Friday, 19 December 2014

Destination Aihole

The cradle of Hindu temple architecture, Aihole or Aryapura was the destination to learn and experiment on the temple architecture. Under the patronage of early Chalukyan kings, the Chalukyan style of temple architecture was refined here between  the 5th and 8th century. 

The preview of Aihole given to us by the guide at Pattadakal was enough to excite me about visiting the ancient school of architecture, You wonder if you have arrived at Aihole as the narrow lanes leads you into the chaos of a village life but the complex of ancient structures in various states of disintegration  make you think you have time traveled. The proximity of the timeworn stone monuments and the present day village dwellings raised a lot of questions. The encroachment of these temples was even more intriguing. Be it the cattle housed in these structures, smoke bellowing out or the colorful clothes drying on a line between intricate carved column, all of it just amazed me. When we arrived at one of the better maintained complexes, we were eager to hire a guide and calm our confused minds.

At the entrance, the information board told me that there are about 50 temples within the ancient fortification and 50 more outside. Some of the temples listed were Huchimalli temple, Chikki temple, Ambiger temple, Durga temple, Gaudar, Ladkhan and suryanaryana temple complex, Chakragudi and Badiger temple, Rachi temple, Eniyar temple complex, Huchappayya math complex, Kunti temple complex, Charanti Math complex, Tryambekesavara temple, Gauri temple, Jaina temple, Mallikarjuna temple,Meguti temple,Jyothrilinga group,Huchappayya temple, Ravana Pahadi, Galaganatha  temple, Ramalinga group. Aihole just got more interesting! Temples called huchimalli or ladkhan is not something you come across every day.Couldn't wait any more!

With a guide in tow, we approached the temple closest to entrance of the complex.The late 7th / early 8th century Durga temple is unique due to its apsidal plan or in layman's language a structure with semicircular termination.The sculptures here are among the masterpieces of early Chalukyan art. Columns at the entrance are carved with amorous couple and guardian figures. the ceiling panel has a coiled naga and wheel with fish spokes. The mantapa is flanked by river goddess and guardians. Sculptures of Shiva with Nandi, Vishnu with Garuda, Varaha, Durga ,Harihara dot the mantapa.

Durga temple is not dedicated to Goddess Durga but the name is derived from durgadagudi - temple near the fort and is dedicated to Vishnu

Durga temple

                               Rekhanagara style of Shikara standing tall on an ornate structure

The semi enclosed corridor around the temples lets you admire the sculptures and take in the related stories in shade.

One unique feature of this temple is the faux door frame, well its a stone door frame that is made to look like a polished wooden frame.
The next prominent temple in the complex is the Ladkhan Temple. The first thing that catches your eye are the "stone" logs on the rood. Another example pseudo architecture or an experiment to adapt existing wooden construction techniques into experimental stone architecture. This 5th century temple which first shrines Vishnu and then Shiva  was later turned into a residence by a Muslim merchant named Ladkhan. Yes the reason behind the unique names of temples in Aihole was that they were used as homes and named after the owners, not the deity.

One can see more sculptures of Goddess and Embracing couples on the columns. A large Nandi is placed in the middle. icons of Vishu, Ardha narishwara, Surya are carved into the walls

Lad Khan Temple

The 5th century Panchayat/ pavilion style of architecture at Ladkhan

Aihole in 2014 is still a playground for the locals. The rehabilitation of locals which began  as late as the 80's has managed to clear up only a handful of temples. The ancient structures continue to be vandalized  for building material.  The statues, friezes and other elements of architecture lying around unprotected are of no significance to the locals and  their livestock. They continue their daily life nonchalantly and oblivious to  their importance.The government renewed its effort in 2012 in hopes of getting a world heritage tag but they are a long way off. 

Aihole map
We continued our tour of the Durga temple complex  and explored other temples like the Suryanarayana and Gaudara temple. As the style was still being experimented and developed, the workmanship is rudimentary and not like the intricate work at Pattadakal. But it was a pleasure  to experience these structures nevertheless .

At a distance from the complex, is the Huchimalli temple named after the lady who resided there. One can see the introduction of ante chamber or the ardhamantapa in this temple. The ceiling panel of Kartikeya ridding peacock greets you as you enter the porch to explore this temple.Figures of Yama, Indra, Kubera adorn the niches of Mantapa.The curved north Indian style gopuram rises over the beautiful sanctuary making it among prominent monuments in Aihole.

Suryanarayana Temple 7th/8th century , simple in its composition with a curvlinear shikara in rekha nagara style and housing the chalukyan image of Surya
Unnamed temple in the complex with circular columns typical to Belur Halebid

 Gaudara Gudi, the 5th century Mahalakshmi/ Baghavathi Temple

Huchimalli temple stands on a elevated  plinth and is from 7th century.

Ravana Phadi is considered to be one of the oldest rock cut temples in Aihole. The 6th century temple is carved out of sandstone outcrop . It has several sculptures and carving  including but not limited to Ardhanarishwara, Shiva with Ganga,Harihara, Varaha, Durga and ten armed Shiva dancing in company of Parvathi, Ganesha and Saptamatrikas.

 Ravana Phadi was like a preview to what was more to come in Badami. Here we come!

Date : December 2014
Place : Aihole, Karnataka

Tip : Ticket counters try to extract more entrance fee claiming that we are foreigners. So be cautious!
First : Historical structures being used in present day.
The travel connection :  "Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes"- Robin Leach

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