The Badami cave temples are a complex of four Hindu, Jain and possibly Buddhist cave temples located in Badami, a town in the Bagalkot district in northern part of Karnataka, India. The caves are considered an example of Indian rock-cut architecture, especially Badami Chalukya architecture, which dates from the 6th century. Badami was previously known as Vataapi Badami, the capital of the early Chalukya dynasty, which ruled much of Karnataka from the 6th to the 8th century. Badami is situated on the west bank of an artificial lake ringed by an earthen wall with stone steps; it is surrounded on the north and south by forts built in later times.
The Badami cave temples represent some of the earliest known examples of Hindu temples. UNESCO has described the designs of the Badami cave temples, and those in Aihole, as having transformed the Malaprabha River valley into a cradle of temple architecture that defined the components of later Hindu temples elsewhere in India.
Caves 1 to 4 are in the escarpment of the hill in soft Badami sandstone formation, to the south-east of the town. In Cave 1, among various sculptures of Hindu divinities and themes, a prominent carving is of the Tandava-dancing Shiva as Nataraja. Cave 2 is mostly similar to Cave 1 in terms of its layout and dimensions, featuring Hindu subjects of which the relief of Vishnu as Trivikrama is the largest. The largest cave is Cave 3, featuring Vishnu-related mythology, and it is also the most intricately carved cave in the complex. Cave 4 is dedicated to revered figures of Jainism. Cave 5 may be a Buddhist cave. Another cave was discovered in 2015, about 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the four main caves, with 27 Hindu carvings.
The Badami cave temples are located in the town of Badami in the north-central part of Karnataka, India. The temples are about 70 miles (110 km) north-east of Hubli-Dharwad, the second-largest metropolitan area of the state. The Malaprabha River is 3 miles (4.8 km) away. Badami, also referred to as Vatapi, Vatapipuri and Vatapinagari in historical texts, the capital of Chalukya dynasty in the 6th century, is at the exit point of a ravine between two steep mountain cliffs. Four cave temples in the escarpment of the hill to the south-east of the town have been excavated. The escarpment is above an artificial lake called Agastya Lake that is created by an earthen dam faced with stone steps. To the west end of this cliff, at its lowest point, is the first cave temple. The largest cave is Cave 3, which is further to the east on the northern face of the hill. The fourth cave, Cave 4, is a short distance away.
The cave temples, numbered 1 to 4 in the order of their creation, in the town of Badami – the capital city of the Chalukya kingdom (also known as Early Chalukyas) – are dated from the late 6th century onwards. The exact dating is known only for Cave 3, which is a temple dedicated to Vishnu. An inscription found here records the creation of the shrine by Mangalesha in Saka 500 (lunar calendar, 578/579 CE). The inscription, written in the Kannada language, has enabled the dating of these rock cave temples to the 6th century.
The Badami caves complex is part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site candidate under the title "Evolution of Temple Architecture – Aihole-Badami-Pattadakal" in the Malaprabha river valley, considered a cradle of temple architecture that formed the model for later Hindu temples in the region. The artwork in Caves 1 and 2 exhibit the northern Deccan style of the 6th and 7th centuries, while those in Cave 3 simultaneously represent two ancient Indian artistic traditions; the northern Nagara and the southern Dravida styles. Cave 3 also shows icons and reliefs in the Vesara style, a creative fusion of ideas from the two styles, as well as some of the earliest surviving historical examples in Karnataka of yantra-chakra motifs (geometric symbolism) and colored fresco paintings. The first three caves feature sculptures of Hindu icons and legends focusing on Shiva and Vishnu, while Cave 4 features Jain icons and themes.
The Badami cave temples are man-made, all carved out of soft Badami sandstone on a hill cliff. The plan of each of the four caves (1 to 4) includes an entrance with a verandah (mukha mandapa) supported by stone columns and brackets, a distinctive feature of these caves, leading to a columned mandapa, or main hall (also maha mandapa), and then to the small, square shrine (sanctum sanctorum, garbhaghrha) cut deep inside the cave. The cave temples are linked by a stepped path with intermediate terraces overlooking the town and lake. The cave temples are labelled 1–4 in their ascending series; this numbering does not reflect the sequence of excavation.
The architecture includes structures built in the Nagara and Dravidian styles, which is the first and most persistent architectural idiom to be adopted by the early chalukyas. There is also a fifth natural cave temple in Badami, a Buddhist temple, a natural cave that can only be entered by crouching on all fours.
Cave 1 is about 59 feet (18 m) above ground level on the north-west part of the hill. Access is through a series of steps that depict carvings of dwarfish ganas (with bovine and equine heads) in different postures. The verandah, with an inner measurement of 70 feet (21 m) by 65 feet (20 m), has four columns sculpted with reliefs of the god Shiva shown in dancing positions and incarnations. The guardian dwarapalas (door keepers) at the entrance to the cave measure 6.166 feet (1.879 m).
The cave portrays the Tandava-dancing Shiva as Nataraja. The image, 5 feet (1.5 m) tall, has 18 arms in a form that expresses the dance positions arranged in a geometric pattern, which Alice Boner – a Swiss art historian and Indologist, says is a time division symbolizing the cosmic wheel. While most of the arms express mudras (symbolic hand gestures), some of the arms hold objects such as drums, a trident and an axe; some also have serpents coiled around them. Shiva has his son Ganesha and the bull Nandi by his side. Adjoining the Nataraja, one wall depicts the goddess Durga, who is depicted slaying the buffalo-demon Mahishasura. Elsewhere, the sons of Shiva, Ganesha and Kartikkeya, the god of war and family deity of the Chalukya dynasty, are seen in one of the carved sculptures on the walls of the cave, with Kartikkeya riding a peacock.
The cave also has carved sculptures of the goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati flanking Harihara, a 7.75-foot (2.36 m) high sculpture of a fused image that is half-Shiva and half-Vishnu. To the right, toward the end of the wall, is a relief sculpture of Ardhanarishvara, a composite androgynous form of Shiva and his consort Parvati along with a female decorated goddess holding a flat object in her left hand; Nandi, the bull and Bhringi, a devotee of Shiva.
All the figures are adorned with carved ornaments and surrounded by borders with reliefs of animals and birds. The lotus design is a common theme. On the ceiling are images of the Vidyadhara couples. Through a cleft in the back wall of the cave is a square sanctuary with more carved images.
The roof of the cave has five carved panels with the central panel depicting the serpent Shesha. The head and bust are well formed and project boldly from the centre of the coil. In another compartment a bas-relief 2.5 feet (0.76 m) in diameter has carvings of a male and female; the male is Yaksha carrying a sword and the female is Apsara with a flying veil. The succeeding panel has carvings of two small figures and the panel at the end is carved with lotuses.
Cave 2, lying to the west of Cave 3 and facing north, was created in late 6th century. It is almost same as Cave 1 in terms of its layout and dimensions, but it is dedicated primarily to Vishnu. Cave 2 is reached by climbing 64 steps from the first cave. The cave entrance is a verandah divided by four square pillars, which has carvings from its middle section to the top where there are yali brackets with sculptures within them. The cave is adorned with reliefs of guardians. Like Cave 1, the carved cave art is a pantheon of Hindu divinities.
The largest relief in Cave 2 shows Vishnu as Trivikrama (Vamana), with one foot on Earth and another directed to the north. Other representations of Vishnu in this cave include Varaha (a boar) shown rescuing Bhudevi (a symbol of the earth) from the depths of the ocean; and Krishna avatars, legends found in Hindu Puranas texts such as the Bhagavata Purana. Like other major murti (forms) in this and other Badami caves, the Varaha sculpture is set in a circle; according to Alice Boner, the panel is an upright rectangle whose "height is equal to the octopartite directing circle and sides are aligned to essential geometric ratios, in this case to the second vertical chord of the circle".
The doorway is framed by pilasters carrying an entablature with three blocks embellished with gavaksha ornament. The entrance of the cave also has two armed guardians holding flowers rather than weapons. The end walls of the outer verandah are adorned with sculpted panels: to the right, Trivikrama and to the left, Varaha rescuing Bhudevi, with a penitent multi-headed snake (Nāga) below. The adjacent side walls and ceiling have traces of colored paint, suggesting the cave used to have fresco paintings. The columns show gods and battle scenes; the churning of the cosmic ocean (Samudra Manthan); Gajalakshmi and figures; Brahma; Vishnu asleep on Shesha; illustrations of the birth of Krishna; Krishna's youth; Krishna with gopis; and cows.
The ceiling of Cave 2 shows a wheel with sixteen fish spokes in a square frame along with swastikas and flying couples. The end bays have a flying couple and Vishnu on Garuda. The main hall in the cave is 33.33 feet (10.16 m) wide, 23.583 feet (7.188 m) deep, and 11.33 feet (3.45 m) high and is supported by eight square pillars in two rows. The roof of this hall has panels filled with bas-relief carvings. At the upper reaches of the wall, a frieze runs all along the wall with engravings of episodes from the Krishna or Vishnu legends.
The sculptures of Cave 2, like Cave 1, are of the northern Deccan style of the 6th and 7th century similar to that found in Ellora caves.
Cave 3 is dedicated to Vishnu; it is the largest and most intricately carved cave in the complex. It has well carved, giant figures of Trivikrama, Anantasayana, Paravasudeva, Bhuvaraha (Varaha), Harihara and Narasimha. Cave 3's primary theme is Vaishnavite, though it also shows Harihara on its southern wall – half Vishnu and half Shiva shown fused as one, making the cave important to Shaivism studies.
Cave 3, also facing north, is 60 steps away from Cave 2. Cave 3's temple's verandah is 70 feet (21 m) in length with an interior width of 65 feet (20 m); it has been sculpted 48 feet (15 m) deep into the mountain; an added square shrine at the end extends the cave 12 feet (3.7 m) further inside. The verandah itself is 7 feet (2.1 m) wide and has four free-standing, carved pillars separating it from the hall. The cave is 15 feet (4.6 m) high; it is supported by six pillars, each measuring 2.5 square feet (0.23 m2). Each column and pilaster is carved with wide, deep bases crowned with capitals that are partly hidden by brackets on three sides. Each bracket, except for one, has carvings of human figures standing under foliage in different postures, of male and female mythological characters, and an attendant figure of a dwarf. A moulded cornice in the facia, with a dado of blocks below it (generally 7 feet (2.1 m) long), has about thirty compartments carved with series of two fat dwarves called ganas. The cave shows a Kama scene on one pillar, where a woman and a man are in maithuna (erotic) embrace beneath a tree.
Cave 3 also shows fresco paintings on the ceiling, some of which are faded, broken and unclear. These are among the earliest known surviving evidence of fresco painting in Indian art. The Hindu god Brahma is seen in one of the murals; the wedding of Shiva and Parvati, attended by various Hindu deities, is the theme of another. There is a lotus medallion on the floor underneath the mural of the four-armed Brahma. The sculpture is well preserved, and a large number of Vishnu's reliefs including standing Vishnu with eight arms; Vishnu seated on the hooded serpent Shesha on the eastern side of the verandha; Vishnu as Narasimha (half human, half lion); Varaha fully armed in the back wall of the cave; Harihara (a syncretic sculpture of Vishnu and Shiva); and Trivikrama avatars. The back wall also has carvings of Vidhyadharas holding offerings to Varaha; adjoining this is an inscription dated 579 AD with the name Mangalis inscribed on it.
At one end of the pilaster is a sculpture of Vamana shown with eight arms (Ashtabhuja); this is decorated with various types of weapons. A crescent moon is crafted above his face and the crown of Vishnu decorates his head. He is flanked by Varaha and two other figures; below on his right is his attendant Garuda. The images in front of Vamana are three figures of Bali and his wife with Shukra, his councillor. Reliefs stand 4 metres (13 ft) tall. Some aspects of the culture and clothing in the 6th century is visible in the art sculpted in this cave. The roof of the verandah has seven panels created by cross beams; each is painted in circular compartments with images of deities including Shiva, Vishnu, Indra, Brahma and Kama, with smaller images of Dikpalas (cardinal guardians) with geometric mosaics filling the gaps at the corners.
The roof of the front aisle has panels with murals in the centre of male and female figurines flying in the clouds; the male figure is yaksha holding a sword and a shield. Decoration of lotus blooms are also seen on the panels. The roof of the hall is divided into nine panels slightly above the level of the ceiling. The central panel here depicts a deva mounted on a ram – conjectured to be Agni. Images of Brahma and Varuna are also painted on the central panels; the floating figures are seen in the remaining panels.
Located to the east of Cave 3, Cave 4 is situated higher than the other caves. It is dedicated to revered figures of Jainism and is the most-recently constructed of the caves. Like the other caves, it features detailed carvings and a diverse range of motifs. The cave has a five-bayed entrance with four square columns – each with brackets and capitals. To the back of this verandah is a hall with two standalone and two joined pillars. The first aisle is a verandah 31 feet (9.4 m) long by 6.5 feet (2.0 m) wide, extending to 16 feet (4.9 m) deep. From the hall, steps lead to the sanctum sanctorum, which is 25.5 feet (7.8 m) wide extends to a depth of 6 feet (1.8 m).
On the back part of this, Mahavira is represented sitting on a lion throne; this figure is flanked by bas-reliefs of attendants with chauri (fans), sardulas and makara's heads. The end walls have Parshvanath about 7.5 feet (2.3 m) tall with his head decorated with a multi-headed cobra representing protection and reverence. Carvings include Indrabhuti Gautama covered by four snakes, and Bahubali seen to the left of Gautama with his lower legs surrounded by snakes, together with his daughters Brahmi and Sundari. In the sanctum is an image of Mahavira resting on a pedestal containing a 12th-century Kannada inscription marking the death of one Jakkave. Many Jaina Tirthankara images have been engraved on the inner pillars and walls. In addition there are idols of Yakshas, Yakshis, Padmavati and other Tirthankaras. Most scholars believe Cave 4 was created in the mid-7th century, but some place its creation in the 8th century.
Cave 5 is an as-yet-undated, natural cave of small dimensions that is approached by crawling due to its narrow opening. Inside, there is a carved statue seated over a sculpted throne with reliefs showing people holding chauris (fans), a tree, elephants, and lions in an attacking pose. The face of this statue was reasonably intact until about 1995, it is now damaged and missing parts.
There are several theories as to who the statue represents. One theory holds that it is a relief of the Buddha in a sitting posture. According to this theory, those holding the chauris are Bodhisattvas flanking the Buddha. In the intervening centuries, the cave was converted to a Hindu shrine of Vishnu, as is seen from the white, religious markings painted on the face of the Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu. According to B.V. Shetti – archaeologist and curator of Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, the cave was not converted but from the start represented a tribute to Mayamoha of the Hindu Puranas, or Buddhavatara Vishnu, its style suggesting it was likely carved in or before the 8th century.
A second theory, found in colonial-era texts such as one by John Murray – a missionary in British India and Jainism scholar, say the main image carved in Cave 5 is that of a Jaina figure. According to a third theory, by Henry Cousens and A. Sundara – archaeologists, and supported by local legends, the statue is of an ancient king; in a photograph of the statue taken before its face was damaged, the figure lacked the Ushnisha lump that typically goes with Buddha's image. The statue has several unusual, non-Buddha ornaments such as rings for fingers, a necklace and a chest-band; it wears a Hindu Yajnopavita thread and its head is stylistically closer to a Jina head than a Buddha head. These features suggest the statue may be of a king represented with features of various traditions. According to Carol Radcliffe Bolon – Assistant Curator at the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art, the date and identity of the main statue in Cave 5 remains enigmatic.
In 2013, Manjunath Sullolli – Assistant Director of Bagalkot district working for the state government of Karnataka, reported the discovery of another cave with 27 rock carvings, about 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the four main caves. Water gushes from this newly discovered cave year round. It depicts Vishnu and other Hindu deities, and features an inscription in the Devanagari script. The dating of these carvings is unknown.