Ravana Phadi cave temple at Aihole is a great example of Chalukyan temple architecture. During the 6th century, the early Chalukyans experimented with cave temples. The Ravana Phadi cave temple is primarily is a Shiva temple.
Every Shiva temple has a Nandi positioned right opposite the Shiva linga.
There are brilliant carvings of various gods and goddesses on the interior walls of the cave temple. There is one of the Nataraja (Dancing Shiva) with Gauri and Ganesha by his side.
There is one of a rather scary meditating sage. At first it looks like a skeleton, but when you look closely you see that the representation seems of a sage who has been doing Tapasya (meditation) since ages, going by the lean skeletal figure and the strange pose he is standing in.
There is a figure of a Goddess, who looks like one of the forms of Durga.
Although the Ravana Phadi is a Shiva temple, there is a figure of the Varaha avatar of Vishnu. Chalukyas encouraged worship of both Shiva and Vishnu. Varaha appears on their royal seal as well.
There are other celestial figures as well sculpted on the walls in intricate detail.
There is so much you can learn from a trip on the road than from your textbooks. I never hated history, in fact I loved reading about the various rulers and kingdoms across India. I had read about the Chalukyas in history books and their contribution to South Indian temple architecture, but looking at these beautiful works of art is a different experience.
During our Mumbai-Hampi road trip, we made our way back through Aihole – Pattadakal – Badami. Our first stop was Aihole, a village in Karnataka. There are almost 120 temples scattered in and around the village. It’s pretty difficult covering that many, but there are some that are accessible and can be covered easily. To understand Aihole, one has to first understand its history, which is mainly the Chalukyas.
The Chalukyas were a dynasty of Indian rulers primarily ruling parts of Southern and Central India, mostly between the 6th and 12th centuries. The early Chalukyas were based out of Badami. They worshipped both Shiva and Vishnu, but Jainism was also encouraged. Badami and Aihole were early centers of learning.
The Chalukyan era was a golden age for South India, due to development in the field of architecture which came to be known as “Chalukyan architecture” and also influenced the “Dravidian architecture”.
Aihole Temple Complex
Aihole saw the evolution of Chalukyan architecture, starting from cave temples to constructed temple structures. The Aihole Temple complex houses the most number of temples and displays a good variety of architectural styles to illustrate the Chalukya era architecture and experimentation.
We hadn’t read anything about the Chalukyas worshiping Goddess Durga. Hence we were pretty excited to see the Durga temple. After doing a complete tour of the temple and searching every nook and corner, we were disappointed and surprised to find not a single Durga idol or reference. Perplexed we went to the Karnataka Tourism Information board right outside to understand what was going on. And we found our answer – “This is not the temple of Goddess Durga, but addressed so due to its vicinity to the fort (Durga)…”! “Durg” or “Durga” is a hindi word for a “Fort”. Well, that solved the puzzle.
The temple has a unique architecture. It is a good example of the architectural experimentation that the Chalukyas worked on in this region. The back of the temple is shaped like the behind of an elephant. This architecture style resembles the Indian Parliament design.
The temple was earlier a Surya temple (Sun temple) and later converted into a Shiva temple. The Mantapa and pillars are adorned by various designs and figures of gods (Vishnu, Shiva, Varaha avatar, etc). There are some scenes from the Ramayana as well.
Lad Khan Temple
This is the oldest temple in this complex. It was named after a person residing in the temple when it was discovered. This also was initially a Surya temple which was later converted to a Shiva temple. This temple was presumably used in the Early Chalukya times for various rituals and religious functions.
This temple’s design is completely different from Durga temple. It has more of a rectangular structure, with pillars instead of walls on the exterior. This temple is one of the earlier experimentation here. There are not many adornments or forms on the pillars, except for some floral pattern.
Other temples in the complex include the Gaudaragudi and Suryanarayana Gudi temples.
This is one of the oldest and finest cave temples in Aihole. It is visibly a Shiva temple with a Shiva linga inside the inner sanctum. There are various intriguing figures lining the cave’s interiors, including a dancing Shiva (Nataraja) beside Ganesh and Parvati. There is a Nandi right outside the cave’s entrance as is symbolic of all Shiva temples, right opposite to the Shiva Linga.
Do not be mislead by the temple names. Most temples in Aihole do not bear their original names. When they were discovered, local villagers were living in them. Thus they were named based on their location, name of person residing in temple, etc.
The interiors of the temples are not lit, hence quite dark, albeit clean. It takes time to adjust to the low-light interiors. Also isn’t good for taking pictures without flash 🙁
You would generally need at least two days to cover all the three places.
This place hasn’t yet received much recognition on the Indian tourism circuit. I guess the major issue with the area would be non-availability of any hotels, decent restaurants and reliable modes of transportation. But the Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole circuit does make for a good road trip for even the mildly adventurous lot!
Avoid visiting during noon as it gets extremely hot.