There is a saying called, “Saving the best for the last.” We had kept the entire last day of our trip for exploring Pattadakal, an UNESCO World Heritage Site before heading back to Hyderabad in the late afternoon. The result had been not as per our expectation and we had taken a detour for nearby Mahakuta before bidding Badami adieu. Strangely, we had liked Mahakuta more than the glorious Pattadakal and I remember the creamy frangipani filled site vividly. A place of immense religious importance for Shiva worshippers, Mahakuta had been a few kilometers away from Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. This group of temples, which had shared the Chalukya style of architecture found at Badami, had been built during the 6th to 8th century AD and 2 inscriptions discovered there, had made it all the more significant. Known as the Pillar and the Porch Inscriptions, the ancient scripts had greatly helped in reconstructing the history of the Chalukya dynasty. The first inscription had revealed much information of the times of the great king Pulakesin I and had diligently recorded his queen Durlabhadevi granting 10 villages, including Aihole and Pattadakal to Lord Mahakuteswara. Many successful military achievements and expeditions made by the Chalukya dynasty had also been revealed by this inscription.
While, glowing praises of the Pillar Inscription had given much details of the Chalukyan dynasty’s greatness, it had been the Porch Inscription which had revealed their human side. Writings on the porch of a Mahakuteswara temple had spoken volumes of gift of rubies and silver umbrella to Lord Mahakuteswara by Vinapoti, a concubine of the Chalukyan king Vijayaditya. This titillating bit had come as a bit of a surprise and heightened Mahakuta’s intimate charm. Surrounded by magnificent old banyan trees, the Mahakuta complex had around two dozen Shiva temples grouped around an attractive spring fed tank known as Vishnu Pushkarini. The same Chalukyan mix of Nagara and Dravidian styles had also reflected there and the temples had tiered or curvaceous towers over their sanctums. A huge wooden chariot, with heavily carved stone wheels had stood at the entrance and the complex had been full of lingams (stone phalluses) of various sizes, shapes and designs. The Mahakuteswara Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva had been the most important monument of the complex and it had a faithful Nandi Bull, positioned in front of it. The Mallikarjuna temple on the other side of the tank, had been also quite significant and beautiful carvings had covered its walls and ceilings. We had found Mahakuta to be more homey and grounded and the reason had been perhaps the abundance of devotees flocking the site.
Worshippers had thronged the temples, filling them with sounds of chants, tolling bells and offerings of flowers and incense. Fragrance had wafted from its niches and grease left by lit oil lamps had softened the old stones. Even the fresh water tank, Vishnu Pushkarini (Lotus pool of Lord Vishnu) had been full of devotees and they had happily frolicked in the cool water in the name of faith. Needless to say, it had been a hot day and a strong, dry wind had blanched frangipani blossoms off the branches. The strengthening sun had made us hasten to Pattadakal and the big temple complex had been a shocking contrast. Located on a bend of the Malaprabha River (approx 22 kilometers northeast of Badami), Pattadakal had been the coronation site of the Chalukyan rulers during the 7th and 8th centuries. In fact, the magnificent site had been used only for such important royal ceremonies and the complex had boasted of fine examples of fully matured Chalukyan temple architecture. The 10 major Shiva temples of Pattadakal had been exquisitely beautiful and their timeless beauty, religious relevance and historical grandeur had also drawn tourists in hordes. They had arrived in bus loads from nearby towns and villages and had turned the entire site into a huge carnival.
Excited families had streamed in and out of the stone edifices, played in the yellow gulmohar streaked lawns and nonchalantly littered the UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the claustrophobic crowd had made it difficult enough for us to savour Pattadakal’s grandeur in peace, the heightening noon too had nudged us to head towards Hyderabad. So we had breezed through the glorious Virupaksha Temple, glimpsed at the statue of fat Kubera at Mallikarjuna Temple and peeped at the stone intricacies at the Jain Temple. After that, we had left overcrowded Pattadakal and bid its ancient golden monuments goodbye. Leaving Bagalkot district had been a slow affair. We had been waylaid by the placid Malaprabha River, mesmerized by unending acres of sunflowers and violet wild shrub covered sandstone hillocks had reverberated with the lonely shepherd’s whistle. The hot noon sun too had made us take breaks under the silky fronds of lanky palms and the Chalukyan ruins had just about been everywhere. Renowned patrons of art and culture, the Chalukyas had blessed the dry, blood red land with some of the most skilled artisans’ creations and the combined efforts of their whole dynasty had given rise to numerous architectural monuments of incomparable beauty. With so much of natural and man made beauty taking our breaths away at every turn, it had been easy to whisper silent prayers of gratitude and thank god for our truly Incredible India.
TRAVEL TIP – Pattadakal represents the highest level of an eclectic art form which had been patronized and nurtured by the Chalukya dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. A harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India are found at the impressive series of 9 Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary at Pattadakal and half a day can be easily spent exploring the site to its fullest. Among all the 9 monuments, the temple of Virupaksha stands out as an exquisite masterpiece and it is also the largest temple in Pattadakal. Built by Queen Lokamahadevi in the 8th century to commemorate the victory of her husband, the king Vikramaditya II over the Pallavas, the entire temple is adorned with rich carvings and inscriptions. Several beautiful sculptures of Hindu gods are also housed within the temple. The annual Virupaksha temple car (rath) festival is an event to watch out for.
The Jain temple in Pattadakal is the only one of its kind and this 8th century monument is famous for female figurines engraved on the walls. The large Mallikarjuna temple was also built to celebrate Chalukyan victory over the Pallavas and this monument also several aspects of Dravidian architecture. Exquisite carvings of of Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu, remarkable figures of Shiva-Parvathi with the Gandharvas and Vishnu, scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha can be found all over the temple.
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Bonus photos of Badami countryside