Pattadakal, in Karnataka, represents the high point of an eclectic art which, in the 7th and 8th centuries under the Chalukya dynasty, achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India. An impressive series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary, can be seen there. One masterpiece from the group stands out – the Temple of Virupaksha, built c. 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over the kings from the South.
The kings from the South were the Pallavas whose Shore Temples at Mamallapuram derived inspiration from the early architecture of the Chalukyas. The temples at Pattadakal represent refinement and maturity that had begun in a lesser degree at Aihole. The temples here represent the movement from the cave temples of Badami to the free standing structural forms that became popular for the rest of architectural history. Iron clamps and mortar were used to join the stones together.
In terms architectural developments, both North Indian curvilinear rekhanagara shikaras and South Indian stepped pyramidal dravida vimanas are equally represented. This unique presence of two distinct styles within the same complex is the main reason why this is a World Heritage Site. Of the former, the Galaganath Temple of 8th century is a masterpiece. Intact on this temple tower are the amalaka (ribbed and bulging dome) supporting the kalasa (pot containing the divine nectar) on top. Symbollically, the amalaka and the kalasa also represent the radiant sun at its zenith with its rays spreading in all directions. In another symbolism, it also represents the opening of the lotus.
Of the latter, the Sangamesvara Temple and the Virupaksha Temple are prime examples. The former does not have a sukhanasi (literally means parrot nose), a vestibule that leads to the garbhagriha. The latter has this. The guide I hired for Rs. 80, said proudly that the Virupaksha Temple is the perfect temple. Pilgrims would bathe in the river Malaprabha, climb up to the eastern end of the temple, enter it through a gateway (the precursor of today’s gopuram) , offer their prayers to the Nandi, then proceed to the main shrine for worship, perhaps circumambulate the grabhagriha via the corridor (called pradakshina patha) and finally exit by an opening at the western end of the temple. All elements here were innovations in its time.
Pattadakal was formerly known by another name in acknowledgment of the red soil that is common here. It was only later it came to be known by its current name. An inscription here mentions the crowning of kings, of Chalukyan and other dynasties. It is considered to be an auspicious place. The guide attributed this to the fact the river Malaprabha is the only river that flows from South to North. Somehow I find it hard to believe this nugget of geography.
While the main building material has been sandstone, main deities and the superb Nandi are in green granite. Sandstone weathers more easily and the effect is easily seen in all the exterior sculptures. The weathering of soapstone found in the temples of Belur and Halebid is less severe.
The guide spoke a great deal and showed me sculptural details that would have been hard to interpret on my own. We can note stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata on pillars. Friezes of ganas carrying garlands is common. We can appreciate the differences between a rich couple and a poor couple. Sculptures of Harihara (half Vishnu, half Shiva) and Ardhanarisvara (half man, half woman) are found in deva koshtas (aedicule) that alternate with perforated stone screens. These stone screens are in various patterns. Tales from the Panchatantra are amusing (monkey & crocodile, monkey & carpenter, mongoose & child). River Ganga is identified by the turtle while River Yamuna by the crocodile. Both they are generally found at the doorways to the garbhagriha or sukhanasi. Kubera, the god of wealth, flanks doorways with two of his treasures – padmanidhi (lotus) and sankhanidhi (conch). Surya is flanked by Usha (morning goddess) and Sandhya (evening goddess). On one pillar, three dancers are carved out in such a way that they shared four legs among them. Likewise, an elephant and a bull are sculpted in a way that they share the same head. I was amused when the guide pointed out the three “stages” of copulation. What he really meant was three postures.
Of all symbolism, the most interesting for me was the linga. The circular portion (Shiva) stands on octagonal column (Vishnu) which in turn stands on a square plinth (Brahma). The linga is inscribed with linga design that’s particular to the Chalukyas of Badami. Like in Aihole, some of these are Vishnu temples converted to Shiva temples. Just like King Vishnuvardhana converted from Jainism to Vaishnavism and built the Chennakeshava Temple at Belur in a later period, so did Vikramaditya I converted from Vaishnavism to Shaivism in the 7th century. Temples that came after this conversion (Sangamesvara, Virupaksha and Mallikarjuna) are closer to the Pallava style, the Pallavas being worshippers of Shiva.
One can see these temples for their sheer beauty and move on; but to delve deeper with a spirit of historical enquiry yields lot more of satisfaction. The passage of history in its many twists and turns comes live before us. We see the interplay of religion, warfare, rivalry, victory and patronage. We see evolution. We understand why we are here today the way we are.
More detailed information on this heritage site is available at the Archaeological Survey of India.
As far as I know, there is one bus in the morning at 10.30 am from Aihole to Pattadakal. There’s another bus in the afternoon. However, there is no general agreement amongst villagers at Aihole on bus timings. Auto-rickshaws cost Rs. 100 from Aihole to Pattadakal while the bus charge is Rs. 8. Buses from Badami are more frequent.
To my knowledge, there are no options at Pattadakal. Badami is a better place to stay.
With such an open countryside, with hills all around, there are plenty of walks here. Walking from Aihole to Pattadakal isn’t a bad idea. I need to try it out some day.