The Aihole Temples

The Aihole temples are a complex of ancient structures located in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka. Aihole was initially the center of the early Chalukyan culture until the great Pulakesi I moved the capital east to Badami. However, it was in Aihole where the Chalukyans began to create their own style of temple and over 100 of these sites can still be found there today. The building of temples took place over two phases with the first beginning in the early 6th century and the second phase not happening until the 12th century. The architecture of these temples was unique in the fact that it combined northern styles (nagara) with the techniques used in southern India (dravida). When used together this style was labeled vesara and was prominent in the temples built throughout the areas surrounding Aihole (Hardy 2001:181).

Of the temples located at Aihole the most famous is generally considered the Durga temple, a very photogenic structure that is dated to the middle of the 8th century A.D. (Bolar 164). The current name of the temple comes from one of two possibilities, either an image of Mahisasuramardini (the goddess Durga) or from a nearby fort (durga) (Bolar 164). It is likely that the name is more associated with the nearby fortress and this is the common consensus among modern scholars today. The agreement comes from the fact that this temple was likely dedicated to Visnu as opposed to the other temples that are focused on the worship of Siva (Hardy 1995:67). Architecturally, the temple is mainly of Dravidian design with a few exceptions, such as the superstructure that sits atop the temple. This feature, known as a sikhara, is situated directly on the flat nave roof above the sanctum of the temple. It would appear that this was added much later after the original construction of the building and would be a reasonable theory as there was an influence of northern styled design well after the Chalukyan culture (Lippe 14). Other notable features of this temple that make it stand out at Aihole are the intricate carvings along the railings of the balconies as well as the images found on the niches of the unique wall structures. “The pillars of the inner porch are, in addition, decorated with full and three-quarter roundels, containing small mithunas, with lotus-petal bands with guana-fiezes and with pearl-chains hanging from lion-masks, in low relief” (Lippe 14). The Durga temple has square pilasters that frame enclosed niches, and these niches have gallery panels that were apparently added after the original construction (Lippe 15). “Some of the niches are surmounted by elaborate sukanasa gabels or by miniature shrines; others (above the yalis) by inverted makara-torana” (Lippe 15). These important features of the Durga temple give it a unique appearance and photogenic qualities that allow it to be such a central site at the Aihole complex of temples.

The next most famous of temples at Aihole is often considered to be Lad Khan, the oldest structure at the complex with construction being dated to the middle of the 5th century A.D. (Lippe 11). Originally this temple was built for the worship of Visnu but it was later dedicated to the sun god Suryanarayana. The design of this temple can be considered a square ground plan with two square groupings of pillars within the main square (Lippe 11). However there is what is suspected to be a later addition of a porch that does not match up sufficiently with the original scheme (Lippe 11). “The porch of the Lad Khan temple is unusually wide as it had to be accommodated to the square temple; it is three pillars deep and four pillars wide, corresponding to the four hall pillars. The porch pillars are heavy and square with simple brackets (as are those of the roof shrine)” (Lippe 13). The porch itself was probably added relatively shortly after the temple was constructed with dates being considered around 550 A.D. (Lippe 13). “The railing of the porch which forms the back rests of the benches inside, is decorated with a motif of vases with foliage framed by pillars and knotted bands; we also notice rampant lions leaning against pilasters; a feature recalling Pallava pillars of the Rajashima period (695-722)” (Lippe 13). These features are a defining element of many temples at Aihole and can be considered a foundational shift in the architecture that was created by the early Chalukya culture.

Another notable temple that is found at the Aihole complex is the Huccimalli-Gudi. The name can be literally translated as “Mad-Malli’s temple”. “The temple can be dated to the seventh century, possibly even before the Pallava occupation” (Lippe 18). An important aspect about the Huccimalli-Gudi is that it is a homogeneous structure but it still displays features found in other temples such as the porch railings and pillars of the Lad Khan (Lippe 18).  The sculptured gargoyle-like pranala, as well as the apparent vestibule, are examples of how Huccimalli-Gudi undertook many additions and changes throughout its existence (Lippe 18). “The medallion with a Natesa on the Dwarf, on a shallow and rudimentary gable-projection, is loosely fitted to the “northern” superstructure which rises from the invisible sanctum” (Lippe 18). The medallion is likely a later addition because the Huccimalli temple is believed to have been originally designed for Vaishnava worship (Lippe 18). The Huccimalli-Gudi can therefore be considered a good example of how the architecture in Aihole was going through a shift in conventional design.

These three temples are all model cases of how the Chalukyan dynasty created their own style of architecture by combining different techniques used in both northern and southern India. These styles are reflected throughout the area at Aihole and are indicative what was going on at the time of their construction. When studied further, researchers can gather information about how the tradition and culture itself shifted. Whether it was purely how a temple was being dedicated and presented, or what people were occupying the territory, the temples at Aihole provide an illustrious history religious tradition in that area.



 Bolar, Varija R. (2010) Temples of Karnataka: An Epigraphical Study (From the Earliest to 1050 A.D.) “Surya (Sun) Temples and Images”. New Delhi: Readworthy Publications Ltd.

Hardy, Adam (1995) Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation. “Early Chalukya Temples”. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts.

Hardy, Adam (2001) Tradition and Transformation: Continuity and Ingenuity in the Temples of Karnataka. Berkeley: University of California Press on Behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians.

Lippe, Aschwin (1969/1970) Archives of Asian Art. “Additions and Replacements in Early Chalukya Temples”. Honolulu: University Of Hawai’i Press for the Asia Society.

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Article written by Grady Allison (Spring 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.