I love traveling to mountains over anything else. But off late I found this interest in visiting heritage places and getting mesmerized by their architecture. Be it temples or tombs, for some reason, I’m attracted to them. The carvings, designs, and the significance of such places. So it was a logical decision to drive from Bijapur to Aihole a UNESCO world heritage site.
While the original plan for my Hyderabad to Bijapur road trip was just to visit Bijapur and drive back home. But since I reached well in time, I was able to explore Gol Gumbaz and Ibrahim Rouza. And unlike me I took a spontaneous decision to include Aihole and Pattadakal on the list, visit them and then drive straight home. That was a 9-hour drive from Pattadakal to Hyderabad.
In this blog post, I share my experience of revisiting Aihole a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s still on the tentative list as per UNESCO. The last time I was here was in 2004 as part of my school trip. But back then, I had absolutely no idea of the importance of the place. Nonetheless, this time I spent a few hours in the complex to learn more about the place.
Temple Town of Aihole
The town of Aihole is located in the northern part of Karnataka. It’s about 120 km from Bijapur. The road is pretty straightforward. You can go via NH 50 crossing the mighty Almatti Dam and then take the state highway to Aihole. It’s about 35 km from Badami and 9 km from Pattadakal.
So most of the people coming here plan to cover Aihole, Badami, and Pattdakal on the same day. Roads are marked well but these are single-lane roads. If you’re coming by flight, the nearest airport is Belgaum.
As per the history books, the town has been a center for Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temples that existed from the 6th century to the 12th century. While the place was under siege like Bijapur, many of the sites that you see today are from the 10-12 centuries. Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Vijayanagara, and even the Adil Shahi dynasty had influence at this place.
There are about 120 temples in the area all of which date back to the same period. You can find temples and other similar protected monuments in various parts of the town. Some even share boundaries with houses. You’ll find them when you’re driving to Pattadakal.
The main complex is ticketed and the entry ticket costs Rs 25. However, if you purchase the ticket online by scanning the QR code present near the ticket counter, you can get a Rs 5 discount. There’s decent parking right outside the complex which charges Rs 30.
Sri Durga Temple Aihole – UNESCO World Heritage Site
The first instance of Aihole coming to light was when one of the British officials found this place in the late 1880s. One of them thought it was a Buddhist site because of the Apsidal design of the Durga temple.
As per one story, when it was excavated, it had rubble that looked like the idol of Durga that’s why the locals started calling it the Durga temple. While there’s another story that mentions that since it was part of a ruined fort known as Durg, it was called as Durga temple.
However, it was only later learned that it was originally dedicated to lord Surya and Vishnu based on the inscriptions. Originally believed to be from the 5th century, it was confirmed that it’s from the 6-8th century.
The Durga temple is the highlight of the temple complex as is known to be one of the earliest temples made by the Chalukya dynasty. In fact, the regions of Pattadakal, Badami, and Aihole are known to be the places where the Chalkuyan style of temple building was birthed. They experimented with designs and it’s evident when you see the Durga temple and the other temples in Pattadakal.
The striking thing about the Durga Temple is its architecture. It follows an Apsidal style of design which is quite different from the other Hindu temples. This type of design basically has a semi-circular design at one end while a longer structure leads to the entrance. It is believed that the inspiration for the temple was taken from Buddhist and Jain moments of the period.
The temple stands on a pedestal and a raised platform. The entrance is adorned with idols of couples leading to the entrance of the main sanctum. As you get closer to the entrance, you’ll find the carvings and designs becoming more intricate and beautiful, especially the ceiling. It’s said that a panel of the ceiling is placed in the museum outside the temple.
Around the main sanctum, you’ll find life-sized idols of lord Shiva, Durga, and Vishnu along with others. One can easily recognize these and are quite intricate. Each of these idols have a tale to tell and if you’re going with a guide, you’ll get to listen to more things about the idols and temple in general.
Other Temples In The Complex
While the Durga temple is the main attraction, there are about 7 temples in the complex.
There’s the Suryanarayan temple right next to the Durga temple. It has horses that are carved at the bottom but most details are lost/broken.
Then there’s the Lad Khan temple named after the military commander from the Adil Shahi dynasty who stayed for a few years while coordinating his military campaigns. There are intricate pillars and ceilings that lead to the sanctum. There’s a seated Nandi inside and the natural light coming inside is just beautiful.
Gaudargudi temple is next to the Lad Khan temple which is similar to the Lad Khan temple but more open from all sides. Based on the inscriptions, this temple was dedicated to the goddess Gauri. Unlike Lad Khan temple, the sanctum is empty.
There’s also a stepwell in the complex that was used to store water in those days. Moreover, the walls of the stepwell are carved too. The complex is well maintained and there’s ample grass bed and flowers.
Visit Aihole & Look Into The Glorious Past
When I was here in 2004, I had no idea about the importance of the place. I remember me and my friends jumping from the platforms, getting pictures clicked, and running around. This trip was important and I’m so glad that I did.
The genesis of temple designs from the Chalukya dynasty started here and you can see how it progressed. If you love architecture and history, you must visit Aihole. And when you’re here, make sure to cover Pattadakal and Badami as well.
That’s about it for this post, I know this came almost a month after my trip, but I’m glad it did! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, tweet to me at @Atulmaharaj, DM on Instagram at @Atulmaharaj, or Get In Touch.