Cave Temples

Top choice in Karnataka

Badami’s highlights are its beautiful cave temples, three Hindu and one Jain, which display exquisite sculptures and intricate carvings. They're a magnificent example of Chalukya architecture and date to the 6th century. All have a columned verandah, an interior hall and a shrine at the rear.

Cave one, just above the entrance to the complex, is dedicated to Shiva. It’s the oldest of the four caves, probably carved in the latter half of the 6th century. On the wall to the right of the porch is a captivating image of Nataraja striking 18 dance moves in the one pose, backed by a cobra head. On the right of the porch area is a huge figure of Ardhanarishvara. On the opposite wall is a large image of Harihara, half Shiva and half Vishnu.

Dedicated to Vishnu, cave two is simpler in design. As with caves one and three, the front edge of the platform is decorated with images of pot-bellied dwarfs in various poses. Four pillars support the verandah, their tops carved with a bracket in the shape of a yali (mythical lion creature). On the left wall of the porch is the bull-headed figure of Varaha, the emblem of the Chalukya empire. To his left is Naga, a snake with a human face. On the right wall is a large sculpture of Trivikrama, another incarnation of Vishnu.

Cave three, carved in 578, is the largest and most impressive. On the left wall is a carving of Vishnu, to whom the cave is dedicated, sitting on a snake. Nearby is an image of Varaha with four hands. The pillars have carved brackets in the shape of yalis. The ceiling panels contain images including Indra riding an elephant, Shiva on a bull and Brahma on a swan. Keep an eye out for the image of drunken revellers, in particular one woman being propped up by her husband. There’s also original colour on the ceiling; the divots on the floor at the cave’s entrance were used as paint palettes. There's a sublime view from cave three over the Agastyatirtha Tank far below, and you can often hear the echoes of women thrashing clothes on its steps reverberating around the hills.

Dedicated to Jainism, cave four is the smallest of the set and dates to between the 7th and 8th centuries. The right wall has an image of Suparshvanatha, the seventh Jain tirthankar (teacher), surrounded by 24 Jain tirthankars. The inner sanctum contains an image of Adinath, the first Jain tirthankar.

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