My visit to the temples at Badoli in November last year turned out to be a memorable one.
First, my camera battery died on me suddenly and without warning. Then my iPad camera stopped functioning, and if that weren’t enough my temperamental cell phone decided to be on its worst behaviour. Talk about bad luck coming in threes ! The result? I have a total of 28 photos from all these 3 devices of the visit to the temples at Badoli.
Second, the temples at Badoli itself for there were many little surprises and discoveries waiting for me. Since I hadn’t read up or researched on the temples prior to my visit, everything about the place was unexpected. Of course, I read the information board placed at the entrance for some guidance, but we all know how detailed those are ! For example, the opening lines of the information board say that the:
Badoli Group is a cluster of nine temples that is stylistically dated to circa 10th-11th century AD [sic]. These temples are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Mahisasuramardini and Mataji, etc. [emphasis mine]
It then goes on to talk about the main Shiva temple there — the Ghateshwara Mahadeva Temple. As I was to find out, and you will too when you read the rest of the post, some of the most interesting and significant features of the Badoli temples were not mentioned in the board at all, unless we assume that the word ‘etc.’ in the lines above was meant to encompass everything else. 😛
Today is Vijaya Dashami or Bijoya. Today is the day when the Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura or the buffalo demon, after a fierce battle that lasted 9 days and 9 nights. After killing him on the 10th day, Durga came to known as Mahisasuramardini or “she who killed the buffalo demon”.
The story of Mahisasuramardini (which you can read here or here) is perhaps one of the best known in Hindu mythology, and its associated imagery is one of the most recognisable.
I was introduced to the story of Mahisasuramardini by my grandmothers, and also my mother’s recitation of the Mahisasuramardini Stotram. Like most children of the 1970s, I was introduced to the popular imagery of Mahisasuramardini through Amar Chitra Katha’s “Tales of Durga” (see picture on the left).
It was this image of Mahisasuramardini that stayed with me till 1997 when I visited Mahabalipuram. I saw Indian sculptural art in a ‘natural’ setting for the first time, including this depiction of Mahisasuramardini. That was when I realised the immensity, beauty and power of the narratives I had heard and read from the time I was a kid.
That visit also marked the beginning of my interest in Hindu mythology expanding to include its representation in classical Indian art. And Mahisasuramardini fascinated me like no other, which, thanks to my travels in India, I came across in Aihole, Ellora, Patan, Vadnagar and Nalla Sopara. Artiistically and stylistically, each one of the relief sculptures were very different, and yet unmistakably that of Mahisasuramardini.
A drive through sleepy hamlets, lush green fields and the village of Aihole (pronounced I-ho-lay), brought us to another heritage temple site dating from around the 5th century.
Known as Aryapura in ancient times, Aihole occupies a unique place in the history of temple architecture in India. It was the site for experimenting with different temple-building styles by the early Chalukyan kings from AD 450 to 750. This experimentation began in Aihole, continued at Badami and finally culminated at Pattadakal. Our guide told us that the ruins of a temple, probably dating back to pre-Chalukyan times, had been recently excavated in Aihole. The present-day village settlement and agricultural lands were coming in the way of a full-scale excavation.
There are around 120 temples of varying styles and sizes in Aihole (all built from the same local red sandstone). I tried to imagine 120 temples, each with a unique architecture and failed. But I could imagine the whole area being turned into an architectural laboratory or a workshop, with architects and sculptors being invited over and given a site for constructing a temple. Just imagining the creative buzz in the area was enough to give me a high! Unfortunately, our group had the time to visit only one site, which had about 4 temples of such varying styles that it was astonishing and gave a glimpse into the kind of experimenting that was promoted and encouraged.