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.

Sunset at Nigatsu-dō

Nigatsu-dō is one of the important structures of the Tōdai-ji temple in Nara. If you are here to know more about Nigatsu-dō, you already must be familiar with the Todai-ji temple, registered as a world heritage site, and one of the most revered Buddhist temples in all of Japan.

I have visited Nara Park many times. Nigatsu-dō is located to the east of the Great Buddha Hall, on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa. Even though I had visited the Nigatsu-dō temple hall earlier, it was only after one of my friends on Instagram posted a picture-perfect view of the evening sunset from here, that it became an obsession to visit this temple again to witness the magic with my own eyes.

The quickest way to Nigatsu-dō is via the northern side of Todai-ji, past the Daibutsu-ike Pond. On this route, you can avoid the large crowds gathered around Nara Park. With wide open areas, the fresh, crispy winter air around the lake will surely awaken your senses.

December is almost the end of Fall season in Nara, but the roads were still lit up by the beautiful Momiji trees. Momiji or Japanese Maple Tree, is probably one of the most beautiful type of maple trees there is, especially in the fall. As temperatures cool down after the scorching summer in Nara, the colors of the leaves change into vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown.


We followed the road which after a few minutes leads to a narrow cobbled path that gradually goes up the Wakakusa hill. You can find signs in English that will guide you to Nigatsu-dō temple hall. As we approached the ancient hall, we were quite happy to see a deer lost in its own world, munching away at the dried grass.

The deer of Nara park are a symbol of the city and believed to be messengers of the gods in Shinto religion.

There are two ways up the temple hall. As you can see in the image below, you have a covered wooden walkway on the left and a stone staircase on the right to reach the platform at the top of the temple.

Nigatsu-dō was founded by a monk by the name of Sanetada in 752 CE. However the temple is more closely associated with a Buddhist monk named Jitchu. He is thought to have come from possibly in India. He was one of the founding monks of Todai-ji and introduced many of the rituals still used today.

The most noteworthy of these ceremonies was the Shuni-e repentance ceremony established by him in 1960, at the request of Empress Kōmyō, wife of Emperor Shōmu, who hoped to heal the ailing Emperor who had not been well for a prolonged period of time. Since then this rite has taken place as an annual ceremony without a break. This service came to be known as Shuni-e, as it was held in the second month of the traditional lunar calendar.


Before you take the stairs to the Nigatsu-dō hall, on your right you can find the Sangatsu-dō hall. It is considered to be the oldest building in the Todaiji temple precinct. It was founded in 733 CE by the priest Roben. The hall is also known by the name Hokke-do which comes from the practice of holding a yearly service for the Hokekyo sutra in March. Belief in Hokekyo, has been widespread in Japan since the time of Prince Shotoku (574 – 622), who desired to establish a united nation under the Buddhist Law with salvation for all sentient beings, as taught in the sutra. Sangatsu-dō in Japanese means “Third Month Hall” because the service here is held in the third month.

Similarly the name Nigatsu-dō, or “Second Month Hall” is derived from the fact that the Shuni-e Ceremony is held here during the second month of the lunar calendar. You can enter the Sangatsu-dō hall for a small fee to pray to Kannon. Photography is prohibited inside this hall. I had been inside the temple before, so I just went through the gate that took me up the stone stairs up to the Nigatsu-dō temple hall.

As you reach the top of the stone stairs, you will find yourself in a wide open area paved with cobblestones with a Chozuya at the far end. The Chozuya is a water pavilion near the entrance, for cleansing yourself before you approach the deity of the temple. Most of these Chozuyas are relatively simple with running water coming from a pipe, but this one contains an intricately carved bronze dragon head which spurts out the water meant for purifying visitors.

If you are visiting during Fall, you cannot help notice the surrounding vivid yellow Momiji trees just beyond the Chozuya, a little further up the wakakusa hill.

After washing my hands at the Chozuya, I walked over to the platform of the temple. The platform stands over the inclined hill helped by numerous wooden pillars, kind of like Kiyomizu-dera, albeit a lot smaller. Though the skies were a bit overcast today, the Sun would occasionally peak through and cast a beautiful glow over the front deck of the temple.

The observation deck of Nigatsu-dō

The Nigatsu-dō hall holds two Kannons, a large one and a small one, although both of them are classified as Hibutsu “secret Buddhas” – and therefore are not publicly shown. Hibutsu or “secret Buddhas”, are Buddhist statues that are kept out of sight, maybe not permanently but sometimes the intervals when they are displayed to public can be as long as 33 or 66 years.

Some hibutsu, such as the wooden statue of Gautama Buddha at Seiryō-ji in Kyoto or the Amida statuary at Zenkō-ji, are almost never displayed, even to initiates of the temples in which they are held.

Sunset at Nigatsu-dō

Built on a hill, Nigatsu-dō has wonderful views from its observation deck back over Todai-ji and as far as the five-story pagoda at Kofuku-ji Temple. A magical mist had enveloped the heritage city. On a clear day you can see the whole city from here.

Through the mist, you can still observe the fall trees surrounding the Nara Park. The park’s autumn color is mostly scattered around the grounds in small pockets of deciduous trees, as opposed to being in one, breathtaking wall of color.

Since there are no other buildings around it, you can lean on the wooden railing and enjoy the cool breeze as it heals your soul. In addition, compared with the popularity of the main hall of Todai-ji Temple, Nigatsu-dō is much quieter, and the whole atmosphere is very peaceful.

You can sit down on one of the wooden benches inside and immerse yourself in the beauty of the sunset about to happen. There is no restriction on the opening or closing hours of the Nigatsu-dō so you can stay as long as you like.

As light begins to fade, the lanterns surrounding the temple hall are lit up. The once innocuous looking cobblestones begin to reflect the dying rays of the sun as they come alive.

The sparse number of people who know about the magic of this place at sunset were gone once the Sun had set over the horizon. The attendant at the souvenir counter near the stairs was also starting to shut down. I set up my tripod near the Chozuya to capture some of the beauty of the magical hour as the skies went from a vivid golden color to a more softer purple.

As the natural light faded away, the glow from the lanterns hanging around the temple hall became more overpowering.

Within a few minutes the skies changed again, this time into a beautiful blue. A couple of elderly ladies joined us at the observation deck. It was possibly their regular thing as I couldn’t see another soul otherwise.

Compared with the main hall of Todai-ji Temple, there are a lot fewer people who come to Nigatsu-dō, and it is very comfortable to stroll around. Because of the high terrain, one a clear day, you can overlook the entire city of Nara. The leisurely pace and the antique scenery are unforgettable and of course, when the sun goes down, it is just magical!

If you have plans to travel to Nara, don’t just use up all your time at the Todai-ji Temple, remember to climb the mountain and take a look at this beautiful and peaceful scenery of Nara.

Thanks for reading! I hope you like my story. Please leave a comment if you have any questions. Tomorrow we leave for Izumo to spend a few days in the ancient city that is known to be as the realm of the Gods in ancient Japan. On the way we plan to stop for a brief time at lake Shinji to experience another sunset, I hope the rain gods stay away!

Events at Nigatsu-dō

Nigatsu-dō is particularly popular for the Omizutori ceremony that is held for two weeks from 1st to 14th March every year. The ceremony is held to cleanse the people of their sins as well as to usher in the spring of the new year. The ritual has been practiced non-stop since the Heian period, more than 1200 years ago.

During the event, priests with a torchlight in hand descend repeatedly from the Nigatsudo hall to the holy well at the base of the temple. Of the many events held during Omizutori, Otaimatsu, the fire torch is the biggest and the most impressive one at 6-8 meters tall.

When was Nigatsu-dō Hall built?

Nigatsu-dō Hall was founded in 752 by a Buddhist monk named Sanetada

What is the best time to visit Nigatsu-dō?

Early March is the best time to visit Nigatsu-dō. Here is a schedule of the events held during that time:
March 1st-11th: 19:00 (20min)
March 12th: 19:30 (45min)
March 13th: 19:00 (20min)
March 14th: 18:30 (10min)

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.

The great Senso-ji Temple

Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa district of Tokyo, Japan. It is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and one of its most significant. It is a very busy place during daytime so I decided to escape the crowd by visiting early at dawn and then returning back late at night.

We were staying at APA Hotel Asakusa-Kuramae. It is just a couple of minutes walk away from the Kuramae Station on the Toei Oedo Subway Line. I had intentionally reserved this hotel as it is at a walk-able distance from the historic temple. I left the hotel at around 6:30 am. The skies were a saddening, dull gray as I made my way along the quiet alleys.

Because the hotel was near the Sumida river, I choose to walk along the banks towards the heritage temple. Along the way, helping myself to some pictures. The picture below is a shot of the Azuma Bridge with the Asahi Beer Headquarter Building in the background.

You can cross the Azuma bridge from above, but I chose to go under a small dark tunnel. This tunnel is mainly used by joggers, so they don’t have to climb the stairs to cross over to the other side of the road above.

Across the tunnel, I found myself in the Sumida Park area. On the right there is a small dock for ferries. On your left, you can find the Tokyo Cruise Ship Asakusa office. If you are looking for a cruise around Tokyo on the Sumida River, this would be the place to go.

From here I took a left turn towards Senso-ji. From the Azuma bridge you can directly head for the temple, that is the more correct way, that leads directly to the temple main gate and then the temple, but I love to wander about a little.

The Nitenmon Gate

Coming from the river side, the first structure I encountered was the Nitenmon Gate, located on the east side of the Main Hall. Nitenmon in Japanese means “the gate of two ten”. It is named so because of the two protective Buddhist deities (known as ten) that can be seen on its left and right side.

The deities are called Zochoten and Jikokuten respectively. The original statues were destroyed in 19th century. Since then, substitute statues from the Ueno Kaneiji stands there. This gate leads directly to main altar of Senso-ji. It was originally built in 1618 CE and has been named an Important Cultural Property.

Asakusa Shrine

From the gate, towards my right I could see the Asakusa Shrine. I went in and paid my respects. The Asakusa jinja is a Shinto shrine also referred to as Sanja-sama (Shrine of the Three gods). It’s modest appearance belies its historical and cultural significance. The shrine honors the spirits (kami) of the three men – the Hinokuma brothers and Chief Hajino, who founded Sensō-ji.

After taking a few pictures, I made my way towards the main hall of the Senso-ji.

History of Senso-ji

According to legend, Senso-ji Temple was said to have been created when a statuette of Kannon was fished out of the nearby Sumida River by two local fishermen brothers – Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari in the year 628 CE. It is a mystery as to who carved the statue, or how it had come to be floating in the waters of Sumida, but everyone considered the discovery of the statue to be a miraculous event.

News was sent to the then capital of Japan, which was in Nara, a city to the south of Kyoto. Nara was at that time under the reign of Empress Suiko. She was a very devout Buddhist and is credited with establishing many of the oldest temples and monasteries in Nara. When she heard the story of the two fishermen and the statue of Kannon, she ordered that a temple be built to house the statue.

For those who don’t know, Tokyo was just a small village at that time. The chief of the village, Hajino Nakamoto was greatly moved by the presence of the idol and he decided to remodel his own house into a small temple where the villagers could worship the goddess of mercy. The statue was consecrated during the Kamakura period, around the year 645 CE, which makes the temple the oldest temple in the capital.

Centuries later, Senso-ji became associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism. This Mahayana Buddhist tradition brought over from China in the 8th century became the dominant form of Buddhism among Japan’s upper classes for many centuries.

Although most of the original temple buildings were destroyed by US bombs during World War II, the structures was rebuilt soon afterwards in 1950.

Actually, Senso-ji’s full name is “Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji” , Kinryu-zan meaning “The mountain of the golden Dragon .

The Main Temple Compound

It was quiet early but a steady stream of visitors were already coming in to pay their respects. The Main hall is the largest structure in the complex. In front of the main hall lies a large incense cauldron. You can light some incense sticks there if you prefer. Before entering the hall you can also indulge in some harmless fun by buying the Omikuji (paper fortunes) that costs 100 yen. But even if you unfortunately draw bad luck, don’t be discouraged, just tie them around a designated place nearby and hope for a better one next time, fingers crossed 🙂 A lot of Omikuji will already be hanging nearby like white flowers, so you can’t miss it.

The Hondo (Main Hall)

The Hondo or Main Hall houses the Kannon statue. The statue is kept deep inside the hall to keep it safe from pollutant degradation. The Hondo Hall is a national treasure and was originally built in 942 CE. It was later rebuilt by the third Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. The current building dates from 1958. Photography is not allowed inside the hall.

Inside of the hall was rather cold, presumably because of lack of any sunlight inside. I paid my respects and walked back out. From the top of the stairs I took this photo of the Hozomon Gate.

I wandered around the main hall taking a few shots. With the thick cloud cover, the day was photogenically extremely boring. I have tried to spruce them up in Lightroom to bring some energy into them.

Five Storey Pagoda

While walking around the Hondo, I strayed into a small rock garden. From here I got a better shot of the Pagoda.

The Five Story Pagoda (Goju-no-Tou), which is said to contain some of the ashes of Buddha. The Pagoda is approximately 53 meters high and is especially picturesque at night when all lit up. The original structure was built in 942 CE. It was later reconstructed in 1973. It is a national treasure and the second highest pagoda in Japan.

In the garden on the right of the Hondo, there is a small landscaped garden. In the garden you can find a hexagonal temple. I am not too sure about its history but the small wooden structure tucked away in the north-west corner of the temple grounds was built way back in 1618.

It was originally built on top of a well, but was slightly moved from its original location in 1994. The inner structure follows an umbrella-like wooden structure called ougitaruki. The Higiri Jizō-son is enshrined in the small wooden structure, which translates as “Time-bound Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva.”

Directly opposite to the hexagonal temple lies a seated bronze Buddha. Talking of seated Buddha’s, if you are touring Japan, you must not miss these four:

The Hozomon Gate

After leaving the garden, I walked towards the Hozomon Gate. The Hozomon Gate is the gateway to the inner complex of Senso-ji Temple and the temple’s inner gate. The second floor of the Hozomon Gate houses many of Senso-ji’s treasures, including a copy of the Lotus Sutra, and the Issai-kyo scriptures.

When you are standing with your back towards the main hall, you will see the two large straw sandals hanging on the left and right of the gate. They are called waraji. These huge sandals were crafted by villagers in northern Yamagata Prefecture, and are meant to symbolize the Buddha’s power. It is believed that evil spirits will be scared off by the giant sandals. The Hozomon Gate was originally built in 942 CE. After it was destroyed during World War II, when the temple was bombed during the 10 March air raid on Tokyo, it was rebuilt in 1964.

In the same gate, from the other side you will find two statues located on either side. They are Nio Guardians, the guardian deity of Buddha, and the gate was originally known as the Niomon. You can find the pictures of the Nio guardians further down the article.


From the Hozomon Gate, I walked towards the main entrance gate. The two gates are connected by a long narrow corridor known as the Nakamise-dōri. It is said to have come about in the early 18th century, when neighbors of Sensō-ji were granted permission to set up shops on the approach to the temple.

In those times it was like flea market. So in May 1885 the government of Tokyo ordered all shop owners to leave to rebuild the area in an orderly fashion. In December of that same year the area was reconstructed in Western-style brick and the shop owners were allowed to come back to resume their business.

During the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake many of the shops were destroyed, then rebuilt in 1925 using concrete, only to be destroyed again during the bombings of World War II. The length of the street is approximately 250 meters and contains around 89 shops.

The Kaminarimon Gate

The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate serves as the entrance to the Senso-ji Temple precinct. It was originally built in 942 CE by military commander Taira no Kinmasa. The gate has two protector deities, Fujin, the god of wind is on the right, and Raijin, the god of thunder is on the left.

The structure features a massive red and black paper lantern, dramatically painted to suggest thunderclouds and lightening and hence the name. The traditional lantern called chochin in Japanese is 3.9 meters high, 3.3 meters in diameter and almost 700 kg in weight. The original lantern burned down along with the Kaminarimon in the late Edo Period. It was rebuilt in 1960 and is renewed every decade with the current lantern created in November 2013.

My photo-walk of Senso-ji was done. Small crowds of tourists were beginning coming in. I spent the day casing out book stores around Tokyo. Mani needed some language books. I needed some Manga. We went to Maruzen Marunouchi Main Store, one of the biggest book store in Tokyo. It was just incredible, the sheer variety of the books they carry.

Time flies away on wings when I am surrounded by brand new books. It was late in the evening by the time we reluctantly came out of the building. By 8 pm I was back at the hotel, ready to return to the heritage site.

Night out at Senso-ji

I went down the same path as in the morning. On the way I took this shot of the bridge over the Sumida river. You can see the Skytree and the iconic Asahi Beer building in the background.

Before reaching Senso-ji, I stopped a couple of times near the Sumida river to catch the lovely Skytree. I haven’t been to the Skytree yet , but it sure is in my bucket-list.

It was late and the shops along the approach to Senso-ji were all closed. Though I couldn’t shop for souvenirs, it also meant I was not surrounded by hundreds of tourists. There are 54 shops in East side, 35 shops in West side; 89 shops in total. It gets really noisy here during daytime.

The Hozomon Gate at Night

I was at the temple by 9 pm. Even though it was late, there was a good stream of people still coming in. I waited for my moment to capture this shot of the Hozomon Gate. This is without any doubt, the most beautiful photo of Senso-ji that I have taken.

According to Oei Engi, a chronicle written around the 15th or 16th century and the only source describing the establishment of Senso-ji, Hozomon Gate (known as the Niomon Gate when it was first erected), was built in 942 by military commander Taira no Kinmasa.

Here is a close-up of the ornate lantern adorning the Hozomon Gate. The central lantern has the characters 小舟町 (Kobunacho), written on it, because this is the name of the Tokyo district that donated the lantern in 2014.

The Hōzōmon houses two guardian statues that are located on either side of the gate’s south face. These are fierce-looking protectors of the temple. In the past the gate was called the Niomon after these statues, before being renamed the Hozomon.

If you want to read more about the Nio Guardians, please read this in-depth article on the history of Nio Guardians in Japanese temples.

Red Pagoda at Night

The illuminated pagoda looked amazing in the night. Even though I was extremely tired, I was glad I decided to come back again at night.

Senso-ji Temple at Night

I was truly surprised that even at 11 pm, people were still streaming in to see the temple. I wasted many shots as people would stroll into them. What I thought would be an hours job, was taking up way too much time.

By midnight I was really frustrated as people were still coming in. I took this last shot of the temple and made my way back to the hotel.

My thoughts on Senso-ji

Japan’s most visited Buddhist temple is not one of the peaceful temples. In-fact, the temple located in Tokyo’s lively Asakusa district, holds a record of welcoming about 30 million visitors annually. I had seen pictures of the temple and that is why I chose to come during the times when I can truly enjoy it in peace.

If you visit during the day, the atmosphere of this temple is certainly not one of serenity. With its crowds, noise, and enticing shops, Senso-ji, in its own way, entertains the residents and visitors alike, offering a lively alternative to the tranquility of a Zen temple.

The reconstructions have been true to their authentic designs and the complex resembles an Edo-period site, with several imposing gates, giant lanterns, and a five-story pagoda. At the heart of the complex the main worship hall you can witness one of the oldest statue of Kannon, and if you visit in these awkward times, as I did you can see the strong faith of the local people residing nearby as they start dropping in from 5 am in the morning. In all it was a good day. Although it started quiet dull with gray clouds et al, I was able to snap some nice photos for my journal.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your reviews and questions. If you are looking to explore more of the Kanto region, follow my story as I visit the Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama .

When was Senso-ji built?

645 CE

Who built Senso-ji?


How to reach Senso-ji?

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is just a 15-minute train ride from Tokyo Station

To which deity is Senso-ji dedicated to?

Senso-ji was built to honor Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

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.

Heritage walk to Vittala Temple

Today I went on a heritage walk to the majestic Vittala Temple. Built around the 15th century CE, and expanded several times by succeeding kings of the Vijayanagar empire, it is the epicenter of Hampi’s attractions. This time, I was in Hampi along with a trekking group from Bangalore.

It was another day of missed opportunities. I was awake at 5 am, ready for new experiences in Hampi. We were supposed to observe the sunrise from Anjaneya hill as per schedule but our trek leader himself got up at 6 am and by that time hiking up Anjaneya hill was a lost cause.

I wandered around the open spaces near our lodging. it was pleasant with no vehicular pollution or noises in the serene surroundings.

By the time everyone was ready, it was already 9 am. We drove down to Anegundi, the nearest town where we took our breakfast in one of the local dhabas. The idlis, served by a lovely lady were delicious. Just across the street, a wooden Rath was stationed. These chariot like structures are used during the rath festival in these parts.

From there the bus dropped us off near Talwar Gatta, where a ferry helped us across to the other side. Honestly, I was a bit scared, since they didn’t have any life jackets and one is always hearing about ferries toppling over in India.

History of Hampi

Hampi, believe it or not, the whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was traditionally known by many names, the prominent ones being Pampapura or Pampakshetra. These names were derived from Pampa which was the name of the river Tungabhadra in those ancient times.

The recorded history of Hampi goes back a long way. Archaeologists have discovered rock edicts from the time of Emperor Asoka in Bellary, not very far from here, dating 269-232 BCE, suggesting this region could have been a part of the Maurya Empire way back in the 3rd century BCE.

Along-with the prosperity of the Vijaynagar empire, Hampi became a centre of religious and educational activities. But I would be biased to other dynasties if I only sing praises of the Vijaynagara kings. Hampi had already gained quite popularity by the 10th century. Inscriptions at Virupaksha temple, a kilometer along the Tungabhadra, are evidence to Chalukya kings making land grants to the temple.

Later between the 12th and 14th centuries CE, kings of the Hoysala Empire also built temples dedicated to the goddess Durga and lord Shiva. During this time, Hampi had almost become a secondary home of the Hoysala kings.

With time, it went on to become the epicenter of the Vijayanagar Empire in the 14th century. Chronicles left by Persian and European travelers, particularly the Portuguese, state Hampi was a prosperous, wealthy and grand city near the Tungabhadra River, with numerous temples, farms and trading markets.

By 1500 CE, Hampi was considered the world’s second-largest medieval-era city attracting traders from Persia and Portugal. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and the splendor of Hampi attracted many invaders. In 1565, the Vijayanagar Empire was attacked and defeated by a coalition of Muslim sultanates. Its capital was conquered, pillaged and destroyed by sultanate armies leaving the heritage city in ruins. It is said these invaders looted the city over a period of six months, snatching the valuables and burning all that remained to the ground.

History of  Vittala Temple, Hampi

After a short walk from the river, I found myself at the parking area for Vittala Temple. From here visitors can either wait for a buggy or simply walk to the temple, which is a bit of a distance away. A queue had already built up, so if you desire a peaceful experience please come early. While others in my trek group waited for the guide, I made my way to the temple.

The Vittala temple was originally built in the 15th century AD, during the reign of King Devaraya II (1422 – 1446 A.D.), one of the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire. Many successive kings have expanded and enhanced the temple campus during their regimes to the present form.

Records from the 16th centure redfer to this complex as “Vitthala.” The temmple complex extends over a distance of about a kilometer. The temple was called the Vijaya Vittala predominantly. In one of the records, it is also mentioned as Kanada Vitthala. It is assumed that the “Vijaya” in the name Vijaya Vitthala indicates a celebration victory.

The road leading to the temple is in a completely ruined state. This road was once the location of a thriving market place. The market was known as the Vittala Bazaar and was famous for horse trading. The ruins of the market can be seen on both sides of the road.

The buggy dropped me off near the entrance tower. One typically accesses the campus through the eastern gate, next to which the ticket counter is located. Behind the ticket counter lies the remains of a township called Vittalapura that existed around this temple complex. The first foundations of the temple were laid around 1505 CE. The eastern gate or gopuram was constructed between the years 1513 to 1516.

The Vittala temple complex

The temple is built in the form of a sprawling campus with compound wall and gateway towers. There are many halls, pavilions and temples located inside this campus. The iconic temple has amazing stone structures such as the incomparable stone chariot and the fascinating musical pillars.

The Vittala Temple is also known as Shri Vijaya Vitthala Temple. It is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. An idol of Vitthala-Vishnu was enshrined in the temple.

Notable among the structures are the shrine of the Goddess (Devi shrine), Maha Mantapa or main hall (Sabha Mantapa or congregation hall), Ranga Mantapa, Kalyana Mantapa (marriage hall), Utsava Mantapa (festival hall), and the famous Stone Chariot.

The Vijaya Vitthala temple is a stupendous creation of the Vijayanagar artists with few paralells in the architectural history of medieval India. The main attractions of the Vittala Temple are listed below:

Stone Chariot of Vittala Temple

The first structure I noticed was the sculpted Stone Chariot, which is considered to be the most stunning architecture of the Vijayanagara kingdom. Designed in the shape of an ornamental chariot with the idol of Garuda, it is an iconic landmark of Hampi. The structure is classified as a Karakkoil, a temple fashioned after temple chariots which are taken in procession around the temple during festivals.

The Stone Chariot or Ratha stands in the courtyard of complex and welcomes the visitors as they enter the temple grounds. Even though it appears to be one, the Stone Chariot is not a monolithic structure. As per Hindu mythology, Garuda is the carrier of Lord Vishnu and its image is enshrined into the sanctum. The popularity if this iconic sculpture has led to it being part of the Indian currency in the denomination of Rupees fifty.

The stone chariot may be the first structure see as you enter the Vittala complex, but it is also the most recent.

Just like the Shore temple of Mahabalipuram, this shrine was also built with blocks of granite. The joints are cleverly hidden in the carvings and other decorative features that adorn the stone chariot. The chariot was built on a rectangular platform. The base platform is adorned with mythical battle scenes chiseled into the granite on all sides.

The chariot is adorned with a set of four finely sculptured granite wheels. Though the chariot is not resting on it, the four giant wheels are extremely well detailed and good enough to compete with real life ones. A series of concentric floral motifs decorate the sides of the wheels. The platform, where the wheels rest, shows clamps were later added to fix it from moving around the axis. Some older pictures of the stone chariot show it with a shikhara and the kalasha which have now eroded away. The wheels of the stone chariot are said to be once functional and could be rotated by the people. But some years ago the ASI cemented the wheels in order to avoid causing damage to them.

In front of the chariot two elephants are positioned as if they are pulling the chariot. However if you look carefully, you can see the difference in the style of sculpting. These elephants were supposedly added at a later stage after the chariot was completed. Originally two horses were carved in that position. The rear legs of the horses can be still seen just behind these elephant sculptures.

Maha Mandap of Vittala Temple

On leaving the Stone Chariot, I walked down to the main hall in front of the Vittala temple. Unfortunately the entrance to the Maha Mandap was blocked for maintenance. The first time I was here a couple of years back, people used to be allowed inside the main hall.

The Maha Mandapa or main hall of the Vittala Temple is situated in the inner courtyard, bang in the center of the temple complex just behind the Stone Chariot. It is a structure of immense beauty, sitting on a highly ornate base carved with a series of floral motifs. Maha mandap along the axis of the main temple has a pillared hall with three entrances. A series of steps flanked by elephant balustrades gives access to this elevated open hall called the Maha mandap.

The balustrades on the east and west porch of this hall is more dramatic with giant lion Yalis fighting the relatively dwarf elephants.

There are forty pillars lining the facade of the temple. The central part of the Maha Mandap has sixteen intricately decorated pillars having beautiful sculptures of Narasimha and Yali.

These richly carved giant monolithic pillars set of sixteen pillars forms a rectangular court. The sikhara of the Maha Mandap is very much in ruins, more so because it was created out of mud bricks.

The Musical Pillars of the Maha Mantapa:

The Dolotsava Mandap is other main attraction of the Vittala Temple. The most outstanding components of the Vijay Vitthala Temple is the eastern pavilion of the Maha Mandap.It was originally called Dolotsava Mandap or “Hall of Musical Pillars” This large mandap is renowned for its 56 musical pillars carved out of huge single pieces of resonant stone. This cluster of musical pillars are also known as SAREGAMA pillars, named after the notes of the classic Indian music – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, etc. It is said musical notes are emanated when the pillars are tapped gently.

The original foundations of the Dolotsava Mandap were laid sometime during the reign of two Devarayas (1406 – 1446 CE ) of the Snagama Dynasty. It experienced further expansion during the time of Tuluva Krishnadevaraya (1503 -1528 AD) It was further expanded upon during the reigns of Achyutdevaraya( 1529 – 1546 AD) and Sadasivaraya (1542-1565 AD)

The analysis of these pillars has revealed that the rocks are resonant because of the presence of metallic ore and large amounts of silica.

The base is decorated with carvings of warriors, horses, swans and several other ornamental designs. The lowermost of it is a chain of horses, its trainers and the traders.

Every main pillar is surrounded by 7 minor pillars. These 7 pillars emit 7 different musical notes from the representative musical instruments. The notes emanating from these pillars vary in sound quality depending on whether the instrument is a percussion, string or wind instrument. When one of the columns is struck, the reverberation moves though the other nearby columns. However, if you find yourself at this site on a Sunday afternoon, forget about being able to hear any music over the ‘hum’ of the large crowds that throng this temple.

The emission of musical notes from stone pillars was a mystery that fascinated many people down the centuries. After conquering the region, the Mughals tried to burn down the temple but it turned out futile since the temples were carved out of granite.

After the Mughals, the country fell prey to the British. They too tried to damage the temple every way they could, pillaging away any artifact that could be carried away to their country. Two of these pillars were cut off by the British, who were surprised by the musical notes of the pillars and wanted to examine them in more detail. However, they found out that the pillars had nothing inside them.

I believe that tapping the musical pillars to emit musical notes is now prohibited, as tapping over the years have caused some damage to the musical pillars of the Maha Mandap. But the local guides fake it on the pillars of the other mandaps to please the tourists.

Most of the granite and sandstone towards the base have survived. The influence of Srivaishnava sect is seen at this temple complex which is revealed by observing minor shrines to the south, west and north. Around this main mandapa are four smaller halls: (clockwise from east)

  • Kalyan mandap
  • 100-columned mandap
  • Amman shrine and
  • Bhoga mandap

After capturing the exteriors of the Maha Mandapa, I moved towards the Kalyan mandapa on the left.

Kalyan Mandap

You can find more pictures of the Kalyan Mandap here.

100 Pillar Mandap

The “Hundred Pillared Hall” has altogether 108 pillars in all. It is said to be commissioned in 1554 AD. Below are close-up shots of some of the pillars.

Amman shrine

From the 100 column mandap, I made my way towards the back of the Maha Mandap where a small temple lies un-bothered and unattended by tourists.

Bhoga Mandap

For some reason they built a second marriage hall in the temple grounds. Generally all the temples I have visited only have one Kalyan Mandap. It might well have been for some other reason, the facts of which have been lost to time.

Some other interesting structures around the temple complex

While walking around the complex, I found this lone tree on the grounds. Beside the tree, along the enclosing walls lies a small structure. It is not very decorated and I am not sure about its functionality either, but it looks beautiful. I recall this from the first time I visited Hampi in 2014.

A few steps ahead lies the northern gate. Like the other structures, the base is very much as it was centuries back, but the top parts created using mud are in ruins.

Ruins of Vittala Temple in Hampi

The Vittala Temple is in a partially ruined state. The sanctum of the temple once contained an idol of Lord Vittala. However, now the sanctum is devoid of any idol. The region around the Vittala temple was called Vitthalapura. It hosted a Vaishnava matha (monastery), designed as a pilgrimage centred around the Alvar tradition.

According to historical memoirs left by Portuguese and Persian traders, the city of Hampi was of metropolitan proportions and the Vitthala temple the crown jewel of the kingdom. I have written another article on the still standing ruins of Hampi if you would want to read about the humble beginnings of the forgotten city.

In 1565, at the Battle of Talikota, a coalition of Muslim sultanates entered into a war with the Vijayanagara Empire. They captured and beheaded the king, followed by a massive destruction of the infrastructure of Hampi. The city was pillaged, looted and burnt for six months after the war, then abandoned as ruins. The central western hall of the temple was ruined during the attack of the Delhi Sultanate that eventually led to the downfall of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1565 CE and the end of Hampi.

I have been to Hampi twice and yet it feels like I have to come back many a more times to truly capture its essence in full. I was prepared to stay another day, but the living conditions of our lodgings forced me to catch the bus and head back to Bangalore.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the mythical birthplace of luv & kush from the epic tale of Ramayana .

Festivals at Vittala Temple in Hampi

The temple has floodlights installed inside the temple complex. The lights illuminate the Vittala Temple Complex at night and offer a majestic view of the beautiful structure against the dark night sky. But if you want to see it, you should come in winter when the days are small. In summers the place closes up well before sunset.

Hampi Festival (November)

This is the largest festival at Hampi. Generally they are scheduled for 3 days during the first week of November. The celebrations typically packed with shows of music, dance puppet shows fireworks and a pomp procession as the grand finale showcasing the cultural richness of the place.

Purandaradasa Aradhana (January/February)

The annual Purandaradasa festival is held at the temple complex. The festival is held every year to commemorate the birthday of the ancient poet Purandaradasa who lived in Hampi. The 2-3 days long program is scheduled during the months of January or February.

Use of tripods is not permitted inside the temple campus.

The monument opens from 8.30 am in the morning to 5.30 pm in the evening. However, try to visit this place soon it opens in the morning. That is the only time you can explore peacefully before the crowd builds up.

Admission fee is Rs 30 for Indian citizens and Rs. 500 for foreign nationals. Preserve this ticket. If you are in Hampi for the whole day, you can use the ticket on the same day to also enter the Zenana Enclosure area.


Early-to-mid-16th century

Built by

King Devaraya II

Admission fee

₹30 for Indian citizens / ₹500 for foreign nationals


8:30 – 17.30 hrs