Posted by: itsme | December 20, 2008

The Cave Temples of Badami

One of the better ways to appreciate art is to draw. Sculptures are so full of intricate details and infinite variations, that to simply see them is to acknowledge the greatness of the artist without actually understanding that greatness. It is only when you attempt to draw you begin to go through the elements of the sculpture, line by line. It is only then you understand how one motif connects to another, how one curve interweaves with another and how each part fulfils its role in the collective whole.

An idea as this is nothing new. It echoes the art criticism of John Ruskin. It is with this idea that I did a sketch of the Galganatha Temple at Pattadakal yesterday. Today I made more sketches at the caves of Badami. I started with a sketch of kirtimukha (Face of Glory), that along with geese, festoons of beads and jewellery, and other decorative motifs, circumscribed pillars at many of the caves.

Geese and kirtimukhas on a pillar

Geese and kirtimukhas on a pillar

I was at Cave 1 totally engrossed in this task. I hardly knew what was happening around me until I was attacked by a monkey. I had been carrying a plastic bag and that was what it wanted. When I resisted, it grew belligerent. I had to concede. It drank some water. It tried to bite into my mobile phone. It smelled and tested the pages of my guidebook. Finding nothing more, it discarded all of it and left me to collect the scattered articles.

I deposited my stuff at the ticket counter and returned to the caves to continue my study. Badami is in a superb location. The backdrop of sandstone cliffs creates an ancient aura. The lake at the bottom of these cliffs stands placidly at the mouth of the Malaprabha river. Besides the four main caves, ruins of fort and temples scattered elsewhere, give scope for walks and exploration. Steep gorges and twisted silvery trees complete the picture. The town lies low in the shadow of these cliffs, acutely aware of its position.

The sculptures in these caves are imposing by their size and artistic execution. These are not one or two by a good number of them. In particular are four main ones in Cave 3 and the 18-armed Nataraja in Cave 1. Of the latter, with 9 arms on each side, they represent the 81 different dance poses or mudras of Bharatnatyam. It is considered to be a masterpiece. Likewise, the image of Vishnu seated on coiled Adisesha is the model for the coronation of kings. I don’t know if this is said in jest, but Harihara in Cave 1 is standing with his family and without a smile; Harihara in Cave 3 is standing alone and smiling. In the same vigour, Narasimha of Cave 3 is smiling with a lotus above his head. Cave 3 gives ample evidence of colouring on stone sculptures.

It is said that the Chalukyas embraced all religious orders, not so much as following each one but following one and giving respectful tolerence to the rest. Cave 4 contains images of Jain tirtankaras. Adinatha sits headless in the inner sanctum while Bahubali with his curly locks stands in a niche in the verandha.

At Badami, while there is so much of gross Hinduism with its iconography of gods, goddesses, myths and legends, one of the most striking features of these sculptures is the natural grain of purple, beige or white that’s in sandstone. The flowing movement of these grains is best seen on the mahamantapa pillars in Cave 3. It is perhaps a statement that no matter what man may make out of nature, the essence and Truth of Nature remains untouched.

getting-there Getting There
I got to Badami from Pattadakal last evening by van. It costed Rs. 8.
hotel Accommodation
I stayed at Hotel Satkar for Rs. 300 per night. There was no electricity for most of my stay. The water this morning was burning hot and I couldn’t bathe. The room was clean. It is conveniently near the bus stand. There are few others near the bus stand.
food Food
I don’t recall the name of the restaurant but it is was in the same complex as Hotel Anand near the bus stand.
walking Walks
If I get a chance I intend to walk to Sidilaphadi Cave, which is a pre-historic site. It is 5 km north of Badami. One can possibly find early cave paintings in many places around Badami, as I was informed at the ASI museum.


  1. I am doing research on the images of the geese at Badami. Do you have any photographs that you would share with me? I am an independent scholar and published author on Chinese art living in Singapore and I will naturally credit your photos if used in an article, etc.

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