Aihole lies near the bank of the Malaprabha River and as an archaeological site, contrasts sharply with Badami. While nature is in harmony with the archaeological site at Badami, in Aihole the ancient monuments jostle for space with human settlements. Containing as many as 125 temples in clusters, Aihole is considered as the cradle of Hindu temple architecture and the Chalukyan artists experimented there on different patterns, before graduating to the full-fledged Chalukya style. Thus the little village, which was once been the glittering capital of the mighty Chalukyas, flaunt temples that were built between the 4th and 6th century AD and despite their age, the monuments are in a remarkable state of preservation. Today, humanity has encroached on them from all around and the Aihole temples are engulfed by cow sheds, mud huts, and ongoing excavation work. Apart from the temples, Aihole is famous for its ancient inscription, which was composed by the Jain poet Ravikeerthi.
Table of Contents
Importance of the Aihole inscription
The Aihole inscription, which was written in both Sanskrit and old Kannada scripts, greatly helped in reconstructing the history of the Chalukyan era. It proudly chronicled the achievements of Pulakesi II, especially his momentous victory against Harshavardhana, the ruler of Northern India. This famous Chalukya King Pulakeshi II was a follower of Jainism and it was who he shifted the capital city to nearby Badami. Until then, Aihole was the first capital of the Chalukya kings and it was reknowned far and wide for its monuments as well as commercial significance. More than 100 stone monuments dotted Aihole” and its surroundings, many of which were built when the capital city was at its zenith of prosperity and power. The Chalukyas were one of the most important Deccan dynasties and they had fortified their capital with still surviving walls and gates.
The humans of Aihole
In my eyes, Aihole was all about overpowering time and I loved the way, the old monuments defiantly withstood the ravages of centuries. If monuments could be personified, I would say that they were a proud bunch of structures, looming so large and all-encompassing over their surroundings, that even the callous use of daily life could not mar their magnificence much. In fact, the combination of the historical ancient monuments next to rural simplicity somehow heightened their royal aura and the villagers seemed to nonchalantly accept them as their heritage. Though this may have required threats of hefty penalties against damage/deface and oodles of training, the sight of Aihole’s rustic residents lounging against the centuries-old stones was very evocative. They gossiped, smoked bidis (locally-made cigars), took siestas, and stared at tourists from the porches, steps, and portals of ancient temples while their wooden bullock carts stood idle next to them. It seemed like an ironic comedown for a once-powerful capital, but then, those candid moments gave the whole atmosphere a spark of life. The site seemed bustling and full of life while Badami in comparison resembled a sterile preserved open-air museum.
Aihole monuments are architectural study
Owing to its erstwhile cultural importance, the site of Aihole is aptly spread over quite an extensive area, thus making it necessary for some of its chief attractions to be grouped together. The complex reflects a unique mix of architectural styles of northern (Nagari) and southern (Dravida) temples and the lack of rebuilding makes Aihole, a valuable source of the study of Indian temple architecture in its embryonic stage. Just like their varying styles, the temples of Aihole are also secular in nature and though, most of them were meant to be Hindu places of worship, there existed some early Buddhist caves and Jain monuments as well. A number of rock-cut caves are also included in the Aihole periphery and they too were finely embellished with exquisite sandstone reliefs. I found Aihole rock-cut temples to be as magnificent as those in Badami and the Ravula Phadi Cave rock temple captured one entire afternoon. Dating back to the 6th century, the cave temple’s portal could be accessed by a triple entrance and beautiful carvings of a ten-armed Nataraja dancing with Parvati, Ganesh, and the Sapta Matrikas (“seven mothers”), etc filled its interiors.
The magnificent Durga Temple
The chronologically dated Meguti Jain Temple was also in the same area. It sat atop a hill, providing magnificent views of the surrounding fields and rocky outcrops that were dotted with Chalukyan creations. Among all the Aihole temples, the horseshoe-shaped Durga temple was the most popular, and the 7th-century monument’s apsidal design was its biggest draw. Also referred to as “Gajaprasta” or the elephant’s back, because of its shape, the Durga Temple of Aihole sported a spectacular fusion of Dravidian and Nagara styles of architecture and ironically, despite its name was not dedicated to the goddess Durga. Historians believe that close proximity to a fort or Durg rendered the monument its confusing name and this magnificent structure is showcased on many state tourism campaigns. Dedicated to either Vishnu or Shiva, this temple is adorned with numerous representations of both the deities and a lovely decorated verandah encircle the structure. Detailed sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses cover its walls and the temple is supported by numerous square columns. 2 staircases lead into the temple and rich carvings of small animals, celestial figures, amorous couples, and coiling serpent people richly decorate its surface.
The temple for a Muslim prince
Needless to say, I found the Durga Temple in Aihole to be absolutely marvelous and spent many lovely moments catching long fingers of the rising sun, in its oblong corridor. Its rich carvings were beautifully intact and they lent an animated air to the grand monument. The nearby Ladh Khan Temple was yet another unusual structure and it was named after a Muslim prince, who once called it home. Built by the Chalukyas, the Ladh Khan Temple was a beautiful architectural experiment. It had 2 inner sanctums. While Shiva and his escort, the Nandi Bull occupied 1 sanctum, intricate carvings covered the outer walls of the other. The Ladh Khan Temple probably has the most unique name in the world of Indian temple architecture, but then Aihole was no stranger to interesting nomenclatures. Aihole too had a very intriguing story behind its name and the tale is a gory one. According to legends, Lord Parasuram after avenging the death of his father had come down to the Malaprabha River to wash his blood-stained axe and hands. The heavy blood and gore on the axe had turned the water of the river so red that a woman, upon seeing it had screamed, “Ayyo Hole’ (Blood – in Kannada), thus coining the name Aihole. For an archaeological complex so important and magnificent, the name seemed like an antithesis, but such was the overpowering timeless aura of the Chalukyan remnants at Aihole that except for the beauty of the monuments, nothing else mattered.
Aihole Travel Tips
Apart from the ones mentioned in the post, here are some of the other attractions in and around Aihole.
- Hucchimalli Temple – Built in the 7th century, this is believed to be one of the earliest groups of temples in Aihole, this dates back to the 7th century. This Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva and has a vestibule built in front of the sanctum for the first time.
- Gowda Temple – Built in the 12th century this temple is pretty simple in architectural style and is dedicated to the goddess Bhagwathi.
- Suryanarayana Temple – This temple is famous for a 2 ft tall statue of the Sun God, Surya along with his consorts Usha and Sandhya.
- The Konti group of temples were built in the 7th century and consists of 4 separate monuments, with exquisite reliefs of Brahma, Shiva, and a reclined Vishnu on the ceiling. There are two 6th century cave temples out of which Ravula Phadi cave has a ten-armed Shiva dancing with the Sapta-Matrikas, Mahishasuramardini, and Bhudevi being rescued by Varaha. The Ravanaphadi cave has the life-sized sculptures of 4 dancing Matrkas and a Shiva Gangadhara, which depicts Shiva lowering the river Ganga to earth with the help of his locks. The Galaganatha, Jyotirlinga groups, and Hucchapaya Gudi temples are also worth visiting.
Best Time to Visit Aihole
The winter season is hands down the best time to visit Aihole. This period lasts from October to January. February and March are also suitable. The summer is really hot and I don’t recommend visiting Aihole during this time (learned from my mistake). Monsoon is pretty in Aihole with lush green surroundings and gorgeous countryside. However, this area is prone to flooding.
Base yourself in Badami
Because of its fantastic collection of architectural structures, the Aihoḷe temple complex is on the pending list of UNESCO World heritage sites. Badami is the jumping-off base for exploring the 3 sites of Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal and it has a small railway station too. There are few accommodations available at Aihole or Pattadakal and the nearest ones are at Badami. A state tourism guest house named Mayura Yatri Niwas is available for those who wish to spend a night at Aihole. It is within walking distance from most of the temples. The services are very basic.
How to reach Aihole
The nearest major railhead is Hubli, which is about 130 km away and it is well connected to all major cities in India. Badami is around 150 km from Hospet which has a transport hub.
Getting around Aihole
Aihole is in the northeast of Pattadakal. It is situated along the Malaprabha River. Badami lies to the west of both. There is a state highway that runs from Badami to Aihole via Pattadakal. However, it does not have frequent bus or auto services. The best way to explore these three sites is by hiring an autorickshaw or a tuk-tuk for a day or two.
Entrance Fees and other costs
Most of the temples scattered at the various locations in Aihole don’t require any entry ticket. Only the major temples like the Durga Temple, Lad Khan Temple, Badiger Temple, etc are enclosed within a boundary wall. Here an entry ticket is required.
- The entry fee for Indian citizens is Rs 20.
- For foreigners, the entry ticket is Rs 200.
- The camera charge is Rs 25. These prices also include the entry fee to the museum in the same complex.
- Entry is free for children below 15 years of age.
The main temple enclosure is open from 1000 AM to 0500 PM. You can visit other temples whenever you want.
Follow the rest of the Badami series
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE