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Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : The magnificent ruins of Hampi

The ruined city of Hampi by the Tungabhadra in Karnataka, is all that remains of the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, one of the most glorious kingdoms in India’s history. At its peak, it covered practically all of South India. The empire rose at a time when several kingdoms in the south were being defeated or weakened by invasions by the Delhi Sultanate. The Kakatiyas of Warangal, the Pandyas  of Madurai, the Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra – none of them could withstand the onslaught and the Sultanate appeared poised to take over the south.  
However, things changed dramatically in the early 14th century. Muhammad bin Tughlaq took over as the ruler of the Sultanate. He was quite the tyrant, and his reign was full of rebellion. One rebel took refuge in a tiny kingdom called Anegundi, a small village near Hampi. Tughlaq’s army hunted him down, killed him and brought down Anegundi. A general stayed back to administer the region, but he soon returned to Delhi, leaving two young men named Harihara and Bukka Raya in charge. Theories abound about the origins of these brothers, but many accounts say they were princes from one of the ruling families in the region. Harihara and Bukka Raya didn’t declare themselves as kings at first. Quietly, but rapidly, they expanded their territories. Other rulers in the region aligned with these men who seemed capable of warding off the invaders from Delhi, and this unified kingdom became the mighty Vijayanagara empire.
Around the same time, another kingdom was founded to its immediate north, following another rebellion. Alauddin Hassan Bahman Shah, a commander in Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s army, revolted against the despotic Sultan, declared independence in the Deccan and founded the Bahmani Sultanate. In about 2 centuries, the Bahmani Sultanate broke up into the five Deccan Sultanates of Ahmednagar, Berar, Bijapur, Bidar and Golconda.
In the 16th century, the Vijayanagara ruler Aliya Rama Raya got involved in conflicts between these Sultanates repeatedly, sometimes supporting one, and sometimes another. Finally, the Deccan Sultanates got together in an alliance, and waged war on Vijayanagar. This was the iconic Battle of Talikota (a town known as Talikoti now), in which the Sultanates defeated Vijayanagar and killed Aliya Rama Raya. They then  plundered and destroyed Hampi to the ruined state in which it lies to this day. The slain king’s brother survived the battle; he moved to Penukonda in present day Andhra Pradesh, and ruled the now weakened and diminished kingdom from there. The last Vijayanagara king made Chandragiri his capital, which was captured by the Golconda Sultanate, putting an end to the empire.
Hampi is magnificent even in its ruin, and one can only imagine what it looked like in its days of splendour. The city has often been compared to Rome, for its size, its riches, its flourishing art, architecture and literature, and also its abrupt destruction. Vijayanagara architecture is essentially Dravidian in its style, and scattered all over Hampi are an assortment of structures in varying degrees of dilapidation including temples, palaces, bazaars, mandapas, gardens and military structures. It is like Disneyland, but for heritage enthusiasts – here are some pictures 🙂 
Ugra Narasimha, Hampi

‘Ugra Narasimha’, a fierce form of Vishnu’s lion-like avatar

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

The imposing Virupaksha Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, said to be Hampi’s oldest temple

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

Inside the Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

This region is believed to be Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom mentioned in the Ramayan

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

The Virupaksha Temple somehow escaped the plunder intact, and is still in worship.

Sasivekalu Ganesha, Hampi

Sasivekalu Ganesha. Sasivekalu means mustard seed. I don’t see the resemblance. You?

This is probably a good place to mention Krishna Deva Raya, the most iconic ruler of the Vijayanagara empire. The kingdom reached its zenith during his reign, and literature in Telugu and Kannada received a huge boost under his patronage. Many important monuments in Hampi were built in his time, like the Krishna and Hazara Rama temples below:
Krishna Temple, Hampi

Krishna Temple, built to commemorate Krishna Deva Raya’s victory over Udayagiri in present day Odisha

Krishna Temple, Hampi

The Krishna Temple is not in worship since the main idol was destroyed.

Hazara Rama Temple Hampi

The Hazara Rama Temple replete with bas reliefs depicting tales from the Ramayan

Underwater Shiva Temple, Hampi

The ‘underwater’ Shiva temple with its sanctum submerged in water

Lotus Mahal, Hampi

The Lotus Mahal in the zenana, or the ladies’ wing of the palace zone

Zenana, Hampi

Ruined structures in the compound wall around the zenana area

Elephant Stables, Hampi

The beautiful elephant stables in the palace area

Hampi's famous step well or Pushkarini

Hampi’s famous step well or Pushkarini

Queen's Bath, Hampi

The Queen’s Bath, believed to date back to the reign of the king Achyuta Raya

Vittala Temple

I saved the best for last – the absolutely stunning Vittala Temple

Vittala Temple, Hampi

The stone chariot in the Vittala Temple that has become Hampi’s most famous icon

The group of monuments in Hampi were included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in the year 1986. It’d probably take months to even skim the surface of Hampi’s treasures,  but I hope you enjoyed the small glimpse into the medieval town from my short stay there.
Hopefully useful information
Nearest railway station: Hospet or Hosapete, 13km away. We took a train from Hyderabad.
Transport: Auto rickshaws, cabs, rented bicycles/scooters
Stay: Hotel Malligi, Hospet. My friend Ajay suggested it, and I totally recommend it too.
Memorable meal: Hotel Swati near the Hospet bus stand. We went because yamsivam recommended it on Twitter. Best dosas in the world. Seriously. Do not miss.

Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : Pattadakal

Chalukya architecture had its beginnings in Aihole and was honed in Badami, but it was in the riverside town of Pattadakal that it reached its zenith. Bearing testimony to this, is a cluster of 10 exquisite temples in the Dravidian and Nagara styles of architecture, that the Chalukyas combined to create their own distinctive idiom. Pattadakal, called Pattada Kallu in Kannada, was where the coronations of the Badami Chalukya kings were held from the 7th century onwards. The town was also called Raktapura in the past, probably because of the red (rakta means blood and pura means city) sandstone with which the temples are built.
The World Heritage Site of Pattadakal includes 9 Shiva temples built between the 7th and 9th centuries. The 10th is a Jain temple built in the Dravidian style, about half a km away. It was probably built later by the Rashtrakutas, who succeeded the Badami Chalukyas.
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya TemplesPattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
The oldest of the Shiva temples in Pattadakal is the Sangameshwara Temple, built in the Dravidian style, and the last one to be built was probably the Kasi Visveshwara temple, in the Nagara style. One  simple way to tell which style each temple is built in, is to look at the shikharas. Typically, shikharas in Nagara temples are gently convex, while those in Dravidian temples are pyramidal.
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples. The difference between Dravidian style and Nagara style shikharas

Dravidian shikhara (left) Nagara shikhara (right)

The loveliest structure in the complex is definitely the Virupaksha temple. It is also the biggest, and the most elaborate. It was built by Queen Trilokyamahadevi in the first half of the 8th century, to commemorate her husband Vikramaditya II’s victory over the Pallavas. The temple is said to be inspired by the Kailashanatha temple of Kanchipuram, and the design of the Kailash temple in Ellora in turn, is said to be based on this one. The interiors as well as the exteriors of this temple are replete with elaborate carvings from Hindu mythology, and the pillars leading to the sanctum are breathtaking, depicting scenes from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Apparently, these carvings were done after the pillars were built – this meant, there was absolutely no room for even a single mistake! While all the temples have small nandis in front of them, this one has a smooth, shiny and colossal bull in a pavilion of its own (called a nandi-mandapa) in front of the temple. The Virupaksha temple and its nandi-mandapa are the only ones in the complex that are still in active worship.
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples

A pillar in the Virupaksha temple depicting Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows (Mahabharata)

Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples

The Mallikarjuna Temple adjacent to the Virupaksha Temple was built soon after, by Vikramaditya II’s second queen, and it is like a smaller version of the latter. The other structures here are the Galaganatha, Papanatha, Jambulinga, Chandrashekhara, Sangameshwara and Jambulinga temples.

Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
And that brings us to the end of my series of posts about the temples that the Badami Chalukyas built. As I mentioned earlier, the best place to stay in while visiting this circuit is Badami, only 3 hours from Hampi, another World Heritage Site.


Here are the earlier posts from the series:


Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year to all of you!
I’ll see you in 2016!


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.


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.

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.

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.