Aihole is the ancient town famous for taking architects and archaeologists back to the Chalukyan times of outstanding Dravidian architecture. The classical village of Karnataka dates back to being the capital of the early Chalukya dynasty during the 6th to 8th centuries.
Aihole was planned similar to the other ancient human settlements, on the Malaprabha river bank, for people’s comfort and convenience. The village in Karnataka comprises more than 125 temples of rich architecture in and around it. The rock-cut temples of Aihole built during the rule of Chalukyas are the most celebrated monuments, though many of them are mere traces of the forts built during the 6th and 8th centuries.
Profoundly known as the cradle of Hindu Architecture, Aihole is an intriguing place to visit. With mesmerizing architectural marvels constructed more than 14 centuries ago.
Some of the must-visit places in Aihole for architects are:
1. Durga Temple
Interestingly, as the name might suggest, Durga Temple is not where one worships the Goddess Durga. Instead, the name comes from Durga Gudi that means the temple near the fort might as well be suggesting that the site context must have been taken care of while designing.
Durga temple is the main attraction of Aihole, composed of a semi-circular domed roof making it unique, and an elevated plinth with a gallery covering the sanctum on the periphery. The temple resembles features of Buddhist architecture due to its chaitya appearance and roof.
A well-decorated and elaborate shikhara stands on a high platform. Durga Temple is one of the best of its time and place due to its ornamented carved figures and columnated porch and entrance.
2. Lad Khan Temple
Lad Khan temple was built in the 5th century by Chalukyas and is one of the oldest temples in Aihole. The notable feature of this temple is the wooden base of construction, and the design has a steep roof which is an adaptation from wood structures implemented in stone.
The overall design of the temple is experimental in construction. The maha mantapa or the main mandapa is in front of the sanctum and has a set of 12 pillars that are elaborately carved and depict that the temple was dedicated originally to Lord Vishnu. There are floral carvings on the walls, and windows have lattice-work done on them.
Interestingly, with all the features displayed, the temple’s name does not suggest any because of the story of a Muslim prince who once captured the temple and made it his residence for a short period.
3. Ravana Phadi Cave Temple
The incredible cave architecture of Ravana or Ravala Phadi temple must impress anyone visiting it. It is one of the oldest cave temples in India that dates back to the 6th century. The cave temple is taken care of comparatively well, and it has a large field in front of the outcrop.
At the entrance, there are two free-standing columnated halls adding grandeur to the overall architecture. The ceiling inside the temple grabs attention. On the sidewall, there is an elaborate carving of Ardhanari with a trident in hand.
The mandapa seems to be protected by two side chambers, with the left one having steps ascending towards while the right one has no carvings. Lastly, the Ravana Phadi temple is the literal gem of Chalukyan architecture.
4. Hucchimalli Temple
The Hucchimalli temple complex is one of the grand temples in Aihole and marks the beautiful statues. The temple stands on a bulky plinth and has a Mukhmantapa (main mandapa) and a Ranga Mantapa. The temple entrance looks magnificent as it has four divisions with unique sculptural designs. There are niches and slight openings through the corridor and have figures of different deities. Above the Garbhagriha, there is Rekhanagara style shikhara. The artistic impressions on the temple are the highlight of beautiful historical art and paintings. The overall look of the temple is an amalgamation of early and late Chalukyan architecture.
5. Hucchappayyagudi Temple
Hucchappayyagudi temple, built around the 8th century, is located near the Malaprabha river. The temple has been carved out of a monolith beautifully with intricate carvings inside the temple.
The temple is an example of the extensive skills people had during the Chalukyan time that led to the beautiful architecture appreciated to date. The carved image of Nataraj and many other depictions of Shiva are present inside the elaborate temple. The distinctive feature of the temple is it houses a four-faced Shiva Lingam for every direction.
6. Kontigudi Temple
The Kontigudi group of temples are the four temples located around the middle of the Aihole bazaar. The temples date back to almost the 7th century and houses various other temples that were constructed later on.
The main and first temple of the complex has Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva sculptures at the ceiling of the main mandapa.
7. Meganagudi Temple
Meganagudi temple or profoundly known as the Meguti Jain temple lies on Meguti hill. The word Meguti comes from Megudi that means upper temple because of the literal positioning of the temple on high ground.
The temple construction dates back to around 634 AD and is on a raised platform with the flight of steps that leads to a 16-column columnated hall. Meganagudi temple of Aihole is a notable example of the Chalukyan architecture style. The structure seems to have a double shrine built on a high plinth of stone with inscribed outer walls.
8. Gowda Temple
Near the Lad Khan Temple complex, Gowda temple stands on a high and bulky plinth. The 12th century-built temple is dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathi and portrays the essence of beautiful Kalyana Chalukyan architecture or popularly known as the later Chalukyan architecture.
This kind of architecture evolved from the Western Chalukya Empire and reached till Aihole in the northern region. Gowda temple comprises an outer pillared wall of 16 pillars and stone slabs in between to act as walls. The built style seems to be influenced by the Lad Khan temple nearby.
9. Chakra Gudi
Chakra Gudi Temple is profoundly known for the 20 sculptures engraved on its door frame. The temple built around the 9th century comprises a rekha nagara style tower amongst other beautiful Hindu architecture elements.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has intricate details of the snake sculptures.
10. Galaganatha Temple
Galaganatha’s group of temples is almost in ruins, currently the architectural elements depict the wonders of Hindu architecture around Aihole. On the banks of river Malaprabha that is approximately 1 km from the main city center, Galaganatha temple houses 38 shrines, and their origin traces back to almost the 8th century. The main Galaganatha temple has retained most of its structure and has a curved shikhara.
The main temple enshrines Shiva and has a hall, interior passage, and sanctum with the tower in rekha nagara style. The shikhara of temples that are still intact have carved sculpting, and they taper at the ends giving the temples a colossal look.
11. Suryanarayana Temple
Dating back to a very long time of 7th and 8th century the grand and magnificent Suryanarayana temple situated in Aihole still stands beautifully to the north-east of Lad Khan temple. The temple comprises four pillared inner sanctums and a 0.6 metres tall statue of Surya in the sanctum.
The temple appears to look rich and heavily ornamented due to the presence of a Rekhanagara style tower over the temple. Slight resemblance of the chariot in the overall appearance of the temple is visible.
12. Trayambakeshwar Temple
Trayambakeshwar Group of temples built around the 11th century resembles the Kalyana Chalukyan style of architecture. An idol of Nataraja is present in this group of temples. The temple stands on a high plinth of stone-cut pieces.
13. Jyotirlinga Temple
Jyotirlinga Temple belonging to the 8th to 10th century stands at a short distance to the south-west of Ravana Phadi cave temple. There are two small temples in front with a flat-roof structure.
The rest of the temples here comprises a sanctum and a front hall in almost each of the temples. Inscriptions dating back to the Kalyan Chalukyan period are present here.
14. Gauri Temple
Gauri Temple is the grandest and elaborate Kalyani Chalukya temple in Aihole. The temple involves a spacious mandapa with a porch on all three sides. The wide Rangamantapa has a welcoming vestibule that bears the finely carved idol of Durga.
The temple built around the 12th century stands on a high carved stone plinth. The overall look of the temple slightly depicts a female form through its architecture.
15. Jainagudi Temple
Jainagudi temple is in the style of Kalyani Chalukya architecture. The temple dates back to around the 11th century that was the late Chalukyan era. The Jainagudi temple houses several shrines and the main Parsvanatha idol.
The Jainagudi temple stands on a low height plinth compared to the other temples of Aihole.