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Mahakuta

The next stop in my Chalukya series is Mahakuta, a very small town about 15km from Badami. Here too, the Badami Chalukya legacy lives on in the form of a group of 6th-8th century temples in their signature architectural style. The temples are all dedicated to Lord Shiva. The largest of these are the Mahakuteshwara and Mallikarjuna temples. It is believed that the Mahakuteshwara temple was built by Kirtivarman I, the son of the first Chalukya king Pulakesin I. The rest of the temples in the complex were built by later kings of the dynasty, and have shikharas typically seen in the Nagara school of architecture.Badami Chalukya Temples in MahakutaBadami Chalukya Temples in MahakutaThe hub of activity in Mahakuta is the rectangular Pushkarini tank, fed by natural spring water.

Badami Chalukya Temples in MahakutaThe afternoon we went, dozens of young boys from the village were playing in the water. They were very sweet, friendly, and excited to be photographed!
Badami Chalukya Temples in Mahakuta
Badami Chalukya Temples in MahakutaA small shrine with a Chaturmukha or four faced Shivalinga (quite uncommon, apparently) sits in the tank.
Badami Chalukya Temples in Mahakuta

Mahakuta has played a huge role in helping historians unravel the story of the Chalukyas. The Mahakuta Pillar, a sandstone pillar with inscriptions in Sanskrit and Old Kannada, providing a wealth of information about the Badami Chalukyas, was found lying here. It is believed to date back to the reign of Kirtivarman I’s successor, Mangalesha ie, the late 6th century. Today, it is kept in the Archaeological museum in Bijapur, about 150km from here.
 
While not as expansive as those in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, most of the temples here are still in active worship, and the vibrant atmosphere makes Mahakuta a worthwhile stop if you have a couple of hours to spare.

Travel

Badami Caves: exquisite art in the Capital Of The Chalukyas

Badami, about 35km from Aihole, was the capital of the Badami Chalukyas for 3 centuries. The town was originally called Vatapi. Legend has it that two demon brothers called Vatapi and Ilvala lived here. Vatapi would disguise himself as an animal, and Ilvala would offer his meat to weary travelers, who would eat it unsuspectingly. Ilvala would call out to Vatapi, and the latter would come back to life (thanks to a boon he’d received), bursting out of the person’s stomach and killing him. Vatapi and Ilvala would then eat the poor dead passerby. This went on until a sage named Agastya came by. He played along with the demons’ trick, but immediately digested Vatapi, before Ilvala could call him. This ended the menace the two brothers were causing in the region 🙂
Rock cut cave temples of Badami
Badami is most famous for its complex of four Chalukyan rock cut cave temples. Gouged out of almond (called badam in India) colored sandstone that is believed to give Badami its present name, every cave has pillared verandahs in front, and a sanctum right at the back. They were all excavated not at the same time, but during the reigns of various Badami Chalukya rulers. (I wrote a little about the dynasty here)
Rock cut cave temples of Badami
The lowest cave is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is believed to have been built in the 6th century, during the reign of the second Chalukya ruler. It is decorated with sculptures of Shiva in various forms, and the most exquisite ones are those of Nataraja (Shiva in his cosmic dance), Harihara (half Shiva and half Vishnu) and Ardhanareeshwara (half Shiva and half Parvati).
Cave dedicated to Shiva, Badami
Shiva as Ardhanareeshwara
The second cave is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and has magnificent depictions of him in his Vamana avatar as Trivikrama and in his Varaha avatar as a boar, among others.
Cave dedicated to Vishnu, Badami
Vishnu as Trivikrama in his Vamana avatar
The third cave is the largest and probably the most spectacular, and is also believed to be the oldest of the lot. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu as well, and has images of his Narasimha avatar, Varaha avatar, Vamana avatar and also one of him seated on a coiled serpent.
Cave dedicated to Vishnu, Badami
Vishnu seated on a coiled serpent. In his Varaha avatar on the right.

The topmost cave is absolutely breathtaking, and is the only Jain shrine in the complex, dedicated to Lord Mahavira. The columns in this cave are decorated with Jain tirthankaras. Inside the sanctum, Mahavira is seated in deep meditation.

Jaina Cave, Badami
Jaina Cave, Badami
Mahavira seated in meditation in the sanctum

The sparkling (manmade) Agastya lake in front of the caves, separates the rocks from the stunning Bhootanatha group of temples. They are built in the Chalukyan style of architecture with features from the Dravidian temples of the south and the Nagara temples of the north. One cluster was built in the 7th century by the Badami Chalukyas, while the other was built in the 11th century or so, by the Kalyani Chalukyas.

Bhootanatha Group of Temples, Badami

Many scenes in the Bollywood movie Guru were shot in Badami. You can see the caves in this song. The scene in which Abhishek and Aishwarya get married was shot at the Bhootanatha group of temples.

 

By road, Badami is about 3 hours from Hospet. Many people choose to do a day trip from Hampi/Hospet to the Chalukyan trio of Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal. Since Badami has many decent hotels, and we didn’t want to rush through everything in a day, we stayed a couple of nights here.
Travel

Aihole : a treasure trove of Chalukyan architecture

Yet again, I’ve neglected my blog for months, but I’ve now accepted that my enthusiasm is always going to wax and wane, and that’s okay. So from Bhutan in my previous post, let’s go deep into the Bagalkot district of Karnataka in Southern India, to talk about the Chalukyas, a powerful dynasty who ruled between the 6th and 12th centuries. At their peak, their territories included all of Karnataka and most of Andhra Pradesh. The dynasty was established by the first king Pulakesin I, after overthrowing the reigning Kadamba dynasty. His first capital was Aihole, but he soon shifted it to Badami. So he and his descendants  are called the Badami Chalukyas.
 
There were three distinct Chalukyan dynasties – the Badami Chalukyas (6th to 8th centuries), the later Kalyani Chalukyas (11th to 12th centuries) with their capital at Basavakalyan near Bidar, and the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi, near present day Eluru in Andhra Pradesh. This and the next few posts are going to be about the legacy left behind by the Badami Chalukyas.
 
Aihole, a sleepy and primitive village by the Malaprabha river is a wondrous treasure trove of Chalukyan architecture. Many consider it a cradle of temple architecture in South India, and with good reason – there are at least a 100 temples scattered across the village in varying states of preservation. They range from early rock cut cave temples to later structural temples built in the distinctive Chalukyan idiom, which combines Nagara (Indo-Aryan architecture seen in Odisha, etc) and Dravida (the kind you see in Tamil Nadu, etc) features. Some clusters of well preserved temples are enclosed by compound walls, while others are just a part of the village. Let me show you some of the most prominent temples in Aihole.
 
Among the oldest is Ravana Phadi, a cave temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, dating back to the 6th century.
Ravana Phadi, Aihole, built by the Badami Chalukyas
Ravana Phadi, Aihole, built by the Badami ChalukyasThe most recognized structure in Aihole is the beautiful Durga Temple with its unusual apsidal shape (imagine one side of a rectangle replaced by a U)It is believed to date back to the late 7th century.
Durga Temple, Aihole, built by the Badami Chalukyas
Durga Temple, Aihole, built by the Badami Chalukyas

The Lad Khan temple in the same compound almost looks like it was built with logs of wood. They say the curious name comes from a Muslim General who used the structure as his residence for  a while. The complex also has a small archaeological museum. My favourite exhibit there was the birds eye view of Aihole that shows the distribution of temples around the village.
Lad Khan Temple, Aihole, built by the Badami Chalukyas

The Hucchimalli Gudi (Gudi means temple) stands in its own enclosure along with a beautifully carved step well.

Hucchimalli Gudi, Aihole, built by the Badami Chalukyas
Step well, Hucchimalli Gudi, Aihole, built by the Badami ChalukyasSome more temples from around the village:
Badami Chalukya temples in Aihole
Badami Chalukya temples in Aihole
Badami Chalukya temples in Aihole
Badami Chalukya temples in Aihole
Aihole is about 140km from Hampi/Hospet. The nearest town where you can get good accommodation is Badami, 35km away. If you are crazy about monuments, you could easily spend hours or even days exploring Aihole, given the number of ruins in the village. But for most other people, 3-4 hours should be adequate to visit the most important temples.
Travel

Chennakeshava Temple, Somanathpur

The Chennakeshava Temple built by the Hoysalas in Somanathpur near Mysore

Remember I was in Wayanad sometime ago? On the way back to Mysore, we took a teeny detour to Somanathpur to visit the Chennakeshava Temple. It’s a spectacular Hoysala temple just about 40 km from Mysore.
 

The Hoysala dynasty was a powerful medieval South Indian empire that ruled between the 10th and 14th centuries. Their kingdom included present day Karnataka and even parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The first few Hoysala rulers were followers of Jainism but King Vishnuvardhana, the fifth ruler, and his successors, embraced Hinduism.

 

The Chennakeshava Temple dates back to the 13th century, when Narasimha III was the Hoysala king. It was built by Somanath, a commander in his army. That’s why the village is called Somanathpur. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu – Chennakeshava means Beautiful Vishnu.
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near Mysore

Hoysala temple architecture is quite distinct from the Dravidian style of temple architecture. The raised platform, the star shaped ground plan, the zig zag walls completely covered with carvings, the space around them to walk on – these are all features typical of Hoysala temples. You can see these in the above picture. The pretty lady is my mom 🙂 The main material used to build these temples is a kind of soapstone. Apparently it was chosen because it is sturdy and yet easy to carve.

The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near MysoreEach ‘band’ in the above picture is about the width of my palm!
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near Mysore
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near MysoreExquisite sculptures all over the exterior of the temple depict Lord Vishnu in various forms
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near Mysore
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near Mysore
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near Mysore
The Chennakeshava Temple, a Hoysala temple in Somanathpur near Mysore
A cool thing about this temple is the red letter box hanging on the tree right outside. 
(Some color finally, right? :D)
Pictorial cancellations at heritage sites
Letters posted in this box get a pictorial cancellation, which is like a stamping in the shape of the temple to promote tourism etc. Like this:
Pictorial cancellations at heritage sites
Sorry about the crop – I had to get rid of my address!
This link has a list of other sites in India you can get pictorial cancellations at. The left sidebar has them grouped by state.
In Photos, Travel

A weekend in Pondicherry

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know that I was in Pondicherry over the weekend. It was my first visit – yes, seriously – I’m not a fan of seashores, so I guess I never got around to it. But once I went, I really loved the town! It’s quaint, pretty and hipster in a good way! We’d all had a hectic week, so we ended up just chilling and not doing too much. We ate a lot, drank a lot and drove around the streets taking pictures.

Driving from Chennai to Pondicherry on ECR, East Coast Road
Driving from Chennai to Pondicherry on ECR, East Coast Road
Chal Beta Selfie Le Le Re
Diner at Satsanga, a lovely cafe in Pondicherry
Diner at Satsanga, a lovely cafe in Pondicherry
The streets of the French Quarter in Pondicherry
The streets of the French Quarter in Pondicherry
The streets of the French Quarter in Pondicherry
The streets of the French Quarter in Pondicherry
A vintage car in Pondicherry
Pondicherry
Vintage cars in Pondicherry
A vintage car in Pondicherry
Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Pondicherry
And I couldn’t leave this delicious pizza out – it wasn’t in Pondicherry, but on the drive back into Chennai. (Yes I’m the kind of Indian who likes coriander and paneer in her pizza)
A pizza in Tuscana, ECR, Chennai
Travel

Postcards From Wayanad – Part 3

And I swear this is the last part! I won’t drag this out anymore 🙂
 

We began our last day in Wayanad at the Wayanad Cricket Stadium where a local selection match was going on. The back of the stadium has an incredibly breathtaking view.
The Banasura Sagar dam on River Kabini is India’s largest earthen dam, and Asia’s second largest. The motorboat rides there are very popular, but I’m really not into those. The views are gorgeous, though.
I saw a rubber plantation for the first time that day:
To harvest the latex, a cut is made on the bark of the trees. The latex that oozes out is collected:
Two stunning dilapidated temples near Sultan Bathery. One was right on the highway, and the other inside a coffee plantation: