Bagalkot District of Karnataka is blessed with some amazing historical sites of Ancient Indian History. These include destinations like Badami, Pattadakal (Read here: A Day at Pattadakal Temple Complex in Karnataka) and Aihole (Read here: Aihole: An Architectural Wonder in Stones). In modern days, these places look like a small town or remote villages, but on the top of its glory, they were the most important centers of powerful Chalukyan Empire. These three places are located in the close vicinity and with a bit of planning can be covered in a single day. This post is about the ruins scattered around the town of Badami, that was once famous as the powerful capital Vatapi of Chalukyan Empire.
How to reach Badami?
By Road: Badami is situated in Bagalkot District of Karnataka, 30 kms away from the district headquarter. The major nearby towns/cities include Bijapur (120 kms), Gadag (70 kms), Hubli (105 kms) and Hospet (130 kms). It is approx. 420 kms away from Hyderabad and 500 kms away from Bengaluru.
Government public buses are available from Badami to Gadag, Bijapur and Hubli, which are further connected to the major cities of India on the road and rail network. These buses may not be available at the frequent intervals, so check the departure time to plan your travel accordingly.
I travelled Badami from Hyderabad. There is no direct bus available from Hyderabad to Badami. But, There are at least five public buses between Hyderabad and Bagalkot. These buses are operated by Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and can be booked online at the KSRTC website. These buses take approx. 11 hours for this journey and fare is dependent on the bus category (KARNATAKA SARIGE, two buses daily at 1530 Hrs and 2016 Hrs from Hyderabad Mahatma Gandhi Bus Stand (MG Bus Stand), Fare: INR 380 approx., MEGHADHOOTA AC, one bus daily at 2115 Hrs and 1000 Hrs from Hyderabad MG Bus Stand, Fare: INR 650 approx.,RAJAHAMSA EXECUTIVE, two buses daily at 1800 Hrs and 2005 Hrs from Hyderabad MG Bus Stand, Fare: INR 550 approx.). From Bagalkot, there are frequent public buses available at every hour to Badami.
Similarly, there are no direct bus available between Bengaluru and Badami. But you can get a direct bus from Bengaluru (Two buses daily, NON AC SLEEPER 1945 Hrs, Fare: INR 630 and RAJAHAMSA EXECUTIVE 2100 Hrs, Fare: INR 542) to Bagalkot. This journey takes approx. 10 hours. From Bagalkot, catch another bus to Badami.
A direct bus is also available from Badami to Mumbai. It starts from Badami at 1700 Hrs and reaches Mumbai Kurla Stand at 0900 Hrs via Bagalkot, Bijapur, Sholapur, Pune and Panvel.
By Train: There is a small station in Badami, which is about 5 kms away from the town. This is not a very big station, but a direct train is available from Hyderabad (17320 SC UBL Express, 3-days in a week) and two trains are also from Bengaluru ( 19405 Ahmedabad AC Express (via also from Mumbai), weekely and 16535 Solapur Express, Daily). Some other trains running between Hubli and Bijapur junction stops at Badami station. Gadag, Hospet, Hubli and Bijapur are major railway stations located near Badami.
By Air: There is no airport in Badami. Nearby major airports are located in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Other smaller airports are located in Belgaum (150 kms) and Bellary (160 kms), but these are not served by the frequent flight operations.
Places to Visit in Badami:
Walking in Middle of The Ancient Ruins: Badami’s best can be simply experienced by a walk through the ruins. All the major attractions of Badami are located around the Agasthya Lake and sandwiched between two high mountain cliffs at Northern and Southern side. It is about one kilometer walk from the bus stand. The straight cliffs of the Northern hill and fort complex on the hill-top is visible from the main road itself. While approaching from bus stand, in front of Badami Post Office, take a left turn in a lane going towards the Northern hill. This lane goes directly to the Lake, Archaeological Museum and Bhootnath Temple Complex.
Archaeological Museum of Badami: While approaching towards Agasthya Lake from the bus stand, after entering the complex, this is the first thing to visit, just near the main entrance on the left side. There is a stone statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva’s bull, at the entrance of the museum. The museum mainly comprises of pre-historic stone implements and sculptures, architectural members, inscriptions, hero stones etc. datable from 6th to 16th century AD. I was able to saw them only from outside as museum was closed in the early morning.
Timings: Daily except Fridays through the year from 1000 Hrs to 1700 hrs.
Entrance Fee: INR 2.00 per person. Free entrance for the children below the age of 15 years.
Agasthya Lake: Walking further, I reached to a beautiful large water reservoir, known as Agasthya Lake or Agasthya Tirtha. This lake is surrounded by the Badami Caves, Red sandstone hills, Bhootnath Temple Complex, small houses of Badami and the beautiful flight of steps (the ghats). This water in this lake is believed to have some healing power too. The sandstone steps (ghats) from three side of the lake make it more beautiful. The steps are full of local women washing the clothes in this holy lake.
Badami in Hindu Mythology: Legend says that there were two demon siblings in the ancient times, one is Vatapi and another one is Ilvala. The older brother Ilvala converted Vatapi in red meat and offered that to the poor souls living in the area. Unware of the tricks, people ate that meat happily. Then, Ilvala would re-converted that meat into Vatapi who would then emerge by tearing through the person’s body causing death. One day they did the same trick to the great saint Agasthya. But, the saint was able to digest the meat, thus causing death of Vatapi. This put an end to the misery of local people. These two hills in Badami at the northern and the southern side are supposed to represent the demons Ilvala and Vatapi. The lake between these hills was named as Agasthya Lake or Agasthya Tirtha in honour of the great saint.
Bhootnath Temple Complex: This temple is located at the Eastern side of the lake. Another temple of Bhoothnath Group of temple is located at the North-Eastern side of the lake, but the Eastern temple complex is the main temple and believed to be built in 5th century. These temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva. Inside the temple, there are lot of carvings on the wall. My favourite one is this image of Lord Vishnu lying down on Sheshanaag.
Behind the temple, there is some excellent carvings of the Hindu gods on the rock. These carvings are chiseled in a single rock and have the images of Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesha, Varah Avtar of Lord Vishnu, Narsingh Avtar of Lord Vishnu, A Shivalingam, Nandi Bull etc.
Badami Fort and Adjacent Area: Again walking along the Agasthya Tank, I moved towards the northern hill through an access road adjacent to the museum. This hill has an amazing package to unfold for its visitors. Top of the hills are almost flat, full of shrubs and thorns, many walkable trails and houses small water reservoir, some small temples with excellent carvings and Badami Fort. You can walk along the cliff to see the whole town of Badami. White-washed flat-roofs houses lie to each other so closely, that you can walk from one roof to another easily. While moving from one corner to another on the hill, you have to move through the narrow passes in the middle of two high cliffs, that is very exciting. It resembles the landscape of legendary Petra. These hills of Badami are one of the best places for rock climbing in India.
I climbed on a small hill of the fort with the Upper and Lower Shivalayas. The Upper Shivalaya, built by Pulakesan II, a devotee of Lord Vishnu is marked by sculpted tales from mythology on its outer walls. Look for the lion and elephant heads atop the temple steps.
The Lower Shivalaya was raised to Lord Ganesh. To its north a 16th century cannon looks down on the township. The watchtower of the fort, a little further on, is believed to date to the 14th century.
Most of the tourist only visit the famous caves of Badami and they don’t come to this side of Agasthya Lake. The distance between two sides is about 1.5 kms. This is biggest advantage of being the north side of the lake. You can enjoy tourist attractions like Bhootnath Temple, Museum, Northern Hill and Fort in a peaceful manner away from the crowd. This makes the walking experiences in Badami more enjoyable.
After visiting the Northern Side of the lake, I moved towards the Southern Hill, that houses the famous cave temples. These cave temples and large crowd gathered there is also visible from the northern side of the lake. I walk along the lake towards the south. This road passes through the populated area. Just before the caves, there is a 18th century mosque near the entrance and ticket counter.
Mosque of Adilshahi of Bijapur: Nobody visit this mosque, so it generally remain closed. Its walls have inscription in Arabic praising Allah and Ali. The black Gumbaz near it has extracts from Holy Quran engraved on its walls. It is really an impressive monument, but in the shadow of adjacent caves, it is lacking behind. It is among the poor monuments like many others in India, those are getting ruined in the lack of proper maintenance.
Badami Caves :Badami is famous for its four cave temples – all cut out of a monolithic (single) rock of sand stone on the precipice of a hill. First three of these temples are dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses and the last one is basically dedicated to Jain Tirthankars. The four cave temples represent the secular nature of the rulers then, with tolerance and a religious following that inclines towards Hinduism, Jainism and also Buddhism.
Ticket Price: INR 5 for Indians and INR 100 for foreigners. Ticket counter is just near the main entrance of the cave.
Caution: These cave temples of Badami have some alive residents, who present there permanently with other gods. These Monkeys are literally hundreds in number along the steps that go up to the top of the temple. While walking on the steps and around the caves, be careful. Do not hand over any eatable items to the small children. These monkeys are very aggressive snatchers in that area. 🙂
Cave Temple 1 : Moving from the ticket counter, a long flight of steps take me to the first cave. This cave is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This cave temple dates back to the 5th century CE and was built by Chalukyan King Pulkesin I. There is a carving of the cosmic dance of Shiva Nataraja depicted with eighteen arms. With these 18 arms, Lord Shiva can make 81 dance poses or mudra of Natya Shastra. There are also reliefs of Ganapati, Nandi, Shanmukha and Mahishasuramardhini, and may be the oldest in Badami. It is made of red sandstone and has a hall with numerous pillars and a square-shaped sanctum hollowed in the control back wall.
Cave Temple 2 : The second cave temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his avatars (incarnations). It is reached through a flight of 64 steps from the first one. The best carving in this cave is the image of Lord Vishnu in his Varaha avatar (Varaha the pig-faced, human-bodied Lord, half human-half animal). In this avatar, he rescued the Goddess Bhudevi (The Earth) from the demon Hiranyaksha. On the ceiling of this cave, there are carvings of Vishnu on Garuda and several other scenes from the puranas. In another carving, there is an image of Lord Vishnu in Nindra Kolam (He is standing and more than seven feet tall).
Cave Temple 3 : The third rock cut temple and the most majestic one, is reached from the 2nd temple through a flight of 60 steps. It is a 100 feet deep cave, with inscriptions dating this Vishnu temple to 578 CE during, the period of Kiritivarma Chalukya. Here there are carved images of the Narasimha (the Lord with lion’s face and claws and a human body, to rescue Prahlad from Hiranyakashipu) and Trivikrama (also known as Vamana Avatar, the short-heighted person, to rescue the world from the king Bali) avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are also murals depicting the divine marriage of Shiva and Parvati.
Cave Temple 4 : The fourth cave temple is basically related to the 6th century Jainism. It has many carved images of Jain Tirthankars. In the sanctum santorum, Lord Mahavira is depicted in a sitting posture. It also has a carving of the Tirthankara Parshavnatha (with a serpent at his feet). The whole area of Agasthya Tirta, Bhootnath Temple and Northern Hill looks very beautiful form here.
Today, Badami looks like a small town built around the ancient ruins. After walking through the adjacent lanes, it appears like a hamlets of poor souls, who struggle daily for their bread and butter. It is very difficult to believe that Badami was once the magnificent capital of the mighty Chalukyan Empire, that included major portion of the Southern India. The glory of Badami is only reflected in history books and its ancient ruins.
After visiting this beautiful town of Badami, I headed towards my next destination Pattadakal.