Hampi, Pattadakal and Badami: Laboratory of Temples
After nearly 2 months of being busy with life, I could find some free time this weekend. Instead of going out somewhere, which is what I’d usually do, I forced myself to sit down and finish this post. This ought to be a good experience about how tough it is to keep writing consistently. After being stressed and anxious for a while, I think now I am relatively in a better place to focus back to my travel writing. So here I am reminiscing the time I spent in Hampi and around.
Indian temples are world famous. But have you ever wondered how these architecturally beautiful temples were created? There is no doubt that the skills of artisans of those times were superior. How did they develop the skill and knowlege of sculpting? How did the knowledge propogate thrugh generations? When I heard of this place near (more famous) Hampi, I knew this is where I’d like to go next! The destination was Badami and Pattadakal in Karanataka.
The capital of Chalukya kingdom of ancient India, Badami has been a cultural centre of those times. Undoubtedly, centuries later the glory reflects in its temples and architecture. Badami’s main attraction is the fort ruins, temples and caves around the lake Agasthya. The fort ruins literally have been washed out. Hardly any of its former architecture remains except the entry gates and a few structures. Nonetheless, the hike to the top of the hill which once was a fort guarding the Chalukya kingdom is worth the view. On one side you see the Agasthya lake and on the other side you have the town of Badami.
The Agasthya lake is in the shallow region between two cliffs. One end of the cliff is the fort ruins while at the bottom of the other end of the cliff is the cave complex. There are some truly beautiful temples on the bank of the lake as well. Their architecture in red stone stands out and makes you fall in love with it. Badami was one of three centres of experimetation on temples. The other two being Aihole and Pattadakal. Even after spending almost an entire day around this relatively small place I wanted to continue my exploration.
Pattadakal is another historic town in the ancient Chalukyan kingdom. The relatively unknown place, if you can believe it, is the UNESCO world heritage site! The name Pattadakal, roughly translates to, place of coronation. This is where the coronation ceremonies of Chalukyan kings occured. This became a major centre of Chalukyan politics, religious philosophies, art and architecture. The most influential art that developed here was the temple architecture and sculpting. This location literally was a testing ground for different temple styles: A Laboratory of Temples. A beautiful mélange of various styles of temple architecture, the place grew in influence so much that even Western world marvelled about it. Ptolemy seems to have mentioned about this place called “Petirgal” in Geography, the famous 18 centuries old book on cartogaphy*.
With hardly any visitors compared to Badami or Hampi, Pattadakal quickly became my favourite site. Spread along a huge landscape, the place is maintained really well by the Archeological Society of India. There are many different temples and only handful of them are active places of worship for the local community. You can even see half built temple specimens among the marvelous fully erect ones. The different styles are represented by different features of temples. e.g. curvilinear domes vs square shaped ones, number of structures or the Garbhagrihā shape variations. Rekhanagara Prasada and Dravida Vimana were the styles that attained final forms at this place. There also is a unique well within the temple complex. The idea that temples were developed in a place like this for purely the exploration of art is something that is unique. I would say a must visit place if you’re nearby.
Hampi has been in the spotlight for many years now. The land of thousnds of boulders and ruins of huge sandstone temples attract many tourists every year. The town and the region around is also very famous among free-climbers for bouldering. I remember watching Chris Sharma in the documentary-film “Pilgrimage” where he visits Hampi for a bouldering expedition. Since then Hampi has been on my mind. It took years to finally visit the place so I was very happy.
When I was in Hampi, in November, to be honest, it was a little dull. It was cloudy and there were intermittent rains. Nonetheless, in the morning, as I started walking among the ruins, to the Vitthala temple and beyond, the whole atmosphere started sinking in, silently growing beautiful. The huge yellowish sandstone boulders, rectangular blocks of carefully cut out of these sandstone rocks, the pillars and the archways along with the decorative carvings, the ruins spread across the hills and along the Tungabhadra river, all of it were literally taking me to a different world. It almost felt like I time-travelled to a moment centuries ago. It was a soulful feeling.
The Floating Rocks
The most exciting part however, was a Hanuman temple (Anjaney Hill) at an hour’s ride in the local transport. According to the myths this hill is where Hanuman, the Hindu god, was born. What attracted me however was beyond mythologival references. The whitewashed temple on the hillock also holds an interesting specimen: floating rocks! The same kind of floating rocks that said to have been used in the Ramasetu (Rama’s bridge) connecting Indian mainland and the island of Srilanka. The rocks surely were floating and I could touch them. From the superficial feel, the rocks seemed light and porous. The pumice theory could be true. However, I haven’t come across any scientific paper yet that analyses these particular rocks in detail. (Marking this in my notes for future reference!)
Have you been to Hampi or Pattadakal?
Which temple or place did you like the most?
*A translation of Geography by Ptolemy is now available on Amazon.