Chalukya Temple Trail – Pattadakal 1

Photos by Suhas Mehra, text by Beloo and Suhas Mehra

“…everyone who has at all the Indian spirit and feeling, can at least give some account of the main, the central things which constitute for him the appeal of Indian painting, sculpture and architecture.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 20: 261)

Pattadakal Temple Complex

After Aihole and Badami, we continue our Chalakya Temple Trail with a visit to Pattadakal. Considered to be situated at an auspicious location, because here the river Malaprabha turns northwards towards the Himalayas becoming uttara-vahini, this was the place chosen by the Chalukyan kings for their coronation giving it the name ‘Pattadakisuvolal,’ which means ‘coronation stone.’ One of the earliest mentions of this place is found in the work of Ptolemy, the second century Greek astronomer, geographer and mathematician who referred to Kisuvolal (the old name of Pattadakal) as the ‘valley of red soil.’

Hub of Temple Architecture

The Early Chalukyas of Badami (also called Vatapi in various inscriptions) brought the whole of Karnataka under a single rule. The Chalukyan empire included not only the whole region of today’s Karnataka and Maharashtra, but a greater part of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh as well as many parts of modern-day states of Odisha and Tamilnadu. The Arabs who had conquered Sindh in 711 CE under the leadership of Mohamed Kasim and had been trying to make inroads into the Deccan area, were defeated by Avanijashraya Pulakesin in 739 CE who was a feudatory of the Chalukyan empire in southern Gujarat.

Site plan of the Pattadakal Temple Complex (Source: Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architrecture, South India, Upper Dravidasdesa, Early Phase, 1986, OUP, Delhi)

The Early Chalukyan kings made a special name for themselves in Indian history because of their immense contributions in advancing the fields of art and architecture. During their 200-year-reign (543-753 CE), Pattadakal along with nearby Aihole and Badami became a major cultural center and religious site for innovation and experimentation in temple architecture, which led to the region being known as the “cradle of Indian temple architecture.”  The successive reigns of Vijayaditya (696-733 CE), Vikramaditya II (733-746 CE) and Kirtivarman II (746-753 CE) saw remarkable activity as several notable temples were constructed in this fertile valley.

The rise and development of Aihole-Badami-Pattadakal under the kingship of early Chalukyas marked two significant movements in the cultural and aesthetic life of early medieval period in India. First was the wide-spread acceptance and use of stone as a medium of construction, and second was the concretisation of forms of temple architecture that are characteristic of early medieval period.

“Unity of idea and design is the first requisite in architecture as in any other art.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 27: 677)

The overall religious fervour among the people and patronage from all quarters of society worked in tandem with the expansion and enrichment of various construction and artistic skills, making the landscape ripe for innovations in religious architectural styles and practices.

Because of its location, this area also served as a meeting point for the Nagara and Dravidian styles of temple architecture which had been developing somewhat separately at the time. A series of experimentation that commenced at Aihole and continued at Badami came to its culmination at Pattadakal where innovations were done to bring together elements of the two styles in a hybrid Vesara style (the word Vesara itself means a mule which is a hybrid animal). Temples built in this newly evolving style at Pattadakal had Dravidian style vimana and the Nagara style faceted walls with intricately carved sculptures of various deities.

On the left, we see a temple in Nagara style, on the right a Dravidian style temple

Pattadakal Temple Complex

On the banks of river Malaprabha, at a picturesque location with hills as a natural backdrop, a large number of big and small temples were constructed at Pattadakal. The temples exhibit rich architectural details clearly suggesting the glorious aesthetic and artistic tradition of the period. Today, the entire complex (maintained and managed by Archaeological Survey of India) is spread across 5.56 hectares and comprises of ten major temples – nine Hindu and one Jain.

All Hindu temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and are east facing. During the rule of Rashtrakutas from 8th to 10th century CE, a Jain temple was constructed about one kilometer away from the main temple complex.

Nagara style temple in foreground, Dravidian style at the back

The uniqueness of Pattadakal temple complex is that here we can see the coming together of the two major temple architectural styles (Dravidian and Nagara Rekha-Prasada). Four temples were built in the Chalukya Dravidian style, four in the Nagara style, while the Papanatha temple represents a fusion of the two.

View from Virupaksha temple – notice the different styles of shikhara/vimana

All nine Hindu temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva. Sangameshwara, the oldest of these temples was built during the reign of Vijayaditya Satyashraya, between 697 and 733 CE. In most of the temples, a garbhagriha leading to an antarala which is joined by a pillared mandapam can be clearly seen. In some of the temples, in the garbhagriha a Shivalingam on a peetha is still present. The largest temple at Pattadakal is the Virupaksha Temple, which was built between 740 and 745 CE.

Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal

Walking through the complex and stopping at each temple, one can imagine and even feel within, the glory of the days gone by. Seeing the extent of damage and destruction one can’t help but feel pained at the memory of brutality which was unleashed at Hindu ways of life during the attacks by the Islamic invaders, particularly the armies of Delhi sultanate who plundered this region and the surrounding areas of the Deccan throughout the 13th century. One also recalls the gross neglect many Hindu institutions including Hindu temples suffered because of the oppressive nature of the British socio-economic policies afterwards.

And yet there is another part of the heart and mind which also sees and quietly immerses itself in the spirit of the timeless beauty hidden beneath the outer decaying form. This part recognises and understands that out of this outer destruction a new creation must emerge – one which does not break away from the past but acknowledges and imbibes in itself the eternal spirit of this land and yet expresses it in newer forms.

“Not the blind round of the material existence alone and not a retreat from the difficulty of life in the world into the silence of the Ineffable, but the bringing down of the peace and light and power of a greater divine Truth and consciousness to transform Life is the endeavour today of the greatest spiritual seekers in India. ….One sees the soul of India ready to enter into the fullness of her heritage and the hour of an unparalleled greatness approaching when from her soil shall go forth the call and the leading to the highest destinies of the race.” (The Mother, Agenda, 7: 174-5)

Virupaksha Temple – An Exterior View

“Indian sacred architecture constantly represents the greatest oneness of the self, the cosmic, the infinite in the immensity of its world-design, the multitude of its features of self-expression, lakṣaṇa, (yet the oneness is greater than and independent of their totality and in itself indefinable), and all its starting-point of unity in conception, its mass of design and immensity of material, its crowding abundance of significant ornament and detail and its return towards oneness are only intelligible as necessary circumstances of this poem, this epic or this lyric—for there are smaller structures which are such lyrics—of the Infinite.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 20: 276)

Seen here are two of the three entrances to the Virupaksha temple

The largest temple built by the Chalukyas of Badami is the Virupaksha Temple, whose complex encloses 30 smaller shrines and a large Nandi Mandapa. This is one of the earliest examples of Shiva temples which have a separate Nandi pavilion facing the Lord.

A view of the Nandi Mandapa at Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal
Nandi, in service of the Lord Shiva

As per the epigraphic records, this temple was built by Queen Loka Mahadevi, wife of King Vikramaditya II who had led successful military campaigns against the Pallavas. Originally the temple was known as Lokeswara in honour of the Queen’s name.

It is said that King Vikramaditya II was so mesmerised by the Kailasnathar temple at Kanchipuram, citadel of the Pallavas, that he often went to that magnificent temple incognito to closely study its design and special features. This is the reason why the ground plan of the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal resembles the Kailasnathar temple of Kanchipuram. Built in stone, this temple is a realisation of the fully mature Early Chalukyan temple architecture in all its glory.

Virupaksha temple, as seen from the Nandi mandapa

This temple which has a distinct ardhamandapa, mahamandapa and garbhagriha has a Dravidian style vimana. Three porches from the east, north and south open up to an expansive mahamandapa. The square garbhagriha has a circumambulatory path surrounding it. Two smaller shrines, one for Lord Ganesha and the other for Mahishasurmardini Devi are placed on either side of the antarala that leads to the garbhagriha.

An exterior view of the whole temple
The gateway to the temple with its missing gopuram, probably destroyed

The temple is surrounded by prakara (enclosure) walls with smaller shrines placed on the inner side of the walls. Only a handful of these shrines now remain out of the original thirty-two. The Dravidian style vimana with a well-preserved sukanasa (‘nose’ or arched projection) on the front is one of the hallmarks of this magnificent temple. The three-storied vimana is topped by a four-sided amalaka with a kalash as its finial.

Another view from the outside
The outer walls of the temple
A side entrance to the Virupaksha temple

Coming up in Part 2…Meeting the gods on the outside walls

See our three-part feature on Aihole.

Also, visit our three-part feature on Badami.

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