Aihole had lain near the bank of the Malaprabha River and as an archaeological site, had contrasted sharply with Badami. While nature had been in harmony with the archaeological site at Badami, in Aihole the ancient monuments had jostled for space with current human settlements. Containing as many as 125 temples in clusters, Aihole had been considered as the cradle of Hindu temple architecture and the Chalukyan artists had experimented there on different patterns, before graduating to the full-fledged Chalukya style. Thus the little village, which had once been the glittering capital of the mighty Chalukyas, had seen most of the temples being built in between 4th and 6th century AD and despite their age, the monuments had been in a remarkable state of preservation. Just like at the time of their creation, humanity had encroached them from all around and the Aihole temples had been engulfed by cow sheds, mud huts and ongoing excavation work. Apart from the temples, Aihole had also been famous for its ancient inscription, which had been composed by the Jain poet Ravikeerthi.
The Aihole inscription, which had been written in both Sanskrit and old Kannada scripts, had greatly helped in reconstructing the history of the Chalukyan era and it had proudly chronicled the achievements of Pulakesi II, especially his momentous victory against Harshavardhana, the ruler of Northern India. This famous Chalukya King Pulakeshi II had been a follower of Jainism and he had shifted the capital city to nearby Badami. Until then, Aihole had been the first capital of the Chalukya kings and it had been famous far and wide for its monuments as well as commercial significance. More than 100 stone monuments had dotted Aihole” and its surroundings, many of which had been built when the capital city had been at its zenith of prosperity and power. The Chalukyas had been one of the most important Deccan dynasties and they had fortified their capital with still surviving walls and gates.
In my eyes Aihole had been all about overpowering time and I had loved the way, the monuments had defiantly won against the ravages of centuries. They had been a proud bunch of structures, looming so large and all encompassing over their surroundings, that even the callous use of daily life had not marred their magnificence much. In fact, the combination of the historical ancient monuments next to rural simplicity had somehow heightened their royal aura and the villagers had seemed to have nonchalantly accepted 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 had been very evocative. They had gossiped, smoked bidis (locally made cigars), taken siestas and stared at tourists from the porches, steps and portals of ancient temples while their wooden bullock carts had been parked outside. It had seemed like an ironic comedown for a once powerful capital, but then, those moments had been drop dead photogenic.
Considering its erstwhile cultural importance, the site of Aihole had been aptly spread out over quite an extensive area and some of the chief attractions had been grouped together. The complex had reflected an unique mix of architectural styles of northern (Nagari) and southern (Dravida) temples and the lack of rebuilding had made Aihole a valuable source of the study of Indian temple architecture in its embryonic stage. Just like their varying styles, the temples of Aihole had also been secular in nature and though, most of them had been Hindu places of worship, there had existed some early Buddhist caves and Jain monuments. A number of rock-cut caves had also been included in the Aihole periphery and they too have finely embellished with exquisite sandstone reliefs. I had found Aihole’s rock cut temples to be as magnificent as those in Badami and the Ravula Phadi Cave rock temple had captured one entire afternoon. Dating back to the 6th century, the cave temple’s portal had been accessed by a triple entrance and beautiful carvings of the a ten-armed Nataraja dancing with Parvati, Ganesh and the Sapta Matrikas (“seven mothers”) etc had filled its interiors.
The chronologically dated Meguti Jain Temple had also been in the same area and it had sat atop a hill, providing magnificent views of the surrounding fields and rocky outcrops which had been speckled with Chalukyan creations. Among all the Aihole temples, the horse shoe shaped Durga temple had been the most popular and the 7th century monument’s apsidal design had been its biggest draw. Also referred to as “Gajaprasta” or the elephant’s back, because of its shape, the Durga Temple of Aihole had sported a spectacular fusion of Dravidian and Nagara styles of architecture and ironically, despite its name had not been dedicated to the goddess Durga. Historians believe that it had been perhaps its proximity to the fort or Durg which had rendered the beautiful monument its confusing name and the Durga temple had famously dotted many tourism campaigns of the state. Dedicated to either Vishnu or Shiva, this reknowned temple had been adorned with numerous representations of both the deities and a lovely decorated verandah had encircled the structure. Detailed sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses had covered its walls and the temple had been supported by numerous square columns. 2 staircases had lead into the temple and rich carvings of small animals, celestial figures, amorous couples, coiling serpent people etc had covered its surface.
Needless to say, I had found the Durga Temple to be absolutely marvelous and had spent quite a few lovely moments catching long fingers of the rising sun, in its oblong corridor. Its rich carvings too had been beautifully intact and they had lent an animated air to the grand monument. The nearby Ladh Khan Temple had been yet another unusual structure and it had been named after a Muslim prince, who had called it home. Built by the Chalukyas, Ladh Khan Temple had been a beautiful architectural experiment and had 2 inner sanctums. While Shiva and his escort, the Nandi Bull had occupied 1 sanctum, intricate carvings had covered the outer walls of the other. The Ladh Khan Temple had probably had the most unique name in the world of Indian temple architecture; but then Aihole had been no stranger to interesting nomenclatures. The name of the first Chalukyan capital city, too had a story behind it and the tale had been 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’ (Oh No Blood in Kannada), thus coining the name Aihole.
For an archaeological complex so important and magnificent, the name had seemed like an antithesis, but as mentioned earlier, such had been the overpowering timeless aura of the Chalukyan remnants at Aihole that except for the beauty of the monuments, nothing else had mattered.
TRAVEL TIP – Apart from the ones mentioned in the post, some of the other attractions in and around Aihole are
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.
Because of its fantastic collection of architectural structures, 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. Nearest major rail head 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. There are no accommodations available at at Aihole or Pattadakal and the nearest ones are at Badami.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE