Durga Temple, Aihole

Durga Temple, Aihole



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Durga Temple Aihole

Aihole is a historic site along the Malaprabha river valley in North Karnataka housing over 120 temple structures built in 4 th century AD. Aihole is a delight to visit for those who love archaeology, ancient temples and history. The most noteworthy among them is the Durga Temple composed of a semicircular apse, an elevated plinth and a gallery encircling the sanctum. The Lad Khan Temple is one of the earliest temples in the region and was initially a royal assembly hall and marriage mantapa. It was the chosen abode of the Muslim chief Lad Khan.

Durga Temple: Durga Temple is the primary attraction in Aihole and most spectacular representations of Aihole Temples. Durga Temple complex houses an archaeological museum and art gallery.

Lad khan Temple showcases iconography from Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakti traditions of Hinduism.

More temples: Garudagudi, Chakragudi, Ambigaragudi, Rachigudi, Kuntigudi, Hallibasappa Gudi, Badigargudi, Trimbakeshwar temple, Mallikarjuna Temple, Jyotirlinga Temple are some other major ancient temples.

Ravana Phadi Cave: Ravanaphadi Cave is a 6th-century rock-cut Aihole Cave Temples housing Shiva and Parvathi. Ravanaphadi is about a km from Durga Temple complex. Extensive artwork featuring Lord Shiva, Parvathi, Ganesha and Vishnu can be seen inside the cave.

Places to visit near Aihole : A visit to Aihole is often clubbed with a visit to Pattadakal (14 km from Aihole) and Badami (35 km from Aihole). The archaeological museum housed within the Durga Temple complex is not to be missed.

How to reach Aihole: Aihole is 450 kms from Bengaluru. Hubballi is the nearest airport (140 kms from Aihole). Badami and Bagalakote are the nearest train stations (both 35 kms from Aihole) Aihole has good bus service and road connectivity from Bengaluru and other parts of Karnataka.

Places to stay near Aihole: Three and four star hotels are available in Bagalakote and Badami towns (both 30-35 kms from Aihole).


History of Durga Temple

Like most of the temples of Aihole, the actual origin of the Durga Temple cannot be determined with absolute accuracy. However, there are certain features of the structure and architecture, like the evolved shrine-fonts in the niches and the sculptures all direct towards the early seventh-late eighth century during the Chalukyan rule. Moreover, there is an inscription of Chalukyan king Vikramaditya II along the south-western enclosing wall, who ruled from 733 AD to 764 AD.

Earlier it was believed that the unique apsidal form of the temple was influenced by the Buddhist architecture of Chaitya halls that flourished in India during the Mauryas and the Guptas and the Palas. However, later it was determined that the apsidal design is indigenous to Hinduism and was a pan-Indian tradition even before the extensive spread of Buddhism.

Naming of the temple

The name of this temple in Aihole is quite confusing. Most would assume that it is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Durga, but the case might not be so. There is a beautiful and detailed sculpture of Durga inside the temple accompanied by her loyal pet-vehicle the lion and the buffalo-headed demon she vanquished, popularly known as the Mahishasur. However, there are way too many sculptures of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu which leads to the idea that this was originally a temple of either of these two gods.

Irrespective of the argument that who is the principal deity, the name of the temple has a very different source. The name Durga temple comes from the fact that the temple was part of an intricate fortification – most probably erected by the Maratha Empire for stronghold purposes. ‘Durg’ in Hindi means fortress, and thus the temple got its name.


Plan of the temple

The plan of the temple is oblong and apsidal. It means that the corridor with pillars between the porch and the heart of the shrine encompasses the heart of shrine and allows to run the parikrama (circumambulation ritual). This apse gives outward through openings between the pillars. [2]

The shape of the temple, in Indian traditional architecture, is known as Gajaprasta which means the resemblance to the back of an elephant. [6] The temple's unusual apsidal form is thought to imitate the earlier Buddhist chaitya halls, [4] but later studies established that apsidal design in Indian architecture is pan-Indian tradition, which was in practice even before Buddhist architecture. [6] The heart of the shrine (garba griha) is surmounted by a tower which announces the future higher towers shikharas and vimanas. [4]


Durga Temple Aihole

Aihole is called the cradle of temples in Karnataka and rightfully so, and the Durga Temple of Aihole is a beautiful and interesting slice of it. The ancient Dravidian structure can be traced back to the 7th-8th century during the rule of the Chalukyan kings in South India. Like every other monarch, this dynasty too built a good lot of temples and Durga Temple is among the most graceful as well as unique ones. The presence of pillars leading up to the sanctum and the apsidal corridor along the circumference of the core of the shrine give the majestic temple a true artistic divinity.

Much of the soul of a temple lies in the grandeur of its architecture and though not vast in size, the design of the Durga Temple speaks of significance from each of its carvings. Tourists flock here as a part of their temple visits in Aihole to witness a real sample of authentic Dravidian construction. This mighty temple has long been desolate and parts in ruins, and there is no deity commanding the abode of the sanctum sanctorum. Nevertheless, there is a sense of spirituality in the air that is only possible because of the brilliant architecture by the Chalukyan artisans. It has more uniqueness to offer in terms of its name as well – turns out that the temple is not of Devi Durga at all but has an entirely different story behind it.


Durga Temple, Aihole - History

For thirty years, a significant voice in Indian art-historical scholarship has been Gary Tartakov’s, and though his interests and publications have varied, in this book he returns to his original area of expertise, the art of the Calukya dynasty (c. 542-757). The Durga temple (located in Aihole, Karnataka, a south Indian state) has inspired much scholarly speculation. Tartakov examines the Durga temple in two essays in the first section he unpacks the layers of historiographic writings that engross this monument, and in the second essay he decodes the structure’s form and function. Although the two essays are self-contained studies, each of independent value, they supplement each other and enrich our understanding of the Durga temple.

In the first section, Tartakov reviews scholarship that fashioned how the Durga temple is discussed from earliest accounts starting in 1866 until the early 1980s. He even supplies excerpts from seventeen major scholars’ publications in the appendix along with the photographs published in their texts, allowing us to see what visual limitations they labored under. Today the Durga temple is renovated and a protected monument, but earlier visitors saw a dilapidated temple covered with rubble. Though early scholars misunderstood the visual evidence, and needed to do deeper scholarly excavations, so, too, the temple itself was covered with debris obscuring close scrutiny. Because of Durga temple’s “anomalous” form (which, after reading Tartakov, we can no longer describe as an anomaly), it has received diverging opinions about purpose and dating (ranging from the fifth to tenth centuries). Suggested dedication has spanned from Fergusson’s Buddha and/or Jina, to Burgess’ Visnu, to Cousens’ Surya-Narayana, with Siva occasionally mentioned as well as Durga (due to semantic confusion of Durga, a fortress, with the Goddess Durga), to the deity the temple was erected to honor, Aditya (or Surya, the Sun God), as presented by Nilakanta Sastri, Ramesh, Padigar (in part due to inscriptional evidence) and, finally Tartakov. In the process of unraveling presumptions, Tartokov demonstrates how personal agendas shaped scholarly discourse and how, once printed, texts sometimes live unchallenged. For instance, starting with Fergusson’s Buddhist architectural interpretation, based simply on the temple’s apsidal form, and his adamant Orientalist racial-religious evolutionist theory, it remained popular for a considerable time afterwards to convolutely assign a Buddhist association to the Durga temple, even when visual evidence challenged this assumption. Some uncritical books designed for the general audience still refer to the Buddhist architectural form of the Durga temple. Eventually, critical reassessments raised more compelling questions. In addition to the apsidal shape, there are a number of unusual architectural features to the Durga temple. Debates have centered on the tower’s “northern” (or nagara) form, which some scholars have dismissed as a crude replacement (an argument that Tartakov elegantly dismisses in the second essay) other arguments have focused on sculptural disparities, along with the already mentioned temple’s dedication. The value of the historiographic essay—besides, at times reading like a mystery, allowing more evidence to be revealed as time unfolds—is that by concentrating on a single monument that has attracted considerable attention, Tartakov has excavated embedded assumptions that often were necessitated by lack of evidence and knowledge, allowing the reader to see how changing methodological practices, along with increased intensity in scholarship, have altered perceptions in Indian art history in general.

In section two, Tartakov places the Durga temple into its “cultural context.” After a brief autobiographical summary of his own journey into the study of Calukyan temples, Tartakov proceeds to examine the monument formalistically. Although this would be of questionable value, for the temple has been described many times before, the fact that others have dissected the Durga temple is the impetus compelling renewed analysis. As the first essay demonstrates, imagined temple function, or unreliable analysis, too often has tainted discourse. Tartakov’s expertise on all Calukyan monuments (and solid knowledge of pan-Indian art) is crucial to this section. Rather than supplying a limited atomized formal review of a temple in isolation, Tartakov places each temple portion within the context of the whole Calukyan repertoire.

Beginning where one would first experience the temple, the gateway—a critical space to a Durga temple analysis, for it is here that the epigraph explaining that Komarasinga established the temple for Aditya is located—to all other compositional elements of the compound, a comprehensive analysis of the temple is presented as is a comparative study of allied elements at other Calukyan temples, especially those that are datable. In this manner, Tartakov seeks to accomplish two stated goals: “One is recognizing the value of a thorough analysis of the concrete form of the fullest range of available monuments. The other is the value of identifying the regional dynastic tradition as the primary context of the temple’s material and social production” (p. 98). Calukyan monuments are built in two modern Indian states, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and not including all temples from both regions (as has been the case in most studies), neglects vital comparative data. Tartakov succeeds in Calukyan contextual placement of the Durga temple. In the process, architectural and sculptural idiosyncracies are transformed into intentional elements designed (probably in c. 725-30 C.E.) to elevate Durga temple into a masterpiece from Vijayaditya II’s reign (Komarasinga, the temple patron, was a local leader under the Calukyan king).

Not to distract from Tartakov’s effective analysis, it should be mentioned that Calukyan studies from the 1980s onwards, at the time his historiographic review ends, have progressed considerably, and his call for dynastic regional context studies has been initiated (notably by Carol Bolon and Susan Buchanan-Tartakov briefly mentions their work in the second essay). Also the indebtedness Calukyan studies owe to George Michell, though recognized by Tartakov, could be stated more fully. One cannot analyze a Calukyan monument (from Karnataka) without studying Michell’s extensive measurements, groundplan, and elevation drawings (as Tartakov’s book demonstrates), and in that sense I believe Michell’s contribution should be stressed in the historiographic essay.

Whereas situating Durga temple within Calukyan historical and architectural context is effectual, and the major contribution of this essay, the social context exposition lacks forceful illustration. At every available opportunity, Tartakov presents supportive evidence (or, at least, sound speculation) that the Durga temple functioned as an Aditya shrine however, why and how Aditya operated within Aihole and Calukyan dialectics remains unanswered. Research is required into Sauras rituals, though this might be beyond the book’s parameters. Another fruitful spinoff might be investigation into the powerful merchant “Aihole Five Hundred” guild and their role in temple formation within Calukyan polity. The Aihole Five Hundred’s presence is discussed—Tartakov even suggests that Komarasinga could have been a leader within the guild but an exhaustive reading of all the guild’s epigraphs could prove productive in explicating their commercial and religious links.

Minor quibbles aside, this book impressively records the creation of a monument twice: once, the scholarly layering of a temple, disguising its true appearance and the gradual deconstruction of encrustation the second, the physical temple as composed in the eighth century and how the monument is situated within regional history. All said, Tartakov’s sensitive exploration of the Durga temple is a substantial addition to Indian art-historical scholarship.


History and Legend of Durga Temple Aihole

The Durga Temple Aihole has several historical events surrounding it.

  • Durga Temple Aihole was built between the 7 th and 8 th century by the Chalukya dynasty.
  • Though the temple is mistaken to be a Durga Temple, it is actually not so. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Shiva and is named as Durga Temple to mean that it is the temple of the fortress Durga here actually means, ‘Durg,’ that is, the fortress.
  • The Durga Temple is a part of the fortification of the Marathas.

Licensing Edit

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This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or fewer.


Durga Temple

The Durga temple is a medieval era Hindu temple located in Aihole in the state of Karnataka, India. It is part of a pending UNESCO world heritage site.

About the Temple

The temple was built between the 7th and the 8th century by the dynasty of the Chalukyas. The architecture of the temple is predominantly Dravida with Nagara style also is used in certain areas. The Durga Temple belongs to the Chalukyan period. Even though the temple features a Durga sculpture, the origin of the name is not because of its dedication to Durga goddess, but because Durga means protector or a fortress. The temple formed part of a fortification probably of the Marathas.

The temple is dedicated to either Vishnu or Shiva as the representations of Vishnu are as numerous as those of Shiva. The most original feature of the temple is a peristyle delimiting an ambulatory around the temple itself and whose walls are covered with sculptures of different gods or goddesses.Two staircases provide access to the porch at the entrance of the temple itself. The sober and square pillars are decorated with characters around the porch and the entrance to the peristyle. The parapet is carved with niches and small animals. The porch gives access to rooms with pillars ('mukhamantapa' and "sabhamantapa") to get into the heart of the shrine (garba griha).

The Durga temple is an example of southern (Dravidian) architectural type, with a northern type superstructure imposed upon it- an incongruity apparent from the fact that the superstructure is a square structure clumsily fitted over an apsidal cella (a domed semi-circular inner structure). The temple stands on a high moulded upapitha (sub-base), apsidal on plan and carrying a peripheral row of columns on its edge that surround the moulded adhishthana and walls of an apsidal vimana and its front mandapa. Thus the colonnade forms a covered circumambulatory with a sloping roof. The open mandapa is continued forward on a base of smaller width. The peripheral pillars of the front mandapa and those at the forward end of the circumambulatory have large statuary on them. The adhishthana inside is again apsidal, moulded with all the components, and carries the apsidal wall enclosing the inner apsidal wall of the cella or garbha-griha and a closed maha-mandapa in front of it, with two linear rows of four columns in each row that divide it into a central nave and lateral aisles.

Legend and Stories

The advanced features of the temple, the variety of evolved shrine-fronts displayed in its niches, the style of its sculpture, its diverse corbel-forms and the existence in it of a chute, water-spout and the gargoyle-like pranala-a late feature-would justify placing the temple in the eighth century. This is also indicated by an inscription of Chalukya Vikramaditya II (733-46) on the ruined gopura at the south-eastern part of the enclosing-wall. The name 'Durga' for the temple is misleading, since it was not dedicated to Durga, and is due to the fact that till the earlier part of the last century the temple formed part of a fortification (durga), probably of the Marathas.

Between the 7th and 8th century, the temple was built by the dynasty of the Chalukyas. The architecture of the temple is predominantly Dravida with Nagara style, used in certain areas in the Chalukyan period. The Durga temple is a unique and magnificent temple. It is dedicated to either Vishnu or Shiva as the representations of Vishnu are as numerous as those of Shiva. The most original feature of the temple is a peristyle delimiting an ambulatory around the temple itself and whose walls are covered with sculptures of different gods or goddesses. The temple has two staircases provide access to the porch at the entrance of the temple itself. The sober and square pillars are decorated with characters around the porch and the entrance to the peristyle. The parapet is carved with niches and small animals. The porch gives access to rooms with pillars to get into the heart of the shrine (garba griha).

The plan of the temple is oblong and apsidal. It means that the corridor with pillars between the porch and the heart of the shrine encompasses the heart of shrine and allows running the parikrama (circumambulation ritual). This gives the outward through openings between the pillars.In Indian traditional architecture, the shape of the temple is known as Gajaprasta which means the resemblance to the back of an elephant. The temple's semicirucular form was thought to imitate the earlier Buddhist chaitya halls. But in later studies, the apsidal design in Indian architecture is seen to be of pan-Indian tradition, which was in practice even before Buddhist architecture. The heart of the shrine (garba griha) is surmounted by a tower which announces the future higher towers sikharas and vimanas.

How To Reach Durga temple

Aihole can be accessed by road from the nearest town of Badami. Bagalkot Station (34 km) is the nearest railway station and trains to all major towns are available here. The Nearest Airport is the Goa International Airport.


Trip to the Chalukyan Era – VIII – Durga Temple complex – Aihole’s celebrity

The fact that it took 8 blog posts spread across a month to write about the Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole circuit, should give you an idea about how much there is to see in these places and plan accordingly. Every single temple, cave, monument in these places is a must visit. Of all the places, Aihole will make you go insane with the sheer number of temples and temples and temples. You will be forced to give up visiting so many of them or spend only a short time at a temple, if you do not dedicate one full day for Aihole.

Let us go back to our trip, shall we? After visiting the Meguti Temple and nearby temples, we moved further two temples that seemed to be located at the edge of the village, i.e. if you looked down from the Meguti Temple hill, these two temples were the last on the North side of the village. To the West end, we saw several other temples, we were running short of time by then and decided to complete only the North wing and then head to the main temple complex of Aihole.

In addition to time, we were running short of camera battery charge, we still hadn’t covered the popular temples of Aihole and our camera threatened to shut down any moment, what a tragedy ! In such a tense atmosphere, we went to the Huchchimalli temple.

Huchchimalli Gudi

Huchchimalli means “Mad Malli”, if you are wondering what kind of a name that is, you need to remember that the entire village of Aihole is on encroached land and this encroachment goes back by several centuries. In fact, some of the temples were used by people as houses and they have been named after their inhabitants ! So was Huchchimalli temple named after the a mad man named Malli?

The temple, of course, is the work of a great mind, mad men could have built temples like these.

The internet tell us, this 7th Century A.D Nagara style temple was probably where the sukhanasa or projections on the shikhara built for the first time. Evidences of research and experimentation in temple architecture, you could almost imagine the Chalukyan architects brain storming for their next architectural idea !

The temple does not have exquisite sculpture but there is a beautiful carving on the ceiling of Lord Karthikeya on his peacock.

It is one of the well-preserved temples in Aihole, probably because of its proximity to the Durga temple. There is also another semi-ruined temple just next to the main temple.

Ravana Phadi Cave Temple

A few yards from Huchchimalli temple is the Ravana Phadi Cave temple built in the 6th Century A.D, probably the oldest cave temple of the area.

There is no information on why this cave is called Ravana Phadi, we just know that it is also called Ravala Phadi, which probably was the actual name. A temple dome or Amalaka lies on the ground, there is no information on where this dome came from, either.

In front of the cave temple, there is a huge monolithic pillar, again, we do not know why the pillar stands there, was it the Dwajasthamba?

The cave temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has some amazing sculpture on its walls, just like the cave temples at Badami. This one has sculpture of Nataraja, the ceilings are grandly decorated.

It is difficult to find angles inside this cave that will cover the whole area without cutting off anything. The above picture was taken with the photographer lying on the back, still a part of the ceiling is cut off. We had very limited battery reserve by then and had to be very careful with the number of pictures we were taking.

Here is another picture of the sculpture on the ceiling taken from Nataraja wall side, it is scary to lean back to take a picture with the imposing Nataraja figure looming behind your back ! Despite every effort, the whole ceiling couldn’t be fit in. But, just look at the carvings !

This is one sculpture you will find in almost every temple in Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole – Lord Varaha.

The Boar or Varaha avatar of Lord Vishnu was the royal emblem of the Chalukyas. Their emblem had a Boar, a conch, a disc and a mirror like image. Check the internet for pictures, we couldn’t get our hand on the emblem, thanks to our camera.

What is very interesting is that, the Vijayanagar kings, almost a 1000 years later, also had Varaha as their royal emblem ! History never ceases to fascinate us.

The Durga Temple that we have been talking about from the start of this post is where the acutal action happens in Aihole. This is the main location on Aihole’s tourist map. It feels like a world of difference as you move from all those temples in the village, looking worn out and badly abused by encroachments, to the Durga temple. Suddenly, you will find shops, eateries, vendors, tourist buses, vehicles and even the ASI mark – the ticket counter ! That is why we call it the “Aihole’s celebrity”, everybody’s attention is centered here.

There is an entrance fee of Rs.5/- for Indian citizens and Rs.100/- for foreign citizens (do you think foreigners would take that kindly?)

The Durga Gudi complex looks like a smaller version of Pattadakal.

The Durga Gudi stands a little away from the rest and is the largest and the grandest of the group.

The story of the Durga Gudi, as per the ASI information board is that it was actually meant to be a Surya Temple, which later got converted to a Shiva Temple. If you are wondering where Durga comes in the picture, well, here Durga doesn’t mean Goddess Durga. It is actually Durg (Fort) temple, the temple gets its name probably from its proximity to a fortification !

Built in the 7th Century A.D, the architectural style of the temple is called “Gajaprastha”, it means the temple style is built to resemble an elephant’s back. This style too was probably developed by the Chalukyas.

The dome or the Amalaka of the shikara lies on the ground.

As every Chalukyan temple, the Durga temple is rich with sculpture, our fast draining battery did not allow us to take too many pictures. The walls along the curvilinear pradakshina patha is adorned with intrinsic designs, sculpture of gods and goddesses. The sun light streaming in between the pillars added to the beauty.

Lad Khan Temple

Our camera had almost given up by then and we literally pleaded with it to hold on for a little while, these temples were too good to go without pictures.

The next popular temple in Aihole is the Lad Khan temple. While some sources say this is probably the oldest structure dating back to the 5th Century A.D, ASI dates it to the 7th Century A.D, which should be the reliable date.

Does the name of the temple sound odd? The temple has been named after a Muslim officer who used this temple as his residence and the name stuck, hence. Aihole should be named the encroachment capital of the Chalukyas ! One feels extremely sorry for them.

The temple is also in the Gajaprastha style.

It also has an upper chamber that could be reached by a ladder, you are not allowed to go on top now. The roof has log like structures made of stone, they tried to replicate wooden logs using stones ! What an idea, sirji !

Close to the Lad Khan temple is this little Cottage temple. It looks like a cottage, similar to one we saw earlier at Kontigudi complex.

As we were trying to click pictures of the grand interiors of one of the temples, our camera finally revolted and gave up ! It took a lot of effort to control the disappointment. But what had happened had happened, we should have charged the batteries in the morning, we should have done proper research to know that Aihole that so many temples but none of it was going to revive our camera batteries. We tried clicking a few pictures using our mobile phone but did not get any satisfying results.

We were tired too by now and made a quick scan of other temples like the Gaudara Gudi, Suryanarayana Temple, all located inside the Durga temple complex. There is another group of temples opposite the Durga temple complex, we gave it a miss. It was almost like an anti-climax but the joy of having visited such ancient marvels could not be eclipsed by such petty disappointments.

ASI has an Archeological Museum next to the Durga temple. You will find some interesting artifacts and information in the museum, do visit it. They also have a model of the entire Aihole village with the location of the temples. When we checked the model, we realised we had visited most of them, barring a few group of temples here and there.

Lunch with the leaders !

Outside the temple complex, we gulped down glasses of sugarcane juice as the noon heat began to worsen. We started back to Hyderabad, this time via Raichur. Enroute, we stopped for lunch at a dhaba near Amingad. The dhaba was called “Bharat Dhaba”, the owner seemed to be a great patriot. The dhaba was full of pictures of political leaders of India, starting from Gandhi to the latest leaders. The ones who were no more had garlands on their photos. It was absolutely hilarious.

He was even watching a programme on TV that spoke about the greatness of Kannada language. We had to appreciate the man for this. We loved the food too.

The rest of the journey via Hungund, Mudgal (we were surprised to find a huge fort on the roadside as we drove past), Raichur, Mahbubnagar and then back to NH44 was uneventful.

Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole was a long time dream and now that it has been realised, it is now our most favourite memory ! Long live the Chalukyan Glory !


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