I first heard of Aihole in high school when my teacher passionately described a temple from the picture in our text book. It had a different shape, like the back of an elephant and looked absolutely gorgeous and unique. While, I forgot, learnt and re-learnt many things in history, the memory of this temple refused to fade away. Several years later, I finally made it to Aihole. Located about 35 kms away from Badami, Aihole is a small village with temples scattered all over. Most of these temples built around the 6th to 7th century are in ruins and used by locals for a tete-e-tete on a hot afternoon. You can visit Aihole for an hour, couple of hours or spend the entire day around the 125 odd temples spread over 20 big and small complexes. After navigating through some narrow lanes which literally passed through kitchens and bathrooms, I was at the gate of the largest and most visited temple complex in Aihole.
Needless to say, I was completely mesmerized by the grandeur of the Aihole Durga Temple which derives its name from the area “Durga Gudi” and is presumably dedicated to Vishnu. It is one of its kind with the apsidal structure. There are steps on either side to walk into the temple. There are beautiful sculptures on the walls and the windows have interconnected Swastika symbols that almost appear like a grill or Kollam design. The bead design which is the Chalukya identification can be seen in the temple walls and pillars.
A few metres ahead is the Lad Khan Complex. I was perplexed to hear a Muslim name for a Hindu Temple complex and wondered if he built it or discovered it !! Well the story goes that most of the Aihole Temple complexes were inhabited by people and sometime in early 20th century around 1920; they were discovered by British Archaeologists and the temples were randomly named after the people who were residing there through a census. This appeared to be a large pillared hall and perhaps Pulakesin II was coronated here. There is a Nandi inside made of black stone. The nearly flat roof has a small structure on top which has a carving of Vishnu on top.
The other temples are Chakragudi and Gauderagudi which are located in the same complex. There is a structure with a slanting roof which would have been a temple at some point. The museum is a must visit, some of the objects and fallen structures from the temples are available here. Just outside the gate is Ambigeragudi named after the boatmen community who lived here. The temple is spartan and nearly ruined, but you can imagine that at some point it was a beautiful structure.
A 5 minute ride away is Ravanaphadi which is a rock cut cave and a Shivalaya. The dancing Shiva, Mahishasur Mardini and Varaha sculptures are captivating. Incidentally, if you visit Aihole on a weekday when the local post office is open you can obtain the Chalukya Insignia – Varaha.
The name Aihole seemed to have a close connection with “Aiyyo” very commonly used in South India which literally means Ouch !! It is believed that the Malaprabha River flowing near by turned red when Sage Parashuram washed his blood soaked axe in its waters after avenging the death of his father’s killers. A local lady saw that and exclaimed Aiyyo Hole(Oh , Blood) and hence the name Aihole. The more credible version says that Aihole is the derivation from Ayya Hole which means City of Scholars in Sanskrit (AryaPura). Most of the inscriptions available refer to Ayyavole and Aryapura as a notable place for art.
It was close to 2pm in Aihole and I was yearning to go to Badami. I was awestruck at what I was seeing and the next 45 minutes riding back to Badami was all about processing what I saw. The amazing patience and skill that people had eons ago; wish I had some of it 🙂
Aihole is best visited as a part of the Badami Circuit in the months of October-March when the weather is pleasant. Though, after my January trip, I have a feeling, the rocks will be charming in the months of July-August when the rain water drenches them to hues of brown and red and it is not too hot in the afternoon.
Aihole is about 35 kms away from Badami. 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. You can hire an auto/ car for the day or avail local transport which is rather infrequent and unpredictable. Round Trip auto cost was about Rs 900/-
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.