Badami – A Vibrant Town with a Glorious Past

Badami is just another town in northern Karnataka, but with an exception. Here a glorious chapter in the history of India, Karnataka in particular, was written when Pulakeshi I, a vassal/feudal lord from nearby Aihole, established the Chalukya Empire about 1500 years ago. It flourished for 200 more years and became the precursor to the other powerful empires, including the Vijayanagara Empire, that ruled the region for another eight hundred years.

When Pulakeshi I saw Badami, he fell in love with its beauty, and at the same time, he recognized its strategic importance because of its location. Badami offers a natural defense against enemy attacks because of the rugged sandstone hills around it. He moved his capital from Aihole to Badami and founded his dynasty by declaring his independence in 540 CE. His lineage became known as the Badami Chalukyas or Early Chalukyas.

Badami remained as their capital until 753 CE when its last ruler Kirtivarman II was overthrown by the Rastrakutas, the feudatory of Badami Chalukyas. The Badami Chalukyas later split into the Eastern and Western Chalukyas and ruled the region until the 12th century.

The Western Chalukyas eventually defeated the Rastrakutas and occupied Badami in the 10th century. They built a few new temples and enhanced the existing temples, especially the Jain temple in Cave – 4. Later, the Vijayanagara Empire gained control of Badami. However, Badami never regained its past glory.

Tippu Sultan, the tiger of Mysore, also left his mark in Badami in the 18th century. Enamored by its beauty and the strategic location, he built forts around the existing ruins on the northern and southern sandstone hills. He built granaries and the treasury in the north fort and a watch tower in the south fort.

Chalukyas were benevolent rulers, and under their patronage of religions, arts, and the Kannada language flourished. They were responsible for building numerous temples in and around Badami, including the magnificent Badami cave temples. The dynasties that came after the Chalukyas continued this trend and the temple building flourished. As a result, hundreds of beautiful temples, big and small, and dedicated to a variety of gods, now dot the landscape of Karnataka and the surrounding regions.

Cave Temples of Badami – Masterpieces of Chalukya Temple Art

Carved out of the red sandstone hills overlooking the beautiful Agastya Lake, the four caves temples of Badami standout among the cave temples in India – including Ajantha-Ellora caves, Karla caves, Elephanta caves, and Barabar caves – because of the stunning scenic beauty around them, colorfulness of red sandstones in which they are carved, and the beauty of the carvings.

The cave temples were constructed by meticulously carving out the stone material from rock to create beautiful structures, sculptures, and sculptural reliefs. They are an impressive work of art, and visiting them is a fascinating experience. It is mind-boggling how the ancient Indians were able to create such magnificent structures without the aid of sophisticated machinery or tools.

The cluster of four caves are next to each other and connected via flights of steps and labeled accordingly as Cave – 1 to Cave – 4 based on the sequence of approach to the caves. In other words, you would visit Cave – 1 first and Cave – 4 last.

The chronological order of their construction is not known because of lack of inscriptions. Only Cave – 3 has inscription detailing its dating. However, it is generally believed that they were constructed in the same sequence as their approach.

Check these pages for a detailed explanation of these caves:

  1. Cave – 1: Shiva Temple
  2. Cave – 2: Vishnu Temple
  3. Cave – 3: Maha Vishnu Temple
  4. Cave – 4: Jain Temple

Legend of Badami

According to the inscriptions found in the area, Badami was known as Vatapi when it was the capital of the Early Chalukyas. It got its name from the legend of two rakshasa (demon) brothers, Vatapi and Ilvala, who used to live the region and tormented the travelers. Agastya, a powerful rishi who lived in the Vindhyas, eventually killed them. Badami has an ancient lake in the valley between the sandstone hills, and the inscriptions refer to it as Agastya Tirtha or Agastya Mahasarovara, most likely because of this legend.

Agastya Thirta

Agastya Lake in Badami, Karnataka, India
Agastya Lake in Badami

Agastya Thirta is an artificial lake sandwiched between the northern and southern red sandstone hills of Badami. Commissioned most-likey by the Early Chalukyas and created by building a dam on its west side. The magnificent Badami caves are located on the southwest side of the lake. This picture was taken from a vantage point near Cave – 2 of the Badami Caves.

The red sandstone cliffs located north of the lake are home to ancient temples built mostly by the Early Chalukyas. The temple at the top of the hill is called the Upper Shivalaya, and the small temple at the extreme left is called the Lower Shivalaya. Both the temples are now dedicated to Shiva and built by the Early Chalukyas in the 6th century CE.

If you expand the image, the walls of the fort built by Tippu Sultan are visible. The temple on the dam is the Yellamma Temple (See below), which was built by the Western Chalukyas in the 11th century CE.

Agastya Lake - A view from the north showing the dam, Badami caves, and fort
Agastya Lake – A view from the north side

The image shows a view of the Agastya Lake from the north side with the dam on the right and the northern red sandstone hills at the far end. If you expand the image, you can see Cave – 1 and Cave – 4. Cave – 2 and Cave – 3 are hidden by the rocks.

At the top of the hill, you can see the Badami Fort, built in 543 CE by Pulakeshi I, and a watchtower built by Tippu Sultan. The entrance with steps to the watchtower and the fort is located in an opening in the rocks between Cave – 2 and Cave – 3.

Bhuthanatha Temple on the Eastern Shore

The image shows a view of the Bhuthanatha Temple on the eastern shores of the Agastya Lake. This picture was taken from Cave – 4 of the Badami caves located on the southern red sandstone hills.

Bhuthanatha Temple on the eastern shore of the Agastya Lake
Bhuthanatha Temple on the eastern shore

During the monsoon season, the water level reaches up to the temple platform. As you can see from the image, the water has receded, and the near-end of the image shows the dried-up lake bed.

This temple is dedicated to Bhuthanatha, a form of Shiva, and dated to the 8th century CE. The temple underwent modifications in the later when the Western Chalukyas ruled Badami.

Yellamma Temple on the Western Shore

The image shows a view of the Yellamma Temple built on top of the dam on the west side the Agastya Lake. The picture was taken from Cave – 2 of the Badami Caves located on the southern red sandstone hills.

Yellamma Temple on the west side of the Agastya Lake in Badami, Karnataka, India
Yellamma Temple on the west side of the Agastya Lake

As the name suggests, the temple is dedicated to Yellamma, a popular goddess worshiped in parts of Karnataka and Telangana. Yellamma is a local name for Renuka, the wife of Rishi Jamadagni and the mother of Parashurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu. The temple was built by the later Chalukyas in the 11th century CE.

As you can see from the image, the temple has a beautiful shikara (tower) above its garbhagriha (inner sanctum) and a mantapa (hall) in front of it. The architecture of this temple is a fusion of Nagara style of North India with the Mantapa style of South India (i.e., Dravida architecture).


The northern sandstone hills have three Shivalayas, i.e., temples for Shiva. These are Upper Shivalaya, Lower Shivalaya, and Malegitti Shivalaya.

Upper Shivalaya

The image shows structures on top of northern red sandstone hills which are north of the Agastya Lake, and opposite of similar sandstone hills on the south side o this lake. The south-side hills home to four magnificent rock-cut cave temples.

Upper Shivalaya, North Fort, and Watch Towers in Badami, Karnataka, India
Upper Shivalaya, North Fort, and Watch Towers in Badami

At the top is Upper Shivalaya built by the Chalukyas in the 6th century CE. Surrounding Upper Shivalaya is a fort rebuilt by Tippu Sultan. The two structures below the Upper Shivalaya are the watchtowers.

According to the information on the ASI (Archeological Survey of India) plaque, the Upper Shivalaya was originally a Vishnu temple, which became a Shivalaya (a temple for Shiva) in the later years. It has sculptural reliefs related to Vishnu and Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. The idol in the garbhagriha is missing.

Lower Shivalaya

The image shows the remnants of a once magnificent temple, now known as the Lower Shivalaya, located just below the Upper Shivalaya and to the east of the Malegitti Shivalaya.

Lower Shivalaya in Badami, Karnataka, India
Lower Shivalaya in Badami

Only the inner sanctum and the tower above it have survived. The idol in the inner sanctum is missing. The temple was originally dedicated to Vatapi Ganapathi and was well known in olden times. Even today, Carnatic musicians invoke the blessings of Vatapi Ganapathi by singing Vatapi Ganapathi Bhajeyam.

Malegitti Shivalaya

The image shows the Malegitti Shivalaya built on the red sandstone cliffs located north of the Agastya Lake.

Malegitti Shivalaya in Badami
Malegitti Shivalaya in Badami

According to the information on the ASI plaque, the temple is dated to the late 7th century CE and is dedicated to Surya, the sun god. The original idol in the garbhagriha is missing. However, there is a relief depicting Surya riding seven horses on the lintel of the garbhagriha door.

It is not clear how the temple got its name. In Kannada, Malé means a garland and Malegitti means a lady garland maker. It became a Shivalaya after a Shivalinga was installed in its garbhagirha in later years.

Related Pages
Badami Cave – 1, Badami Cave – 2, Badami Cave – 3, Badami Cave – 4

Copyright © 2019 by Lawrence Rodrigues. All rights reserved.

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