Badami Caves – Rocks with story to tell

Badami, situated in Bagalkot districtof Karnataka, was once capital of mighty Chalukya Empire, but is now famous as tourist destination for its historical monument – The Badami Caves. These caves are considered to be the most spectacularly carved caves found in South India. The four major caves, hewn out of the hill at great height, are temples dedicated to different deities of Hindu and Jain religion. They are considered to be places of utmost importance by the architectures and archaeologists, for the reason that these caves hold significant clues to the styles followed by the south Indian architectures of past. The caves were carved out of the Deccan sandstone that is abundantly available in the area, during the 6th century, under the rule of Chalukya Empire. The color of the Deccan sandstone is believed to have given the place its name, i.e. the color of Badam which means almond in local dialect.

Town of Badami seen from the caves
Town of Badami seen from the caves. Source: Andrea Kirkby’s photostream Flickr

The Four Caves of Badami

The caves of Badami are situated so high on top of a hill, just opposite to the fort of Badami, that nearly 2000 steps should be climbed to reach the entrance of the caves. Of the four caves in Badami, three are carved in the Brahmanical style, whereas the fourth one belongs to the Jain style.

The Cave temple 1 is considered to the oldest among the four caves of Badami, which was carved in 578 AD. The entrance is a verandah with stone pillars, which is a distinctive feature of these caves; leading to a columned main hall and then to the small square shrine cut deep into the cave. Made of Deccan sandstone or red sandstone, the temple is filled, even on the ceiling, with paintings and sculptures that is breathtaking. The paintings in this cave are on the ceiling of that of Lord Shiva as Nataraja, and Shiva and Parvati with a coiled serpent which has high aesthetic value. The Nataraja sculpture is the one of dancing Shiva with 18 arms, is situated on the right side of the entrance.

Badami Cave Temple 1 dedicated to Lord Shiva as Nataraja
Badami Cave Temple 1 dedicated to Lord Shiva as Nataraja

The Cave 2, situated just above the Cave 1 is dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Vishnu. In front of the cave are guards with lotus in their hands. Vishnu is shown in his different incarnations on the wall painting. In the painting known as Trivikrama, Vishnu is shown as conquering the earth and they sky with his two feet. There is also an image of the God in form of a boar which is known as Varahavatar or Bhuvaraha. The ceilings have engravings of Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva and other deities. One of the eye catching paintings is that of Lord Krishna, riding a Garnda and the lotus encircled by 16 fishes.

Badami Cave dedicated to Lord Vishu
Badami Cave Temple 2 dedicated to Lord Vishu. Source: olderock1’s photostream Flickr

Cave 3 with an opening of nearly 70 feet wide with some exquisite carvings, is the biggest and most attractive of the four caves of Badami. The Cave 3 consists of giant figures of Paravasudeva, Bhuvaraha, Harihara and Narasimha all various avatars of Vishnu. Though the paintings of the ceiling have lost its color, they still retain their beauty. The inscriptions found in the cave indicate that the cave was built by Chalukya Mangalesha.

Badami Cave 3 of Shiva and Vishnu
Badami Cave Temple 3 of Shiva and Vishnu. Source: olderock1’s photostream Flickr

The Cave 4 was completed nearly 100 years after the completion of the first 3 caves. This is the only cave in Badami dedicated to Jain religion. The major attraction of the cave is the glorious image of Mahavira, the founder of the Jainism situated inside the sanctum. Many Jain Thirthankara images adorn the inner pillars and walls, moreover there are some idols of Bahubali, Yakshas and Yakshis in this cave. As the cave 4 is situated to the east of the other three caves, and also from near the cave we find stone steps leading to the Badami Fort, it would complete the journey if started from Cave 1.

Cave temples at Badami
Cave temples at Badami. Source: Andrea Kirkby’s photostream Flickr

Location and other attractions of Badami

The town Badami is located on the banks of a lake of breathtaking beauty, namely ‘Agasthya Tirtha’ which surrounds it on three sides. The other side lies at the mouth of the ravine between two rocky hills, representing the demons Vatapi and Ilvala; who are believed to have haunted the place in the past.

Besides the famous cave temples other destinations to look for when you are in Badami are:

A natural Buddhist cave, which is so low that one can only enter it only by crawling on their knees

Badami Fort on top of a cliff opposite of the Badami cave temples

Archaeological museum housing sculptures of the Chalukyan Empire of Badami, and of nearby towns of Aihole and Pattadakal.

Temples dedicated to Shiva, known as Shivalayas constructed in 7th Century, of which Malegitti-Shivalaya is perhaps the oldest temple and also the finest in Badami.

The 11th century Mallikarjuna temple, which is uniquely built on the star shaped base.

Temples dedicated to Dattatreya, Banashankari and Bhutanatha which dates back to 5th century.

Panoramic points on top of the North Fort, which gives a bird’s eye view of Badami.

Badami’s stone cliffs attract not only local but also international climbers. The stone cliff is a great location for free rock climbing and bouldering.

The Badami cave temples are open to tourists till 6 p.m. It is located 30 km from Bagalkot and 589 km from Bangalore. The nearest airport is Belgaum about 150 kilometers away from the town.

Badami cave temples – Karnataka

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