Badami Cave Temples – Karnataka

Badami Cave Temples – Karnataka

Badami or Vatapi, located in the Bagalkot district of North Karnataka, was the capital of the Chalukyas. The Cave Temples of Badami are essentially a complex of four Cave Temples, carved out of the soft Badami sandstone. The temples were all carved manually between the 6th and 7th Centuries A.D. and are a true reflection of the amalgamation of the Nagara Style of Northern India and the Dravidian Style of Southern India. Located in the mouth of ravine, between two rocky hills, the foundations of the cave temples were laid between 500 and 757 A.D. on the banks of the River Malaprabha.


Name of the temple: Badami Cave Temples

Name of the deity : Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Mahavira

Location : Badami, Bagalkot District, North Karnataka

Deities Worshipped

The Badami Cave Temples complex consists of four rock cut temples. The primary features of the four caves are as follows:

The first of the four caves is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The cave consists of an exquisitely carved sculpture of Lord Shiva (in the dancing form of Nataraja). In the Nataraja sculpture, Lord Shiva is portrayed as holding a Damaru (A musical instrument), Trishula (the trident weapon) and standing in the Dwibhangi pose. Besides the Nataraja sculpture, the first cave also contains the sculptures of Ganapathi, Shanmukha and Mahishasuramardini.
The second and the third caves are dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The sculpture of Varaha Murthy is carved out on the eastern walls of the cave. Besides the Varaha Murthy, the cave consists the sculptures of seven hooded Sesha Naga, Trivikrama, dwarf Vamana holding an umbrella and Lord Buddha in the Padmapani pose.
The fourth cave is dedicated to Adinatha Tirthankara. The sculptured panel of Adinatha Tirthankara seated on a pedestal is located on the western end of the cave. Besides the sculpture of Tirthankara, the Cave Temples consist of the sculptures of Suparswanatha, Bahubali and the image of Mahavira Tirthankara.
Archeological facts

As per the Chitrasutra, an ancient Indian treatise on painting and sculpture, the motive behind creation of arts was to inform and integrate an individual with the gracefulness of the divine. The Chalukyan royals were one of the first to patronize the creation of art. The earliest and the most preserved body of temples are traced back to the Chalukyan period on the banks of the River Malaprabha. Some of the major inscription sites found in and around the area are as follows:

o In the third cave of the Badami temple complex, an inscription suggests that the cave was dedicated to Lord Vishnu by King Mangalesha in 578 A.D. The caves are also testimony to the beautiful art forms existent during that period.

o An inscription found in the rocks opposite to the Badami Cave temples complex details the earliest period of Chalukyan rule.

o An inscription discovered in the Mahakoota Village, describes the Chalukyan lineage in great detail.

o An inscription from the nearby Aihole village describes the triumph of Pulakesin II over Harshavardhana.


The Chalukyan Kingdom was established by Pulakesin I in the 6th Century A.D. The Chalukyas patronized and assisted the creation of the Chalukyan style of architecture, which was essentially a fusion of the Indo-Aryan Nagara style and the Dravidian style of Southern India. The Badami region had a rich past and besides the Chalukyas, it was ruled by the Chalukyas of Kalyan, the Kalachuryas, the Vijayanagar Empire, Yadavas of Devangiri, Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur and the Marathas. The British rulers had finally integrated it with the Bombay Presidency for administrative purposes. The testimonies of exquisite rock-cut sculpture can be found in and around the Badami region i.e. Aihole, Pattadakal, Banashankari and other neighboring areas. The famous sculptor, Gunda, is believed to have worked upon the temples.

Scriptural references

There is no specific reference to the rock cut temples of Badami or the worship of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Mahavira in any scriptures. However, the two hills adjacent to the temples have a legend associated with them. It is believed that the two hills are symbolic manifestation of the demon siblings Ilvala and Vatapi. As per the legend, the two demons would trick mendicants and kill them. Ilvala would transform Vatapi into a ram with his magical capabilities and feed them to the mendicants. Ilvala would then call out the name of Vatapi aloud and Vatapi would rip through the bodies of the mendicants. Their trick was neutralized by Sage Agastya, in whose name the adjacent lake has been honored, who digested the meat of Vatapi before Ilvala could call out his name.

Cultural Significance

The secular nature of the Chalukyan rulers is established by the fact that the four Cave Temples are dedicated to both Hindu and Jain deities. The residents of the area were free to adopt the religion of their choice and it is further testified by the fact that the eminent scholars Guru Padmasambhava and Guru Santarakshita had spent some time in this region. Vatapi Ganapati was widely worshipped here and the idol of Vatapi Ganapati is now situated in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

Temple details

Carved between the 6th and 7th centuries A.D, the Badami Cave Temples are planned very simplistically. Though the exteriors are extremely basic in outlook, the interiors of the temple are ornately designed. The Mukha Mandapa (columned verandah) leads to the Maha Mandapa (columned main hall) and then reaches the Garbagriha (square shaped sanctum sanctorum). The ceiling panel of the temple complex is elaborately carved and represents the exquisite architectural style.

The temple complex consists of four rock cut cave temples. They are detailed as follows:

Cave 1

It is believed to be the oldest of the four caves, built between 575 and 585 A.D. A series of forty steps leads to the entrance. A frieze depicting the Ganas (attendants of Lord Shiva) adorn the temple structure. An impressive relief of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati along with a coiled serpent are the major attractions. Upon close examination of the eighteen armed Natarajas, reveals the eighty one different dancing poses of Lord Shiva.

Cave 2

This temple was created in the late 6th Century A.D. and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his Trivikrama form (one foot on earth and another in the Northern direction). Lord Vishnu is also represented in the Varaha form (boar) and avatar of Lord Krishna. Sixty Four steps leads onto the entrance of the temple, which is adorned with reliefs of Dvarapalas (Guardians) and female attendants.

Cave 3

King Mangalesha had directed the creation of this cave temple and was completed from 578 to 580 A.D. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Sixty elaborate steps lead to the entrance of the temple and the most prominent mural in the temple is that of the four armed Brahma sitting on a swan. The cave temple also hosts the four meter high reliefs of Vishnu as Narasimha (Half Human and Half Lion), as serpent, Varaha (Boar), Harihara and Trivikrama.

Cave 4

Dedicated to Adinath Tirthankara, the fourth rock cut cave temple of Badami was created between 6th and 7th century A.D. The temple is relatively less elaborate and exquisite and hosts the carvings of Tirthankara Parshvanatha, Jain saint Mahavira and the standing Gomateswara.

This is the only Jain temple in complex and the newest cave in complex, made in late 6th century – 7th century AD. It is located higher than other caves. If compared to the three previous caves, this cave is less elaborate and smaller – but still beautiful and rich with adornment. It contains carving of the Tirthankara Parshavnatha with a serpent at his feet. Here is located also sculpture of Jain saint Mahavira in seated pose (often mistaken for Buddha) and standing Gomatesvara with creepers twisted around his legs.

Agastya Lake

The Agastya Lake is named in honor of Sage Agastya, who had killed the demon Vatapi. The lake surrounds the two hills adjacent to the temple and the waters of the lake are believed to possess healing capabilities.

Published On: 10-04-2014

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