the fort

The fort is situated on massive rock foundations and the view from the fort features towering boulders. The structure has been built with seven concentric fortification walls each of which has narrow passageways and gates. Thus, it is also known as Yelu Suttine, meaning “fort of seven circles”.

Chitradurga Fort Jail

One of the notable features of the jail area is the presence of a massive cannon. This colossal cannon, with a length of 22 feet and a weight exceeding 50 tons, served as a formidable defender of the fort in times of conflict. Its immense size necessitated the efforts of more than 100 men for loading and firing, and it boasted an impressive firing range of over 2 kilometers. This location within the fort receives relatively fewer visitors.

This cannon, one of two 18-pounders abandoned at the Tipu Sultan Battery on the northeastern corner of the fort, was cast in 1792 at the Carron Works in Falkirk, Scotland.

From the jail area, we backtracked towards the Kamana Bagilu gate to explore the upper reaches of the fort.

This stupendous fort has witnessed some of South India’s bloodiest wars. The fort successfully repelled a near-constant stream of would-be invaders until 1779, when it fell to Hyder Ali of the Kingdom of Mysore. It was during the reign of Madakari Nayaka, the city of Chitradurga was besieged by the troops of Hyder Ali. A chance sighting of a woman entering the Chitradurga fort through a crack hole in the rocks led to a clever plan by Hyder Ali to send his soldiers through the crack hole.

Chitradurga was under siege for almost two years before Hyder Ali was able to capture if from Madakari Nayaka.

Twenty years later, the British forces defeated and killed Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1799 CE. Between 1799 and 1809 CE, Chitaldoorg, as the British pronounced it, was garrisoned by British troops as it was perceived to be a potentially useful base along Mysore’s northern line of defense. Later, the fort was handed back to the Mysore government.

Britishers who captured the fort from Tipu were not able to pronounce Chitradurga and called it Chittaldroog

Many of the fortification lines possess elaborate gateways. Among the elaborate gateways, this gateway to the east of the fort has architectural features typical of the Bahmani Sultanate in Northern Karnataka.

The stairs keep going up toward the upper part of the fort where we can find a number of temples in a cluster. There are 14 important temples in the fort. Among them, Hidimbeshwara, Ekanatheshwari, Sampige Siddeshwara, Gopalaswamy, and Phalguneshwara are the important ones.

The presiding family deity of the Nayakas of Chitradurga was Goddess Ekanatheswari, an incarnation of Adi Parashakti. Ekanatheswari’s footprints are sculpted into a block of stones at the entrance of the fort. Some of the well-known temples were the Hidimbeswara, Sampige Siddeshwara, Ekanathamma, Phalguneshwara, Gopala Krishna, Lord Hanuman, Subbaraya and Nandi. Some of the temples have shikharas in Chalukyan style. The Siddheshwara and the Hidimbeshwara have shikhara that resemble a festive chariot.

Shri Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple

The gateway leads to its south leads to Hidimbeswara temple, one of the oldest temples on the hill. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Ekana, Ekavati or Ekanatheshwari. In ancient times, devotees used to sacrifice male buffalo here.

From the Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple, there are two paths, one leads east towards a walled compound popularly called the Mint, and the other leads south, towards the Hidimseshwara Temple.

Tankasale – Mint

These remnants of stone-mud walled structures are believed to have functioned as the administrative hub of Chitradurga Fort during the Palegar rule. Within this administrative center were the Darbar Hall and the Treasury/Mint. These mud walls have endured for approximately half a millennium.

Embedded within these walls are wooden columns, likely supporting the building’s roof with wooden beams. Surprisingly, even the wood from that era has remarkably well-preserved itself. The soil used in these walls is meticulously chosen, likely sourced from a lake bed. The mud is meticulously dried, then finely ground and sifted to obtain a uniform powder. Afterward, it is blended with water and thoroughly mixed until the entire mixture achieves uniform consistency. This procedure demands significant labor and is meticulously overseen at every stage to ensure quality and security, guarding against potential sabotage.

A narrow path beside the Mint leads to a wide open area where we can find a bridge over the Akka and Tangi ponds. There are several other points of interest on this path. A road leads past the Mint to the main western gate, called Basavana Bagilu, and another line of fortifications, which protect the inner fort.

Akka and Tangi Honda

Akka Thangi Honda stands for two massive ponds named Akka Honda (elder sister pond) and Thangi Honda (younger sister pond). These are part of the Fort’s well-planned and sophisticated rainwater harvesting and water conservation system.

The excess water collected in Gopalaswamy Honda flows into Akka Honda and then gradually to Thangi Honda. The pond where 2 queens of Nayaka king drowned after Hyder Ali succeeded in his 3rd attempt to capture the fort. This was a ”jauhar” of its kind.

From here a long winding path toward Gopalaswamy Temple.

We stopped for a breather at this gate just before reaching Gopalaswamy Temple. Garuda and Aanjaneya are carved on either side of the entrance.

A few feet ahead, a freshwater channel flows all the way through the passage that leads to the entrance. A freshwater pond is seen to the left side as soon as we enter. The pond named after the temple – Goplaswamy Honda (pond) is a tank that gathers rainwater from the hilltop. The greenery surrounding the pond is like a mini-jungle amidst a rocky terrain. The Gopalswamy Honda in front of the temple was one of the main water sources for people residing inside the fort.

The vast open space between the palace complex and the Honda is known as Sringara tota referring to the beauty of the landscape. The honda was a part of the palace complex and probably meant for the exclusive use of the royal family. The corner is where palace attendants would draw up water since that’s the closest to the palace complex.

The Gopalaswamy Honda is the largest waterbody inside the fort. This manmade waterbody serves as a mini reservoir nestled in a valley. A 45-meter-long stone wall across the valley is the dam that blocks the flow of rainwater in the valley creating a reservoir that is 50m at its widest point and 140m at its longest point. As to the depth I was told it could be around 10 to 12 feet in the middle.

Gopalswamy Temple

One of the most impressive features of the fort is the steep climb to the top. There are over 2000 steps leading up to the peak of the fort, which can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to climb, depending on your fitness level.

This temple facing east is of Dravidian order with the usual garbhagriha, sukanasi, a six-pillared navaranga. a large four-pillard closed mukha mandapa with a closed passage around the garbhagriha for circumambulation. In the garbhagriha is an image of Gopalakrishna measuring 1.05 m in height from sometime in the early 14th century CE.

There is a reference to this temple in an inscription from 1338 CE. The figure of Gopalaswamy stands cross-legged, playing a flute. On either side of the image, you can see cattle listening to the flute. The sukanasi doorway is flanked by dwarpalas. In the navaranga images of Ganesha, Garuda, Brahma, and Vishvaksena adorn the walls. The ceiling has a large shallow dome fashioned into a lotus. The beam features more images of Indira, Krishna, and other deities.

The climb is challenging but rewarding, as it offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and the fort’s architecture. While coming down from the Gopalswamy temple, we took a short detour to the Obavve onake.

Obavve onake

When the fort of Chitradurga was attacked by Hyder Ali, according to a legend there was a woman by the name of Obavva, the wife of a guard at the fort, who is said to have single-handily killed several of Hyder Ali’s men who were entering the fort through a small hole in between the rocks. She fought them off with a pestle (onake) and thus this legend is famously called the Obavve onake legend.

During that time, Hyder Ali attempted to capture the fort during the reign of Madakari Nayaka V, the last Nayaka ruler. The structure had a crevice that was discovered by Hyder Ali’s army. However, when Ali’s men attempted to squeeze through this crevice at night, a woman was guarding it on behalf of her husband.

When the brave woman noticed this, she killed the trespassers by hitting them with a pestle. When her husband returned, he discovered the bodies of dead soldiers in the fort’s crevice. He informed Madakari Nayaka and his soldiers about the invasion right away. Hyder Ali, however, was successful in invading and conquering the fort and the last Madakari Nayaka and his family was imprisoned at Srirangapatna.

Nonetheless, the brave woman’s story was not forgotten. History of the fort still remembers her courage and love for her land. Obavva’s courage has been memorialized in Chitradurga by setting up the Onake Obavva Stadium and a life-sized sculpture near the District Commissioner’s Office in Chitradurga.

From Obavve onake, we walked back to the Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple from where we hiked further south up to the Hidimbeshwara Temple.

Hidimbeswara temple

Hidimbeshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to have been built during the 15th century. It is the oldest temple in the area, situated above a massive boulder crowned with a stone superstructure. Within this temple is a sanctum (garbhagriha) housing a linga. On the front side of the outer sabha mandapa, there is a small mukh mandapa (porch) with bench-like seating. The temple’s pillars exhibit diverse designs, featuring octagonal or hexagonal shafts with ornamental details near the top.

The sole captivating feature at this site is the standard representation of Virabhadra, positioned in the navaranga and affixed to a base adorned with a bas-relief displaying seven horses on the front, symbolizing the Sun god, Surya. At the top of this structure is the smallest chamber, crowned with a square stupi. An ancient stone inscription from 1286 CE, found in the outer navaranga, records the generous grants made by Perumale Bandanayaka to the temple.

Myths surrounding Hidimba

The Hidimbeswara temple houses the tooth of Hidimba, the formidable giant (Rakshasa in Sanskrit). The legend goes that Hidimba and his sister Hidimbi once resided on this hill. Hidimba was a source of great trouble for the local populace, and when the Pandavas arrived in the area, they too encountered his menacing presence.

According to the ancient tale, the hills surrounding the fort held great significance during the time of the Mahabharata. Hidimba, the fierce giant, was believed to have inhabited the Chitradurga hill and caused fear among the inhabitants. When Bhima was in exile, traveling with his Pandava brothers and mother Kunti thousands of years ago, he crossed paths with this demon.

There you can find a piece of bone much larger than that kept in the Hidimbeshvara temple, believed to be the tooth of Hidambasura.

Bhima was challenged to a duel by Hidimba, and in the ensuing battle, he defeated and vanquished Hidimba. The boulders in this area are also believed to have been utilized as weapons during their epic confrontation. Hidimbi, who fell in love with Bhima (the second of the Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata legend), went on to marry him, and together they had a child named Ghatotkacha.


In front of the Hidimbeshwara temple, on a lower level is a three-storied stone tower (Mahadwara) with pillared verandas on the sides. It appears to have been built in 1411 CE by Mallana Odeyar, a relative of Devaraya of Vijayanagara.

Sampige Siddeshwara Temple

A monolithic pillar and two swing frames lie between the entrance to this gateway and the Sampige Siddheshvara temple, which rests at the foot of the hill in the left background. This temple was built by Thimanna Nayak in 1568.

The Gaalimandapa which is the Mahadwara of the Siddheshwara temple is more elaborately designed with a series of pillars in the facade of the second storey on all sides. The mandapa was constructed in 1355 CE while the torana was made in 1411 CE by Mallana Odeyar.

The prominent among them is the Sampige Siddeshwara Temple. The temple of Siddeshwara is a cave temple associated with a hillock named Mukthi Shivalaya Shikhara (abode of Shiva-pinnacle). Located on the southern side, the temple gets its name Sampige Siddeshwara because of the Michelia Champaca, the magnolia flowers, called Sampige in the Kannada language.

This Temple is named after the Sampige tree, which was planted by the Madakari nayaka’s ancestors. It is said to be named after the Sampige tree which was supposedly planted by the ancestors of Chitradurga ruler Madakari Nayaka. This temple is situated at the base of a massive rock formation. Atop the rock formation is the Kavalu Battery

The temple comprises a mukha mandapa, sambhamandapa, sukanasi, and a garbha griha, all axially located. We took a short stroll through the temple to explore the sanctum, vestibule, and hall. Inside the sanctum, you’ll find a daily worshiped Shiva Linga known as Sidhanta, which gives the temple its name, Siddheshwar. The veneration of this deity is linked to Veerashaiva Saints such as Revannasiddha (Sri Revana Siddeshwara Swamy is considered one of the eminent Saints of the Shaiva Sect within Sanatan Dharma).

In the sukanasi you can find images of Nandi and Parvati. It leads to an enshrined linga, better known as Siddheswara Linga. On the south wall is a niche containing a relief group in which two chieftains are depicted with daggers a their girdle in ceremonial attire, holding a linga each in one hand and a pike in the other.

The hall has sculptures of Allama Prabhu, Ganesha, Shula, Brahma, Nandi, Bhairava and several Naga stones. At one corner there is an impressive statue of Veerabhadra.

In the courtyard, there is a huge squarish platform where the palegars and chiefs of Chitradurga Fort were crowned once. In its heyday this place must have seen a lot of ceremonial activities, now it is bare and mute.

Murugharajendra Matha

Murugha Matha was built during the reign of Bharamanna Nayaka (1689 – 1721 CE). Bharamanna Nayak made many additions to the fort and built the Murugha Rajendra Matha, which since then has been the residence of a well-known guru of the Lingayats. The Matha is a spacious and impressive two-storied stone structure, with a pillared hall and a gateway known as Ane bagilu (elephant gate)

Archeological findings at the Chitradurga

Through excavations and investigations in the vicinity of the town of Chandravalli, a recurring sequence of two distinct cultures has been unveiled. This sequence begins with the Neolithic culture, followed by the Iron Age Megalithic culture, and subsequently transitions into the Early Historic period, notably the reign of the Satavahanas.

Several Satavahana coins were unearthed at the outset of the last century. Evidence of the Neolithic culture, such as pottery, has also been discovered in the area. The presence of cupules and engravings of human and horse footprints is discernible within the fort, and intriguingly, cupules have been identified on the dressed stone blocks comprising the fortification wall.

Rainwater-harvesting structures were built in a cascade development, which ensured large storage of water in interconnected reservoirs. It is said that the fort precincts never faced any water shortage.

Historical linkage has been established by an archeological inscription dated 1284 CE found in the Panchalinga (Five Lingas) cave in the Ankhi Matha area, to the west of Chitradurga. The inscription attributes the establishment of the Five Lingas (aniconic symbols of Lord Shiva) to the Pandavas. At Ankhi Matha, approached by stone steps, a series of ancient subterranean chambers cut out at different levels are seen, in addition to several places of worship and platforms

Carvings of the edicts of Ashoka dating to the 3rd century BCE have been found at the fort, and a legendary duel described in the Mahabharata between the hero Bhima and the demon Hidimbasura is said to have taken place on its grounds.

Chitradurga Fort is a magnificent piece of ancient architecture and human skill. Its imposing walls and intricate architecture serve as an important reminder of the rich history of Karnataka, and its conservation and preservation are crucial to ensure that it remains a part of our heritage.

Despite its age and the wear and tear of time, the fort remains an impressive sight, and its architecture has stood the test of time. Visiting the Chitradurga Fort was an unforgettable experience. The fort’s imposing walls, steep climb, and stunning views make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, architecture, or nature. The magnificent fort is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Though signs of deterioration are visible in the fort today, its sheer size, complexity, and detailed design, and the valor of those who gave their lives to protect it, speak volumes of its glorious past.


What kind of weather should I expect at Chitradurga?

Summers can be extremely hot and not advisable for the huge area that requires you to climb several stairs.

When is the rainy season in Chitradurga?

June – September

What are the languages spoken and understood at the site?

English, Hindi & Kannada

Is the fort accessible?

The fort is not disabled-friendly

What are the rules with regard to the usage of Tripods?

Tripods are not allowed inside the fort premises. If you are carrying a tripod, you will have to keep it at the front office at your own risk.

What is the cost of admission tickets??

Tickets must be bought at the front gates, and entrance fees are ₹20 for Indian citizens and ₹250 for foreign nationals.

Hoysaleshwara Temple

After a beautiful evening at the Mullayangiri peak, we were headed back to Bangalore. On the way, we decided to stop over at one of the prominent temples built by the Hoyasalas in Halebidu. Halebidu, previously known as Dwarasamudra, served as the ancient capital of the Hoysalas during the 12th century. The town is home to several scattered monuments recognized by historians as exemplifying Hoysala architecture.

After an hour’s drive, we reached Halebeedu at 7:30 am. We were a bit early and the temple gates hadn’t opened yet. As we parked the car on the roadside, some of the hawkers were already getting ready with their wares before the Sunday crowd could gather. The tea vendor stall was surrounded by people, sharing jokes and sipping on some local concoction of masala tea. A few faithful believers clad in dhoti were engaged in animated conversation also waiting for the temple gates to open. Under the warm embrace of the sun, we savored the simple joy of sipping a refreshing tender coconut water.

As the temple gates opened, we were the first ones inside. From the gate, a long narrow path leads to the remarkable construction that truly deserves its place as “Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas” in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

Hoysala dynasty

The Hoysala dynasty reigned over a significant portion of Southern India for nearly two centuries, and left an indelible mark with the construction of remarkable temples, encompassing both Hindu and Jain architectural marvels. No matter what some might say, the Hindus were pretty much welcoming of Buddhism, and apart from some scattered incidents, Buddhist and Jain temples have existed together alongside Hindu temples in several places. One of the most prominent examples is the Cave temples in Badami which hosts a mesmerizing temple devoted to Mahavira and Buddha accompanying several other Hindu gods.

The empire of the Hoysalas extended in Southern India from Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram in the east to the present State of Kerala in the west. Their rule spread to most of the current day Karnataka and also several parts of Northern Tamil Nadu in the Kaveri river belt between the 10th & 14th centuries CE.

The Hoysala dynasty is said to have comprised 14 kings. They were known for their patronage of art and architecture, which forms a crucial part of their legacy. The most popular of the Hoysala kings was Vishnuvardhana, a Jain who converted to Sanatan Dharma and worshipped the Hindu God Vishnu. It was during his rule that the Hoysalas really flourished. After his rule ended, the empire started disintegrating and in 1336 CE. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (a Muslim ruler from Northern India) attacked the Hoysalas, ending their reign.

Hoysaleshwara Temple

The Hoysaleshwara Temple on the banks of Dorasamudra tank is a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture. The temple is built in a star pattern with 64 corners to accommodate hundreds of deities and other decorative carvings. It was built during the 12th century during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

As we walked towards the main temple, there were two structures placed tangent to the path. One of them is a weathered carving of a boy fighting a tiger. This is an emblem of the Hoysala dynasty characterized by a majestic and intricately carved sculpture of a mythical lion, often depicted standing on its hind legs. This symbol is prominently featured in many Hoysala temples.

The origin of the name “Hoysala” traces back to the legendary encounter of the dynasty’s founder, Sala, who was the tribal leader of a village known as Angadi (currently within the Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka State) with a tiger. According to popular folklore, Sala valiantly defeated a ferocious tiger, and in commemoration of this brave feat, the dynasty adopted the name “Hoysala,” with “Hoy” meaning “strike” or “kill” in Kannada.

Exactly opposite to the Hoysala emblem, lies a rock-cut statue of Ganesha. It seems to be in a much better state than the emblem. The intricate work on this piece of rock was simply astounding.

As I explore more and more of southern India, it just amazes me as I stand in the presence of these ancient rocks unfolding their silent tales. The Hoysaleshwara temple was earlier also known as ‘Srimad Vishnuvardhana Poysalesvara’ after its patron and was built in 1121 AD. Later epigraphical records recognize it as “Hoysaleswara Panchikeswara” constructed by Ketamalla Dandanayaka, a prominent merchant and other wealthy citizens and merchants of Dorasamudra, in honor of the ruling king Vishnuvardhana and his principal queen Shantaladevi, according to an inscription found in Ghattadahalli, five kilometers east of Halebidu.

According to historical records, it took about 39 years to construct the Hoysaleshwara Temple in Halebidu, yet it remains incomplete in some places.

The temple has four entrances. The one normally used by visitors as main entry nowadays is the northern entrance closest to the parking lot. There is one entry on the south side and two on the east side, facing two large detached open pavilions whose ceiling is supported by lathe-turned pillars.

This view shows two exuberantly decorated dvarapalas, or temple guardians, outside the main doorway approached by a flight of steps. The upper sections are decked with floral and creeper designs. Spread over 7 hectares, the temple complex with deities and pillars are predominantly carved in Steatite (talc-chlorite schist with occasional magnesite and opaque) procured from Turuvekere and Hassan.

The temple was made in star pointed base, further layered with stone carvings systematically. Hoysala temples are not very tall. They are mostly situated on a platform which is 3-5 feet in height. The temple from the base to the crown is approximately 36.6 feet in height. The shikhara or temple towers are absent at Hoysalesvara Temple at Halebidu. There is no clear evidence of its existence in any epigraphical collection.

Dvarapalas at Halebidu are more elaborate than those at most temples. They are about seven feet in height and fierce in appearance like the nio-guardians in Japan. They wear skull-studded crowns endowed with four arms in which they typically hold Shaivite attributes.

Before exploring the outer walls of the temple we went inside the mandap. The temple is a dwikuta- vimana which means a temple with two shrines on the same platform, both dedicated to Shiva. They are two separate shrines with a cruciform platform resting on cruciform-shaped plinths. Both of the temples are preceded by a Nandi pavilion containing ornamented but realistic Nandi bulls. They are respectively called “Hoysaleshwara” And “Shantaleshwara. Hoysaleswara is dedicated to ‘Hoysaleswara’ Shiva (the king) and the other one is dedicated to ‘Shantaleswara’ Shiva (the queen, Shantala). Neither of the shrines have sikharas.

The mandapa (central hall) is held up by pillars. It leads worshippers to the garbhagriha. The spaces between the peripheral columns have been closed off with stone slabs. There are 10 internal pillars around the four much larger ones at the center.

Designed with precision, the temple orchestrates a spectacle known as the ‘Surya Mandala,’ whence the sun’s rays delicately caress the main deity during specific hours. Beyond this celestial alignment, the temple also features many other architectural innovations, such as the use of different types of stones to create various effects, and the use of intricate geometric patterns in its architecture.

In the central navaranga of the shrine, each of the four pillars featured four standing madanakai figures in their pillar brackets for a total of 16 standing figures per temple. These intricately carved damsels, typically depicting a female form, adds visual interest to an otherwise simple pillar. They gaze down upon the devotees below, adding to the beauty of the pillars. Not all the madanakai are in their positions. Of the 32 figures on the central pillars of the two shrines, a total of 11 remain. Only 6 damaged ones have survived in the north temple and 5 in the south temple.

The interiors showcase finely carved, highly polished pillars in myriad profiles, along with exquisite racket figures of dancers and musicians, their sensuality and dynamism expertly rendered in stone. Similarly, ceilings featuring corbelled domes, are adorned with figurative sculptures and with floral, geometric and botanical motifs, the stone resembling wood in its ornateness.

The sanctum walls are plain, avoiding distraction to the devotee and focussing the attention of the visitor at the spiritual symbol. The ceilings of the temple are supported by 12 feet tall pillars chiseled with fascinating grooves, with amazing perfection. Bulbous pillars are found inside the temple, which have carvings that are so precise, that they might have been constructed using some kind of machine.

After paying respects at the temple we came around to examine the intricate carvings on the outer walls depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. Some of the panels also depict everyday life during the Hoysala period, including dances, music, and games.

The external nandi mandapas (pillared halls built to enshrine the sacred bulls) have been reconstructed in the past, however, they do not affect the authenticity of the architectural form of the temple. Nandi, the sacred bull and vehicle of Lord Shiva, is often depicted in a monolithic form, carved from a single piece of rock. The Nandi monolith at Hoysaleshwara is characterized by its impressive size and detailed craftsmanship. Carved with precision, these sculptures exhibit the strength and majesty associated with the divine bull. The position of Nandi, typically facing the main sanctum of the temple, symbolizes devotion and readiness to carry out Lord Shiva’s will.

The symbolism of the seated Nandi facing towards the sanctum in Shiva temples represents the soul and the message that the soul should always be focused on the Parameshwara (Shiva), the absolute.

From the Nandi shrine, we went on a peripheral walk examining the beautiful carvings on the outer walls of the temple. The Hoysala architectural style has indigenous structural patterns in the form of staggered, star-shaped shrines, positioned on a raised platform with a wide pathway for circumambulation. Hoysaleshwara exemplifies the schema of the tier designs completely on the outer wall of the temple. There are layers of animals and designs, each representing a certain aspect of the Hoysala kingdom. The bottom, the elephants, shows strength, the next layer, lions, shows bravery, the third from the bottom- the symbolic view of flowers- shows beauty, the fourth- cavalry, and then another layer of flowers, to again bring in the idea of artistic beauty.

The layer after that is comprised of soldiers or scenes from Hindu mythology. The third from the top is a layer of makaras (semi-aquatic mythical sea monsters) followed by a layer of peacocks. The topmost layer consists of flowers again to add aesthetics. Above these panels, follows a continuous parade of large-sized depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, each one incomparable in beauty.

There are more than 240 wall sculptures that run all along the outer wall of the Hoysaleshwara Temple

I have tried to add some of the interesting carvings here. The next capture tells the story of Arjuna shooting the eye of a fish during Draupadi’s swayamvara unfolds in this captivating stone relief.

Skillfully carved, the depiction captures the essence of the archery contest that determined Arjuna as Draupadi’s groom. Arjuna stands poised, his bow drawn with precision, aiming at the revolving fish’s eye. The stone relief immortalizes this pivotal event from the Mahabharata, where Arjuna’s unparalleled archery skills won him the hand of Draupadi, marking a significant turning point in the epic narrative.

This is a figure of a dancing Ganesha with ornately detailed jewelry. The mesmerizing craftsmanship captures the essence of one of the most beloved Hindu deities. Carved with intricate precision, Lord Ganesha is depicted in a seated posture, radiating a sense of divine tranquility and benevolence.

The detailing in the sculpture extends to the symbolic attributes of Ganesha, such as the elephant head, potbelly, and the iconic broken tusk. The sculptor’s skill truly breathes life into the portrayal. The right part of the external wall of the temple starts with an image of a dancing Ganesha, there are almost 240 images of Ganesha in different poses.

Next, we see the Ugranarashima, the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The depiction captures the intense and awe-inspiring moment from Hindu mythology when Lord Narasimha, emerges in his fierce form to vanquish the demon Hiranyakashipu.

The intricately carved details convey the ferocity of Ugra Narasimha, with a lion’s head and a formidable posture. The sculpture skillfully renders the tension and drama of the narrative, showcasing the divine wrath and power encapsulated in stone. The facial expressions, sinuous mane, and the portrayal of the defeated demon beneath the lord’s formidable figure evoke a sense of reverence and awe.

The legend of Jakanacharya

A fascinating legend surrounding the Halebid temples revolves around Jakanacharya, the skilled sculptor credited with their construction. Hailing from Kridapura village in Tumkur, Karnataka, Jakanacharya’s devotion to his craft overshadowed everything, even his familial ties. Entrusted with building the Belur and Halebid temples, he poured his heart and soul into the intricate sculptures.

Unknown to Jakanacharya, his wife gave birth to their son, Dankanacharya, who also later became a renowned sculptor. At Belur, he found a job as a sculptor and noticed a flaw in a figure sculpted by the great Jakanacharya himself. A furious Jakanacharya challenged him, vowing to sever his right arm if proven correct. To everyone’s surprise, Dankanacharya proved his assertion, unaware of his familial connection. In keeping with the challenge, Jakanacharya kept his promise and cut off his right hand even though Dankanacharya insisted not to do so.

Subsequently, Jakanacharya purportedly had a vision where Lord Vishnu instructed him to return to his village, Kridapura, and construct what we now know as the Chennakeshava temple. Following divine guidance, Jakanacharya built the temple, and as the legend goes, Lord Vishnu restored his right hand. Stories of miracles like this should be taken lightly but it is interesting nonetheless. In honor of this skilled sculptor, the Karnataka government annually confers the Jakanacharya Award upon exceptional sculptors and craftsmen.

Back to the continuation of the intricate reliefs. Here we have a relief of Vishnu in the avatar of Trivikrama. Carved with meticulous artistry, it captures the cosmic dance of Lord Vishnu in his Trivikrama form, spanning the heavens, Earth, and the netherworld.

The majestic figure of Trivikrama, with one foot elegantly raised and the other firmly planted, symbolizes the divine conquest of the three realms.

Here we have a panel depicting the Hindu god Vishnu & his consort Lakshmi. The stone carving depicts the goddess Lakshmi gracefully seated on the lap of Lord Vishnu. In this intricate sculpture, both deities are portrayed with exquisite detail, capturing the divine essence of their eternal bond. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, emanates a sense of grace and abundance. She is adorned with symbolic ornaments and holds attributes that signify prosperity and auspiciousness. The intricate details breathe life into the sculpture, capturing the divine grace and serenity that characterizes the celestial couple.

Lord Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu trinity, cradles Lakshmi in a posture that reflects harmony and cosmic balance. The sculptor skillfully captures the expressions of devotion and tranquility, emphasizing the divine connection between the two deities.

The outer wall paint is creamy brown, and the tallest outer wall reliefs are found in Hoysaleshwara. Among these, one also finds a relief of goddess Kali in the temple which is surprising to most since it is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Descending to Earth, Krishna astride his divine steed holds the Parijata tree, embodying the essence of cosmic battles. Shri Hari’s countenance reflects his preparedness for the impending conflict, accompanied by the mighty Garuda poised to unleash formidable weaponry. Atop Airavata, Indra and Indrani follow suit, wielding the powerful Vajra. In the culmination, Indra succumbs, and the Parijata finds its eternal abode on Earth.

Horses and cavalry are a prominent feature in the friezes displayed. The cavalry frieze in Hoysala temples showcases depictions of mounted warriors or cavalry, adding a dynamic and lively element to the temple architecture.

Makaras are also extensively used in reliefs. Lions and Makaras are more ornamented than horses and elephants. Reliefs in the temple feature a variety of animals, including bulls, buffalos, monkeys, and peacocks.

Makaras are mythological creatures that are a combination of both land and sea creatures. There are many variations in their form. Makaras designed during the Hoysala period were a combination of crocodiles, pigs, elephants, and peacocks. They were considered sacred and were the vehicle of Lord Varuna. They can be spotted in basement cornices, doorways, ceilings, and various other locations within the temple.

The Hoysaleshwara temple has no less than 1200 carved elephants. They always appear like a disciplined herd, and their positions are related to battle. They are all ridden by warriors or mahouts and are not decked with houdas. There are more than 1400 lions carved in the temple. Almost all of them have raised their tail coiled in identical fashions.

The Hoysaleshwara shows the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in detail and was one of the first Hoysala structures to do so, similar to the Hazari Rama temple in Hampi. The narrative of the ocean churning is illustrated in a band stretching six feet. Bhima’s confrontation with Bhagadutta extends for about seven feet. The clash between Karna and Arjuna is also depicted, spanning approximately 10 feet.

Ruins of the Hoysala Empire

In the 14th century, the Hoysalas faced defeat at the hands of Alauddin Khilji and Muhammad Tughlak, leading to the plundering of their empire and a significant loss of wealth. This once-thriving city, now bearing the name Halebidu, meaning “old house/old ruins,” never fully recovered and gradually succumbed to neglect. Despite the widespread destruction, a few temples, Halebidu among them, remarkably withstood the ravages of time. When you gaze upon these structures today, the intricate stone carvings will undoubtedly enthrall you, displaying some of the most remarkable expressions in the art of stone craftsmanship.

The temple walls are richly covered with intricately carved sculptures with themes of different forms of the Hindu gods and goddesses, along with stylized animal figures and exquisitely decorative patterns of flora and fauna.

The Hoysala aesthetic emphasized intricacy and hyperreal detail across all levels of sculpture, whether it is pillars, ceilings or wall sculptures. The carvings display a high relief technique, featuring profound undercutting, where artists meticulously indulge in intricacies, capturing every bead, fingernail, or leaf blade with meticulous attention. This lavish ornamentation and unwavering dedication to detail were facilitated by a thorough exploration and utilization of the qualities inherent in Schist, a metamorphic rock. The sculptors deliberately selected this fine-grained, relatively soft mineral for their temples, enabling the manifestation of elaborate and finely detailed sculptures.

Schist is easier to handle, relatively softer and allows for delicate carvings, while granite is harder and one can’t manage the immense beauty achieved in schist. Hoysala-style temples in Halebidu are fine examples of schist sculptures, while the Pallava style in Tamil Nadu is largely defined by the use of granite.

Temples, beyond serving as religious symbols, were the focal point of societal activity. They radiated positive and spiritual energy, becoming hubs for various aspects of life. The temples acted as catalysts for the flourishing of arts, livelihoods, and businesses in their proximity.

Dance and music found encouragement within the temple premises, while vendors and traders established their shops outside, drawing crowds to the vicinity. As a result, temples became convergence points for diverse societal elements, encompassing the political, social, economic, and culture.

Honestly, the visually stunning masterpieces created by Hoysala sculptors on the exterior walls were more interesting than the inside. The extensive sculptures of deities depicting mythological stories foster a much stronger connection with the divine as we walked along the circumambulation path surrounding the temple.

The Hoysalas sculptors are an embodiment of craftsmanship not just from the point of architecture, but also their skills in precision engineering, symmetry, and minor nuances in the sculpturing. Whilst the first look at the architecture awestruck everyone with its intricate carvings; swiftly, it immerses one in the profound thoughts at the engineering abilities of Hoysalas.

The town has many other protected and unprotected temples, archaeological ruins and mounds including multiple Jain temples. There are also some remnants of the fort and gateways that once protected the town.

The Hoysaleshwara temple is considered as one of the most intact and well-preserved examples of Hoysala architecture, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world. The chisel craftsmanship of artisans from that period infuses vitality into their extraordinary stonework that has captivated visitors for centuries. It is a “must-visit” destination for anyone interested in Indian history, culture, and art.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took the time to read through my journal. Your engagement and interest mean the world to me. If you liked it, please leave me a comment. If there are areas where you think I can enhance the storytelling, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

When was the Hoysaleswara Temple built?

The Hoysaleswara Temple was built during the 12th century, between 1121 and 1160 CE.

Who founded Hoysala?

Sala, the tribal head from the village called Angadi, located in what is now Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka, is considered to be the founder of the Hoysala dynasty. He laid the foundation for a dynasty that would rule over a significant part of South India for nearly two centuries. Renowned for his legendary courage, Sala is said to have once confronted a tiger barehanded during his childhood and emerged unscathed. You can find a depiction of this event carved in stone at all of the Hoysala temples.

During what timeframe did the Hoysala dynasty rise to prominence?

Hoysala dynasty ruled southern Deccan from about 1006 to about 1346 CE.

What was the capital city of Hoysalas?

The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu, also known as Dwarasamudra.

What are the visiting hours for Hoysaleswara Temple?

Halebeedu Temple complex is open from 6.30 AM till 9 PM.

Group of Monuments at Aihole

Today we drive to Aihole, said to be one of the first regional capital of the Karnakata region under the rule of the Chalukyas. The town contains a large number of early experimental Hindu temples and shrines that date between the 6th – 12th centuries CE.

I and my wife, Mani, were staying at Clark’s Inn, which in my opinion is the best hotel in this area. It was a beautiful morning as we drove to Aihole. The heritage town is about 35 km from Badami and 11 km from Pattadakal, both of which are major centers of historically important Chalukya monuments.

Along the way, we passed vast spaces of empty terrain with nothing but brown bushes. The desolate landscape is strewn with interesting-shaped boulders. The boulders in this area are very different from the ones in Hampi, which is just about a hundred kilometers from here. Whereas the boulders in and around Hampi have been smoothed by wind erosion over thousands of years, the boulders in this region appear more reddish and jagged.

About Aihole

Aihole is a historic site of ancient and medieval era Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments in north Karnataka. Located on the banks of the Malaprabha river, the village was referred to as Ayyavole and Aryapura in ancient inscriptions and Hindu texts.

The idyllic town boasts of over a hundred stone and cave temples dating from the fifth century through the twelfth century. These monuments are protected under the laws of the Indian government and managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Located around a small village surrounded by farmlands, Aihole is a major archaeological site featuring many temples and monasteries, set amidst narrow streets and congested settlements.

Similar to Pattadakal, the heritage site does not have a cordoned parking area. You just park in the space outside the complex. As we got down hoards of local villagers came charging at us selling books and eatables among other items. It is not advisable to buy books from these locals as they will ask for astronomical amounts and you have to bargain. We hurried towards the sanctity of the ASI-protected site, beyond which they didn’t chase us.

Myths surrounding Aihole

Aihole has also been a part of Hindu mythologies. It has a natural ax-shaped rock near the Malaprabha river bank, which is a tributary of the larger Krishna river that flows in north Karnataka, and a rock in the river that shows to be a footprint. A 19th-century local tradition believed that rock footprints in the river were those of Parashurama, the sixth avatar of Hindu God Vishnu.

According to local folklore, Parashurama is said to have washed his blood-soaked axe here after killing the whole clan of King Maheshmati Kartvurya Arjuna, in revenge for the killing of his father.

The story goes that Parashurama’s father had a magical cow, called Kamdhenu. The then King Maheshmati Kartvurya Arjuna forcibly takes the Kamdhenu cow from his father. Parashurama was a saint but he was born with a warrior attitude. He fights a war with the king and brings back the holy cow. On seeing Parashurama commit a sin, his father asks him to atone for his sin. While Parashurama is away in penance, the king comes back and kills Parashurama’s father. When Parashurama hears of this he goes on a killing spree and kills everyone in the king’s family. When other kings come to help Maheshmati’s family, he kills all of them. Still not satisfied, he keeps killing all the Kshatriyas (warrior class) in the region for 21 generations. Talk about holding a grudge!

It is said, after his killing spree, Parasurama came to the river Malaprabha, to wash his hands and the weapon. Due to this, the water of the river turned red. A woman saw this and screamed Ayyo Hole which in the local dialect meant “Oh no! Blood!” Since then the village came to be known as Aihole. It is also believed that the red blood washed away into the river gave the surrounding lands its red color.

Brief history of Aihole

Aihole has been called a cradle of Hindu rock architecture. The documented history of Aihole is traceable to the rise of the Early Chalukya dynasty in the 6th century. Excavations have found evidence of wooden and brick temples dating to the 4th-century. Experiments with stone started in Aihole sometime at the culmination of the 5th century CE. This was a period when the Indian subcontinent saw a period of political and cultural stability under the Gupta Empire rulers. Following the decline of the Gupta Empire, the Chalukyas began to assert their independence. The earliest dynasty, known as the “Badami Chalukyas”, ruled from Vatapi (modern Badami) from the middle of the 6th century. Their presence in the roughly 25-kilometer stretch of the Malaprabha valley is documented mainly at four well-known sites: Badami, Mahakuta, Pattadakal, and Aihole.

From then onwards to about 757 CE, the Chalukyas of Badami were the leading force in the Deccan. They were an indigenous Kannara family with Kannaras as their mother tongue. Their early inscriptions indicate that they worshipped both Vaishnavite and Shaivite deities. The temple architecture of Chalukya Period is actually a mixture of Nagara and Dravida styles. This style has been termed as Vesara style, which indicates to it being a hybrid of both styles.

The Vesara style originated at Aihole and thereafter flourished in Badami and Pattadakal. Aihole was the first capital of the early Chalukyas. It became a major cultural center and religious site for innovations in architecture and experimentation of ideas. The Chalukyas sponsored artisans and built many temples in this region between the 6th and 8th centuries.

After the Chalukyas, the region became a part of the Rashtrakuta kingdom who ruled in the 9th and 10th centuries from the capital of Manyakheta. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Late Chalukyas (Western Chalukya Empire & Chalukyas of Kalyani) ruled over this region. Even though the area was not the capital or in the immediate vicinity from the 9th to 12th centuries, new temples and monasteries of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism continued to be built in the region based on the inscription and textual and evidence.

In the 13th century and thereafter, the Malprabha valley along with much of Deccan became a target of raids and plunder by the Delhi Sultanate armies devastating the region. From the ruins emerged the Vijayanagara Empire which built forts and protected their monuments.

The region continued to witness a series of wars between Vijayanagara Hindu kings and Bahmani Muslim sultans. After the collapse of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1565, Aihole became a part of the Adil Shahi rule from Bijapur, with some of the Muslim commanders desecrating the temples and using these temples as residences.

Aihole became a significant archaeological site and attracted scholarly attention after the British India officials identified and published their observations. They referred to the site as Aivalli and Ahivolal in the colonial British era. After the British left, Aihole remained a neglected site. Until the 1990s, the site consisted of houses and sheds built up to and in some cases extending into the historical monuments. The walls of the ancient and medieval temples were shared by some of these homes.

Experiments at Aihole

Aihole, along with nearby Badami, was the cradle of experimentation with temple architecture, stone artwork, and construction techniques. Aihole was an early medieval era meeting place for regional artisans whose ideas eventually led to the creation of prototypes of 16 types of free-standing temples and 4 types of rock-cut shrines. Though there is a sprinkling of Jain monuments in Aihole, the temples and relief artworks were predominantly created to spread the theology of Hinduism. These experimentations in architecture that began in Aihole yielded the more polished-looking group of monuments at Pattadakal, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Aihole Museum

Tickets for the Aihole group of monuments are priced very cheap at Rs. 25 for Indians. Foreigners have to pay a hefty Rs. 500 for entry per head. The complex consists of seven Hindu monuments. The first structure you see as you enter the premises is the Durga Temple.

Inside the complex, we started our exploration with a visit to the museum. You can find the museum at the back of the complex, just past the Durga Temple. Surrounding the museum, there are many excavated statues, artwork, hero stones, and temple parts demolished in past, placed over cemented pedestals for display.

Photography is prohibited inside the museum, but you can find very interesting stone idols that have been removed from the main temples. The building was originally planned as a sculpture shed in the year 1970 and was converted into a full-fledged museum in the year 1987. The museum mainly comprises stone sculptures of Brahmanical, Jain, and Buddhist faith, fragmentary carved architectural members, inscriptions, and hero stones. Period wise they range in date from 6th century CE to 15th century CE. These antiquities were acquired through exploration, excavation, and scientific debris clearance near the protected monuments.

The indoor collection includes preserved pieces of statues of Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Brahma, Saraswati & Durga among others. One of the rooms accommodates a bird’s eye view model of Aihole and the surrounding Malaprabha valley, with marked locations of the various monuments. You can also purchase informative books from the museum store, with a compiled history of the region.

Durga Temple Complex, Aihole

From the museum, we walked down to the Durga temple, the most iconic structure of Aihole. One of the finest temple of Aihole, it completely dominates the 14 other temples lying within the enclosure. The temple is part of a pending UNESCO world heritage site. It has a misleading name because the temple is not named after the goddess Durga.

According to one theory, it stands near the ruins of a fort-like enclosure or drug (fort) during a time of late medieval era conflict in the region. According to another local tradition, a stone rubble durg and lookout were assembled on its flat roof, and locals, therefore, began calling it the Durga temple. The fortified lookout now stands removed but the name has stayed.

The Durga temple is the principal attraction for Aihole visitors with its unique semicircular apsidal layout. This shape is similar to 1st century BCE Buddhist chaitya halls found in Ajanta Caves. The Durga temple stands on a high moulded adisthana. On the roof, there used to be a tower that had a curvilinear shikhara. The museum contains a back-dated photo of the temple with its shikhara still somewhat intact. The damaged tower’s amalaka crown lies on the ground.

No cementing mortar was used during the construction of the Durga Temple, stones were fixed by making grooves and offsets.

The temple was initially thought to be dated to be from the 5th century CE but later revised to be from between the late 6th and early 8th centuries. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god – Surya. It is the largest of a group of over 120 temples at Aihole and the best maintained.

From the front, the temple appears much more conventional with two staircases on either side providing access to the porch. The temple comprises an outer colonnaded veranda with an entrance porch facing the East. As you ascend to the porch you will be greeted with many richly carved relief panels.

The original dedication of the temple may have been to the sun god Surya, but along the passageway, you will find various deities adorning its walls. Upon climbing the steps to the Durga temple, you will find yourself in front of a porch with seating and sculpted columns.

The Durga temple reverentially displays gods and goddesses from Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism. The included near life-size statues include Shiva, Vishnu, Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu), Durga in her Mahishasuramardini form killing the buffalo demon, goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, Brahma, Surya, avatars of Vishnu such as Varaha and Narasimha.

The sober and square pillars are decorated with characters around the porch and the entrance to the peristyle. The parapet is carved with niches and small animals. The inner porch is elaborately adorned with garlands and jewels. The roof contains ceiling panels representing a nagaraja (serpent) in a coiled pose. The porch gives access to rooms with pillars (‘mukha mandapa‘ and “sabha mandapa“) to get into the sanctuary, the heart of the shrine (garba griha).

The mukha mandapa (main hall) and the sabha mandapa (community hall for functions) show intricate carvings. The temple pillars have artwork showing scenes of daily life and couples, including several amorous couples in various stages of courtship, including roundels with groups of lovers.

The most original feature of the temple is a peristyle delimiting an ambulatory around the temple itself and whose walls are covered with sculptures of different gods or goddesses.

Stone grilles with various geometrical openwork patterns ventilate the interior from the ambulatory. The plan of the temple is oblong and apsidal. It means that the corridor with pillars between the porch and the heart of the shrine encompasses the heart of the shrine and allows worshipers to perform the parikrama (circumambulation ritual).

The shape of the temple, in Indian traditional architecture, is known as Gajaprastha which means the resemblance to the back of an elephant. The temple’s unusual apsidal form is thought to imitate the earlier Buddhist chaitya halls, but recent studies suggest that apsidal designs in Indian architecture were a pan-Indian tradition, which was shared by various faiths from the 2nd century BCE.

The corridor of the temple contains idols of the many Hindu Gods, including the one below, which appears to be of Vishnu with Garuda.

Another carving that caught my imagination was that of Varaha. This pose of Varaha is quite different from the depictions I found in Badami. Here the Varaha in semi-boar form holds the bhudevi (Earth) on his raised left elbow.

And here lies the idol of Durga as mahisamardini, poised to strike the demon king.

The Chalukya kings shifted their capital from Aihole to Badami and again from Badami to Pattadakal hence, the temples were also constructed in the same chronological sequence.

Standing a few meters to the south of the Durga Temple lies a small gateway structure with a central passageway referred to as Dwarabagilu. It is hard to tell but it could have been the gate to enter the main temple at some point in time. An icon of Surya is carved onto one of the parapet elements over the passageway confirming the original dedication of the temple itself.

Beyond the hefty gate lies a water tank. It was July and yet the tank was completely devoid of water.

From here we moved to the South area of the complex which contains many other smaller temples. This one appears to be another Shiva Parvati Temple locally known as the Chappara temple.

It follows another Shiva Temple referred to as the Nadyar temple. Not much information is available about this temple.

We went inside the temple, which also has some truly beautiful pillar carvings. The main deity has been moved.

Suryanarayana Temple, Aihole

Just to the left of this temple lies the Suryanarayana Temple. The temple takes its name from a Surya statue, with each hand holding a lotus flower in its garbha griya (sanctum), in a chariot, and seven small horses carved at the bottom. The temple outline is intact, but most of the details are damaged. Some historians argue that the statue is a later insert in the late Chalukya period since the building possesses a nagara-style tower with a curved profile, which was more prevalent during the 8th century.

To the back of the Suryanarayana Temple lies two smaller similar-sized temples. I am not sure about their names.

Lad Khan Temple, Aihole

At the back of this temple lies the Lad Khan Temple. The temple is curiously named after the Muslim commander under Adil Shahi Sultan who briefly stayed here about a thousand years after it was built. He used it to coordinate his military campaign in the region. 

The monument is laid out as a spacious square mandapa, with a central bay, topped by a small rooftop shrine surrounded on four sides by sloping roof slabs in two tiers. The temple embeds three concentric squares, facing the sanctum with a Shivalinga. Inside the inner third square is a seated Nandi.

The two square mandapas surrounding it create the sabha mandapa or community hall, providing ample space for devotees and the community to gather for functions. The second concentric square is supported by a set of 12 intricately carved pillars. The wall has floral designs. The temple inside is lit with natural sunlight coming in from lattice windows of the north Indian style. The temple roof stones include log-shaped stone strips suggestive of an attempt to mimic more ancient timber temple construction.

The Lad Khan temple includes iconography from the Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism. On the lintel of the sanctum with Shivalinga, for example, is a Garuda image that carries Vishnu.

The temple has reliefs showing goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, as well as other deities. A set of stone stairs connect the lower level to the second floor whereupon is a damaged square shrine. On three sides of this upper level are Vishnu, Surya, and Ardhanarishvara (half Shiva, half Parvati). Like other Aihole Hindu temples, the temple includes scenes from daily life, including amorous couples in courtship and kama (sexual) scenes. Some scholars suggest that originally it was a community house, later converted to a temple.

Gaudaragudi Temple, Aihole

And finally, at the south-end most section, we find the Gaudaragudi Temple (also spelled Gaudergudi). Gaudargudi temple stands next to the Lad Khan temple, built on the lines of Lad Khan temple but more open from all sides. It too has log-shaped stones, where its timber-like form is integrated to serve its structural function but it is located on a lower level compared to the Lad Khan temple. The doorway of the shrine is beautifully decorated with floral carving and other figures. On the lintel, there lies a charming figure of Garuda in human form with spread-out wings. The sanctum is empty but has a Gajalakshmi on its lintel.

Another peculiar feature of this temple is its pillar support. Like the Ladh Khan, the ceiling of this pillar is supported by heavy pillars all around. Sixteen pillars are built all around the temple to support the sloping roof.

Gaudar-gudi is the first temple which introduced the circumbulatory passage (pradakshina path)

An inscription engraved on the lintel states that the temple has been dedicated to the goddess Gauri (an aspect of Parvati). There is evidence that the sanctum, the inside mandapa, and niches on the outer walls had carved statues, but these are now empty. Gaudargudi was among the earliest temples when architects included pradakshina patha (circumambulatory path) in Hindu temple design.

Next to the Gaudargudi temple is a large stepwell for utility water storage whose walls have ancient carved sculptures. The stepwell with its Hindu shrine was likely added in the 10th or 11th century.

Nearby, the Chakragudi is notable for its preserved 7th or 8th-century Nagara-style tower superstructure. The temple shows signs of later addition of a mandapa, whose style suggests 9th-century Rashtrakuta extension. After exploring the back area of the temple complex we made our way back towards the exit.

Just before exiting, I captured a last glimpse of the beautiful Durga Temple.

Ambigera Gudi Complex, Aihole

The Ambigera Gudi Complex is one of the archaeologically significant Aihole complexes situated immediately west of the Durga temple complex, near its entrance ticket office. It is a gated complex but does not require admission tickets. It consists of three monuments, all aligned to the east-west axis.

The easternmost monument is a square monument walled on its east, north, and south, and it lacks a tower. It faces the middle monument, which is the largest of the three. The middle monument has experimented with an open verandah design concept with sloping slabs for roof cover. The sanctum is inside, and it contains a damaged Surya (Sun god) image whose crown is visible. These eastern monuments are believed to be from between the 6th to 8th centuries – the Early Chalukya period. The gardens here are not that properly maintained.

The third monument in the Ambigergudi complex is a Late Chalukya design from about the 11th century. Its structure and layout feature all elements of the Hindu temple but it is damaged, the image inside the sanctum is missing and the face, nose, and limbs of most of its intricate carvings on the walls are defaced. The structure experiments with square and cubic shaped elements and arrangement of space. The Dravida design stands out above the sanctum walls, with repeated motifs of resonating tower structure as it rises upwards. Like other elements of this temple, the capping roof and finial are missing.

The archaeological significance of the Ambigergudi temple is from the results of limited excavation near the rear wall of the sanctum foundation. This yielded red-ware bowls dated to the 1st and 3rd century CE, as well as an outline of a single cell more ancient brick temple, which probably the stone temple replaced.

According to the hypothesis of Rao, the excavating archaeologist, the 3rd century CE brick temple served as a model and sanctum ground on which a more lasting stone was built. This hypothesis, however, remains tentative as additional evidence to refute or support it has not been found. Chalukyan temple inscriptions from the 6th to 8th centuries are silent about any existence of prior temples.

Hucchimalli Gudi Complex, Aihole

After grabbing a chilled 7UP we drove further north to the next group of temples in Aihole. Following the map, we took a narrow road to the right. The Hucchimalli Gudi Temple Complex is also a gated complex but I could not see any guards around. You don’t need tickets to go inside.

The main temple faces west towards a stepped tank. The sides of the temple incorporate sculpted figures of gods and goddesses. The temple consists of a mandapa with a passageway contained within walls. its plain exterior is in contrast to the well preserved Nagara-style tower. The temple is entered through a small porch with a unique carving of Kartikeya on the ceiling. A smaller structure lies just beside the main temple. It was probably added later.

The third structure facing opposite to the main temple is clearly another experimentation where the temple is constructed in an elongated shape. It was in all probability a Shiva temple as a small broken idol of Nandi sits facing the temple.

Apart from these three temples, the complex also houses a stepped water tank. The steps here were much wider than the tank in the Durga Temple complex. It was also holding some amount of water when we were there.

Ravana Phadi Cave Temple, Aihole

After exploring the temples of Hucchimalli Gudi Temple Complex, we proceeded to the Ravana Phadi Cave Temple, which was just a short drive away. Ravanaphadi is one of the oldest rock-cut cave temples in Aihole, located less than a kilometer uphill, northeast of the Durga temple complex. The temple dating to the 6th century belongs to the first phase of Early Chalukya architecture.

The entrance has an eroded fluted column and seated Nandi facing the temple sanctum, with three other small monuments each with a porch leading to a chamber. An amalaka lies fallen to the ground behind the seated Nandi. It is not clear as to where the amalaka has fallen from, as the main temple lacks a shikhara.

This is a temple carved into a hill. In front of the temple is a nice garden complete with two Frangipani trees and a monolith pillar.

The small temple in the garden is the only one topped with a kuta type roof.

In front of the cave temple, facing the Shivalinga inside sits a huge idol of Nandi

A small stone staircase leads up to a platform that is flanked by two smaller shrines. The entrance to the Ravanphadi is flanked by relief images of pot-bellied nidhis seated within Dravida-styled pavilions.

The entrance of the cave leads to a rock-cut mandapa with chambers on three sides. The main mandapa connects to two other squarish chambers, one on the right and one in the front.

The left side of the first chamber accommodates an elaborate tableau of a ten-armed Shiva, energetically pacing out the rhythm of the cosmic dance. The head of Shiva is angled sharply to the torso, while in his rear hands he holds up a cobra. In the tableau, Shiva is accompanied by Parvati and a complete set of saptamatrikas, including a boar-headed Varaha, triple-headed Brahma, and sons Ganesha & Kartikeya.

The chamber on the right was empty. At the entrance of this chamber, you can find two wall reliefs on either side. On the left is Harihara portraying a fused image of Shaivism and Vaishnavism. On the opposite side one can make out an image of Shiva with three primary river goddesses of Hindu theology, and he stands with Parvati and the skeletal ascetic Bhringi.

From here the mandapa leads into a smaller vestibule. A pedestal with a monolithic linga lies here inside the cave, never fully completed. On either side of the inner sanctum, we see two amazing works of stone art. On the left, we find a deeply carved image of Vaishnava Varaha or Vishnu’s boar avatar rescuing Bhudevi (goddess earth). To the right is an equally praiseworthy carved image of Shakti Durga as Mahishasuramardini spearing the buffalo demon Mahisasura. The cave was never fully completed as evident from the scooped nootches in this chamber.

The Ravanaphadi cave temple is in my opinion, one of the most enchanting temples in Aihole. Because it is located away from the settlement, this place is very quiet and you can explore in peace. Once we had explored to our hearts content, we drove on along the road searching for our next heritage stop.

Buddhist Temple

A few minutes’ drive from the Ravana Phadi Temple, you can make out the exteriors of the Buddha Temple. But we were exasperated by the heat and decided to skip the Buddha Temple as well as the Temple on the top of the Meguti Hill.

Before moving on, I fished out my long 80-400mm lens and took the shot of the two-storeyed temple, a few steps below the crest of the hill. The two levels of the temple are open and feature four full carved square pillars and two partial pillars on two side walls.

Each pair of pillars goes into the hill to form a small monastery-like chamber. The doorway to the lower level chamber is intricately carved, while the central bay on the upper level has a Buddha relief showing him seated under a parasol. The temple is dated to the late 6th-century.

Jyotirlinga Temple, Aihole

Before starting on our drive back to Badami, we made a last stop at the Jyotirlinga Temple Complex. Admission ticket is not required for this temple. You just open the iron gate and go in. Make sure to close the gate otherwise the cows will barge into munch on the green grass inside.

The Jyotirlinga group of monuments contains 16 Hindu monuments including a large stepwell water utility tank. It is located east of the Durga temple complex compound across the road and to the south of the Ravanaphadi cave. The temples are dedicated to Shiva, with most monuments small to moderate size. 

The complex is largely in ruins, except for the Nandi mandapas and standing pillars inside the temples some of which show intricately carved but damaged images of Ganesha, Kartikeya, Parvati, and Ardhanarishvara (half Shiva, half Parvati). The temples are likely from the Early Chalukya and Rashtrakuta Hindu dynasties. From what I could make out, there are about 4 unnamed fully standing temple structures inside the complex, the rest are in ruins.

The grounds also feature an open-air Shivalinga. I am not sure if the shivalinga never had a roof, as it may have been pulled down by sacrilegists.

The temple premises also features a stepped water tank. Among all the water reservoirs we saw in Aihole, this one looks to be the most properly constructed.

After capturing the pictures, we started on our way back to Badami. Before leaving the area, we stopped briefly to visit the ancient Digambar Jain Temple. The Jain cave temple is to the south of the village, on the Meguti hill. It is likely from the late 6th century or early 7th. The outside is plain, but the cave is intricately embellished inside.

The Aihole site and artwork are a major source of empirical evidence and comparative studies of Indian religions and art history in the Indian subcontinent. Aihole’s antiquity, along with four other major 5th to 9th-century sites – Badami, Pattadakal, Mahakuteshvara, and Alampur – is significant to scholarship relating to archaeology and religions. As there are many temples around the village, I would recommend setting a full day aside to properly explore all the heritage sites surrounding it.

It was an interesting but also tiring day. We almost walked 20 thousand steps today (as per Google) and now it was time to head back to a warm bath and some local Karnataka food at the hotel. Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments and questions. If you are interested in following my travels, connect with me on instagram.

When were the temples in Aihole built?

5th-12th century CE

What is the architectural style of the templates in Aihole?

The temples in Aihole follow what is termed as Vesara style which indicates to it being a hybrid of Nagara and Dravida styles.

Where can I find the official website for information on Aihole?

What are the admission timings for visiting temples in Aihole?

The temples in Aihole are scattered in open areas and are not bound by time. If you are visiting the Durga Temple, which is an enclosed area, the timings are 10 am to 6 pm.

What is the best time to visit Aihole?

The ideal time to visit Aihole is October to March as the climate is pleasant during these months. The atmosphere is mild to moderate cold in December and January which would be the best time to visit. The period from April to September is hot and is not suitable to visit the spot.

What are the best options for staying at Aihole?

There are no hotels in Aihole but Bagalkot has many good hotels. The place is around 35km away from Aihole. The city has three-star hotels and budget hotels. We stayed at Clarks Inn in Badami and it was a good experience.

Group of Monuments at Pattadakal

Pattadakal, also called Paṭṭadakallu, is a collection of temples from 7th and 8th century CE Hindu and Jain temples in northern Karnataka. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a historically significant cultural center and religious site to witness the structural tastes during the times of the Chalukya dynasty.

We were staying in Badami, which is just about 23 km from Pattadakal. The drive to Pattadakal is beautiful. Surrounding by empty vastness along a beautifully paved road, you will find the ride very satisfying.

The heritage site falls on the main road and very easy to find using Google Maps. The temple complex lies on the left banks of Malprabha river represents the greatest achievement of the Early Chalukya sculptures. Unfortunately the site does not have a proper parking zone, so we had to park the Brezza just outside the complex.

The admission booth is on the left near the entrance. It costs us Rs. 25 per head. Camera charges apply extra at Rs. 25 per camera. It is a small area compared to Hampi, about the size of about a cricket field.

Monuments at Pattadakal

Pattadakal translates to “place of coronation”. As its name implies, it was used during the Chalukya dynasty for coronation ceremonies, such as that of Vinayaditya in the 7th century CE. Over the years the town has been known by various names like – Kisuvolal meaning “valley of red soil”, Raktapura meaning “city of blood”, and Pattada-Kisuvolal meaning “red soil valley for coronation”.

The rule of the Gupta Empire during the 5th century brought about a period of political stability, during which Aihole became a locus of scholarship. The experimentations in architecture extended into Badami over the course of the next two centuries. This culture of learning encompassed Pattadakal in the 7th century which became a nexus where ideas from northern and southern India fused.

After the fall of the Chalukya Empire, the region was annexed by the Rashtrakuta kingdom, who would rule over the region into the 10th century. Between the 11th to 12th century, the region came under the rule of the Late Chalukyas. Although the area was not a capital region, nor in proximity to one, numerous sources such as inscriptions, contemporaneous texts and the architectural style indicate that, from the 9th to 12th centuries, new Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples and monasteries continued to be built in the Pattadakal region.

Throughout the 13th century, Pattadakal, the Malprabha valley, as well as much of the nearby Deccan region, was subject to raids and plunder by the Delhi Sultanate armies that devastated the region. This period ended with the rise of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire. It was responsible for the construction of forts for the protection of the monuments, as evidenced by inscriptions in the fort at Badami. Post Vijayanagara Empire the region fell into ruins before ASI took up the protection of these heritage monuments.

The monuments at Pattadakal are evidence of the existence, and the history, of interaction between the early northern and southern styles of Hindu arts. The Hindu temples are generally dedicated to Shiva. The friezes in the Hindu temples display various Vedic and Puranic concepts, depict stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, as well as elements of other Hindu texts, such as the Panchatantra and the Kirātārjunīya.

There are ten major temples at Pattadakal, nine Hindu and one Jain, along with numerous small shrines and plinths. The complex has now been cleared of the village houses that encroached onto the temples, with the monuments standing in the middle of a landscaped lawn.

Kadasidhdeshwara Temple in Pattadakal

The first temple we reached was the Kadasidhdeshwara Temple. It is a relatively small temple dating back to around the mid 7th century CE. The temple faces east and is built around a square garbha griha (sacrum sanctum). It houses a linga on a pitha (platform), and the Nandi bull faces it from outside.

There is a mandapa around the sacrum center. Another mandapa provides a circumambulation path in an expanded axial layout. The outer walls of the Kada Siddheshwara sanctum feature images of Ardhanarishvara (half Shiva, half Parvati) on its north, Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu) to its west and Lakulisha to the south. Mounted on a lintel at the sanctum entrance is Shiva and Parvati flanked by Brahma and Vishnu on either side. The steps at the sanctum entrance are flanked by the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, with attendants.

Much of the temple has been eroded or was damaged in the following centuries. Its a small temple but I really loved the shikhara of this temple. Here is another view of the same from the back.

Jambulinga Temple in Pattadakal

This almost similar looking temple just beside the Kadasidhdeshwara Temple is the Jambulinga Temple. This temple also dates to around mid 7th century. The temple is built around a square garbha griha (sacrum sanctum) The temple faces east, greeting the sunrise. The Nandi too is provided with a raised platform which is in ruins and the Nandi image shows signs of erosion.

Even thought the shikhara of this temple is not so detailed, the dancing Shiva Nataraja with Parvati and Nandi by his side on the frontal arch sukanasa is beautifully presented.

Galagalantha Temple in Pattadakal

A few paces ahead towards east, lies the Galagalantha Temple. This temple is estimatedto be from the mid 8th century. The sanctum has a covered circumambulatory path (pradakshina patha), indicating that this Hindu tradition was well established by 7th to 8th century. Various mandapas exist in this temple, such as a social or community hall (sabha mandapa), used for ceremonial functions, and a mukha mandapa, of which only the foundation remains. The entrance to the mandapa is flanked by the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna.

It is one of the more majestic temple in the grounds. The basement of the eastern moulding is notable for depicting friezes of Panchatantra fables. I went around the temple, clicking pictures as I went around the back. Inspite of its incomplete condition, the Galaganatha temple has a remarkably well preserved tower of the curved Nagara type, with all its precisely carved details intact. The tower is surmounted by an amalaka finial rising to almost 15 meters.

The Galagatha temple is mostly in ruins, except for the southern part which contains a carved slab showing an eight-armed Shiva killing the demon Andhaka, while wearing a garland of skulls as a yajnopavita (sacred thread across the chest).

Making a full circle of the temple.

Sangameshwara Temple in Pattadakal

The next temple we explored was the Sangameshwara Temple. It is probably the one with the largest area. Sangameshwara temple, also called the Vijayeshvara temple, is a large, Dravida style east facing temple located on the south side of the Chandrashekhara temple. Inscription on a monolithic stone at the site records that this temple was erected on the orders of Vijayaditya and dedicated to Shiva.

Below we have a side of the Sangameshwara Temple. Inscriptions at the temple, and other evidence, date it to between 720 CE and 733 CE. The death of its patron king, Vijayaditya, in 734 CE resulted in the temple being left unfinished, although work continued intermittently in later centuries during the time of the Rashtrakutas.

The outer walls of the sanctuary and the tower are fully preserved. Raised on a moulded basement with a frieze of elephant, yali and makara torsos, the walls are divided into four projections.

Although the temple is not the largest among those at Pattadakal it is nonetheless of imposing proportions. The temple has a square layout, with an east facing sanctum. The sanctum, surrounded by a covered pradakshina patha (circumambulatory path) lit by three carved windows.

The vimana superstructure above the temple and the outer walls of the temple are well preserved. The temple is built on a raised moulded base, with decorative friezes of elephants, yali and makara mythical creatures.

Excavations into the foundations of its ruined hall, in 1969 and 1971, revealed the archaeologically significant discovery of a brick temple structure beneath the hall. This discovery led to the proposal that Sangameshwara had been built over an older temple, possibly dating to the 3rd century CE. The next set of temples appeared to be in a clump.

Chandrashekhara Temple in Pattadakal

Chandrashekhara Temple is the first structure in this area of the heritage site. It is a small east facing temple without a tower. It is situated on the south side of the Galaganatha temple. The temple has a garbha griha with a Shiva linga and a closed hall; a Nandi sits on a platform to the east facing the linga.

This temple is said to be the only structure that postdates the Early Chalukyan era. You can clearly observe the difference between it and the other structures on the premises. This one contains no carved ornamentation except for pairs of makaras sitting on the pilasters of the walls.

Kashivishveshar Shiva Temple in Pattadakal

Just beside the Chandrashekhara Temple you can find the Kashivishveshar Shiva Temple. Also known as Kashivishweswara, the Kashi Vishwanatha temple is another of the smaller temples at Pattadakal. The temple has been variously dated to the late 7th century, early 8th century or the mid-8th century.

Much like the other temples, the core of the Kashi Vishwanatha temple is the square garbha griha (sanctum), which houses a linga. The kapota (cornice) are decorated with motifs and carved with ganas (playful dwarfs) carrying garlands; brackets show flying couples and kirtimukhas.

In front of the Kashivishveshar Shiva Temple garbha griha is the moulded platform of a Nandi-mandapa where sits a beautifully carved statue of Nandi.

Monolithic Stone Pillar at Pattadakal

Beside the Nandi, you can find a monolithic stone pillar bearing inscription in Sanskrit. Set up by Kirttivarman II, the last of the Early Chalukya rulers, the octagonal column indicates that the temples at Pattadakal were conceived as commemorative monuments, suggesting that the site may have served as a coronation place for the Early Chalukyas.

Here is a close-up of the monolithic pillar. The inscriptions on the pillar explains that the temples now known as Virupaksha and Mallikarjuna were commissioned by two sister queens of Vikramaditya II to commemorate their husband’s successful raids on the Pallava capital at Kanchipuram.

Mallikarjuna Temple in Pattadakal

On the left of the molithic pillar, you will find the most decorated temple at the site – Mallikarjuna Temple. Mallikarjuna temple, also called the Trailokeswara Maha Saila Prasada in a local inscription, is a mid 8th-century Shiva temple sponsored by queen Trailokyamahadevi. The temple was built about the same time as the Virupaksha temple, with a similar design and layout, but is somewhat smaller and has a few important differences.

The temple reflects a fully developed South Indian vimana style architecture.

The Shiva temple also has a small area designated for Nandi.

Inside the temple, in the dark corridor, you can find a lone Shivalinga. Its garbha griya (sanctum) has a Shiva linga, and features a circumambulatory path (pradakshina patha).

The pillars inside the temple are exquisitely carved. Unlike figures, they depict stories. The use of stone carvings for storytelling is prevalent throughout the temple. The legends of Hindu epics and the Puranas are depicted on the temple pillars in the community hall.

Pillars Carvings inside Mallikarjuna Temple in Pattadakal

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Pillars Carvings inside Mallikarjuna Temple in Pattadakal

The outside is even more interesting. On the left side of the temple the side gates are beautifully designed.

The pillars are are also beautifully carved. Like other Hindu temples, the friezes of the Mallikarjuna temple show kama and mithuna scenes of amorous couples.

Another pillar of the Mallikarjuna Temple

After capturing the side, I walked towards the back of the temple, which also has interesting carving all along the back wall of the temple.

The Virupaksha temple, located to the immediate south of the Mallikarjuna temple, is the largest and most sophisticated of the monuments at Pattadakal.

Covering the full circle of the temple I found myself at the last structure inside the complex. This is the Virupaksha Temple. This is the only active temple on the premises. Originally known as the Lokeshwara, after queen Lokamahadevi, the Virupaksha temple marks a significant advance on the earlier Sangamaheshwara in terms of building design, scale and construction techniques.

In inscriptions, it is referred to as “Shri Lokeshvara Mahasila Prasada”, after its sponsor Queen Lokmahadevi, and is dated to about 740 CE.The temple is notable for its range, and quality, of construction exemplifying a well developed Dravidian architectural style, as well as the inscribed names of the artists beneath the panels they worked on.

As is common with other temples at Pattadakal, the Virupaksha temple was built facing east centred around a square garbha griya (sanctum), with a Shiva Linga, surrounded by a covered circumabulatory path (pradakshina patha).

After capturing all the temples we made our way back to the car, but not before catching a last glimpse of the heritage site.

On the way back, we passed many interesting shaped boulders. This one specifically caught my eye and I stopped to get a shot of this in the setting sun.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the group of monuments in Aihole.

Cave Temples of Badami

Today we hike up a small hill in the quaint town of Badami, in northern Karnataka. Along the hike, we will be exploring four rock-cut cave temples dating back to the 6th century. These temples were primarily commissioned during the times of Chalukya reign (543 CE – 757 CE), and they provide a deep insight into an emerging architecture that influenced the next generation of sculpturing style in the surrounding regions of southern India.

I and my wife, Mani, were staying at Clark’s Inn, which in my opinion is the best hotel in this area. It is also a good base if you have the nearby hotspots like Aihole and Pattadakal planned in your itinerary. Both heritage sites are located within an hour’s drive from Badami.

Historically, Badami has been known by many names. During the reign of Early Chalukyas, it was known as Vatapi. With the passing of time, it came to be referred to as Vatapipura, Vatapinagari, and also Agastya Tirtha. The city lies at the exit point of a ravine between two steep mountain cliffs. The cave temples that we will explore today, lie on the southern cliff.

The road leading to the entrance of the ASI protected site is filthy with dirty slums and pigs loitering around. But once you enter the parking lot, it gets a lot cleaner. The parking lot is located at the base of the hill that hosts all of the 4 Cave temples, each at a different height.

The Badami cave temples represent some of the earliest known examples of Hindu temples in the Deccan region. The temples are numbered 1 to 4 in the order of their ascedency. It is universally agreed that these ancient creations, along with the temples in Aihole, transformed the Malaprabha River valley into a cradle of temple architecture that influenced the components of later Hindu temples in southern India. The Badami Caves complex is part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site candidate. I believe the only thing keeping it waiting to get the official nod is the unhealthy encroaching settlement that surrounds the heritage site.

As usual, I would advise tourists, not to pick a weekend to visit this place as it gets overcrowded. Guides are available near the ticket counter on all days. Tickets costs 25 per head for adults. There is an additional camera charge of 25 for cameras. Even though it is a nominal charge, I find it amusing that ASI is charging for cameras separately but not charging people using phones to take the same pictures.

Cave Temple 1, Badami

Today’s exploration begins from Cave Temple 1, which lies just a few steps up from the parking lot, on an elevated platform. It is about 60ft above ground level on the north-west part of the hill. The Badami cave temples are carved out of soft Badami sandstone. If you have been to Hampi, you can clearly tell that the color of these temples is comparatively much more reddish.

The Badami cave temples are carved out of soft Badami sandstone on a hill cliff.

A ticket checker stands guard at the base. You might also spot a few monkeys near him. Once you climb the first series of steps, you will find yourself on a flat area with another set of stone steps that take you up to the first cave platform. The wall beside the stairs depicts carvings of dwarfish ganas in different postures as if holding the cave floor.

Cave Temple 1 is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. This is immediately apparent from the 18-armed carving of the Tandava-dancing Shiva as Nataraja on the right wall even before you enter the cave. Elaborately portrayed with the arms in various poses, the image expresses the dynamic posture of Shiva in his cosmic dance. The image, about 5ft tall, has 18 arms in a form that expresses the dance positions arranged in a geometric pattern depicting the cosmic wheel.

The eighteen arms express Natya mudras (symbolic hand gestures), with some holding objects such as drums, a flame torch, a serpent, a trident, and an axe. The image of Shiva, has his son Ganesha and the bull Nandi by his side.

The verandah of the cave has five columns sculpted with reliefs of flower garlands, foliage, and jewelry. On the opposite side, to my left, standing just outside the entrance of the cave lies a two-handed Shaiva dvarapala (guard) who holds a trident. Below the guard, carved into the wall is a bull-elephant fused image where the creatures share the head. Seen from left it looks like an elephant and from right the same appears to be a bull.

As you enter the cave temple, beside the dvarpala you can find a carved sculpture of Harihara. The 7.75ft high sculpture is portrayed as a single figure where the left half is depicted to be Hindu god Shiva and the right half is Vishnu. He is shown with goddess Parvati on the left side and goddess Lakshmi on the right side. Thus both the halves are with their respective consorts. A closer look will also reveal that the two halves are also with their vahan(vehicles) Nandi , the bull in a human form on the left, and Garuda, again in human form on the right.

Also known as Shankaranarayana (“Shankara” is Shiva, and “Narayana” is Vishnu), Harihara is revered by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites as a form of Supreme God.

Interestingly the early rulers of the Chalukya dynasty were Vaishnavites. In later years they began to worship Shiva. Yet here in a cave dedicated to Shiva, they have commissioned a sculpture of Harihara. Was this figure invented in order to end the controversy between the Vaishnavites and the Shaivites as to whose god was greater?

The first line of pillars in the front of the cave is richly decorated. Inside this cave, the sons of Shiva, Ganesha, and Kartikeya, the god of war and family deity of the Chalukya dynasty, are seen in one of the carved sculptures on the walls of the cave, with Kartikeya riding a peacock.

The roof of the cave has five carved panels with the central panel depicting the Nagaraja, with flying couples on both sides. In the center lies a beautifully carved image of Nagaraja, with a coiled serpent body around a human torso. The head and bust are well-formed and project from the center of the coil.

On either side of the Nagaraja, you can find images of the Vidyadhara couples as well as couples in courtship, some of them in erotic poses. In Hindu epics, Vidyadharas are described as spirits of the air. They are considered Upadevas, or demi-gods. All the figures are adorned with carved ornaments and surrounded by borders with reliefs of animals and birds.

What is most amazing here is that the artisans who carved these beautifully detailed images must have spent years, day in and day out, lying on their back while creating these.

The inner sanctum contains a Shivaling. Facing the Shivaling, in the center of the mandapa lies a headless, seated Nandi facing the garbha ghriya (sacrum sanctum). The light inside the cave is not very good, so I suggest you come during the afternoons when the light is properly able to reach the interiors. Lack of sunlight means the caves are smelly from centuries of dampness.

From the first cave temple, a fleet of stone stairs lead up to the 2nd Cave Temple. There are about 64 steps to the second cave. It’s like baby steps compared to Kuon-ji Temple in Yamanashi, where I did 287 steps, or the Yamadera Temple that took me about 1,015 steps.

Cave Temple 2, Badami

The 2nd Cave Temple is consecrated to Lord Vishnu. It faces towards the north and is comparatively smaller than the first and might I add: less refined. It is believed to have been commissioned in the late 6th or early 7th century. It has been sculpted from a boulder that is almost double in height of the first cave temple. The cave entrance is divided by four square pillars, all carved out of the monolithic stone face. Similar to the first temple, this too sits on an elevated plinth, decorated with a frieze of ganas.

On the extremes of either side of the entrance are standing dvarapalas (guards) holding flowers, not weapons. The pillars here are rather simple in design with reliefs of flowers and jewelry. The pillars also feature amorous couples towards the top.

The roof contains a complex combination of four Vishnu images surrounded by a maze of Swastikas, somewhat similar to what I noticed in the Ramalingeshwara Temple in Avani.

Though the pillars fail to generate much enthusiasm, the two sides have wonderfully sculpted images of the incarnations of Vishnu. On the left, you will find a beautiful relief depicting the legend of Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) avatar rescuing goddess Earth (Bhudevi) from the depths of the cosmic ocean, with a penitent multi-headed Naga (snake) below. Inside the temple are friezes showing stories from Hindu texts such as the Bhagavata Purana.

On the opposite side, we have an equally beautifully sculpted image of Vishnu in the avatar of the Vamana. This relief in Cave Temple 2, depicts the legend of Vishnu in his Trivikrama form, taking one of the three steps. Below the raised step is a frieze showing the legend of Vamana (dwarf) avatar of Vishnu, before he morphs into the Trivikrama form.

After exploring the 2nd Cave Temple, we ascended towards the next cave. You may find a number of monkeys leisurely sitting here. Do not engage with them or they might attack you or snatch your bags away. To my surprise, one of them even knows how to open bag zippers.

Midway to the third cave temple, molded by the force of winds, lies a natural cave. I small stairs hidden from view takes you up to the cave.

From this cave, one can get a good view of the wide Agastya Lake at the base of the mountain. It is said to have been formed in the 5th century and many believe that its water has curative properties.

This cave does not feature any prominent sculptures. You can barely make out some figures on the side walls as if something was planned and started but was abandoned midway. A mutilated figure of Padmapani can be found deep inside in this natural cavern.

Steep steps from here ascend to the ramparts that constitute the citadel at the summit of the North Fort. Yes, this hill was at one time upgraded into a fort because of regular raids from the Mughal Sultanate. A small doorway that fits not more than two people at a time leads to a broad paved terrace.

Before you enter the doorway, to the right, lies a tiny building, sandwiched inside the crevasse of what looks like a split in the boulder.

Cave Temple 3, Badami

Facing north, Cave Temple 3 is about 60 steps from Cave 2 and at a higher level. It seems to the most decorated among the three we had already explored. It features Vishnu-related mythology and is also in my opinion the most intricately carved cave on the entire hill. At the entrance wall of Cave 3, there is an inscription in the ancient Kannada language that mentioned that Chalukya ruler Mangalesha son of Pulikesh-I was the founder of these cave temples during circa 578 CE.

Cave 3 is said to be the earliest dated Hindu temple in the Deccan region. It is dedicated to Vishnu. It has intricately carved friezes and giant figures of Trivikrama, Anantasayana, Vasudeva, Varaha, Harihara, and Narasimha. The cave stands raised on a plinth divided by seven columns. The cave’s primary theme is Vaishnavite, though it also shows Harihara on its southern wall. The cave is about 15ft high and supported by 3 rows of six pillars. Each of the pillars contains magnificent pieces of art. These columns randomly feature ganas and amorous couples. The cave shows many Kama scenes in pillar brackets, where a woman and a man are in courtship or mithuna (erotic) embrace.

The temple has been sculpted 48ft deep into the mountain; an added square shrine at the end extends the cave 12ft further inside. The verandah itself is 7ft wide and has four free-standing, carved pillars separating it from the hall. Cave 3 also shows fresco paintings on the ceiling, some of which are faded and broken. You can still see the color green used in these paintings. These are among the earliest known surviving evidence of fresco painting in Indian art. The Hindu god Brahma is seen on Hansa vahana in one of the murals. The wedding of Shiva and Parvati, attended by various Hindu deities is the theme of another.

The columns on the inside of the cave temple are much simpler.

On the left of the entrance, we have a lovely image of Vishnu sitting as Vaikuntha over the coils of Sesha. The multi-hoods of the Sesha shelter the crowned head of Vishnu. To its left is another image of Varaha (man-boar avatar) rescuing earth, just like we saw at the previous cave.

On the right side of the entrance lies an image of the Trivikrama-Vamana. He was known as Trivikrama because he is the one who has conquered the three worlds, Earth, Heaven, and the netherworld. There is an interesting story about this avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Vamana was the fifth avatar of Vishnu, He was born as the son of Sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi. In this avatar, Vishnu was known as Vamana because he was a dwarf.

Indian mythology has long stories about tussles between the Asuras (demons) and Devas (heavenly beings). Bali, an asura, was killed by Indra, the king of the Devas, in the battle. He was brought back to life by Sage Shukra. In his reincarnated life he practiced several sacrifices, becoming powerful with each. He became so mighty that he conquered all the three worlds, driving away the devas from the heavens. As usual, they turned to Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu in the avatar of the Vamana, went to King Bali and asks for three steps of land measured by his foot as a charity.

When Maha Bali completed the ritual process of donating the land, Lord Vamana assumed his cosmic form (Trivikrama), measured the entire Earth including the nether world by his first step. With his second step, he measured the entire heaven.

When the entire Universe was conquered by just two paces of Vishnu (Vamana) there was no space left in the Universe to keep Vamana’s third pace. When Lord Vamana asked Maha Bali the space to keep his third step, all the pride and vanity of Maha Bali vanished and he had no hesitation in surrendering before Vishnu. He readily offered his own head to keep the Vishnu’s third step. The Vamana immediately placed his third step on the head of Bali and sent him to the nether world.

The image of Trivikrama is accompanied by another two carvings of incarnations of Vishnu – The Narasimha and the Harihara. Might I add, in all my travels to Indian temples, I have never seen Narashimha smiling so cutely.

Cave Temple 4, Badami

From here, separated by a series of small steps, but on a lower height lies the last of the Cave temples. Located immediately next to and east of Cave 3, Cave 4 floor is situated about 10 feet lower and is the smallest of the four. It is the only one dedicated to Tirthankaras, the revered figures of Jainism. It is believed to be constructed after the first three, sponsored by Hindu kings in the latter part of the 7th-century.

Like the other caves, Cave 4 features detailed carvings and a diverse range of motifs. The cave has a five-bayed entrance with four square columns.

Inside the temple, behind a narrow door sits a carving of the Buddha. At each corner you will find carvings of Bahubali, Parshvanatha and Mahavira with symbolic display of other Tirthankaras.

Buddha is enshrined as the main deity. Because of the narrow door and no other light source, it was tough to capture it in the darkness.

To the left, right at the entrance, you can find Bahubali, standing in Kayotsarga meditating posture with vines wrapped around his leg, his classic iconography. Bahubali was a prince who attained the stature of a perfected being (siddha). Although never admitted to the pantheon of twenty-four tirthankaras, he nonetheless attained jina-like status. The legend of Bahubali tells of a prince who renounces violence after coming close to slaying his brother Bharata in a battle of succession and then renounces pride and its expression – violence to other living creatures. Embracing ahimsa (nonviolence), he meditates in the “body-abandonment” posture in a forest, where he is entwined by vines and hosts birds that nest in his hair until he attains moksha.

On the right, just opposite the Bahubali image, you will find a detailed image of Parshavanata, with a multi-hooded cobra rising over its head.

The carvings on the pillars are different here from the other cave temples. The first row features floral motifs along with circular carvings of amorous couples. If you look closely, it seems that some of the more erotic carvings on the pillars have been scooped out.

The second row of pillars features detailed carvings of Mahavira embedded into a surrounding carving depicting a gate of sorts. This divergence of design leads to much speculation about the time of the creation of this temple.

After exploring the cave, we took a small breather at the top. From the podium in front of the 4th Cave temple, you can get some lovely shots of the expanse that surrounds Badami.

Other than the numbered caves, Badami is home to many other cave monuments and medieval era temples. On the other side of the lake, near the Bhutanatha temple, is a 7th-8th century Chalukya period cave of small dimensions. You can visit Badami all round the year except mid-Summer when it gets extremely hot. I would recommend going just after monsoon when the Agastya lake is brimming with crystal clear water and adds a nice charm to the heritage site

Please note, you will find many monkeys along the hike. Do not carry food and make sure your bags are tightly wrapped as they will try to snatch it and run away.

Just beneath the Cave temple complex, the man-made Agastya teertha or lake is situated which looks like a ravine of crystal clear water surrounded by the greenery and hills of yellow sandstone.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments and questions. If you are looking to explore more of the Badami region, follow my story as I hike to the ruins of the Shivalayas of Badami. If you are in Karnataka do not miss these interesting heritage sites around Bangalore.

When was Badami Cave Temples built?

The Badami Cave Temples were built in the 6th century.

Who created the Badami Cave Temples?

The Badami Cave Temples were commissioned by the Chalukya kings

What is the admission price for Badami Cave Temples?

The entry fees of Badami Cave Temples is 25 per person for Indian Nationals and 100 per person for Foreigners.

Photowalk to Vijaya Vittala Temple

While in Hampi, it is discourteous not to visit the Vijay Vittala Temple. This was my third visit to the UNESCO world heritage temple grounds and I was not sure what to capture. I have gone over the temple grounds pillar by pillar with my camera.

Anyways I left for the Temple early at dawn. This time I drove from Bangalore, so I had my car available to me at all times during the visit. It makes life a hell lot convenient having your own ride in a place like Hampi which spreads over acres of land.

I had booked my lodgings at Clark’s Inn, which is a pretty good deal considering the other available options. The small hotel also provided free parking facilities.

Now there are two routes to Vijay Vittala Temple from the nearby town. You can either park your car near the allotted parking space near Virupaksha Temple and take a 15 minute walk along the Tungabhadra. This is the scenic route and you will pass many other points of interest along the way. The other route is a bit desolate but takes you right to the parking space of Vittala Temple from where buggy rides are available up to the temple.

The Sun had just risen as I set on the road. The heavy clouds though made the skies quite murky. The first structure I came across was the Talarigatta Gate. This gate is the entrance to the lost city of Hampi. It stands alone, with no surrounding structures. During its heyday, there would be queues to get into the city.

After parking my Brezza, I made my way towards the Temple on foot. From the temple it takes about 10 minutes on foot to reach the temple grounds. Buggy rides are available from the Parking lot, but not this early in the morning. On either side of the mud road, you can find various other small temples and other structures in ruins.

To the North, West and east of the Vijaya Vitthala temple were rows of galleries of which only few survive now. The most impressive of these galleries were the ones facing the main gopura of the temple. The eastern Bazaar of the Chariot Street is about 40m wide and a kilometer long. The galleries served as ships, residential quarters, rest houses and camping centers for pilgrims.

The ticket counter had not opened yet, so I loitered round the complex taking some shots of the surrounding areas. The most prominently visible location is the Anjanadri Hill, across the Tungabhadra, just behind the Vittala Temple.

The marked white route goes all the way to the top where a temple lies dedicated to monkey god Hanuman. For some reason or the other, I have always somehow not been able to go to this hill.

The landscape outside the Vittala Temple is very shabby and not at all maintained. You can see rubbish and thorny bushes everywhere. This section used to be a market.

The corridors on either side of the wide road used to sell items relating to prayers at the temple. I moved towards the Shivalayam at the end of the road.

The Gopuram of the Shivalaya looked to have been abandoned midway through construction.

Inside the structure you can still see some boulders lying around that were meant to be sculpted to be a part of this temple dedicated to Shiva.

After exporing the Shivalaya, I walked back towards the Vittala Temple. The admission booth had still not opened, so I walked towards the back on the compound. On the Nothern side lies one of the smaller gates to the temple. These gates remain locked at all times.

Towards the back of the compound you can find two abandoned structures. The nearest one is an open air pavilion, which may have been left uncompleted.

The other structure is quite popular but again not very properly maintained is the King’s Balance.

From the King’s balance, I made my back towards the entrance. On the way I spotted another small temple known as the Nammalvar Temple. I am not very familiar with its main deity.

Just opposite to the Nammalvar Temple, lies the South Gate of Vittala Temple. Just like the North Gate, this gate too remains closed at all times.

Once I reached the front gate, I was glad to see the admission booth was finally opened. Tickets costs ₹30 for Indian citizens and ₹500 for foreign nationals. I do not understand why foreigners have to pay such an enormous amount, it is the Indians who do more damage to these heritage structures than foreigners, and so they should be dissuaded with higher fees to enter these magnificent works of art.

Once inside the temple grounds, I focused first on the Stone Chariot that welcomes the visitors inside the complex.

On all of my earlier visits, I have never been able to capture this beauty without hoards of selfie-takers getting in the way. The stupid thing about selfies is what does it matter if they take the photo in front of the chariot or anywhere else, their face covers 70% of the image anyways.

I took some other side snaps of the Stone Chariot. If you are a photo enthusiast, do take my advice and go in the mornings when there are almost no visitors to disturb your peace.

The Maha Mandap lies in the center of the Temple grounds. Visitors are prohibited from entering as they kept banging the pillars to hear the musical notes eminating from them. I have written in detail about the Maha Mandap in an earlier journal.

To the left of the Maha Mandap lies a flowering tree which is said to be very very old.

To the right of the Maha Mandap lies one of the two Kalyan Mandaps. These mandaps were generally reserved for marriages.

Incidentally I had also missed capturing the beautiful pillars of this mandap, so I went over each of the pillars capturing the beautiful sculptures one by one.

The outer pillars of the Kalyan Mandap have Yali scupltures.

This pillar clearly depicts Hindu God Vishnu in the avatar of Krishna playing his flute.

Below is another pillar with a carving of Hanuman

This one appears to be Lord Rama hunting the deer during his exile.

I am not really sure about this. The others above depict avatars of Vishnu. This could be the woman avatar that Vishnu took to steal away the Amrit from the Asuras.

After capturing the pillars of the Kalyan Mandap. I loitered around the premises. This is a shot of the South Gate again, but this time from the inside.

On the other side, there is a small corridor fallen into ruins.

People were now staring to come in steadily. Mani took a shot of me with the Stone Chariot.

After catching a last shot of the Stone Chariot, we were on our way back to the city.

While driving back to the hotel, I stopped at the fortified gateway known as the ‘Talarighat Gate,’ a ruined three storeyed gateway set into fortified walls. The two upper, arched sections have carved surface detail and a parapet. Two assistants are posed near the entrance and another seated in an archway above.

Identified by an inscription as the ‘hunter’s gate’, this gateway is found on the northeast road leading to Talarighat and the Vitthala temple complex. The gateway has a merloned parapet and pointed arches with rosettes in the spandrels. The walls in the foreground suggest a barbican enclosure (which no longer exists), forcing a number of turns in the approach to the gateway.

Thanks for reading.

Monuments on Hemkuta Hill

India is a country, rich in cultural heritage with hundreds of ancient archaeological sites – each with its own mythical stories. The monuments on Hemakuta Hill in Hampi is one such cluster of ancient temples, archways and pavilions with local folklore spread over centuries.

Hampi’s claim to fame began when it became the capital of the Vijayanagara empire. However these temples on the Hemakuta Hill are among the oldest cluster of shrines in Hampi, preceding even the Vijayanagara reign.

The hill is located on the southern side of the Virupaksha temple, identified quite easily by the slopes dotted with a number of abandoned monuments. When the revered Virupaksha temple was still in its infancy, this hill used to be occupied by Shaivas, devotees of Shiva, who would come from far away parts of South India to pay respects.

You can access the hill via two opposite routes. The first path is just beside the Virupaksha temple’s main entrance. From there, if you are facing Virupaksha, take the left alley up the hill. I chose this route since it was closer to the parking lot.

Otherwise if you already near the Balkrishna Temple, you can take the series of steps up the hill, through the twin storied archway located near the Sasivekalu Ganesha shrine.

History of the monuments on Hemkuta Hill

There are more than 30 structures on the Hemakuta hill that belong to both, pre-Vijayanagara as well as Vijayanagara periods. Celebrated in history, rooted in myths and now a tumbled mass of magnificent residues of an empire, Hampi is probably the most renowned medieval Hindu metropolis in the history of the Deccan plateau. As the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire, from the 14th to 16th century, it was unparalleled in wealth as well in culture in its time.

The monuments spread across the face of the hill are centuries old and represent a historical era of art and culture. The hill also contains as many boulders as temples.

These boulders date back to more than 3 billion years and are believed to be the earliest solidified rock on the planet. From where I stood, the hill appears to be a canvas of stones.

Mythology associated with Hemakuta Hill

Most of the Hemakuta monuments are dedicated to Lord Shiva. According to local folklore, Pampa, a local girl, performed intense penance on Hemakuta Hill, aspiring to marry Lord Shiva. The Stala Purana and the Pampa Mahatme both support this myth. Seeing her intense devotion, Shiva eventually consented to marry her. People say it rained gold on the hill thereafter. Since then this hill came to be known as Hemakuta which loosely translates into the “hill of gold”.

With time, Hemakuta Hill came to be deeply associated with Lord Shiva and many temples were built on the hill to worship this fascinating deity of the Hindu Trinity.

Architecture of Monuments on Hemakuta Hill

The architecture of the temples on the Hemakuta Hill is quite different from the typical Vijayanagara style of architecture found in many other temples in Hampi. The Hemakuta group of temples have a distinct style of their own.

The first marked difference you will see is the lack of carvings on the pillars. If you have been to Vitthala or any other temple commissioned by the Vijayanagar kings, you cannot miss the intricate Yali carvings and decorations on the columns that support the roof. None of the monuments on Hemkuta carry this trademark style.

The early 14th century temples on Hemakuta hill built during the rule of Harihara Raya I, incorporates the distinctive stepped Kadamba style.

These are the largest and most elaborately decorated temples, situated on the northern side of the hill and face the Virupaksha temple compound. Below is a view from the inside of the temple looking towards the Virupaksha Temple compound.

On the top of the hill lies the Mula Virupaksha Temple, considered by historians to be the original Shiva temple, before the grand Virupaksha temple was built at the base of the hill. Though not as grand as the one built by the Vijayanagara rulers, the Mula Virupaksha Temple represents a style of architecture that was popular before the Vijayanagara style came into being.

There are several other monuments in this area that are built in the pre-Vijayanagara style of architecture.

In the ancient times the whole hill was fortified with stone walls and one could enter the area only using the two gates at each end. Once you each the top of the hill you will find it is almost flat providing the perfect base for temples. There is also a natural pond formation making it perfect for the temple.

Near the Mula Virupaksha temple lies a granite rock with the carvings of the characters from Ramayana. Ramayana plays an important part in the mythological aspect of Hampi. You can read more about it in my journal on Kishkindha.

Afternoons at Hemkuta Hill

The gentle morning light grew into a bright day. The skies turned a vivid blue. In all my visits to the ancient city, I have never seen it more blue before.

The age old boulders were lit up in the golden Sun and looking for attention.

As I hiked down from the other side, I passed by the one of the prominent monuments, that of Sasivekalu Ganesha at the foot of Hemkuta Hill.

It was late in the afternoon. The Sun was harsh, so I left for the hotel.

Evenings at Hemkuta

After a fulfilling lunch at Clark’s Inn, I was back at the hill in the evening. This time I used the entry from Sasivekalu Ganesha side of the hill. Dusk had begun to kick in.

Among the Hemakuta monuments, most are in total ruins. Once home to half a million people, Hampi was ransacked in 1565 by the armies of the Bahamani sultanates. For hundreds of years, the City of Victory lay abandoned until it was rediscovered by the British in the 19th century.

The hike is pretty easy in a few minutes and I was up at the top of the hill.

Some of the temples that had escaped destruction during the Mughal invasions have suffered damage from the wear and tear of weather. I truly appreciate the efforts of The Archaeological Survey of India in its continued efforts to renovate these temples and bring back their lost glory.

The beauty of the ancient temples and the relative calm of the place make it an amazing place to spend some peaceful moments on the hilltop.

We waited at the summit for the sun to set. Hemakuta Hill is one among the best places in Hampi to see the sunset but not as tedious to reach the top when compared to Matanga Hill nearby, which is considered as the best location to watch sunset in Hampi. It was touching 6 pm. The security guard made us promise that we would leave in 10 minutes and went his way.

Today the sprawling beauty, a world heritage site of ancient monuments scattered across a landscape of enormous granite boulders, pulls in hundreds of visitors every year from around the world. After relishing the beautiful sunset we were on our way back to the hotel.


The Hemkuta hill area remains open throughout the day and night. But guards will probably heckle to leave at 6 pm.

No tickets are required to access the site.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow these connected stories of my visit to the mythical monkey kingdom of Kishkindha from the epic tale of Ramayana or take a virtual walk with me to the iconic Vitthala Temple.

Shades of Virupaksha Temple

This was my third visit to Hampi, but the first time that I drove myself to the historical city. Hampi sits on the banks of the Tungabhadra river in the ruins of the ancient city of Vijayanagar, capital of the once flourishing Vijayanagara empire.

The road to Hampi is pretty straightforward. I took the NH48 from Bangalore and then slid into NH50 near Chitradurga. The NH50 is under major repairs but its still faster than any alternative routes.

On the way we passed the Tungabhadra reservoir. The national highway leads directly to the town of Hospet, from where we drove into Kamlapur, where our hotel was located.

Clark’s Inn

We were staying at Clark’s Inn for the duration of our stay in Hampi. Even though we had an amazing time at the Hyatt Hampi in 2014, I reserved this hotel mainly because I wanted to stay closer to the UNESCO site. Staying at Clark’s Inn reduced my travel time to reach the ancient monuments from 40 minutes to just over 10 mins.

Clark’s Inn is a decent place to put up for a few days. The food is nice and the staff hospitable. They also have a small swimming pool. But the parking is a bit of a concern since it lies in the basement and the lane leading to it is quite narrow. On the bright side, they do however have valet services to help out visitors.

History of Virupaksha Temple

Like I mentioned before, I have been to Hampi multiple times but this time I came with the sole purpose of capturing the iconic Virupaksha temple (храм вирупакша) at different times of the day.

While discussing the monuments at Hampi, the first thing that comes to mind is the contribution of the Vijaynagara Empire. However the Virupaksha – Pampa sanctuary existed well before the Vijayanagara capital was located here.

Virupaksha Temple has been a most prominent center of pilgrimage at Hampi for centuries with earliest records dating from 689 CE when it was known as Pampa Tirtha after the local river God Pampa. The temple is fully intact among the surrounding ruins and is the only active temple in all of Hampi. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, known here as Virupaksha.

The shrine dedicated to Shiva was established on the banks of the Pampa (Tungabhadra) river sometime in the 7th century, thus making it older than a thousand years. It is debatable whether the initial temple was actually the structure that is still on top of the Hemkuta Hill known as Mula Virupaksha Temple. By logic it should, since temples are generally created on the top of hills. By the mid 7th century the temple had already become a revered Saiva pilgrimage with the Saivas taking up settlement on the Hemkuta hill just beside the temple.

In those times Hampi was known by the name Pampakshetra. It is not clear when but the growing popularity of the temple might have resulted in the creating of the larger Virupaksha Temple near the banks pf the river Pampa (Tungabhadra).

The mythology surrounding Virupaksha Temple

The Tungabhadra river of today was in ancient times known as the river Pampa. The Skanda Purana mentions Pampakshetra as saktipitha, describing it as the abode of the goddess Pampa otherwise referred to as Parvati. According to local myth, Pampa, the daughter of Brahma, mortified herself here to gain the hand of the Lord Shiva. Multiple references to Pampakshetra can be found in records between the 7th to 14th century, overlooking the banks of the Tungabhadra, which currently include Hampi and Anegundi. Several inscriptions can also be found at the temple itself dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries. 

Time passed and what started as a small shrine grew into a large complex under the Vijayanagara rulers. Domingos Paes (1520–22 AD) whose records provide valuable inputs into life during the Vijaynagara reign mentions that inspite of the numerous temples in the vicinity, Virupaksha temple was the one which the people held most veneration for.

The Vijayanagara rulers, in the middle of the 14th century, initiated the blossoming of native art and culture in the region. Though most of the temple buildings are attributed to the Vijayanagara period, there is ample evidence indicating to additions that were made to the temple in the late Chalukyan and Hoysala periods. When they were defeated by Deccan Sultunate in the 16th century, most of the wonderful decorative structures and creations were systematically destroyed. However they were not able to destroy the religious sect of Virupaksha-Pampa. Even after the anhilation of the city in 1565, worship of Shiva persisted throughout the years and continues even today.

Breaking dawn at Virupaksha Temple

On my first day in Hampi, I woke up at break of dawn and drove down to the temple. By the time I reached the parking lot near the temple the sky was already glowing in blue and the stars were beginning to fade away. The parking was mostly deserted.

One of the best spots to catch the sunrise is from the Hemkuta Hill. Its an easy hike up towards the western side of the hill. By the time I took my position on the Hemkuta hill, the Sun was ready to cast its blessings on Hampi and I was ready with my tripod to capture its glory.

I set up my composition on the main gopura, which is the most ornate structure of the temple. The main gopura or temple tower is called the hiriyagopura or the chief tower. It has a brick superstructure and a stone base. Supervised by Devaraya’s minister Proluganti Tippa, the nine-tiered eastern gateway is the largest of the gopuras raised by the Vijayanagara kings.

Light changes pretty fast in these moments and within minutes the gopura was flooded with light from the Sun.

Daytime at Virupaksha Temple

By afternoon the sky had changed to a brilliant blue. The devotees were streaming in. Being a weekday, it was comparatively less than the crowds on weekends.

At present, the main temple consists of a sanctum, three ante chambers, a pillared hall and an open pillared hall. It is decorated with delicately carved pillars. The smaller eastern gateway leads to the inner court with its numerous smaller shrines. The hall of the main temple is believed to have built under the patronage of Saluvamantri, a minister of Sangama Mallikarjuna (1447–1465 AD).

Another gopuram towards north known as the Kanakagiri gopura, leads to a small enclosure with subsidiary shrines and eventually to the river Tungabhadra.

Krishnadevaraya, the most famous kings of the Vijayanagara Empire was a major patron of this temple. The most ornate of all structures in the temple, the central pillared hall is believed to be his addition to this temple. So is the gateway tower giving access to the inner courtyard of the temple.

It is recorded that Krishnadevaraya commissioned the open air hall in 1510 AD to mark his accession. Inscriptions on a stone plaque installed next to the pillared hall explain his contribution to the temple.

Nights at Virupaksha Temple

Sun is strong in Hampi. Evenings brought relief to my parched body. It also brought with it a magical glow to the surroundings. The sky went all red for a moment. The guard wouldn’t allow me to set up my tripod so I took this handheld.

After this we walked out of the fenced area where I set up my tripod to capture the one below. By that time the sun had already set but it left behind a beautiful blue sky.

After catching the temple at sunset, I made my way towards the wide street in front of Virupaksha, situated between the eastern gate of Virupaksha and the northwestern foot of the Matanga hill. Domingos Paes describes it as – a very beautiful street with beautiful houses with balconies and arcades, sheltering pilgrims that come to it, and with houses for the upper classes. He also mentions that the king too had a palatial residence in the same street.

Festivals at Virupaksha

In the month of February the annual chariot festival is celebrated here. Nicolo Conti, the first European visitor to Vijayanagara (1420–1421 AD), refers to two chariots which carried idols through the city. Richly adorned women or courtesans accompanied the procession stinging hymns in praise of the lord. Poet Ahobala, the author of Vasantotsava Champu, also refers to the two chariots: one taken out by the Brahmins and the other by the merchants or shudras.

Interestingly, the Virupaksha chariot festival has been continued ever since it was introduced in the fourteenth century and neither the fall of the empire nor the destruction of the capital in 1565 AD seems to have affected its popularity or practice. To date, the largest gathering at Hampi is witnessed during the chariot festival of Virupaksha held every year in March/April as per the local calendar.


There have been major renovations which included painting the towers of the north and east gopura. When I was here a few years back the gopura were in white but I see a beige paint now. It is also heartening to see that ASI has stayed away from applying plasters to stone carvings like they did at Kailashanthar temple in Kanchipuram, which actually makes them look ugly.

I leave you with the last image of the day: Virupaksha captured from the steps of Matanga Hill at night.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I revisit the monuments on Hemkuta Hill.

Hike to Avani Betta

This is a two-part series. I started writing it as a single story because they are so intimately intertwined, but the article got so big that it made more sense to break it up into two parts for ease of reading.

Avani is a tiny hamlet in the Mulbagal Taluk (group of villages) of Kolar district, just 80 km away from Bangalore. The first part of my journal describes the history of Avani and the story behind the creation of the Ramalingeswara group of temples that lie at the base of Avani hill or Avani Betta as it is locally called.

Apart from activities for young millennials like hiking or photography, Avani is also a place of considerable antiquity. During ancient times it used to be called Avantika Kshetra and was of great sanctity in this part of Bharatvarsha (India). According to legend, the hill was residence of sage and poet, Valmiki, the author of Ramayana.

After a thorough exploration of the 10th century Ramalingeswara temple, I and my wife, Ranita, started on the hike towards the hillock – made popular by the epic tale of Ramayana. Every boulder on this hillock has deep mythological connections. The hill finds mention in a Bana inscription from 339 CE. In another, it is referenced as “Gaya of the South.”

The hill finds mention in a Bana inscription from 339 CE.

For those who are not so familiar with this part of the story of Ramayana – when lady Sita was banished by Rama, her husband, and the king of Ayodha, it is said that sage Valmiki sheltered her here at his ashram (hermitage). The local folklore goes further to establish that Sita, after being sent to exile, gave birth to her twins Luv and Kush right here at Avani.

Avani Betta Trek

The Avani Betta Trek is relatively an easy one. The hillock has steps carved in to make the climb easier. Still, it is advised to begin the trek before the blazing afternoon sun comes up. It was only early March and yet it was extraordinarily hot.

Midway through the climb, there is a cozy resting place surrounded by huge boulders. Created about 3-4 billion years back, these boulders are witness to everything humanity has ever achieved. The strong breeze was comforting and we sat down for a breather among some of the oldest granite rocks in the world.

The trail gradually opens out into a wide space filled with interestingly shaped boulders, some precariously placed. One of the common sights at this place is small stacks of stones put together all over the hill. These are prayer stones, created mostly by childless couples who frequent the Sita Parvati temple at the summit, wishing for a child of their own.

We found ourselves surrounded by multiple boulders in different shapes and sizes on this wide area of the hill. These boulders are a part of what is known as the Eastern Dharwar Craton. A craton is a piece of the Earth’s crust that has existed as a solid since they were first formed on this planet. Since then, they have been pressured and eroded by weathering agents forming somewhat recognizable shapes from our current lives. In my opinion, this one looks like a part of a burger bread.

Beside the “burger bread” rock, this boulder on the edge looks like a flying saucer caused by the natural forces over millions of years of erosion. Don’t you think these strangely shaped boulders have been strategically placed as opposed to hurled as in the case of volcanic eruptions?

Next to these boulders, you can find a small pond, said to be created by Lakshman, brother-in-law of Sita, to help her obtain water on the hill. Logically it doesn’t fit into the timeline of the historical tale as the brothers Rama and Lakshman never knew about the whereabouts of Sita during the time of her exile. Honestly many folklores should be taken with a pinch of salt. They don’t have any hard evidence as to anything mentioned in the article, but the belief certainly was strong enough to last centuries.

I loitered around a bit trying to find better angles to capture the boulders. Doesn’t this one look like a carrot?

En route to the summit, we came across various caves, which once belonged to sage Valmiki and Sita respectively along with other residents of the hermitage. The descriptions though are in Kannada, so if you don’t understand the language, it’s better to hire a guide who can explain in yours.

This is the most beautiful section of the hill. Open spaces, lovely breeze, trees to provide shade, sigh… it would make a wonderful place to set up a night camp.

Below is a cave where sage Valmiki is said to have lived. He performed penances in this cave. The mud here is considered sacred and is believed to have medicinal properties. I have heard, local villagers collect this mud, soak it in water and then drink that water in the belief that it will cure their illness. It is said Luv and Kush took birth in this very cave.

By this time I was a bit dehydrated and on top of that, I realized I had left my water bottle in the car. We stood in the shade for a while before moving on. Although the sun was beating down upon us, the massive boulders kept us in the shade. The strong breeze helped.

Further up the trail, we found a natural pond, which is believed to be the place where the ashram residents used to wash their clothes. Today, lovely lotus flowers adorn the pond.

Below is a close-up of the same boulder we have been seeing from the base of the hill. It is kind of a trademark boulder that identifies the hill from the others surrounding the region. It is said Sita witnessed the battle between Luv-Kush and Rama from the top of this boulder.

Sita Parvati temple atop the hill

There is a last bit stretch of stairs right after the pond that took us straight to the temple.

It took us about an hour to reach the summit. Of course, it can be done faster with younger feet. The hill to the west of Kolar called the Shatasringa Parvata or ‘Hundred-Peaked Mountain’ is ‘Antharagange’, associated with the story of Parasurama and his fight with King Kartaviryarjuna over Surabhi, the divine cow.

As the story goes, King Kartavirya Arjuna (Sahasrarjuna) and his army visited Jamadagni, Parasurama’s father, when the king demanded the magical cow from Jamadagni. When Jamadagni refused, the King sent his soldiers to take the cow, but Parashurama killed the entire army and the king with his axe. In return, the princes beheaded Jamadagni. Thus, Parasurama took an oath to behead the entire Kshatriya race, which is said to have taken place on the hills. It is said that the ‘kolahala‘ on the death of Kartaviryarjuna gave its name to the town, which later became Kolar.

This is the main temple in Avani and is one of the few temples which has the deity of Sita worshiped here. This ashram is also the place where according to legend, Sita eventually becomes one with the Earth. We were early. The inner sanctum was closed, unfortunately, the priest hadn’t arrived yet.

According to ancient scripts, it was initially a Parvati temple. Locals say that goddess Parvati appeared to Adi Shankaracharya in his dream and expressed her desire to establish a Sita statue next to hers. A deeply devoted Adi Shankaracharya executed her wish and since this temple came to be known as Sita Parvati Temple.

We took some rest after reaching the summit. The landscape surrounding the Avani hill is full of small lakes and scattered boulders.

The plateau is interrupted by hills and mountains of varying heights, particularly in the north. After a refreshing rest, we started our descent. On the way back we saw some people making their way up the hill – to the temple.

Festivals at Avani

A yearly fair (Jatra) is held in Avani during the Maha-Shivaratri festival. A Ratha Yatra is also held in July at the Ramalingeshwara Temple. Many devotees visit the temple during this time but they also leave behind a mess.

Ride back to Bangalore

The hike had left us sapped of energy. The descent was a lot quicker and after grabbing a couple of soft drinks from a village store, we began our ride back to Bangalore taking back with us, a slice of history.

On the way, we stopped at a marigold farm to take some pictures.

The drive back to Bangalore was more or less uneventful and we were home by 2 pm.

If you are a person who loves history or someone who just wants to get away from the city’s buzz – this place is an easy getaway. The hike, though easy is still fulfilling. The heritage attached to the place is interesting and keeps it from becoming just another boring hike.

For non-Kannada visitors language will be a bit of a problem. Kannada is the main language spoken in the district of Kolar. You can also find some Telugu speakers.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my travels on Instagram.

What is the difficulty level of the Avani betta trek?

It is a relatively easy trek

Is parking available near Avani betta?

There is no parking lot near Avani betta

Do we need to obtain permission to hike Avani betta?

No prior permission is required to hike to Avani betta, however, please be considerate of local customs and beliefs