BAP stands here for the trilogy BADAMI-AIHOLE-PATTADKAL which I visited recently. It was doubly special from me in another sense; I was born here in Bagalkot 41 summers ago in the now district Govt hospital where my mother served as lady medical officer. The best thing about this trip was it made me realize the historical significance of this place & the enormous treasure trove of its cultural heritage. It also in a way reset my perspective on History and made me wonder how underrated this place was especially vis-à-vis Hampi (of Vijayanagar empire fame)
Chalukya had been another word for the express train that runs between Bangalore & Mumbai . Little did I realize the significance of this major dynasty who dominated this part of the country from the 5th century to 8th Century & after a brief lull right upto 12th Century BC.
The landscape here is marked by red sandstone hills with steep cliffs criss-crossing flat fertile land mostly of black soil which can bake upto 42 degree during summer . These hills lined one side of the motorable road as I drove down from Belgaum which lies towards the west (about 160 Kms away). Like the Grand Canyons these rock formations present a picturesque view and wherever they came under the chisel of the master Chalukyan craftsmen the result went simply awe inspiring.
At Badami a set of caves emerge out of a monolithic single stone reminding me of Al Khazneh of the ancient Jordanian city of Petra . There is something remarkable about these reddish gold sand stones; they still provide a rich amber glow to the pristine stone carvings and yet speak of thousand plus years of vintage. They are still magnificent enough to drown & diminish the defacing suffered at the hands of the marauding invaders (native rival neighboring kingdoms of that time I suppose). Even the famed Ajantha caves came up 400 years later & were in much better shape as they were hidden in Jungles for centuries until stumbled upon by an English explorer.
Around 30 Kms away from Badami is Aihole , a place which is aptly described as the laboratory for architecture rather a university of Indian architecture. At a time when the world was emerging out of the early medieval ages, the craftsmen here were experimenting with the Northern Nagara and Southern Dravida styles of temple construction. These 2 temple architectures which evolved between 5th & 7th Century had clear distinctions in dome (shikhara) formation, ground plan, selection & positioning of stone carved deities on the outside walls and the interior, and the range of decorative elements. The Nagara style from the North & Dravida in south came together in a melting pot here.
And the chalukyan craftsmen did not experiment in mere tinkering but full throttle innovations. The Durgi gudi (Durga Temple) is a poignant majestic proof of that effort. To get a sense of this period (early medieval period) Roman temples were being converted into Christian churches in Europe while the Cahokia people, the most advanced of the plains people in North America were building earthen mound structures, Islamic architecture was just taking roots.
Pattadakal (coronation stones roughly translated into Kannada) is truly the crowning glory in every sense because not just that the Chalukya kings made it a point to be crowned here but also evolution of Hindu temple architecture that began in Badami and Aihole culminated in the magnificent temples here. They mark the final phase of development of Hindu temple architecture; a synthesis of the North & South Indian style mentioned earlier.
Popular perception always puts Hampi in the limelight of civilizational’s achievement, its temple grandeur is the poster boy of tourism. Yet I cannot help but believe that Hampi should always be under the shadow of its more illustrious predecessor & neighbor - The BAP , 600 years its senior and where it all began in temple architecture & grandeur .