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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with


This was the sight which greeted us as we entered Aihole, and it is probably the best description of Aihole that I can ever give.

Amidst the village houses suddenly rises the spire of an ancient temple. The beautifully carved walls are hidden behind new concrete structures, and the shrine itself, no longer used for the deity whom it was built for, is where the villagers meet and gossip, where the bulls as well men take some much needed respite from their chores.

The name "Aihole" came from the words Ayya hole, or city of scholars (in Sanskrit, Arya Pura). Another explanation comes from a legend, and is much more interesting. This relates to the sage Parasurama, the warrior sage, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Parasurama was the son of the sage Jamadagni, who was killed by the king Kartyaveera Arjuna. Consumed by anger, Parasurama set out to kill the king, but the act alone did not appease his anger. Believing the entire kshatriya (royal) race and its behavior the reason for his father’s demise, he went on a rampage, killing kings all over the world. At last, his bloodlust sated, he calmed down and came to the river Malaprabha, which flows through this area. Seeing the amount of blood on his axe (his weapon of choice), he cleaned it in the waters of the river, which at once turned red, filled with the blood of kings. A local woman came then to fill her water pot, and seeing the colour of the river, shouted, “Ayyo, Hole!”(Oh no! Blood!), and thus the place came to be known as Aihole.

The ASI board with information about Aihole

The golden period of Aihole was between the 6th and the 8th centuries, when, under the reign of the Chalukyas of Badami, it saw a boom in temple architecture. Aihole is considered to be the cradle of Chalukya architecture. From what we learned from ASI records, the skill of the Chalukyas was evolved in Aihole, developed in Badami, and reached its pinnacle in Pattadakkal. As our guide put it, Aihole must have been the primary school of the Chalukya architects, Badami their secondary school, and Pattadakkal their college!

The temples must have been well cared for during the Chalukya reign, but their eventual rout might have contributed to the temples being forgotten by the future rulers. In any case, it seems the temples were re-discovered around 1912, when the British surveyors of the ASI stumbled upon them. Interestingly, they had long before ceased to be used as temples, and instead, were being used as houses by the local population! The officers during their survey simply entered the name, caste and occupation of the residents while cataloguing the temples, and these names have stuck since then, and that is how we know them even today!

Interestingly, we can see not just stone temples in Aihole, but also cave temples as well as Mega stone graves! Unfortunately, as we learnt too late, we need to specify all this to the driver if we hire a vehicle. We had made the mistake of believing our driver when he said he knew all the places to see in Aihole, and blindly followed him. It was only when I asked him about a couple of other things I had read about that we realized that he knew nothing about those. All he knew were the most popular locations visited by tourists, and due to the time wasted in arguing with him, we had to settle for only those places he took us to! If you hire a vehicle from Badami, make sure you specify all the places you want to visit before you set out!

Much has been written about Aihole by people who know temple architecture as well history better than me. Hence, without further ado, let me show you Aihole through my lens instead of words….

We saw this board as soon as we entered the complex.... Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and the post office was closed! Readers, please, please if you make a visit, get me one of these!!

The Durga Temple is the first one we see, as soon as we enter the temple complex. Built in a horse-shoe shape, the temple is so called not for the deity, but for the fort around it. The temple dates back to the late 7th century.

These are the outer walls and pillars.... Every single one of them is covered with carvings.... from lovers in amorous stances, (which seem to be a favourite with the sculptors).... snakes, which are again seen intermittently all over.... Look at this entrance of the sanctum.. Notice the snake pattern on the extreme left?

These snakes go all  the way till the top of the entrance, where they meet, in the arms of a Garuda! At least, I suppose this is Garuda, since he is supposed to be an enemy of snakes..... 

Even the ceiling just outside the sanctum has a snake... Adishesha???? Looks like this would have been a Vishnu temple!

Other parts of the ceiling are decorated with floral patterns... simpler definitely, but no less beautiful!

The pillars inside the temple are again filled with carvings.... yes, couples again!

also rows of dwarves.....

See how beautifully the pillars are decorated!

The wealth of detail is amazing!

This is a panel on the outside...

And this is one of the windows.... Notice that the five swastikas are interconnected? Try recreating them on paper and you will see that you can draw these five without once lifting the pencil from the paper!!! An old kolam book my great-aunt gave me has patterns like these. Now I know where they came from!

All that was just the outside! Now for the sanctum. The walls of the sanctum have panels showing various forms of  Shiva, Vishnu and even a Mahishasuramardini! Interesting, wouldnt you say, considering that the Chalukyas were devotees of Vishnu, and this was supposed to be a Vishnu temple!

Shiva with Nandi

Vishnu with Garuda?

Mahishasura Mardini

And then,there were these grotesque carvings too, probably Dwarves.... We were told this was a two faced one which would be seen in a similar way when seen upside down, but this wasn't as interesting as the ones we saw later!

The temple spire rises tall over the structure, but its tip has fallen off, and lies on one side.

The cottage temple is so called because of its roof, which resembles that of a cottage!

The Lad Khan temple is one of the oldest temples in this complex. Dating back to the 5th century, this temple does not have a spire at all! Instead, there is a small rectangular shrine on the roof!

If you are wondering about the name, as I mentioned earlier, it has nothing to do with the temple but with who lived there! it was the residence of a Muslim prince of that name when the ASI officials recognized it as a temple, so the name stuck! Considering today’s situation where we are having problems convincing illegal encroachers to move, I wonder how the British officials managed to move so many encroachers then, especially this one, who was a prince!

Incidentally, this temple is believed to have been intended for Lord Vishnu, but today, there is a Shiva linga here, along with a huge Nandi in the centre of the pillared hall!

Work on each of these pillars is beautiful....

But more interesting are some of the carvings on these pillars.... One of them has the Chalukya Emblem, featuring the Varaha, a conch, a Chakra (wheel) and another object which looks like a mirror. This emblem shows that the Chalukyas were firm devotees of Lord Vishnu. After all, the boar or Varaha was considered the Lord's third incarnation, the conch and the wheel are His insignia. The mirror might suggest that the Chalukyas were mirror images of the Lord's insignia, that is, they considered themselves His representatives.

This temple also managed to provide some amusement for Samhith, since there was a stone ladder lying by one wall! Climbing anything is always fun for him, but climbing a monolithic stone ladder was certainly a memorable experience!!

There were more temples in the complex besides these two, but the post is getting much longer than I intended, so I shall settle for just some photos....

A set of twin temples

Round pillars instead of square
Intricate detail on door frame

Aihole Information:

Location: Aihole is about 510 Km from Bangalore, 115 Km from Hospet, and 36 Km from Badami.

How to get there: The nearest railway station is Badami, which is unfortunately quite a small station and not too well connected. The nearest important railway station would be Hubli, which is about 135 Km away. 
The nearest airport is at Belgaum, about 200 Km away.

Accommodation: There are practically no hotels or places to stay at Aihole, which is just a small village. The best option is to stay at Badami, which has plenty of hotels and lodges, mostly low to mid-range. Cars can be hired to visit Aihole, Pattadakkal, Banashakari and Mahakuta, all of which can be covered in a single day. 


  1. Anu,
    Stopped by at your blog and liked it! Could identify with your posts:)

  2. Nice coverage of  Aihole, i hope some more serialised version is yet to come on this destination like Galagnath complex, Melguti, etc

  3. Hi Archana, welcome here... am heading straight over to your blog!!

  4. Thanks Umesh... Unfortunately, no! as i mentioned in the post , due to lack of time and the idiocy of the driver, we had to give up on many many places.... but honestly, i had planned only for a short trip and just an introduction so to speak..... will go on a detailed and leisurely tour once my son has grown up and i am free!! God willing, of course :)

  5. Very beautiful pictures, never heard of it before.

  6. Aihole along with Badami and Pattadkal are sure not to be missed places, it surely enchants you.
    the cave temples, the huge dancing shiva idols, cluster of temples at pattadkal are mesmerizing to say the least.
    Good post with very good photographs :)

  7. Very interesting post. Thanks.
     What is the meaning of the dwarves?

  8. Very nice captures. i liked Samhith on the ladder. :)

  9. You must start Compiling all your write ups into a book...amazing woman...I am so envious of your journeys:))...where do yu find time to travel so much??!!

  10. Thanks Mridula... its actually near Hampi, but many ppl dont know abt it...

  11. Thanks Santosh! each place is better than the other...we walked all over, almost in a daze at the beauty!!

  12. Thanks Nina! dwarves are short men, who appear quite frequently in mythology with special powers

  13. Thanks Chira!! I think that is the only thing he will remember from Aihole!

  14. Ha ha!!! this trip was way back in Jan!! am just writing it down now! havent done any travelling since may, and cant see myself going anywhere else till next may!!

  15. Hey Anu...
    1)  I am so jealous of you -  for being able to travel so much
    2) love how you blog every day about so many destinations :))

    ok, now that i am done with that.....

    Awesome post, so in detail and loved the pics as well..

  16. Thanks so much, Aarti!!! but this is such a long delayed post... more than 8 months delayed!

  17. Very well covered.. Feel like heading for  the place. ..!

  18. wow... lovely place and you put in quite an effort in this post... I'm all claps


  19. Thanks, Sridharan! you should go... u will love it! just keep a day for the place and visit all the other temples and caves too!

  20. Beautiful carvings of ancient world. I had been here as a kid. I need to revisit this place again.

  21. Yes, Rajesh! u certainly need to go again! would love to see ur pics too!

  22. www.travelwithacouple.comAugust 26, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    Great photos. We are off to all these places next week. Excited.

  23. Loved your lead pic! Totally antiquarian!

  24. Thanks Unni! Wow!! wish i could go back there! Have a wonderful time! Shall look forward to ur pics!

  25. Oh my, what a wonderful place this is. I wish I could visit this place at least once.  

  26. Yes, Pradeepa! its too beautiful! I hope u get to visit sometime!

  27. thanks a lot madam have covered in detail with detailed pictures

  28. Beautiful pictures had been there recently


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