Cave Temples of Badami: Cave – 3

Located on the red sandstone hills of Badami in Karnataka, India, the cluster of four rock-cut cave temples are an impressive work of religious art and a showcase of Chalukya temple architecture.

This page describes Cave – 3. Check the following pages for a detailed explanation of the other three caves:

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

Cave – 3: Maha Vishnu Temple

Facade and Entrance of Cave - 3, the third of the four caves in Badami located in Karnataka, India
Facade and Entrance of Cave – 3, the third of the four caves in Badami
Ground Plan of Cave - 3, the third of the four rock-cut caves located near Badami in Karnataka, India
Ground Plan of Cave – 3

Unlike the other three caves, there is an inscription detailing the exact date of its completion. According to this inscription, Chalukya Mangalesha, a stepbrother of King Kirthivarma I of Chalukya dynasty, completed it in 578 CE and donated the village of Lanjisvara (present-day Nadikesvara) to this temple.

Areawise, Cave – 3 is bigger than the other three caves. Compared to them, it has a broader facade and a larger courtyard with a prakara (a protective wall) enveloping it.

The temple in Cave – 3 is dedicated to Vishnu and has reliefs related to Vishnu, his avatars, and legends narrated in Puranas. Like the other three caves, Cave -3 is a mantapa style temple with the following three parts:

1. Mukhamantapa (Verandah or Porch) – The flight of steps leads to the mukhamantapa. It is like an open veranda with six pillars in front of the temple. There are three life-size sculptural reliefs on the walls of each end. The left-side reliefs depict Vamanavatara, Narasimhavatara, and Harihara and the right side wall depict Astabhuja Vishnu (8-armed Visnu), Vishnu seated on Ananta and Varahavatara. The ceiling of the mukhamantapa has bas-reliefs of Vishnu, Brahma, Indra, Varuna, and Yama.

2. Sabhamantapa (Main Hall) – This is a large hall flanked on each side by two isles. The rectangular space on the ceiling is divided into 9 frames, each carved with sculptural relief. The relief of Brahma is in the center, Kartikeya is in the south, Varuna is in the west, Indra is in the east, and Kubera is in the north.

3. Garbhagriha (Sanctum Santorum) – The garbhagriha is a small room carved out of the back wall. The principal idol is missing in the garbhagriha. Experts believe that a statue of Maha Vishnu once stood inside the garbhagriha.

Reliefs on the Mukhamantapa Walls

The mukhamantapa is highly decorated with large-size sculptural reliefs on the walls on the left and right sides. On each side, there is a small perpendicular wall attached to sidewall between mukhamantapa and sabhamantapa. Just like in the other caves, the mukhamantapa sidewalls are extended outside the cave. Thus, each side has three walls with large-size sculptural reliefs.
The ceiling of the mukhamantapa has intricately carved bas-reliefs.

Vishnu Seated on Ananta

The image shows part of the mukhamantapa (verandah) of Cave – 3. It is sculpted in such a way that it appears like a durbar (court) of a king.

Vishnu seated on Seshanaga in Cave - 3 located near Badami in Karnataka, India
Vishnu seated on Seshanaga in Cave – 3

Seated majestically on the throne formed by Ananta (also known as Shesha, Adishesha, Seshanaga), a seven-headed mythical serpent, is Maha Vishnu, a form of Vishnu represented as a supreme being. Vishu’s vehicle Garuda is on the lower left and his consort Lakshmi is on the lower right.

The squarish pillars on the left are embellished with carvings of beautiful patterns and relief depicting figures and stories from ancient Indian texts and Hindu epics. The ceiling also has intricately carved bas-reliefs of Vishnu, Brahma, and Ashtadikpalas (8 guardians of the directions) that include Indra and Yama.

Varahavatara

The image shows a large-size relief depicting the story of Varahvatara carved on the wall perpendicular to the left sidewall of the mukhamantapa.

Sculptural relief depicting the story of Varahavatara carved in Cave - 3 of the Badami Caves in Karnataka, India
Sculptural relief depicting the story of Varahavatara carved in Cave – 3 of the Badami Caves

Varahavatara is the third of the ten avatars of Vishnu (dashavatara). Varaha in Sanskrit means wild boar. In this avatar, he assumes the form of a wild boar and rescues Bhudevi (Mother Earth) from an evil demon named Hiranyaksha, who was tormenting her. As you can see from the image, Vishnu as Varaha is lifting Bhudevi from the cosmic ocean represented by multi-headed nagas (serpents).

The story of Varahavatara is a popular theme in both Chalukya and Holysals temples. Both the Chennakeshava and the Holysaleshvara temples have several reliefs carved on their walls. Cave – 2 of this cave complex also has the Varahavatara relief carved on its wall.

Ashtabhuja (Eight-Armed) Vishnu

Sculptural relief depicting Ashtabhuja (Eight-Armed) Vishnu carved in Cave - 3, the third of the four caves in Badami located in Karnataka, India
Ashtabhuja (Eight-Armed) Vishnu carved in Cave – 3

The image shows a beautiful relief depicting Vishnu with eight arms carved on the left side of the Cave – 3 facade.

The iconography of Vishnu typically shows him with four hands, but this relief shows him with four additional hands to indicate that he is Maha Vishnu. In addition to shanka, gada, padma, and chakra, Vishnu carries a bow and rope with his left hands, and a sword (partly broken) and an arrow with his right hands.

Vamanavatara

The image shows the sculptural relief depicting the story of Vamanavatara, the fifth of the ten avatars of Vishnu (dashavatara), carved on the sidewall at the entrance.

In Vamanavatara, Vishnu takes the following two forms:
1. Dwarf brahmin holding a wooden umbrella
2. Gigantic Trivikrama taking a giant stride. In this avatar, Vishnu curbs the powers of the asura king Mahabali and relegates him to Patala (Netherworld).

Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama in Cave - 3 in Badami, Karantaka, India
Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama in Cave – 2 in Badami.

Trivikrama in this avatar is portrayed as Ashtabhuja Vishnu (8-armed Vishnu). His additional four hands carry a bow, arrow, sword and a shield. As you can see from the image, Trivikrama’s left leg is on Mahabali’s head as he takes a giant stride. Read the story below.

Trivikrama’s left leg is stretched above the site where Mahabali is performing yagna to please Vishnu. Attending him are the brahmins who are holding materials to offer them as sacrifices at the yagna pyre. The Vamana sculpture under Trivikramas left leg is missing, but his umbrella is seen.

Note: Yagna is a Hindu religious ceremony performed by the priests (brahmins) in front of a ritual fire. It includes the ritual in which sacrificial materials are poured into the fire as priests chant hymns from the sacred texts.

Here is the story of Vamanavatara:

In this avatar, Vishnu takes the form of a diminutive brahmin to punish Mahabali, a benevolent asura (demon) king with an ambition to acquire more power and defeat the devas (demigods). He was also a grandson of Hiranyakashipu killed by Narasimha (man-lion), a previous avatar of Vishnu.

To fulfill Mahabali’s ambition, his guru Shukracharya advises him to perform yagna – a ritual in front of the fire – to please Vishnu and acquire more power. Indra, the lord of the heavens and the king of the devas, sees Mahabali as a danger to his position and authority and asks Vishnu’s help to curb Mahabali’s power and save devas from defeat.

Vishnu agrees and incarnates himself as Vamana, a dwarf brahmin carrying a wooden umbrella. Vamana goes to the yagna site and asks Mahabali to give him the land that covers his three strides. Mahabali considers it as a trivial request, and against the advice of his guru Shukracharya, who senses a trickery, grants his wish.

As soon as Mahabali grants his wish, Vamana, the diminutive brahmin, changes himself into Trivikrama, an enormous giant. With his long legs, Trivikrama takes his first stride from Bhuloka (Earth) to Swarga (Heaven) and then the second stride from Bhuloka to Patala (Underworld).

Vishnu then asks Mahabali to show him the position to take his third stride. Mahabali points to his head because Vishnu covered all the realms with his two strides. Vishnu then places his foot on Mahabali’s head and pushes him to Patala.

Once Mahabali is relegated to Patala, Vishnu grants him the immortality and allows him to come back to earth once a year because he was a benevolent king.

Narasimhavatara

The image shows a large-size sculptural relief depicting Narasimhavatara, the fourth of the ten avatars of Vishnu (dashavatara), carved on the left side wall of the mukhamantapa.

Sculptural relief depicting Narasimhavatara, fourth of the ten avatars of Vishnu, carved in Cave - 3 of the Badami Caves in Karnataka, India
Narasimhavatara

In this avatar, Vishnu has a man’s torso with the lion’s face and claws. He adopted this body to kill an asura named Hiranyakashipu, who wanted to take revenge on Vishnu for killing his brother Hiranyaksha in his previous avatar, i.e., Varahavatara.

The story of Narasimhavara is depicted in the Ugra Narasimha relief carved on the outer wall of Chennakeshava Temple in Belur, Karnataka, India.

Harihara

The large-size sculptural relief depicting Harihara is carved on the wall perpendicular to the sidewall on the right side of the mukhamantapa. Harihara is a symbolical unification of Vishnu and Shiva and is a single entity made from half of Shiva’s and half of Vishnu’s features. Because of this fusion, the followers of both the Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions worship him.

Sculptural relief depicting Harihara carved in Cave - 3 of Badami Caves in Karnataka, India
Sculptural relief depicting Harihara carved in Cave – 3 of Badami Caves

As you can see from the image, Harihara is carved with Shiva’s features on the left side and Vishnu’s features on the right side. One of the left hands carries a shanka (conch), a signature object of Vishnu, indicating that the left part of Harihara belongs to Vishnu. One of the right hands carries a staff with a serpent, and the right part of his crown has a half-moon, kapala (skull cup), and a serpent, indicating that the right part of Harihara belongs to Shiva.

This is one of the most beautiful sculptural reliefs carved in the Badami caves. Adding to its beauty is the red and blue colored texture of the sandstone.

Bas-reliefs on the Ceiling

The images below show the bas-reliefs carved on the ceiling of mukhamantapa.

Vishnu

A sculptural relief depicting Vishnu carved on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa (verandah) in Cave - 3 of the Badami Caves in Karnataka, India
Vishnu carved on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa

As you can see from the image, there are two concentric circular frames, and enclosing them is a square frame. The inner circular frame depicts Vishnu with four hands, one of which carries the Sudarshana Chakra (a disk-like weapon), and another a shanka (conch). Between the outer and inner circular frames, there are eight smaller circular frames, each carved with a relief.

Brahma

A sculptural relief depicting Brahma carved on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa (verandah) in Cave - 3 of the Badami Caves in Karnataka, India
Brahma carved on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa

Just like the Vishnu relief, this relief also has two concentric circular frames. The inner circular frame depicts Brahma seated majestically on his vehicle Hamsa (a swan). One of his four hands carries a long-handled spoon, and another a japamala (prayer beads).

Between the outer and inner circular frames, there are eight smaller circular frames, each with a relief carved inside.

The relief above Brahma depicts Yama, the god of justice and death, riding a buffalo. The relief below him depicts Varuna, the sea god, riding Makara. To his left is the relief depicting Indra, the king of heaven and the devas (demigods), riding Airavata, an elephant. To his right is the relief depicting Kartikeya, a son of Shiva and the god of war, riding a peacock. The other four circular frames have reliefs of yakshas and Vidyadhara couples.

Yama

A sculptural relief depicting Yama carved on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa (verandah) of Cave - 3 of the Badami Caves in Karnataka, India
Yama carved on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa

The Yama relief is similar to Vishnu and Brahma relief except for the number of circular frames between inner and outer frames. The inner circular frame depicts Yama, the god of justice and death, riding his vehicle, a male buffalo.

Between the outer and inner circular frames, there are four smaller circular frames, each with a relief carved inside.

Garuda on the Eaves

Vishnu's vehicle Garuda carved on the eves of the rock-cut temple in Cave - 3 located near Badami in Karnataka, India
Garuda carved on the eves of the rock-cut temple in Cave – 3

The image shows a sculptural relief depicting Vishnu’s vehicle Garuda carved on the eaves of Cave – 3. This relief is above the entrance and faces the interior side of the temple. In this sculpture, Garuda, a mythical eagle-like bird, is portrayed with a human body having two wings and the nose resembling a beak. Flying above Garuda’s wings are two Vidyadhara couples.

Proceed to Cave – 4

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

Copyright © 2019 by Lawrence Rodrigues. All rights reserved.

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