Last Updated on March 23, 2020 by Soumya
When we planned our trip to Hampi last November, we decided to take a couple more days to explore the Cultural triangle of Aihole, Badami, and Pattadakal. Both Hampi and Pattadakal are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Aihole and Badami are often skipped because they are not. However, it makes good sense to visit these sites at least once not because they are so close to Pattadakal but because they possess stunning pieces of sculpture and are paragons of exquisite architecture. The Badami Cave Temples are especially striking because they are cut out of rocks and articulately carved.
There are a number of fascinating caves all over the world. And quite a few of them are in India. Interestingly, a number of them have beautiful temples and intricate carvings built into them such as the caves of Ajanta & Ellora, Khandagiri, and Badami.
In this post, we talk about the stunning Badami Cave Temples of Karnataka, India.
Badami is a small town in northwestern Karnataka in India. It was the capital of the Badami Chalukya Empire between the 6th and the 8th centuries. Today, Badami is famous for the four rock-cut temples that blend in seamlessly into its sandstone hills.
Badami was earlier known as Vatapi. As per our tour guide, the name “Badami” came into use when people started referring to the city by the color of the hills surrounding it. Yes, you guessed it right! The sandstone hills are colored almond-brown or the color of “badams” in Indian parlance. If you look at the picture below, you will know what I mean.
The cave temples of Badami are situated on a cliff by the Agastya Lake. Right in front of it are another set of cliffs dotted by a set of medieval Hindu temples. The beauty of the lake and the rusty mountain behind it filled with ancient temples, some in ruins, is beyond comparison. On a clear, sunny day when the sky is blue, the water is torquiose, and the cliff is “badami” it is not difficult to guess the reason behind the construction of the cave temples on this side of the picture. “Peace & Serenity”
The Cave Temples
There are 4 major and easily accessible cave temples in Badami. They are also the ones your tour guide will guide you through. Numbered 1-4, the caves were carved into the sandstone cliff in the 6th century and later.
Caves 1, 2, and 3 were dedicated to Hindu gods whereas Cave 4 features Jain Tirthankaras and symbols.
Caves 1 and 2 were built in the Deccan architecture style whereas Caves 3 and 4 showcased more of the Dravida and Nagara style of architecture. Badami and Aihole were sought out as experimental locations for developing the final Chalukyan style that was seen in the free-standing temples of Pattadakal. Therefore, you can see bits and pieces of Badami sculpture in Aihole and Pattadakal.
If you are visiting Hampi, it is easy to go see Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal on a guided day tour. Click here to book an interesting day trip and see the major highlights of these three ancient cities.
Cave 1 – Nataraja with 18 hands
Cave 1 is the first in line and dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are images of Shiva and his sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya, all over. Pillars are beautifully ornamented. At the entrance of the cave, on your right, you will find a captivating image of Nataraja (the dancing form of Shiva) with nine hands on each side. Various combinations result in 81 poses that apparently form the crux of Shiva Tandava.
Cave 2 – Monolithic towers and mythical dwarfs
After climbing 64 steps from Cave 1 you get to Cave 2 which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu of the Hindu Trinity. The caves are all carved out of monolithic stone faces. In Cave 2, you can see 4 tall pillars bordering a verandah. This cave is smaller than Cave 1.
A number of dwarfs are engraved into the frieze below the verandah. They are seen in various poses and postures showcasing the daily lives of people in the Chalukyan Empire. It is still not clear why dwarfs were engraved here instead of common people. It is believed this was done to convey the fact that people of all sizes were very much a part of the same society.
Cave 3 – Largest cave with seated Vishnu
Cave 3 is the largest cave among all and is famous for its lifelike image of Vishnu seated on a serpent. This image is also equated to the Chalukyan King who is believed to be seated in exactly the same position when he presided over matters of his kingdom. Other interesting images also dot the walls of the cave but this one is believed to be the most iconic.
You can also see remains of murals on the roof of this cave. Some of it has been badly restored as is evident in the picture below. This goes on to show the dire need of expert advice in the restoration of these historical places.
Cave 4: The only Jain cave
This is the only cave in the complex that is dedicated to Jainism. You will find images of Tirthankaras all over the walls here especially those of Mahavira. This is a smaller cave when compared to the others. But it is the last one in the line and quite the ideal place for peace and meditation.
Bhutanatha Group of Temples
Apart from the cave temples of Badami, there is another very impressive temple complex on the banks of the Agastya Lake, the Bhutanatha Temple. These are a bunch of sandstone temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. In the rainy season, the complex is half submerged in the water of the lake. It resembles a floating temple and makes a very pretty sight.
Right behind the temple is a small walkway that leads to another set of small caves. You can see a number of intricate carvings here including those of various incarnations of Vishnu.
Tickets & Other Logistics
- You need to purchase tickets before you can enter the Badami cave temples. The ticket office is inside the parking lot and tickets are priced at INR 25 for Indian nationals and INR 300 for foreigners.
- Temples are open round the year between 6 am – 6 pm every day.
- Toilets are available near the parking lot.
- Tour guides are available at the entrance gate to the temples. English & Hindi guides are fewer in number and you might have to wait for the only guide-on-duty to come back from his current tour. Alternately, you can join an ongoing tour and the guide will come back and explain to you the things you missed after the tour is done. It makes good sense to hire a guide because he will explain to you what each carving stands
for,when each of the caves was built, and show evidence of how people lived 1500 years ago.
How To Get To Badami
You can easily get to Badami from Bangalore, Mumbai, and Goa. The closest airport to Badami is the Hubli Airport which is well-connected with both Mumbai and Bangalore. There is a small railway station in Badami which is again well-connected with Bangalore. You can also take the bus or drive a car to get to Badami from Bangalore. Easy accessibility from Bangalore makes it the preferred base when you are thinking of Badami.
A trip to Badami can always be coupled with a trip to Hampi on a long weekend from Bangalore. This can also include a trip to the famous Dravida and Nagara temples of Pattadakal as well as the birthplace of Chalukyan architecture – Aihole.
Best Time To Visit Badami
The best time to visit Badami Cave Temples is between November – February when the temperatures are milder and there is a slight nip in the air. Mornings are pleasant and since the temples open early, you can use them to your advantage.
Helps To Know
- Badami is located at a latitude of 16 degrees North which means it is hot all the year round. And with those barren cliffs all around, you are bound to feel the heat even on in the middle of winter. The best time to visit the temples is early in the morning. Carry water/sunscreen/hat if you are planning anytime after 9 am.
- It can get really crowded during the day unlike the Temples of Pattadakal. So, it is hard to get pictures without others in the background.
- Temple premises are clean. You don’t need to remove your shoes when you enter the temples since these are not living temples and no worship is offered here anymore.
- The approach road to Badami cave temples is quite dirty (as of November 2018). It makes sense to ride a tuk-tuk, car, or bike to get there instead of walking. Big buses cannot go till the very end of the road and you might have to walk a bit if you traveling on one.
- You will find a number of monkeys on site. Avoid carrying food items or anything colorful/flashy in your hands and they will leave you alone.
Have you seen the Badami Cave Temples in Karnataka yet? Do you have any plans to go there soon? I am sure you will after looking at these gorgeous pictures. The cultural triangle of Aihole, Badami, and Pattadakal was the seat of superlative art and architecture 1500 years ago. It is definitely a must-do on your Indian itinerary today. So, why not couple it with a trip to Hampi which has recently been voted by The New York Times as the Second Best Place To Visit in 2019?