There is always this feeling I get. When I go to an ancient place. The feeling of déjà-vu. Aihole made me ‘relive’ my king days. Yes, you heard it right. As a thick blanket of dust engulfed the road I travelled to reach this little village Aihole, I couldn’t help but get perplexed at the importance this place demands as being the prototype of ancient temple architecture in the country. Now to the ‘king’ feeling! At the sight of my car entering the village, a horde of little children came running behind the car. A brief moment of stolen smugness engulfed me as I wonder if the great Chalukyan king Pulikesi would have been greeted the same way, with small hands waving and shrill voices praising him. Then of course, reality in the form of logic shatters my delusion when I learned that the children were only following the car to return a piece of metal that fell off it. With the noise of kids fighting over a candy bar fading away, I entered the first temple Huchchimalli Gudi, as a commoner.
Facts about Huchchimalli Gudi: This temple has a spire built in the style resembling those of the north but its details are more archaic that the other modern temples of Aihole. On the porch ceilings are a group of sculptures representing Karthikeya (Muruga, known to Tamils) seated on his peacock (his vehicle) with a lance (spear) in his right hand and a flower in his left. Karthikeya, the six-headed deity in Hinduism, is the god of war who led the early Chalukyas and the Kadambas of Banavasi to victory.
Karthikeya, a god of prime importance in South India occupied a central position with the Chalukyan dynasty too. While many archaeologists point out their religious leanings to indicate that Chalukyans were local kings and not from the north, many others believe that their worship of Karthikeya can be borrowed from the Kadambas who ruled Karnatake much before.
My next destination was the well-known Durga temple that I had a chance to visit without the disturbing noises of other tourists. The unique U-shaped temple hosts exquisite wall carvings that can be admired even from a distance. With the sunlight beaming off the reddish walls of the temple, a mystic silent feeling surrounds me. The temple architecture that proved that this temple was newer than Huchchimalli Gudi had daemon engravings looking more like Roman pagan gods than Indian ones. Great care has been taken to decorate the ornaments of sculptures of dancers around the central shrine.
Facts about the Durga Temple: Of the temples with Northern Sikharas, the Durga temple and Papanatha at Pattadakal stand out. The construction of the temple is very similar to the Cave XXVI at Ajanta. A carving of Garuda (vehicle for Vishnu) is seen above the shrine door. The doorway resembles the style of the Viharas at Ajanta. The hallway is surrounded by images of Narasimha, Mahisasura, Varaha, Vishnu, Ardhanari and Shiva, but the main form of worship is dedicated to Vaishnavism, possibly to Surya Narayana.
In order to go about visiting temples in order of their similarity, I stepped out of the complex to visit another not-so-grand temple complex, the Mallikarjuna complex. The five shrine complexes, perhaps from the 8th century A.D is an array of stones piled up to create a structure. The shrines that were plain and simple, resembled Jain temples. Walking further down, I entered a little temple called as the Gauri temple, the name perhaps has something to do with two female images in the mantapa. As I weave my way into the dark and dingy place, I chide myself for not carrying a torch, as I was unable to check the identity of the two female sculptures. Around the bend, are a group of Jain temples. I was not able to differentiate between this group of temples and the Mallikarjuna temples. They looked exactly similar to me except the fact that this Jain group of temples had in its central Garbhagriha a Parshwanatha, seated with five lions flanking him. Since Jainism was immensely popular during the Chalukyan times, I wonder if they made prototypes of temples similar to avoid partiality towards one religion. While I wonder the strangeness behind the name Kont Gudi for the temple, I came to know that the name of the temple is derived from the last occupant of the building in residence. The man who lived there last used to carry the Trisula of Siva to the village boundary at the time of Dasara festival. While the prospect of actually living at a prototype temple baffles me, like any other man I start to wonder where the kitchen is.
Facts About Kont Gudi: The flat ceiling at the inside of the temple is an Ashtadikpala one-it is divided into nine panels. Brahma is at the centre surrounded by images of eight regents. The temple again is originally Vaishnavite as indicated by the wings-spread Garuda at the top on the shrine door. The temple seems a little more advanced than that of Lad Khan but not as advanced as Badami caves. Within the temple, placed against a pillar is an inscribed slab containing a record of temple construction.
It begins with an invocation to Lord Siva. This must have been engraved during the time of Basava, the founder of the Lingayat Sect and may possibly be connected with the conversion of their use of some of old temples here. The temple besides Kont Gudi has three central bays of ceilings in front of the shrine and a finely carved image slab. The carvings represent Siva, Vishnu upon Sesha and Brahma.
After asking around for the oldest temple in Aihole, I was pointed to yet another strange temple by the name Lad Khan. The name “Lad Khan” is the name of a Muslim man who not so long ago occupied the building. Seems like all I have to do to get a temple named after me is occupy it! Wondering whether my boss will allow me work from temple, read home, I walk towards another ancient site. This temple, perhaps more than any other, clearly shows that has been converted into stone from wood. The ancient temples were build using wood and would soon get spoilt. This is perhaps the fist effort to convert them into stone temples by retaining the design. This is quite evident from the long cylindrical blocks carved out of stone.
Facts About Lad Khan: The very unusual position of the shrine which is placed within the great hall, against the back wall has a primitive air about it. While it can be concluded that this temple is much older than Meguti, it is not possible to specify a date. The Cave III at Badami is distinctly advanced in terms of style. The pillars that are characteristic of the temple are massive and more suited to support the heavy rocks in cave cuttings. On the extreme south pillar of the facade is a female standing on a tortoise which is intended to represent the river goddess Yamuna. On the north end is the goddess Ganga on her Makara. Upon the dedicatory block over the shrine door is Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. This is a Vaishnava temple as we know the early kings of Western Chalukyas dynasty were of the Vishnu cult. Within the shrine, has been placed in later times a Linga and before it in the center of the hall a large Nandi (Bull).
A water pot found on the porch is often connected with the traditional origin of Chalukyas. However it can be ruled out as such water pot artifacts are found in the Rashtrakuta Caves at Ellora. It is not confined to any particular religious sect for we find it both on Brahminical and Jaina temples.
Saving for the last is Meguti temple. It took a while to locate this temple as it was located on a hill top. In fact the name is derived from “Megudi” meaning temple that is above. Not heeding to a kid’s solemn advice of the lack of anything interesting in the temple, I climb the hill. I was more curious about the ISI report which points to Dolmens found near the temple. To my disappointment there was a badly managed temple and no Dolmens were found.
Facts About Meguti: Inscriptions on eastern side suggests that it was built around AD 634 by a certain RaviKriti during the reign of the Western Chalukyan King Pulikesin II. The temple represents Dravidian architecture. The rubble on the roof appears to have been built up in very late times to form a barricade against missiles and to concert it to a small stronghold or watch tower.
Other Significant Temples At Aihole:
After this literal touring of temples, a strange irony weighs down on my head. After years of refusing my family of accompanying them to living and breathing temples, here I am staring dumbstruck at old unused ones. The situation does have a certain comical lilt to it!
- The Chalukyan Architectures Of Kanarese Districts By Henry Cousens
- Origin Of Chalukyas – H. V. Sreenivasa Murthy