The Pattadakal Temples: Where kings were crowned and villagers dwelled

The Ganges or the River Ganga is considered to be holy to Hindus. And in Varanasi or Benares, the Ganga is considered to be at its holiest. Do you know why? It is because the Ganga’s flow is uttarabhimukhi or from South to North there, as against the usual West to East, or the less common East to West. I learnt about this piece of trivia when I visited Pattadakal.

Pattadakal is a small village in North Karnataka, situated on the banks of the river Malaprabha. It is a rather unremarkable looking, dusty village, made remarkable for one thing—the Malaprabha is also uttarabhimukhi here. This unique feature was considered an auspicious sign by the rulers of the Chalukya dynasty, thereby singling it out for royal attention.

The North-flowing Malaprabha River at Pattadakal

And what an attention Pattadakal got ! The Chalukya Kings chose Pattadakal as the site for their coronation ceremonies. Being lovers of art and culture, they also chose Pattadakal as the site for building a unique temple complex that would blend the architectural and artistic traits of the northern and southern styles of temple-building that was in vogue in the 8th century. Eight temples were built on one site as a group, while two other temples were built some distance away in Pattadakal. This group of monuments at Pattadakal are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our group visited the Pattadakal site, which had 8 temples grouped together:  Sangameshwara, Virupaksha, Mallikarjuna, Chandrasekhara (all built in the southern Dravida Vimana style), Kadasiddeshwara, Jambulinga, Galaganatha, and Kasivisveshwara (the last 4 built in the northern Rekhanagara Prasada style).

(L) Temple with Dravida Vimana style (R) Temple with Rekhanagara Prasada style

All the temples in this Pattadakal site are built out of the local red sandstone, and is probably the only place in India, where both the northern and southern temple-building styles can be found together. The main, immediately evident, difference between the two styles is in the gopuram—the southern style gopuram is shorter, broader at the base, and squat as compared to the northern style which is taller and better proportioned. A more detailed examination throws up another difference—the southern style temples are richly carved, both inside and out, while the northern style temples, have plain outer walls, with only an occasional carving to break the monotony. In contrast, the gopuram of the latter is richly carved.

The Kadasiddeshwara Temple

In the foreground is the Galaganatha Temple and in the background is the Sangameshwara Temple

Among the 8 temples here, only the Virupaksha Temple continues to be a living temple today. An enormous Nandi greets you at the entrance to the temple.

The Nandi outside the Virupaksha Temple

A young worshipper enters the Virupaksha Temple with some milk and incense sticks as offerings

It is also one of the most richly carved temples in the complex with beautifully proportioned, and intricately sculpted murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

A richly carved mural inside the Virupaksha Temple

Like the Bhootnatha Temple in Badami, the setting of this temple complex is sheer poetry with large spreading trees at the banks of the Malaprabha.

Trees outside the Virupaksha Temple

Like Bijapur and Badami, the Pattadakal temples are extremely well maintained. I guess a lot the credit of course goes to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for restoration work and the “Green Police” to ensure that visitors do not litter or desecrate it in any way. When I mentioned this to our guide, he gave a grim smile and said that this was not always the case. Till a couple of decades ago the temples were occupied by villagers who were using them as dwellings in every sense of the word. When the ASI acquired the temples, they had quite a task at hand in evicting  the families who had occupied these temples. Some of the families even produced deeds claiming ownership to the temples! “Rehabilitation” of these families was a long process and restoration of the temples and repairing the damage caused by the dwellers in these temples was an even longer one. A process, I suspect, is an ongoing one.

Doreen, our tour organiser, too had a story to share. When she had visited Pattdakal with another tour group in 2007, the area was recovering from floods, the worst in many years. The temples had surprisingly, or may be not surprisingly, been unaffected by the floods. The tour group arrived to find the temples occupied by the villagers, drying their salvaged belongings on the premises. Thankfully, there was no cooking happening on the site !

As we got into our vehicles to Aihole, our next destination, I could not help notice the contrast between the internal (the Pattadakal Temples) and the external (the village itself) environments—the green, spotless monuments and the dusty, not so clean village ! Or the subtle conflict between the two environments.

P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at does_ecotours@yahoo.co.in.

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9 thoughts on “The Pattadakal Temples: Where kings were crowned and villagers dwelled

  1. Sudha your blogs are master pieces. History flows like a poetry and the pictures of the temples so vivid. To have visited these sites the names of which I had not heard before coming but I am so happy I did it. They are preserved thanks to their being a UNESCO world heritage sites. I hope this site inspires my friends to visit and cherish happy memories. Thanks.

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  2. Its wonderful to know that these heritage sites have been preserved and restored by the Government of India through ASI.

    If I get an opportunity to visit these places I will certainly grab it.

    Thanks for the lovely pictures.

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  3. Your memories are our treasure. The curious past comes alive through your stories, which touch with their simplicity and honesty. This must pave way for a book now Sudha. i think it is now in order…

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  4. Very nicely written. The green police initiative, till date is found only in Pattadakal and Badami. Have not seen in any UNESCO world heritage site. Not there in Hampi, Mahabalipuram, Konark, Taj Mahal, Qutub minar, etc .

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    • You are right about only Pattadakal and Badami having the green police. I wish this initiative is extended to other heritage sights as well. Hampi does have some kind of a security, but it is not the same.

      Your blog is very detailed and well written. I see that my favourite state features quite a bit as well. :-) Thank you for stopping by, Dhiraj.

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