Aihole: The Cradle of Indian Temple Architecture

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Aihole often termed as “the Cradle of Indian Temple Architecture”, is one among the oldest settlements in India. The temples and architecture in Aihole are closely associated with different Hindu mythologies and the involvement of our ancestors in mythical stories and religious practices.

Aihole was the capital of the Chalukya dynasty in the 6th century AD and during that era, only India’s first experiments with temple architecture styles started. Exhibiting the typical features of the temple including mortar-less assembly of stones, flat roofs, and richly carved ceilings, make this place school of Indian temple architecture for the next few centuries.

Also known as Ayyavole and Aryapura in its famous Aihole inscriptions, it was established in 450 AD as the first capital of Chalukya kings and has about 125 stone temples, some of which were constructed as experimental structures by artisans of Chalukyan period.

Aihole has been a part of Hindu mythologies. It has a natural axe-shaped rock on the Malaprabha riverbank north of the village, and a rock in the river shows a footprint.  Parashurama, the sixth Vishnu avatar, is stated in these legends and has washed his axe here after killing Kshatriyas Kings, giving the land its red color.

The first phase of temple building in Aihole dates back to the fifth-sixth century, while the second phase lasts up to the 12th century CE. Many of the temples were first consecrated for the worship of Vishnu but were later converted to Shaivism. Example evidence of this is the presence of a linga in the garbhagriha but the lintel on the doorway contains a bas-relief of Garuda.

Aihole was an early medieval era meeting place and a cradle for experimentation of Hindu arts, particularly temple architecture. The regional artisans and architects of the Aihole region created prototypes of 16 types of free-standing temples and 4 types of rock-cut shrines to express in stone the theology of Hinduism. Though there is a sprinkling of Jaina monuments in Aihole, the temples and relief artworks are predominantly Hindu.

Among the various groups of the temple, the prominent are:

  1. Durga Gudi Temple Complex
  2. Lad Khan Temple
  3. Huchchimalli Temple Complex
  4. Ravalaphadi Cave Temple Complex
  5. Two-story Buddhist Temple
  6. Meguti Jain Temple
  7. Chakra Gudi Temple
  8. Mallikarjuna Temple Complex

Durga Gudi Temple Complex

The most impressive one in this cluster is the sculpturally resplendent Durga (fortress) Temple, notable for its semi-circular apsidal, elevated plinth, basement friezes, and a gallery encircling the sanctum. The shape of the temple, in Indian traditional architecture, is known as Gajaprasta which means the resemblance to the back of an elephant. The temple resembling a Buddhist chaitya with a horse-shaped structure is said to be, the only one of its kind in South India.

It was not named after Goddess Durga, but because of its proximity to the fort wall. The basement friezes have Ganas (mythical comical dwarfs), foliage, and full-length niche deities. Among the main figures who appear on the walls are ShivaVishnuNarasimha, and Durga. But the carving of the awesome Mahishasuramardini, trampling the buffalo demon along with Shiva with Nandi are amongst the finest examples of all ancient Indian sculpture.

On the pillars of the Mukha-mandapa are found passionate couples in various suggestive poses. On another pillar is found Shiva dancing on apasmara. The inner wall of the Mukha-mandapa has Ramayana panel, Ardhanarisvara, and Ugranarasimha killing Hiranyakashipu. The front entrance of the mandapa is well carved with dwarapalas, Yamuna and Ganga, and further sculptures.

The architectural style, as well as various friezes, make this, Durga temple, the most attractive temple of Aihole.

Lad Khan Temple

lad khan temple 2ghumakkar

Lad Khan Temple, which is one of the earliest temples of Aihole. It was originally a royal assembly hall and marriage mandapa chosen as the abode of a Muslim noble, Lad Khan. The friezes of river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, flank the entrance. Couples embracing beneath trees are carved on the outer columns of the porch. Over the cells at the back is a square, flat-roofed superstructure, in effect forming a two-story sanctum.

lad khan temple 2ghumakkar

The outer and interior walls have carvings depicting the various Hindu mythologies. The pillars are carved with interesting motifs. One of the interesting features of the Lad Khan Temple is that it doesn’t have a Shikhara. This indicates that it follows a cave-temple style of architecture. It seems that there has been a lot of experimentation in constructing this temple.

lad khan temple 2ghumakkar
lad khan temple 2ghumakkar

No doubt, Lad Khan Temple is one of the beautiful temples in Aihole.

Ravalaphadi Cave Temple

Ravana Phadi has created around 550 AD and is amongst the earliest structures in the region. The temple is mainly cut in sandstone and conserved well. A big colossal pillar placed on a quadrangle base is located in front of the entrance hall to the temple. There is also a figure of Nandi, in a seated posture near the entrance. On either side of the entrance, there are hallways with pillars that enhance the beauty of the architecture. Moreover, the entrance area is ornamented with stone carved columns. There are artworks of well-built deities on the sides of the entrance, which probably depict the sentinel of wealth, Kubera.

ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar

The ceiling is decorated with a big carved lotus that is intricately detailed. There are also remains of paintings in the ceiling. The image of Lord Shiva in his Ardhanari incarnation, where he appears in the embodiment of half woman and half man, holding a trident in hand, is also present in the side walls.

ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar
ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar
ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar

On the opposite wall, there is another image of Shiva, who is accompanied by Bhagiratha, Parvati, Vishnu, and other gods and deities. There are two chambers on the sides of the Mandapa. On the left side, there are stairs that lead to one of the chambers that contains a stunning artwork of Lord Shiva in Nataraja incarnation. There are also reliefs of Lord Ganesha, Goddess Parvati, and Heavenly Mothers, known as Sapta Matrikas. Shiva holds a snake in his hands and one more in his neck, whereas Ganesha appears with only two arms.

ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar
ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar

Beyond the mandapa, the other stairs lead to another chamber that contains the beautiful artworks on the side walls. Goddess Durga is portrayed in the carving. She appears to be slaying Mahishasura, a demon king who appears out of a buffalo, with a trident pierced through his chest, and the demon has crouched on to the ground. The wall on the opposite side is ornamented with an artwork portraying Lord Vishnu in the incarnation of Varaha.

ravalaphadi 2Ghumakkar

Goddess Bhumi appears on his hand in a seated position. There are pillars that are decorated with carvings of Apsaras. On the ceiling, there are 3 circles that contain carvings of Lord Indra, a lotus, and Lord Vishnu as well as Garuda. There are 3 access points that lead to the most important shrine, where a Lingam of Lord Shiva is located. There is a stunning carving of Bhringi, a saint, as well. He appears to be unhealthy, offering prayer to Lord Shiva.

Ravalaphadi cave temple is one of the jewels of the Aihole group of monuments.

Two-storeyed Buddhist temple

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture

The two-story temple dates from the 6th century. It is partly rock-cut excavated into the surrounding rock. In front of it is placed a headless statue of Buddha. The temple presents two superimposed colonnades, each of which gives access to a small chamber cut into the cliff face.

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture

The doorway to the inner chamber, now empty, has delicately worked foliage ornament which suggests an early date, perhaps towards the end of 6th century A.D., A relief carving of Buddha seated beneath a parasol is seen on the ceiling.

Meguti Jain Cave Temple

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture

This temple is important both historically and architecturally. Set into its wall is a grey stone slab with an inscription. Dated to 634 A.D. this consists of a poem in Sanskrit composed by Ravikirti, the court author of Pulakesin II. This composition gives an account of the Chalukya family and the exploits of his royal patron. The temple consists of an open porch adjoining a closed mandapa and a sanctuary surrounded by a passageway. The outer walls are raised on basement moldings that rhythmically project and recess in accordance with the pilastered walls above. Empty niches as well as uncut, raised blocks indicate that the sculptural portions of the temple were never completed. While the kapota-eave and the portions of the parapet with model roof forms can still be seen, the original tower is lost (the small rooftop chamber is a later replacement).

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture

The Jain affiliation of the Meguti temple is evident from the image placed within the sanctuary. Now defaced, the naked meditating figure of a Tirthankara is depicted seated on a throne with lions at the base and Makara heads at the sides. The remarkable icon of the Jain goddess Ambika, seated beneath a flowering tree, that was once placed within the vestibule in front is now displayed in the Archaeological museum in the town.

Huchchimalli Temple Complex

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture

Hucchimalli is a 7th-century Hindu temple (gudi). The temple has North Indian style Rekhanagara tower with rotating squares rising in a curvilinear smooth towards the sky. The tower is damaged, the top amalaka finial and kalasha missing.

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture

The temple is notable for its intricate pillar carvings both in the portico and inside, as well as the artwork on its inner walls and ceiling. The carvings show religious themes (Vishnu’s avatar Narasimha and Shiva Nataraja on the wall, Shaiva dvarapalas, Garuda man-bird clasping two serpents), as well as the daily life of the people (dancers, musicians, individuals in different postures, a couple carrying offerings for prayers, flowers and animals). Some panels are humorous such as young women with horse head embracing bearded older men found on the eastern porch column. Outside, there is a slab carved with Saptamatrikas (seven mothers) of the Shaktism Hindu tradition. The temple also has an inscription in old Kannada on one of the pillars inside the main hall.

Chakra Gudi Temple

Aihole the cradle of Indian temple architecture
 the cradle of India #2ghumakkarn temple architecture

Assigned to the 9th century, Chara Gudi is known for its 20 sculpture of the amorous couple engraved on the door frame of the Sanctorum, which has Garuda holding two snakes on the lintel. The temple has the sanctum and Ranga Mantapa and has a nagara shikhara on garbhagriha. The prominent amalakas at stupi brought this name Chakra Gudi.

Mallikarjuna Temple Complex

the cradle of Indian temple architecture

This complex has five shrines. The Mallikarjuna perhaps the creation of the 8th century is standing on a pedestal with Mukha-mantapa, ranga-mantapa, and a Sanctum. Mandapa pillars have fine sculptures, like female dancers, two female instrument players, seated Narsimha, erotic couples.

the cradle of Indian temple architecture

Apart from the above group of temples, other temples are Gaudhar Gudi and Chikki Gudi, Ramalinga temple, Kunthi Temple complex, Galagnatha Temple within the small but heritage-rich village of Aihole, belonging to the same age.

These above Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples of Aihole reflect a “meeting and fragmentation of styles”, one that became a creative cradle for new experiments in construction and architecture yielding their local variants. These ideas ultimately influenced and became a part of both the northern and southern styles of Hindu arts. 

These temples are carved out of local rock-hills, making the whole town of Aihole an admirable work of art.

Bill Bryson rightly said — man earlier used to build civilizations. Now he builds shopping malls.

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Gargi Manish

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Gargi is an extremely adventurous person who loves reading/writing poetry, meeting new people from different corners of the world and sharing memories. She is the main writer of the stories on  दो-घुमक्कड़ & all the pictures on  दो-घुमक्कड़ carries her signature.

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