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Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Welcome to the mystical world of Badami Caves in Karnataka, where history, art, and spirituality converge in breathtaking rock-cut structures. Stones cannot speak, but a skilled artist can make the stones ‘alive’ by giving them a beautiful work of art. There are many places in India that prove this, one of which is the Badami Caves in Karnataka. Each corner of the cave temples built by the kings of the Chalukya dynasty is home to art. The sculptures are of high quality. Badami’s direct journey to cultivation is presented as an illustrated article. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the heart of Badami Caves, unveiling their historical significance, architectural brilliance, and the wonders that make them a must-visit destination.Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka


Unraveling the Mystique

Origins and Historical Significance

The fascinating journey of Badami Caves began in 543 AD by Pulakeshin I of the Chalukya dynasty. ‘Pulakeshin’ means great or mighty lion in the Sanskrit-mixed Kannada language. The Chalukya dynasty in south India lasted for about two hundred years, extending from the Narmada basin in the north to the Kaveri river basin in the south. Carved into the sandstone cliffs, these caves serve as a testament to ancient Indian craftsmanship. Explore the historical backdrop that gives Badami Caves their unique identity.

Architectural Marvels in Stone

Delve into the intricate rock-cut architecture that defines Badami Caves. From the elaborate sculptures of Hindu deities to the detailed carvings depicting mythological tales, each cave narrates a compelling story. Witness the blend of Dravidian and Nagara architectural styles that showcases the artistic prowess of the Chalukyan artisans. Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

A fort was built on top of an inaccessible and protected horseshoe-shaped hill known as Vatapi or Vatapipuram in the Malprabha Valley of Karnataka, where the site was developed as the capital. Cave temples were also built inside the mountains by carving them. There are mainly four caves here, the first of which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the second and third to Lord Vishnu, and the fourth to the Jain Tirthankaras. A small, natural cave houses Buddhist sculptures, which many visitors miss. Known as Badami because of the yellow-pink-colored stones of the hills, this place is as artistic on the inside as it is beautiful on the outside. An artificial lake called Agastya, adjacent to which is the Bhutnath temple, high hills, and above it, the old fort, looks like a movie set from a distance.

Legends of Agastya Lake at Badami Caves

When visiting Badami Caves, the first thing you notice is Agastya Lake. The lake is known as Agastya Tirtha, between the huge rock beds standing in three directions. According to folklore, when Badami was known as Vatapipuram, two Asura (demon) brothers named Vatapi and Ilval used to spread their terror here. Vatapi had the boon to assume any form at will andBadami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka to be revived after death. Hence, both the brothers used that boon to destroy the monks and saints passing near Vatapipuram. Ilval used to invite a wandering monk to his cottage for a meal, during which Vatapi assumed the form of a goat. This goat was then cooked by Ilval and served as food to the guests. When the food goes into the stomach, Ilval shouts loudly, ‘Vatapi! Come out!’ Hearing this, Vatapi would revive, and the guest’s stomach would be torn open. One day, when Sage Agastya was passing through Vatapipuram, the two brothers set up the above plan to kill him. But the conspiracy of both the Asura brothers was unsuccessful against the divine power of Agastya. The sage did not allow Vatapi to come back to life and burned Ilval with the light of his eyes.

Following this folklore, the names Vatapi and Rishi Agastya became associated with the land of Vatapipuram. According to locals, the water of Agastya Lake is holy and cures all diseases. Hence, some believers take a dip in it.

The Badami Caves Experience

Embark on a virtual journey through Badami Caves, immersing yourself in the ambiance of spirituality and cultural richness. Discover the hidden chambers, explore the sacred shrines, and marvel at the stunning cave paintings that have stood the test of time. As mentioned earlier, there are three Hindu, one Jain and one Buddhist cave in Badami. Let us introduce each cave and its sculptures in turn.

Navigating the Caves

Cave 1: The Majesty of Shiva

Step into the first cave, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Marvel at the imposing 18-armed Nataraja sculpture and feel the divine energy that permeates this sacred space. Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Built in 550 AD and having an entrance in the northern direction, the English ‘L’-shaped cave no. 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva. By excavating the hill, a large chamber 70 feet wide and 65 feet long has been created, with four pillars in the 20-foot-long corridor (mukhmandap). To the left is a 6-foot-tall sculpture of a gatekeeper. Trishul (trident) in hand and calm facial expression are his characteristics. In the upper part of the doorpost, Shiva-Parvati is depicted as seated on Nandi. This sculpture can be considered unique, as such a posture is rarely found in other temples. At the bottom, the acrobatic sculpture of elephants and Nandi, considered to be Harihar’s vehicles, is worth watching. In an acrobatic type of sculpture, two different figures are woven together in such a way that one is seen from the left while the other from right! One has to look at the sculpture calmly to understand how skillful this is. The artisans of that time have carved the figures of bull and elephant on the stone in such a way that even though the heads of both the animals are merged into each other, they appear to be separate.
Symbolism of Ardhanarishvara and Harihara Sculptures at Mukhamanda
 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

On the right wall of the mukhamandap, there is a composite sculpture of Ardhanarishvara and left Harihara about seven and a half feet high. It is believed that the message of Shiva and Shakti, and Shiva and Vishnu being the same is hidden behind the choice of both sculptures. The artist has mastered the combination very well. In Ardhanarishwar’s sculpture, the skeleton-like Sage Bhrigu  is also shown. According to mythology, Sage Bhrigu believed that Lord Shiva is the only worship-able God. This was not liked by Goddess Parvati. Hence to explain him the importance of Shakti, he dried up the Shaktidravya of Sage Bhrigu. Only bones remained in the sage’s body. (According to one myth, the child is said to receive the skeleton from the father and the blood-flesh from the mother.) When Sage Bhrigu apologized to Goddess Parvati, she in form of Shakti gave him a third leg as a support to stand on. Thus, on this mythological occasion, the artists carved the skeleton of Bhrigu Rishi in the stone. The sculpture also conveys a message of high respect for women.

Ceiling Sculptures of Cave Temple-1 Mukhamandap
 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

In Cave Temple-1, the ceiling of the Mukhmandap also reflects the excellent skill of the artisans. For example, a beautiful sculpture of Nagaraja peering through the ceiling, with a human face in the middle. A border is made around it with figures of yakshas, apsaras and lotuses and various animals and birds. Sculpting on high ceilings requires a lot of hard work, patience and skill. Keeping the neck constantly bent backwards, keeping hands in air for hours to operate chisels and hammers, protecting the eyes with fine stone chips, etc. are different problems!

Unique Shivlinga and Vatapi Ganesha in Cave Sanctum
Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

The Shivlinga is not installed in the sanctum of the cave, but a part of it was left while excavating the hill and molded into the shape of the Shivlinga. Usually Shiva linga is black or gray in color and round, but this Shiva linga is pink in color and is found on a square stage. Other notable sculptures in the cave are of Kartikeya riding a peacock as well as Ganapati. Ganesha is always shown in idols or pictures, but here Ganesha’s form is completely different. They don’t have a big belly and they don’t have a crown on their head. This form is called ‘Vatapi Ganesha’.

Powerful Icons: Mahishasuramardini and Nataraja at Badami Caves

There is a large sculpture depicting the form of Goddess Durga known as As Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka Mahishasuramardini in the right part of the long corridor. The nearly 6 feet tall Nataraja form of Shiva dancing Tandava on an elongated ‘L’ shaped part of the hill is the hallmark of the Badami Caves. The 18 hands of Nataraja are the specialty of this sculpture. The nine right hands show various dance postures, while the left arms are seen holding weapons like trishul, ax and serpent. Some of the approximately 81 mudras of Natyashastra shown by Bharatamuni around the first century BC are shown in this sculpture!

Around the steps of the cave temple, the curled haired players with instruments like dholak, manjira, flute and in various dance postures are attractively presented. After climbing about 64 steps from the first cave, the second cave temple comes.

Cave 2: The Enigma of Vishnu

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Explore the second cave, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Admire the awe-inspiring carvings of the Trivikrama and Varaha avatars, each intricately detailed to captivate visitors.

The main hall of this temple is 33 feet long, 23.5 feet wide and 11 feet high, with eight pillars in two rows and a large entrance. The works here are said to have been prepared at the end of the sixth century or the beginning of the seventh century. Since the cave temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, gatekeeper Jaya-Vijaya carries flowers which are dear to Vishnu instead of weapons. Various incarnations of Vishnu are depicted inside. The rulers of the Chalukya dynasty called themselves Prithvivallabha. They placed Vishnu avatar Varaha in the emblem. The sculpture of Varaha Avatar rescuing Bhudevi from the demon Hiranyaksha is beautifully crafted here.

Trivikrama Vishnu: The Cosmic Stride
 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Another idol shows Lord Vishnu in trivikram form taking a huge step with his left foot, possibly his second step measuring the sky. (Trivikrama means Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf who measures the Triloki world with three steps.) Standing next to him holding a Kamandala is Guru Shukracharya, with whom Baliraja is shown. Lord Vishnu is usually shown as four-armed, but in Vamana avatar view, Vishnu is shown as eight-armed and holding weapons like mace, padma, chakra, bow, arrow, rope and sword. The sculptor has made the other characters smaller so that the gigantic form of Vishnu appears.

Divine Depictions: Krishna’s Stories and Matsyachakra in Badami Caves

In the upper part, the forms of Krishna based on the story of Bhagwat, such as Bal-Gopal(child-keeper), Makhanchor (butter-stealer), slayer of asuras etc. have been presented. The view of Samudramanthan is also there. On the ceiling there is a wonderful carving of 16 fishes around a lotus depicting Vishnu’s first incarnation through the Matsyachakra. According to Hindu scriptures, Right Handed Swastika is one of the 108 Symbols of Lord Vishnu. (The left-handed swastika is considered a symbol of Goddess Kali.) The ceiling has a beautiful pattern of four swastikas linked together. Inspired by this design, Delhi’s famous ‘Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts’ institute has exactly imitated Badami’s sculpture in its logo.

Cave 3: The Jain Sanctuary

Uncover the serene ambiance of the third cave, dedicated to Jainism. Admire the serene Tirthankara sculptures and experience the tranquility that permeates this sacred sanctuary.

There is another 60 steps to climb between the second cave and the third cave. The third cave dedicated to Lord Vishnu is 120 feet long, 80 feet deep and 15 feet high. It is the largest of all the Badami caves and was constructed between 578 and 585 AD it happened during the time of Chalukya King Mangalesh.

Divine Incarnations: Varaha, Narasimha, and Maha Vishnu in Mukhmandap
 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

There are beautiful sculptures of various incarnations of Vishnu in the Mukhmandap. The right wall has carving of eight-armed Maha Vishnu and Vaman avatars and the left wall also has eight-armed Maha Vishnu. The carvings of these sculptures look more attractive due to their fine detail. Lord Vishnu incarnated Varaha and Narasimha respectively to kill the two asura brothers Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu. There are attractive sculptures of these two avatars in this cave. A slightly unique idol is of Narasimhaji with devotee Prahad. Narasimhaji is shown in it in a happy rather than angry tone. It is a rare mudra not found in any other shrine in India.

Here, in the sculpture of Harihara, the identification marks like, crescent moon, serpent, jata, crown, conch etc. are clearly visible in the carvings. This sculpture is very attractive as it is carved in natural red and brown stone.

Rajlilasana: Majestic Depiction of Lord Vishnu in Badami Caves
 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Usually lord Vishnu is shown resting with his legs crossed on the Seshnaga, but here he is reclining on the seat of a tangled serpent. Such a method of sitting is called ‘Rajlilasana’. Chalukya kings are recorded sitting on the throne in that posture. To Lord Vishnu’s right is Goddess Lakshmi and to his left is Garuda. The God is adorned with beautiful ornaments. The designs of the ornaments are reminiscent of sixth century Indian ornaments. The details of this sculpture are worth seeing up close, but to get an idea of its magnificence, one has to take a few steps back and see it from a distance. With rows of columns on both sides, lord Vishnu seems to be sitting on the throne in his courtyard. An art lover visiting Badami caves is sure to capture this pose in the camera.

Grandeur and Deities: Exploring the Impressive Temple Hall in Badami Caves

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

The hall of the temple is huge and impressive. In the square between the four pillars touching the roof of the sabhamandap are sculptures of various sages, including Brahma, Kartikeya to the south, Makara to the west, Varunadev, Indra on an elephant, Kubera to the east and north. The sanctum of the temple is currently empty, but it is clear that it once housed an idol of Vishnu. The Chalukyas worshiped various incarnations of Vishnu, but it was surprising to find that there was no idol of lord Ram in the caves.

Timeless Beauty: Elaborate Frescoes and Exquisite Sculptures in Cave Temple No. 3

The cave also has elaborate fresco paintings on the walls. Such paintings mainly include Samudra-manthan(churning of the ocean), scenes from Krishna’s childhood, various scenes from the Mahabharata and the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Cave temple no. 3’s precision, fineness and precision are the best in all the sculptures. Each of the pillars here can be called a unique piece of art in itself. One cannot stop looking at the carved decorations on each.

Cave temple no.4

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Although the Chalukya royals were mostly the devotees of lord Vishnu, their sensitivity to other religions is evidenced in the fourth cave which contains sculptures of some Tirthankaras of Jainism. The cave is 31 feet long, six and a half feet wide and 16 feet deep. Its construction period is said to be around seventh to twelfth century. The 25.5 feet long and 6 feet wide sanctum of the cave houses an idol of Lord Mahavir seated on a lion’s seat.

An aura is shown behind Mahavir’s head. Apart from this, the idols of other Tirthankaras are also there. Such as, beautiful sculptures of the first Tirthankar Adinath with shoulder-length hair, the twenty-third Tirthankar Parshvanatha on a five-fanged serpent, Adinath’s son Baahubali (Gometeshwar) wrapped in vines is seen here. Another sculpture of Mahavir Swami shows a nun sitting next to him. It is believed that she attained moksha in the presence of Mahavira.

Buddhist cave

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Located between Cave 2 and 3 and having a very narrow entrance, many tourists miss out on seeing this natural cave. There is a statue of Padmapani in this cave, which has an incomplete sculpture for some reason. Padmapani is the compassionate form of Lord Buddha.
One statue is in a broken condition in this cave. The identity of the six-and-a-half-foot-tall enthroned statue cannot be determined, but many archaeologists believe it to be Buddha, given the pipal leaf carvings in the background.

Badami Fort

Just opposite the temples is the Badami Garh, built by the Chalukya king Pulakeshin. The age-old fort has seen an invasion by the Pallava army in the past (in 642 AD). The dilapidated fort was later repaired when it came under the rule of Tipu Sultan. Some new constructions were also done inside it. Today those structures are seen in a dilapidated condition.

Secret Chambers, Observation Towers, and Historical Gems at Badami Fort
 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

Badami fort has hidden rooms under the ground for storage of grain, treasure and other purposes. The observation tower built on the hilltop during the 16th or 17th century is an attractive aspect of Badami Fort. A panoramic view of the entire region is seen from it. The mosque and cannon in the fort belong to the time of Tipu Sultan. Some enthusiastically liken it to the Taj Mahal of the South because of the finely carved tomb of Abdul Malik, the governor of Bijapur, at the foothills.

Historic Temples in Badami Fort: Traces of Lower Shivalaya’s Past Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

There are several historical temples located in Badami Fort. There is a temple known as Lower Shivalaya on the northern hill, which was built in the sixth century. The temple having a sanctum and an octagonal peak once also had a mandapam. Currently the sanctum of the temple is empty, but it is believed that there was once an idol of Ganesha and that idol was taken away by the army of the Pallava rulers.

Historic Temples in Badami Fort: Traces of Lower Shivalaya’s Past

A hilltop Vaishnava temple known as the Upper Shivalaya in the fort was built by Pulakeshin II in the first half of the seventh century. It is the largest and oldest temple with a three-storied Dravidian style spire in a square shape and three entrances. On the wall of the temple, the characters like Kumbhakarna from Ramayana and the events of Rama’s war, Krishna birth and Putanavadha, Nagdaman, lifting the Govardhan mountain and Narasimha avatar are depicted. Sculptures of lions and elephants and the arrangement of lights in the circular path are particularly eye-catching. Seeing the lattices made of stone carving and lectic work for the sun’s rays evokes a sense of reverence for the majestic art that flourished fifteen hundred years ago with limited tools.

Overall the Badami Fort is in ruins, but the path through the narrow gorges to reach the top is very exciting and filled with many beautiful views. No wonder the film industry is attracted to such natural sets. Many Kannada films as well as Hindi films like ‘Rowdy Rathore’ and ‘Guru’ have been shot here.

Bhutnath Temple

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

The Bhutnath temple is located adjacent to the Agatsya lake. In fact it is a cluster of several temples. The Bhutnath Temple of East is considered to be one of the oldest temples in South India, as it was constructed in the seventh century. Chalukya architecture of the 7th century is reflected in the sanctum and the hall with huge stone columns and lotus decorations. There are also several temples in Badami. By comparing their constructions with each other, the gradual change in the architectural style can be observed.

The Chalukyas built about 150 temples in an area of Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka about fifty kilometers, more than half of which are in Aihole, 34 kilometers north! Many small, vertical line and dot marks are found in the hills. It is said to be a record of the attendance of workers in the construction work which lasted for several years. Vertical line represents full presence and dotted means half presence!

The precision and finesse in the various stone-carved sculptures in Badami is an example of highest level of sculpture engineering of the time. If you want to understand the rock art here properly, instead of going back to all the architectures in a few hours, you should stay for two days and observe a single sculpture. Don’t be in a hurry to enjoy this masterpiece!

Badami Caves: A Timeless Wonder

Cultural Significance

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of KarnatakaBeyond their architectural brilliance, Badami Caves hold immense cultural significance. Understand the rituals, festivals, and spiritual practices that continue to thrive within these ancient walls.

Preservation Efforts

Delve into the ongoing efforts to preserve and protect Badami Caves. Learn about the challenges faced in maintaining these historical treasures and the initiatives taken to ensure their longevity.

Essential information:

When to Go:

  • October to March is the ideal time to visit.
  • In summer, it is cool inside the cave, but outside temperatures can be unbearably hot.

How to Go:

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

  • Trains from Bengaluru and Bijapur pass through Badami station.
  • Trains are also available from Hubli or Solapur.
  • The cave temples are only five kilometers away from Badami railway station, accessible by auto-rickshaw or taxi.
  • The nearest airport is Belgaum, 190 km away, with taxis available.
  • The motor journey from Panaji in Goa to Badami (via Belgaum) is about 265 km.
  • If coming from Goa, consider allocating two days for Badami.

Where to Stop:

 Badami Caves Unveiled: Exploring Ancient Wonders of Karnataka

  • Badami is a small village with about 100 hotels, including five-star options.
  • Karnataka Tourism ( offers accommodation in Badami.

Additional Information:

  • Cave temple timings: 9 am to 5.30 pm daily.
  • Ticket price for the cave temples: twenty rupees.

Guide Feature:

  • Hiring a good guide while visiting can provide a lot of valuable information.

Nearby Attractions:

  • The world heritage site Pattadakkal is just 20 km away.
  • Aihole, known as the home of the temples of Karnataka state, is another 13 km away.
  • The tour covering Badami-Aihole-Pattadakkal is very popular.


As we conclude our journey through the captivating Badami Caves, it’s evident that these ancient wonders are more than just stone structures. They are living monuments that echo the cultural vibrancy and artistic brilliance of ancient India. Plan your visit to Badami Caves and immerse yourself in the magic of a bygone era.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • What is the significance of Badami Caves?
    Badami Caves hold immense historical and cultural significance, representing the art and architecture of the Chalukya dynasty.
  • How many caves are there in Badami?
    Badami is home to four caves, each dedicated to different deities – Shiva, Vishnu, and Jain Tirthankaras.
  • Can visitors explore the interiors of the caves?
    Yes, visitors can explore the interiors of the caves, marveling at the intricate carvings and experiencing the spiritual ambiance.
  • Are there guided tours available at Badami Caves?
    Yes, guided tours are available, providing insightful information about the history, architecture, and cultural relevance of the caves.
  • What is the best time to visit Badami Caves?
    The ideal time to visit Badami Caves is during the winter months, from October to March, when the weather is pleasant.
  • Is photography allowed inside the caves?
    Yes, photography is allowed, enabling visitors to capture the beauty and magnificence of Badami Caves.

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