Aihole is a small village in the Bagalkot District of Karnataka State and is located about 35 kms from Badami via Pattadakal on the banks of Malprabha River. It is a place of great heritage interest of the Chalukya dynasty and contains several temples both Hindu and Jain within the boundary walls of this village. In fact one can find a small unused shrine in the back yard of some houses and it appears as if the house is an extension of the shrine! All these temples are not only within the boundary walls but the whole village of Aihole is full of these temples which number about 125 of them in all. In the words of Percy Brown “It is one of the cradles of Temple Architecture”.
While there are 125 shrines the more important ones have been under the care of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and located within the complex of the Durga temple. During the Chalukyan rule it was a huge commercial centre and was the capital of the earliest capital of the Chalukyan dynasty before Pulkeshin ii shifted the capital to Vatapi (now known as Badami). The Chalukya dynasty was founded by Pulkeshin I in 543 AD and this dynasty ruled over Deccan part of India for about 600 years.
According to a legend Parashurama vowed revenge and to kill those who were responsible for the death of his father sage Jamadagani. After the retribution Parashurama washed his hands and the axe in the Malprabha which turned red with the colour of the blood. Some of the women who saw the red water exclaimed “Ayyo – Hole” (Ayyo is an expression that connotes difficulty, anguish, pain etc and Hole denotes a water stream) and so this place came to be known as Aihole.
The Durga temple was built in the 7th and 8th century by the Chalukyas. It is predominantly Dravidian architecture with Nagara style in certain areas. This temple is considered unique and magnificent and one of the showpiece structure of the Chalukyan architecture. The plan of the temple is oblong and apsidal. The shape of the in Indian traditional architecture is also called “Gajaprishta” which means looking like the back of an elephant. Many shrines in South India have this shape and a well known structure in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu (The Five Pandavas caves) built by the Pallava Kings (Pallava Dynasty) has also a similar apsidal architecture. Although this is called Durga (wife of God Shiva) there are many statues and icons of God Vishnu are also here and thus a good blend of both Siva and Vishnu. The temple is full of interesting and intricate carvings and icons a few of them have been photographed and presented in this album.
The entire temple complex has been constructed out of sandstone which may have existed in abundance here. Sandstone is a form of sedimentary rock consisting of quartz and feldspar (alumino silicates) which are the common mineral in the earth’s crust. Before the advent of the modern construction materials sand stone has been extensively used in the construction of houses and temples. It calls for tremendous skill and mastery to create an entire temple complex with multiple shrines and intricately carved icons out of sandstone and speaks volumes of the skill of this craft that existed in the reign of the Chalukya kings.
It is said that Aihole was the learning school of architecture. Here the students were trained in architecture and were tasked with building small shrines as a part of their training programme. In other words Aihole was the Architectural Laboratory”. Later when they were trained well the “Prototype” of the architecture was created at Pattadakal and thereafter the full scale architecture was at Badami. Thus the Chalukyas had a well thought out planning procedure in skill development in a stage wise manner so as to ensure a perfect creation at the full sale level such as the one seen in the stunning architecture at Badami.
Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami are the cradle of the Chalukyan Architecture of indescribable beauty and intricacy which has to be seen to be believed and enjoyed. How the artisans in those days with minimal implements and facilities could carve out such intricate designs in sandstone (not easy to work with) will be forever as baffling as it is mysterious.