The earliest known indigenous empire that rose in Deccan, came up immediately after demise of Emperor Ashoka in 2 nd century BCE. Satavahana kings were in fact feudatories or vassal kings of Ashoka in the Deccan and managed to become independent after his demise. Goutamiputra was the mightiest king of the Satavahana dynasty and had extended the Satavahana rule over a large area after wresting the areas of Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawad under foreign rule of Scythians, Pahelavi (Persians) and Greeks. He had unified for the first time, entire Deccan plateau under his own rule.
Satavahana dynasty rule came to an end by 3rd century CE and the erstwhile empire got divided into many smaller kingdoms. In Maharashtra, Abhirs' took over power, whereas Karnataka was ruled by Kadamba kings. In the south and to the east, Pallava, Chola and Ishvaku kings took over the reins. This continued till 6th century CE, when a new dynastic power rose in the Deccan plateau. This dynasty originated from northern part of Karnataka and were known as Chalukyas'. Kings of this dynasty, soon managed to establish their rule in the region between Kaveri and Narmada rivers and created a new empire. The most famous king of Chalukya dynasty was “Pulkesi II”, who had defeated emperor Harsha to limit his empire to north of Narmada river only. Except for a 13 year period when Pallava kings from south, had defeated Chalukya army and had captured their capital at “Badami,” Chalukya power continued unabated till middle of the 8th century CE. In the initial period of time, Chalukya kings had selected “ Aihole” village from “bagalkote” district of Karnataka state as their state capital. King “Pulakesi I” shifted it to “Vatapi.” (present day “Badami”) The entire Chalukya period is considered as one of the most important in the history of Deccan.
Travelling from Hampi to Badami is not particularly convenient. A major highway (NH 13) leads north from Hampi. At present, major road widening works are going on this way almost over entire stretch. There are many diversions and the road surface is completely damaged by the heavy road building machinery. This road at present could be considered as an excellent test track to determine fitness and health of any vehicle using it. A smaller and probably even worst kind of road, branches off this highway towards east, near a small town called “Amingadh.” I am on my way to “Aihole” village on this road.
“Aihole” village is an ordinary and nondescript village hidden in the interiors of the “Bagalkote “district. There are no facilities at this village. I find it difficult to get even a cup of good Tea here. Yet, about 1400 years ago, the same place was a beehive of political and cultural activities including architecture of the “Chalukya” empire. It is almost impossible to realize this fact unless one visits the archeological park here. Government of India first decided to conserve the old “Aihole” structures in 1912. Till then, villagers of Aihole had made these magificant archeological wonders their homes and had damaged them to substantial extent. The first Government ordinance for conservation of 123 ancient structures was issued in 1914. Surprisingly, even 100 years later, some of the structures are still occupied by the villagers and Archeological survey of India has not been able to evict the villages from these structures even today. Luckily most of the structures are behind a barbed wire compound now and are fully secured.
The entrance to this barbed wire compound is gated now and one needs a ticket to enter. I have bought my entry ticket after paying a small fee and I am now entering the “Aihole” archeological park here. The first structure in front of me is called as “Durg mandir” or a fort temple. This entire structure has an oval shape. There are pillars on the outside, supporting a flat stone slab roof and on inside, there is a wall of oval shape all around. Between the outside pillars and the inside wall, there is a continuous walk-way by which, one can go round the temple for his “parikrama.” Because of this peculiar shape and construction, this structure appears very distinguished one! To an onlooker, this temple appears like a fort and that is why it has been given this name as fort temple. It is difficult to say now, what idol or deity was installed here. It is said that the idol of Hindu God “Vishnu” was installed here. However, just above the main entry door lintel, there is a high relief structure of a strange animal having a human face, with many tentacles which look like snakes or arms of an octopus. I have never seen this kind of animal on the door of a “Vishnu” temple before and it is difficult to imagine that this temple could have been a temple of this God. The “Durg temple” has a tower of Curvilinear construction. A lotus flower stone sculpture was built on the top of the tower. This has fallen off now and can be see on the side of the temple.
“Durg” temple was built in 742 CE and does not have the traditional temple construction of a prayer hall and a sanctum. There is only one room here and inside walls are almost plain with no engraving work. This lack of decorations is well compensated by bass reliefs and high reliefs on the outer wall. There are superb high reliefs of “Shiva”, “Vishnu”, “kartikeya”, “Goddess Mahishasurmardini”, “Varaha Avatara of Lord Vishnu” and half man half woman “ Ardhanarinateshwara.” Since most of these sculptures are with high relief, they appear almost life like. There are bass reliefs of swastika and wooden lattice pattern windows on the outer side of the inside wall.
The pillars on the outer side are carved with fantastic high relief sculptures of couples in love. I am really stunned by the beauty of these. The sculptors have tried to show here, many subtle aspects of love. In one of the sculpture, the man has obviously bought a piece of jewelry for his beloved. But instead of handing it over to her, he is shown holding it high with his one hand and his lady is begging and persuasively pleading with him to give it to her. In another sculpture, the couple is shown examining an ornament the man has brought for his lady. In another sculpture the lady has put her arms around the neck of her man and is having a conversation with him. Yet in an another sculpture, a couple just had too many glasses of wine and are drunk. It is very difficult to understand the real purpose of such sculptures done on outside near temple entrance. Besides, these sculptures, have not just come from imagination of the sculptor. He has tried to portray whatever social life he has seen around. It only shows that the life of ordinary men and women in “Chalukya “ period must have been free and and secured one. I feel that in a way, these sculptures are kind of a mirror portraying the social life of those times.
Lrd Vishnu, At Bottom his wife Laxmi and Garuda the eagle
Shiva and Nandi
Kartikeya or Murugan, a peacock at bottom
A high relief face
A drunk couple with a bar tenderer
A couple in love with girl putting her arms around her lover's neck
Couple in love examines an ornament
A couple in love.
There is a small structure, which looks like a hut, just adjacent to the Durg temple. I peep in but find it plain and empty. I move on next to a temple known as “Ladkhan” temple. In reality this is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva( The Shiva Lingam and his carrier the Bull “Nandi” are seen here) and is one of the oldest temples of “Aihole” group. This temple, built around 450 CE has been constructed like a residential house. It is known as “Ladkhan” temple as a peson of this name used to reside here. The temple has a pillared veranda in the front and a prayer hall. The sanctum has been constructed in the middle of prayer hall instead of it's usual position behind the prayer hall. The temple has no tower on roof but a normal tapered roof. Stone rafters, which look very much like wooden rafters, and which spread radially outwards, have been chiseled on the roof top. Pillars in the veranda have some odd bass reliefs like one showing an ascetic doing a yoga position known as “Sheershasan” and another one showing the official seal of the “Chalukyas,” displaying a swine, mirror, sun and a sword. It is said that Hampi empire had thought of their official seal based on this seal only. Th front veranda pillars have carved high relief figures, of couples in love again. In one of the sculptures, the lady is shown blushing. The sculptor has managed to show feelings of this lady, so well and like real life in his work. The temple has latticed windows done with great workmanship. It is unbelievable that such fine craftsmanship existed here some 1500 years ago.
Adjacent to the “ladkhan” temple, there is another temple with curvilinear tower. This temple, built in 7th or 8th century has been dedicated to the Sun God. The pillars in the temple have bass reliefs of an eagle, supposed to be a carrier of God “Vishnu” and two major rivers of India “Ganga” and “Jamuna” shown as Goddesses in human form. The ancient Indian scripture, Rigveda, imagines two feminine forms of the Sun God called “Usha” or Dawn and “Nisha” or night. The main deity of Sun God in this temple is shown flanked by these two Goddesses in human form here.
Sun God isol with human forms of dawn and night on sides
Next to Sun God temple, there is another temple with a roof, which is clearly built in Rashtrakuta style. (Rashtrakuta dynasty ruled Deccan before Chalukya rule in 6th and 7th century.) This temple built in 9th century was also originally dedicated to the Sun God only. The tower on the temple, shows a bass relief of the Sun God. Now this temple is considered as dedicated to creator of universe 'The Brhma.” It is however known as Badigera temple for unknown reasons.
Badigera temple with Rashtrakut type roof and sun god bass relief at centre
I look at my watch. I have spent well over 2 hours at “Aihole Archeological park,” a time well spent. However there are no facilities of any kind here. I must therefore cut short my visit and proceed to the next proposed halt: the temples at Pattadakal village.
(To be concluded)
12 November 2012