Tuesday, April 02, 2013

B is for Badami: Part 2 of the Badami Travelogue

This post is part of the A2Z Challenge.
Badami was the capital of the Chalukyan Kings, who ruled a large part of southern India between the sixth and the eighth centuries. They came to Badami because of the natural defences it offered - it's a rocky ravine with a lake at one end, with tall cliffs for borders and a narrow opening in the west. Under the Chalukyans, it must have been a wonderful city, with temples galore.
Today, it's a squalid little hole in the wall. 
The first thing we saw when we got off the train at the Badami railway station was the herd of monkeys playing on the yellow fence surrounding the station. The station, a sleepy place at best, is about four kilometers from the main town. An auto took us through lands both green and stony in turn, and deposited us at our hotel. Just before we reached the town, a series of red hills rose up to our left - our first glimpse of the red rock that makes this land so beautiful. 

We were booked at the Maurya Chalukya - a pink monstrosity set in one corner of a large compound. It's a government-run hotel, though the prices unfortunately do not reflect that. The best thing about the hotel is that it's located about a kilometer and a half away from the cave temples. 
The Cave Temples

There are four temples - rock-cut and simple. They are located on one of the two cliffs that border the Badami ravine. Each cave is on a different level, with rocky steps leading up to the higher level. The Agasthya Lake stretches just in front of it. Facing it on the other side of the ravine is another steep cliff, which also has its share of temples - though these are structural temples, not rock-cut. 
A view of Lake Agasthya from the cave temples. Badami town is on the left. The  northern cliffs can be seen as well.
An ill-lit photo of the 81-posed Nataraja
The lowermost temple is Shaivite, while the next two are Vaishnavite. The uppermost cave is a Jaina temple. All the caves have exquisite carvings. The first cave is famous for the Nataraja depicting 18 different mudras. The third cave has a striking image of Vishnu, whereas the fourth cave has multiple images of the Thirthankaras. 
The cave temples seem to be popular with tourists. Since the entry fee for Indians is only Rs 5, there were entire hordes of school-children. 
A Good Hike
Next up on the agenda were the Shivalayas on the cliff on the northern shore of Lake Agasthya. Those with cars can choose to climb down to the town again and take another road which leads up to these temples. But since we had no vehicle, we opted to jump a back-gate and try our luck along the western edge of the lake. 
This area is full of houses. In fact, I would have called it a slum, except that all the houses were whitewashed and pristine white. It was very strange. The place was quite dirty otherwise - children defecating openly on the streets (we saw at least three), dirty boars running here and there, cows wandering along placidly. But every single house, no matter how tiny, was whitewashed. Maybe it was some initiative of the government? 
It turned out to be a good thing that we had decided to take this route. Otherwise, we would have missed the exquisite Yellamma temple. A signboard at the museum later informed that "the curvilinear shikhara of the temple represents the northern (Nagara) style." 
The Yellamma temple, on the western shore of Lake Agasthya
I bet most tourists don't even see this temple. While Nikhil was clicking pictures, I sat on the steps leading down to the lake, and watched women washing clothes. It was strangely peaceful, despite the rhythmic thwacks of the women slapping clothes hard on rocks. 
Continuing on, we thought we would get lost in the maze of houses, but we didn't. Helpful blue arrows magically sprang up to show us the way. 
Though Badami is more famous for its cave temples, I liked my visit to the temples on the northern shore better. These hills offer more of a hike for the interested traveler.
The complex begins with an archaeological museum, which is nice enough, though as boring as most museums are. Our biggest learning from there was the different types of structures of temples. There's Nagara, which is the North Indian style. There's Dravida, which is the South Indian style. There's Gajaprishtamatruka, which literally translates as Elephant's Bum Model. (I swear that's true!) These lessons were to prove useful a day later, during our visit to Aihole and Pattadakkal.
To the left of the museum starts the climb up the steep steps to the top of the hill. After passing under a fort wall (more on that later), the path winds between many tall red rocks, and is awe-inspiring - huge red boulders on either side, narrow ravines glimpsed through the rock. There are so few reminders of modernity that it's frighteningly easy to imagine people walking up and down the path a millennium and a half ago. What made them build these temples up there, I wonder. I think I enjoyed the climb more than I did the temples themselves. 

The Structural Temples

The first item of interest is a set of two Mandapas off to the left. It's easy to miss them, because the path leading to them is well-hidden. It's tough to traverse, because the path, though short, is very steep and narrow and leads through two boulders that are very close together. I don't think plump people would be able to go up.

A Distant View of the Mandapas
Next up is the Lower Shivalaya, off to the left. This place offers a view of the ugly Badami town, and is full of monkeys. A security guard stands there with a stick to ward off the monkeys. 

The Lower Shivalaya
The Upper Shivalaya is situated at the top of the hill, at the end of the hike. It's much bigger than the Lower Shivalaya, and well-preserved. The view from here is better than at the Lower Shivalaya, because the world beyond Badami town suddenly opens up for you. The place is very peaceful if you're lucky enough to go when there aren't too many tourists. We sat there and watched an entire troupe of monkeys move across the hill - singly and in pairs. 
The Upper Shivalaya
There is also a Muslim Dargah on the hill-top, a few hundred meters away from the Upper Shivalaya. This was clearly more recent than the temples, and there seemed to be active worship going on. Strangely, we saw a Shiva idol in the Dargah. A pipal tree provides shade to the dargah, and a troupe of monkeys guards it. They gave us the evil eye, but we ignored them.
Remnants of a fort can be seen all along the path up, from the initial wall entrance to some round menhir-like brick structures at the hill-top. These were built by Tipu Sultan, almost a millennium after the Chalukyans built and left behind their stone temples. Tipu made good use of the stony hills and built tall brick walls in the gaps between them. Some of these walls still stand, though most are in a state of disrepair (compared to the temples, at least). 
One of Tipu's Structures
The Malegitti Shivalaya 

The Malegitti Shivalaya isn't really part of this complex. We saw it from the hill-top, and it looked so picturesque that we just had to visit it. It's quite hard to find, though. We walked up and down the hill looking for it, and asked quite a few people. The problem is that so few people are aware of the place. When we asked for the Malegitti Shivalaya, most people pointed back up the hill, towards the Upper and Lower Shivalayas. 
We finally discovered that we had to walk down the hill almost till the vegetable market, and then take a right. This path led us through more white-washed houses, defecating kids and dirty boars, till we finally arrived at the Shivalaya. It seemed like an oasis, after the squalor we had just walked through. 
I liked this temple the best of the three. It used to be a Surya temple, before it was converted into a Shaivite temple. ASI seems to have gone to some lengths to landscape the area, and the red stone temple looks pictureseque against the greenery. And it was almost empty of tourists, since the place is so hard to find. This was the only one of the temples where we saw active worship. 
There are also the Bhoothanatha temple on the eastern shore of Lake Agasthya. But we were so exhausted by this time from our climb up and down that we didn't give it more than a cursory glance. There are some rock carvings here, as well as a Buddha statue inside a rock. 
A Frieze of the Nine Avatars of Vishnu
And so we were done with the Badami temples by four in the afternoon. After a short lunch of curd rice back at the hotel and some rest, we decided to go out for a walk and catch what we could of the local cuisine. Unfortunately, it turned out that Badami doesn't offer much in terms of cuisine. A coffee at a local restaurant tasted like it had been spiced with, of all things, jeera. The walk wasn't pleasant at all because the the place was so dirty. We hurriedly retired to our hotel and watched two troupes of monkeys playing on the trees in the compound. 
[Next up in the series - Aihole, the cradle of temple architecture in India.]
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