Pic 1. Aihole Durga( Fort) Temple
Parashurama washed his bloodied axe in the river after his genocidal agenda of revenge and the waters ran a fiery red. If the Malaprabha is still running red, it is because of the silt and slush washed into it by the recent floods. We did not have time to stop by it and cry out " Ai ! Holey !" ( oh the river !) as a mythical lady is fabled to have done, spooked by the sight of all that blood. But there were ample occasion that day for us to go "ooh ! " and "aah" repeatedly as we visited temple upon temple upon temple.....till we were so "templed" out that even the rolled up Dosa on the dinner table started looking like a fallen dwaja-sthamba !
pic 2 :Dravida Vimana
Though the riverbed has fostered settlements from paleolithic times and been a possession of ancient dynasties like Mauryas, Kadambas etc, it was only under the Western Chalukyas that it flowered fully into a place of excellence, becoming a crucible for path breaking experiments in religious architecture and decorative art. ( 6th. to 12th. Cent) It is from here that various building styles spread to other places, both north and south of the Vindhyas. It is like a text book on the history and evolution of temple building . The Aihole Artisans collected all the features prevailing at that time ( the curving roof from the north, the pillared halls from the south,the angled eaves from the East, Deccani balconies) , modified and blended them to finally evolve two distinct styles called The" Rekha Nagara Prasada" and "Dravida Vimana Shaili" which were later adopted as the signature style of The North and The South respectively. Typical of Chalukyan style was the skillful assembly of dressed stones without mortar and the absence of sculptural clutter. The sculptures were huge, seperately show cased and spread apart.
pic 3 : Pattadakal
The old kingdom of Aihole ( Ayya (or Arya) Volal = Valley of The Learned Elders) enclosed within a circular fort seems to have been a commercial center as well as a place of learning. It boasted of a Merchants Guild ( "Aiholeya Ainooravar" = "The Aihole 500") and a gentry of numerous Brahmins ( "Ayyavoleya Chaturveda Samudaya Mahajanamam"). Prosperity , inevitably, guided the kingdom towards indulgence in artistic pursuits and so began the experimentation.
pic 4 :Koshta Devata
12 kms from Aihole is Pattadakal ( or "Pattada kisuvolal" = The Red Valley of Coronations, red here indicating the standstone hills) which was used as the auspicious venue for Coronations. The architectural experiments that originated in Aihole culminated in Pattadakal. Both sites can be studied together to get a fair idea about the evolution of temple architecture. While in Aihole the specimens are scattered over the countryside and the hills, in Pattadakal the "Big 10 " are all conveniently clustered together in a single layout.
In fact i found it amusing that two magnificent dravida shaili temples called The Virupaksha ( orig. Lokeshwara) and The Mallikarjuna ( orig. Trailokeshwara) should stand so close together as to seem like they were jostling for space and prominance ! They were built by the sisters Lokamahadevi and Trailokyamahadevi respectively, who were wives of Vikramaditya II. Both temples commemorate the King's conquest of Kanchi and both resemble Kanchi's Kailasanathar Temple that had impressed the conqueror. Both temples are lavishly embellished with excellent sculptures of the highest order. Clearly a contest was on ! I wonder which lady succeeded in becoming hero Vikram's favourite wife !!!
pic 5 : Koshta Devata
I also wonder why this crowding together of temples in Pattadakal, when the Chalukyas had the whole valley at their disposal. But i am not complaining ! Aihole demanded so much hiking about, that Pattadakal's " collected" edition was more than welcome !
pic 6 : Rawanphadi Cave temple
It was interesting to discover that the "temples" in Aihole also served as dwellings for influential persons at various periods of time, as evidenced by "Gowdara Gudi" ( the chieftain's palace), Ambigara Gudi ( Boatmen's ), Neidara Gudi ( weaver's), Badigara Gudi etc. There's even one Shivalaya called the Ladkhan temple , having been used by an Islamic mendicant.
pic 7 : Bhootaganas
All stages in the evolution of temple architecture are exemplified in these two site. From the early rock cut shrines to structured flat roofed "Mantapa" style to The Bouddha Chaitya Design to Nascent Shikaras to curvilinear Rekha Nagara shikara and the multi tiered Dravida Vimana , with intermediary or montage experiments that became the innovative, hybrid Vesara Style ( adopted by the Hoysalas to stunning effect in Belur and Halebid) .
pic 8 : Mahabharata on pillar
The most widely recognised symbol of Aihole is The Durga Temple. Durga denotes the Fort, not the goddess. In fact, it is not known to whom this temple is dedicated. It is modelled on the apsidal Bouddha Chaitya design. The huge representation of valiant hindu devatas all around the corridor alternating with latticed windows is a visual treat . In the Kontigudi complex, i was charmed by the roof of The Ladkhan Temple. Though made of stone, it looked like wooden slats pinned down by radiating wooden logs !
pic 9 : deco. on pilaster
The ( monolithic) stone lattice windows seen in most temples are marvellous creations. Such great variety in design . Some even look like macrame knots ! How many days would a sculptor have spent on each jaali ? Imponderable !
pic 10 : below the eaves (a kapota hara panel)
Ceiling decorations are mostly The Lotus Pond Motif or the Rashi Chakra with the Navagrahas. The walls and pillars of the later temples are profusely covered with bas relief panels narrating mythological stories among which the most repeated are Samudramanthan, Narasimha's story, Varaha's valour and Shiva's Gajasamhara Lila . Surprisingly, very little from Ramayana. Kubera's portrait is found in all temples . So also the Saptamatrikas. The border- filler birds, elephants or bhootaganas ( under the eaves and around the plinth) are executed in a variety of styles, poses and activities to cut monotony .One feature i found unusual in these shrines is the depiction of river goddesses at the base panels of the sanctum doorways ; i have not seen this in temples elsewhere.
pic 11 :Dwara Bandha ( door frame)
Generally, the craftsmen who actually create the wonderful temples go unnamed and unsung. But, it was heartening to discover here that the names of many of the architects and artisans are recorded in inscriptions on walls, with citations of titles and honours bestowed upon them by their appreciative patrons. Gundachari, Sarvasiddhi, Revadi Ovajja, Chengannayya, Baladevayya, Deva Arya : JayaHey to you, guys !
pic 12 : Rawanphadi Chamunda
All the Koshta Devatas , the eye-candy ladies and the dwarapalas are sculpted with great attention to detail and none look "stony". Their expressions are full of life and their body language , dynamic. In the Virupaksha temple, one hall is populated with a dozen playful couples all of whom sport different hairstyles ; a veritable fashion parade there !
pic 13 :Rekhanagara shikara
Towards evening, we drove to a hoary, holy place called Mahakoota, an important pilgrimage center in this region. Situated on the flank of a wooded hill, the fairly huge, fort like enclosure contains a dozen early Chalukyan shrines of different styles dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Surya. Green, shady and cool. Also quiet, except for birdcalls.The pavilions look incredibly ancient . Even the trees are thick and gnarled with great age.Old and new sculptures of Veerabhadra and lovely Naga stones are lined up by the side of paved walkways under a canopy of short stooping trees. A Ganesha with damaged belly sits behind the principal Nandi . Perhaps it was the fading light of dusk or the chill drizzle or the somber stone arches of the outer corridor, or all of that, it felt a bit eerie while walking the grounds, around the pond.
But the main shrine, a huge one, was lovely. The pujari waved a lamp for us to see the presiding lingam, adorned with red flowers and silver ornaments. A beautiful, comforting sight. The pond "Vishnu Pushkarini, with the "go-mukha" spouts, looked as old as Time itself ! The water, though, fed by a perennial spring, was reasonably clean. This place is reported to have yielded two valuable inscriptions about the Chalukyas.
pic 14 : Lotus Pond motif ( Ceiling)
Just before returning to the hotel room at Badami town, we dropped into Banashankari. A grand, month long Jatre ( mela) was to begin the next day. Preparations were going on in full swing. The Chariot was getting decorated. Hundreds of stalls had sprung up : snacks , glass bangles ,utensils, cattle needs, pictures of Gods and movie stars. Touring theatres. Acrobats tents. Godmen and astrologers. Loud music. Hundreds of people from all villages and towns in the district, arriving in style, in colourful oxcarts, to pitch camp on the open grounds around the ancient Pushkarini ( which has a spacious covered corridor running all around it, to be used as a dorm by pilgrims.). The tall curvilinear roofs of the oxcarts had me musing : "Rekha Nagara Shikara ". Same silhouette ! The temple itself is very pretty with Maratha style deepasthambas and the petite bejewelled goddess , so charming. Banashankari was the Guardian of Chalukyan warriors who revered her as Shakambari Gowri .
So, how many temples today ? Calculated and recorded in notebook. Surfeit ? No. Had more Chalukyan temples been offered for dessert, i'd have accepted without second thought.
History is narcotic.
off to the Jatre !
( All photographs by nephew, Shravan)