My last stop for the day was Badami. The caves in Badami were built around 6th century AD by the early Chalukyas. Badami, also known as Vatapi is a beautiful heritage town located in deep ravines in North Karnataka around Agastya Lake about 500 kms away from Bangalore. As per legend, Vatapi was an asura who was killed during a war with Agastya Rishi in this location. These sculptures in the rock cut caves were probably completed during the time of Pulakeshin and his sons and demonstrate the secural cultural environment of those times. There are 4 distinct caves – 1 dedicated to Shiva, 2 to Vishnu, 1 to Jainism and 1 not so distinct one but with impressions of Buddhism. Apart from these there are exquisitely carved Bhoothnath and Mallikarjuna Temples around the lake.
The walls of a fort can be seen on top of the caves which was built much later. The place is very crowded with locals, tourists, school children jostling for space. It is better to go in with a guide who will explain the carvings. There are a few accredited ones from Karnataka Tourism and better to avail their services.
Cave 1: Dedicated to Shiva (Hinduism)
This cave is ancient and oldest. The Dancing Shiva – Nataraja with 18 hands can be seen here in Tandava Nritya Pose on the right side at the entrance. If you observe closely, you can see the weapons in Shiva’s hands- Damru; Serpent; Trishul etc with Nandi and Ganesha beside him.
The other 3 famous sculptures in this cave are that of Mahishasur Mardini, Harihara and Ardha Narishwar. Ardha Narishwara is a combination of Shiva (left) and Parvati (right) along with Nandi and Bhringi. It is symbolic of the Yin and the Yang within us ; the male and female energy that exists within us in the form of Ida (female) and Pingala (male). The sculpture of Harihara or ShivaNarayana is a single idol comprising Shiva and Vishnu is a masterpiece with its attention to detail of the depiction of 2 gods. Shiva is on the left with Parvati and Nandi by his side and Vishnu is on the right with Garuda and Lakshmi by his side.While Shiva is shown with the snake on his head; Vishnu has the conch in his hand, complete with jewellery !! While Shiva is the destructive force; Vishnu is that of sustenance. The one that caught my eye was the Gaja Vrushabha which appears to be a combination of Elephant and Bull with one face. All the pillars are exquisitely carved with the trademark Chalukya Beads.
Cave 2: Dedicated to Vishnu (Hinduism)
There are no idols in the sanctorum and in fact it is pretty dark inside. The ceilings have elaborate sculptures of chakras and intersecting connected Swastikas – the sacred Hindu symbol. There are two sculptures which caught my attention. Bhudevi (Mother Earth) being held on a lotus by Vishnu in Varaha Avtar. Apparently, she was kidnapped and taken to hell and he intervened to release her. Varaha is the symbol of Chalukyas and they have left their impression on every structure that was built at that time with the Varaha Symbol. The other wall mural is is that of Trivikrama related to Vamana Avatar of Vishnu which is more like a narrative. Lord Vishnu in Vamana avatar visited the demon god Mahabali and requested for 3 pieces of land. He readily agreed though his guru Shukra warned him since he had recognized Lord Vishnu in disguise. Lord Vishnu emerged into gigantic proportions as Trivikrama and placed one leg towards the sky (heaven); one on earth and Mahabali offered his head for the third.
Lord Vishnu was impressed with Mahabali’s humility and blessed him with immortality. The 3 pieces of land is sometimes interpreted as Heaven, Earth and Hell or the 3 planes of existence in our daily lives Jagrut (Awake); Swapna (Dream) and Susupta (Deep Sleep)
Cave Unnamed: Dedicated to Buddhism.
This is the cave, most people do not enter and even if some do, they find it to be a cosy little place to rest away from the prying eyes of the security guard. There is a sculpture of Padmapani Buddha in this one which is nearly flattened.
Cave 3 – Dedicated to Vishnu (Hinduism)
A few steep steps ahead is the most beautiful cave dedicated to Vishnu and elaborately carved with different avatars of Vishnu. On the right hand side is an elaborate version of Trivikrama which was present in Cave 2 and on the left hand side is an image of Vishnu complete with all ornamentation and weapons. The Varaha Avatar with Bhudevi and Harihara was earlier seen in Cave 2 and Cave 1 but they appeared to be far more distinct and better maintained. The new addition was Narasimha Avatar(half man-half lion) of Vishnu who is in a standing position saving Prahlad his ardent devotee born to the Asura King Hiranyakashyap. However, the star attraction in this cave is that of Vishnu seated on Adi Sesha (serpent) with his eyes closed in deep meditation. If you have watched the movie “Guru” you may have well caught a fleeting glance of this image with Abhishek the hero prancing around with his lady love Aishwarya.Wait for the crowds to disperse from the caves and watch this image of Vishnu from far; between the elaborately carved pillars. He will appear to be the king seated on his throne. The figurines on the pillars reflect on the life and times then of the closeness of men and women and society at large. This is the only cave where I found a Vamana carved on the floor as I was entering the cave and when I looked inside out, I found this wonderful image of Dwarapalaks in Vamana modes.
Cave 4 – Dedicated to Jainism
This cave has elaborated carvings of Paswanath (23rd) and Mahaveer (24th) Jain Tirthankara all in Digambara Jain style. The notable ones are Parswanath in meditation with Adisesha the 5 hooded serpent watching over him. The other one is that of Mahaveera meditating in Padmasana style. There is one of Bahubali through his body the serpents are coming out and his sister Bhahmi and other beautiful ladies are at his feet. You get a fantastic aerial view of Bhoothnath Temple from this point.
Adil Shah Mosque:
On the way down, to the right, Adil Shah Mosque can be seen which is not operational. The structure very similar to that of the ones seen in Bijapur.
It took me close to 2 hours to see the caves and I was yearning to be next to Bhoothnath Temple, the gracious temple on the water, a beautiful sight I have not seen in a long time. I was happy yet sad; if movie shootings are allowed with hundreds of artistes prancing around with crew and lights and camera; how long will these last. Yet there are hundreds of tourists everyday too, stomping up and down. Not sure what is right; will they survive for the next generation; I ask myself as I walk away from yet another historical heritage.
Badami is best visited in the months of October-March when the weather is pleasant. After my trip, I have a feeling, the rocks will be charming in the months of July-August when the rain water drenches the caves to different hues of brown and red and it is not too hot in the afternoon.
Base yourself in Badami where there are hotels to suit every budget located in and around the Badami Bus Stand and visit Aihole-Pattadakal-Mahakuta-Banashankari within a day or two.
Badami is connected by rail and there are trains from Bangalore, Hubli, Bijapur, Pune every day. It is about a 12-13 hour journey from Bangalore/ Hyderabad/ Pune. You can plan a day trip to Badami if you are planning to visit Hampi and station yourself there for a few days.
- Short Trek in Badami Fort
- Living Temples of Mahakuta
- Lunching under the Temple Tree
- Bijapur in a Day