When we asked a few locals for directions to the Fort entrance, they kept showing us the way towards the museum. Only later, did we realise that the entrance to the Fort was just beside the museum. The weather played a bit of a spoilsport in my attempts to photograph this place. The DSLR and the umbrella were taking turns as the sun played hide and seek with an occasional shower. A great weather for a climb but not so much for the photographs..
The stepped pathway between the rocks leads you higher. After walking past a stoned gateway, the first stop is to the left at the Lower Shivalaya. This point faces the Badami caves directly and offers an elevated view of the town and Agastya lake. The Lower Shivalaya was once a shrine, but today is devoid of the deity. It has an interesting story which also needs a little background about the history.
As Badami(Vatapi) was the capital of the Chalukya dynasty, its fate and fortunes were linked to that of the Chalukyan kings.. The dynasty was founded by Pulakesin I in the 6th century A.D. when he built the fort here. Pulakeshi I’s son Kirtivarma I further strengthened Vatapi. While Kirtivarma I had three sons Pulakeshi II, Vishnuvardhana and Buddhavarasa, they were all minors when he died, so Kirtivarma’s brother Mangalesha ruled. Kirtivarma I and his brother Mangalesha are responsible for building the cave temples. Mangalesha was killed by Pulakeshi II who emerged as the greatest ruler of the dynasty. During the reign of Pulakeshi II the Chalukyan empire extended from the banks of Narmada to the northern limits of Pallava empire in Tamil Nadu.
However, in 642 AD, the Pallavas led by king Narasimhavarma I attacked and seized Vatapi. The Ganapati idol which was present in the Lower Shivalaya was taken by the Pallavas to Thanjavur. The popular krithi in Carnatic music, Vatapi Ganapatim Bhaje ham composed by Muthuswami Dikshitar set to Hamsadhani raga was sung in praise of this very idol. Today, the idol is said to be present at the Uthrapathiswaraswamy Temple, near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.
We scaled higher through the ravines, taking a short break under a large boulder during a shower. On the way, there was a huge circular bastion and a few conical structures made of a rubble of stones. The temple called the Upper Shivalaya could be seen from a distance, we needed to climb further to get there. While the diety of this temple is lost, it has wonderful carvings of the Vishnu avataras around its walls. Needless to say, the view from this higher elevation is breathtaking.
While climbing down, almost close to the starting point, a young couple asked if there was anything worth checking out on top. It may pale in comparison to the cave temples on the opposite, but the climb, the two shrines and the wonderful views of the town and lake made it worthwhile.
The museum located at the foothills of the northern hill, houses and preserves many sculptures, inscriptions and, architectural artifacts found in and around this region. The exhibits are spread across four galleries, comprising of sculptures of Shiva, Ganapathi, Vishnu and panels narrating scenes from Bhagavatam. One gallery that stood out had a scaled model of a pre-historic rock shelter or the Sidlaphadi cave, also displaying stone artifacts and cave drawings of the period.
Legend has it that the evil demon Vatapi was killed by the sage Agastya in this region hence the town was called Vatapi and the lake was named after the sage and called Agastya Thirtha.
The Bhoothanatha group of temples are situated on the eastern side of the lake and is one of the earliest examples of structural temples in South India. These temples were built during the reign of the Badami Chalukyas and are dedicated to Lord Shiva as the “God of souls”.
Ahead of the Bhoothantha temples are few large boulders with carvings and some incomplete ones beside them. The Badami Chalukya style of temple architecture evolved and became very popular during the 5th-8th century. The visuals like the one below perhaps suggest this was one of their blueprints or a template.