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Pattadakal: Cradle of Architecture

Pattadakal: Cradle of Architecture

The Malaprabha river valley in Northern Karnataka is known as a ‘cradle of Indian architecture’, and nestled around it were the ancient, flourishing cities of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, all of them a legacy of the Early Chalukyas (543-753 CE).

Today, the rock-cut and sandstone temples here attract tourists from far and wide. But did you know that the monuments at all three sites are the same, yet different? Within them, you can clearly see an evolution phase.

Aihole was a breeding ground of architectural concepts and styles, and thus the temples here are in the initial stage. These ideas were developed and refined in the monuments at Badami, and the result of their culmination can be seen at Pattadakal. In fact, Pattadakal, due to its location, also served as a meeting ground for North Indian and South Indian architectural styles, and the monuments here represent the high point of eclectic art.

Extent of Badami Chalukya Empire

Pattadakal, 165 km south-east of Belgaum, was an important commercial centre in the early centuries of the Common Era. It is referred to by Greek Geographer Ptolemy as ‘Petirgal’ in his Geographia (150 CE), which says it had trade relations with the Roman world. The region, then, was under the Satavahana Dynasty (1st century BCE – 3rd century CE).

The Satavahanas were followed by the Kadamba Dynasty (345-525 CE). When Kadamba rule began to decline, their feudatories, the Early Chalukyas, asserted their independence in the 6th century CE. However, not much is known about the Early Chalukyas but we do know that it was Pulakeshin I (540-566 CE), the third king in the genealogical line, who made Badami the capital in 543 CE, and his grandson Pulakeshin II (609-642 CE) extended the political boundaries of the kingdom far and wide, from the Narmada to the Kaveri.

It was during the successive reigns of the next Chalukyan rulers – Vikramaditya I (655-680), Vinayaditya (680-696), Vijayaditya (696-733), Vikramaditya II (733-746) and Kirtivarman II (746-753) – that the kingdom, while at peace, grew prosperous. They were the patrons of the many monuments at Pattadakal.

Group of temples at Pattadakal

‘Pattadakal’ literally means ‘coronation stone’ as it was here that many Chalukyan kings were anointed. Another name for Pattadakal is ‘Kisuvolal’, meaning ‘valley of red soil’. It was this soil, or sandstone from the hills that surround the region, that was used to build the many temples here.

Spread across 5.56 hectares, there are ten major temples at Pattadakal – nine Hindu and one Jain. The Hindu temples are all dedicated to Lord Shiva and face east.

Pattadakal’s monuments reflect a fusion of two major Indian architectural styles – one from North India (Rekha-Nagara-Prasada) and the other from South India (Dravida-Vimana). Most of the temples house a garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) that leads to an antarala (vestibule), which is joined by a pillared mandapam (hall). The image of the deity is kept on a peetha (pedestal). On top of the sanctum rises a shikhara (spire) that has a kalash (pitcher) with a coconut and mango leaves at its finial.

Virupaksha Temple at Pattadakal, 8th Century CE | Wikimedia Commons

Virupaksha Temple

The most magnificent of the temples at Pattadakal is the Virupaksha Temple built around 740 CE. In inscriptions, it is referred to as ‘Shri Lokeshvara Mahasila Prasada’, after its sponsor Queen Lokamahadevi. She got the temple built to commemorate the victory of her husband, King Vikramaditya II, over Kanchi, the capital of the Pallava Dynasty (3rd to 9th century CE).

The temple is noted for its range and quality of construction, as well as the inscribed names of the artists beneath the panels they worked on. Virupaksha, like the others in the complex, was built by placing one dressed-up stone upon another without any cementing agent. Within the compound are smaller shrines, of which there were once 32, based on the foundation footprint layout, but most have been lost.

The pillar inscription in Kannada in front of the Virupaksha Temple, describing the victories of King Vikramaditya II  | Dinesh Kannambadi 

The temple also contains 16 inscriptions that offer a glimpse into the society and culture of 8th-century India. For example, one inscription mentions a grant to the ‘musicians of the temple’ by the queen. Another one discloses the identity of the temple’s architect. His name was Gunda Anivaritacharya. He was felicitated by giving him the honour of perjjerepu patta by King Vikramaditya II.

Interestingly, it is believed that the famous 8th-century Kailasa Temple at the Ellora Caves was modeled on this temple. However, the Virupaksha temple itself was modeled on the Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchipuram, which was built in 700 CE.

Narrative Panel at Mallikarjuna Temple. At the left, a flying celestial carries a baby, which he then deposits (center) in some kind of alcove. The action on the right is hard to read because of damage to the figures. The lunette, above the panel, encloses a combat scene. | Wikimedia Commons

Mallikarjuna Temple

This temple stands right next to Virupaksha Temple and the two of them are considered twins. Mallikarjuna Temple was built for the same purpose – to celebrate the king’s victory but was commissioned by another queen, Trailokeshwara, the sister of Queen Lokamahadevi.

The use of stone carvings for storytelling is prevalent throughout the temple. The friezes here show amorous couples, labourers and women indulging in different activities. In front of the sanctum is an antechamber with small shrines for Durga as Mahishasuramardini killing the buffalo demon, and another for Ganesha, both currently empty.

A relief on the wall of Mallikarjuna temple | Ms Sarah Welch

In front of the Mallikarjuna Temple is an 8th-century monolithic stone pillar that bears an inscription. Historically, this is very significant as it is inscribed in two Sanskrit scripts – the Northern Indian Siddhamatrika script and the Southern Indian proto-Kannada-Telugu script. It starts with invocations of Shiva and Hara Gauri, and refers to the reigns of Kings Vijayaditya and Vikramaditya II.

Window experimentation at Sangameshwara temple

Sangameshwara Temple

This temple was started in 720 CE by Vijayaditya and was originally named ‘Vijayeswara Temple’. However, his death resulted in the temple being left unfinished, although work continued intermittently in later centuries. Themes of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism are presented in the carvings.

Window experimentation at Sangameshwara temple

This temple is an example of experimentation with window styles and wall carvings by the Chalukyan sculptors. The shikhara is in two tiers and is topped by a four-sided amalaka (vertically grooved stone disc). There are exquisitely sculpted dwarfs below the caves of the outer walls. They appear to be carrying the superstructure of the temple.

Kadasiddeshwar temple, its shikhara being developed along the northern style (rekha nagara)

Kadasiddeshwar Temple

A relatively modest temple, it is dated to the mid-7th century CE and appears to have derived its name from an ascetic who might have occupied the temple. Finely cut designs decorate the door of the shrine. The outer walls of the sanctum feature images of Ardhanarishvara (half-Shiva, half-Parvati) on the north face, Harihara (half-Shiva, half-Vishnu) on the west face and Lakulisha (28th incarnation of Shiva) on the south face.

Experimental sukanasa of Jambulingeshwara temple

Jambulingeshwara Temple

Completed between the 7th and 8th centuries, this temple is known for its experimentation with the idea of a projecting sukanasa (extended ornamented feature) from the shikhara in front. Swans are executed below the caves over the door, and they appear to be moving in the air, carrying the superstructure on their backs. Five miniature temples, each containing a Shiva Linga, can be seen over the shrine door.

The back of the Kashi Vishwanath temple

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Dated between the 7th and 8th centuries, this temple sits on a raised platform with five layers of mouldings, decorated with carvings of horses, elephants, lions, peacocks and flowery vine designs. Inside the temple are pillars and pilasters intricately carved with friezes depicting the Bhagavata Purana, Shiva Purana and Ramayana. One frieze shows the demon Ravana lifting Mount Kailash, others show the playful pranks of Krishna such as him stealing butter, while another narrates the Kalyansundarmurti (marriage of Shiva and Parvati) attended by Brahma and Vishnu.

Galanganatha temple | Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Galanganatha Temple

The Archaeological Survey of India estimates this temple to date to the mid-8th century. Outside the temple is a seated Nandi that faces the sanctum. Various mandapas exist in this temple, such as a community hall (sabha mandapa) used for ceremonial functions, and a mukha mandapa, of which only the foundation remains. A sculpture of Nataraja is depicted on the door lintel and drummers are playing by the deity’s side. The entrance to the mandapa is flanked by river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. The southern wall contains a carved slab showing an eight-armed Shiva killing the demon Andhaka, while wearing a garland of skulls as a yajnopavita (sacred thread across the chest).

Papanatha temple, the fusion of architecture

Papanatha Temple

The Papanatha Temple is situated apart from the main cluster of eight Hindu monuments. It is about half a kilometre to the south of Virupaksha and has been dated to the end of the Early Chalukya period, the mid-8th century. Just a stone’s throw from it flows the Malaprabha River. The temple is noted for its novel mixture of Dravida and Nagara Hindu temple styles. The temple is longer, incorporating two interconnected mandapas, one with 16 pillars and another with 4 pillars. The decorations, parapets and some parts of the layout are Dravida in style, while the tower and pilastered niches are of the Nagara style.

Flat-roofed Chandrashekhara Temple | MP Bharath Kumar

Chandrashekhara Temple

In 753 CE, the Badami Chalukyan Empire succumbed to the onslaught of Dantidurga, the Rashtrakuta chief who ruled the Ellora region in modern-day Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The rulers of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty (8th to 10th century CE) also built some monuments at Pattadakal, like the Chandrashekhara Temple. This shrine, unlike the others, is devoid of a tower. It is laid out within a space 33.33 feet in length and 17.33 feet in breadth, on an adhishthana (platform based on certain design rules in Hindu texts). There are dvarapalas (guardians) on each side of the entrance and the door frames are carved with shakhas (translate).

Jain Narayana temple | Shivaji Desai

Jain Narayana Temple

The only Jain temple among the temples at Pattadakal was likely built in the 9th century CE during the reign of Krishna II of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty. The entrance features carvings of a life-size elephant torso with riders. The temple has a secondary shrine on top of the main shrine. The presence of two Jain sculptures on the north and west outer walls of the temple indicate that this is a Jain temple. A makaratorana (ornamental arch) has been carved over the door.

Pattadakal remained an active site until the 13th century, when much of the Deccan region was subject to raids by the Delhi Sultanate. Pattadakal was a part of the border region that witnessed wars between the Vijayanagara Empire (14th to 17th century CE) and the Sultanates to its north. After that, the monuments were also subject to the vagaries of nature.

Photograph of Pattadakal taken by Thomas Biggs in 1855, from ‘Architecture in Dharwar and Mysore’

It was only in the 1960s that the Archaeological Survey of India undertook large-scale conservation of these monuments. The excavations here found early historical remains of rectangular houses, copper coins with or without legends, belonging to the Maharathis, the feudatories of the Satavahana Dynasty, semi-precious stone beads, shell bangles, burnt-clay figurines, iron tools and silver punch-marked coins, among other things. The Group of Monuments at Pattadakal was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

Sculptural detail in Virupaksha temple

The temples of Pattadakal hold a mirror to the contemporary life of that period. The many sculptures in the temples here throw light on the attire and ornaments, and the social and religious life of the period to which they belong. The site is one of the treasure houses of Early Chalukyan art and architecture and occupies a prominent place on the heritage map of India.

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