Aihole (pronounced "Eye-hoḷé"), also referred to as Aivalli, Ahivolal or Aryapura, is a historic site of ancient and medieval era Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments in north Karnataka, India dated from the sixth century through the twelfth century CE, though the most of the surviving monuments date from the 7th to 10th centuries. Located around an eponymous small village surrounded by farmlands and sandstone hills, Aihole is a major archaeological site featuring over one hundred and twenty stone and cave temples from this period, spread along the Malaprabha river valley, in Bagalakote district
Legend has it that Lord Parasuram, after avenging the death of his father came down to the river Malaprabha and washed his blood-stained hands and battle axe. The blood and gore on the axe turned the river red. A woman saw this and screamed ‘Ayyo Hole’ or ‘Oh No Blood!’ in Kannada, hence the name Aihole.
Aiholi prospered from the mid-6th century CE under the regional rule of the Early Western Chalukyas, one of the most important Deccan dynasties in the late Gupta period. Notable rulers were Pulakeshin I (c. 535-566 CE) and Pulakeshin II (r. 609-642 CE) who were powerful enough to entertain diplomatic relations with distant Persia. Another significant ruler and bringer of prosperity to the region was Vikramaditya I (r. 655-681 CE) who regained control of the Chalukya capital Badami following its loss to regional rival, the Pallava king. Aiholi was an important regional capital (one of four) and the fortification walls and gateways which surround the site are unique survivors from the 6th century CE in ancient India. The Chalukya dynasty fell to the Rashtrakutas in the mid-7th century CE.
Architecture & Monuments
There is a mix of architectural styles at the site and, due to the lack of later rebuilding, Aiholi provides a valuable record of Indian temple architecture before it fully evolved into a canonical style. Most temples at Aiholi are Hindu, but there are some early Buddhist caves and Jain monuments. There are a number of rock-cut caves at Aihole which are embellished with architectural sculpture cut into the sandstone. The Ravula Phadi cave has a ten-armed Shiva dancing along with the Saptamatrikas, Durga attacking Mahisha with a spear, and Bhudevi being rescued by Varaha. The Ravanaphadi cave is notable for its life-size high relief sculpture of four dancing Matrkas and a Shiva Gangadhara, c. 600 CE, which shows the great god gently lowering Ganga - a personification of the River Ganges - to earth using his hair. Jain architecture at the site includes the Meguti temple, perched atop an acropolis, which was first built in 634 CE.
Many of the Hindu temples display typical characteristics of northern Indian architecture - the sikharas (a four-sided superstructure or tower formed using many decorative layers of stonework), the nasika or sukanas (projecting facade medallions), a gavaksa (double-curved arch), and an amalaka (a large ribbed circular stone on top of the sikhara). The temples have stone slab roofing, many have stone lattice windows, and most have an entrance hall and porch accessed via a short flight of steps, the latter being a typical feature of Early Western Chalukya architecture.
Aihole – A spiritual treat
Aihole was once the capital of the Chalukya Dynasty, and is a city with a rich and illustrious history. It has great cultural significance as the cradle of Hindu temple architecture, and has more than 125 temples in and around it. Aihole is an archaeologists’ delight with several temples dating back to Chalukyan times. Excavation and investigation into the history of Aihole continues and several thousand tourists seek out the serene and spiritual ambiance of this city every year.
The Aihole Inscription
The Aihole Inscription, believed to have been composed by the Jain poet Ravikeerthi, is a great source for reconstructing the history of this period. It records the achievements of Pulakesi II, especially his victory against Harshavardhana, the ruler of Northern India.
The famous Chalukya King Pulakeshi II was follower of Jainism. Aihole inscription is dated 634 CE, in Sanskrit language and old Kannada script.
Sightseeing options in and around Aihole
Aihole was once a center of architectural experiments by several gifted artisans, and the city is blessed with several beautifully crafted places of worship. Some of the chief attractions are listed below.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple is the most elaborately decorated monument in Aihole. It owes its name due to its proximity to a fort or ‘Durg’ and not to Goddess Durga, which is a common misconception. The temple dates back to Chalukyan times and the elements of Dravida style in its architecture with exquisite carvings adorning the columns at the entrance attract several art enthusiasts every year.
Ladh Khan Temple
This edifice was built by the Chalukyas and is named after a Muslim prince who converted it into his residence. This monument is evidence of the experimental nature of Chalukyan temple architecture. The temple was built in the Panchayat hall style with two sanctums. The main sanctum contains a Shiva Linga and a Nandi, whereas the second sanctum has intricate carvings on the outer wall. Both devotees and art lovers flock to this temple throughout the year.
This temple has the distinction of being the only dated monument in Aihole. It was built in 634 AD by Ravikeerti, Commander and Minister of Pulakesin II. Now partly in ruins, this temple is one of the earliest examples of the Dravidian style of architecture. It has been renovated over the years with a superstructure and a 16 column porch being added.
This rock temple dates back to the 6th century. It is provided with a vestibule with carved panels on either side, and has a triple entrance. It is most noteworthy for its adornments dedicated to Lord Shiva, with the Mahishasuramardhini, the great Dancing Shiva linga with Ganesha and sapta-matrikas present in the sanctum drawing several thousand visitors every year.
Built in the 7th century, this is believed to be one of the earliest groups of temples in Aihole. The architectural practice of constructing a vestibule in front of the sanctum was introduced for the first time here. This temple has shrines dedicated to Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
This temple was built in the 12th century and has architectural elements in common with the Ladh Khan temple. It is dedicated to the Goddess Bhagavathi. It has a high molded base and 16 pillars devoid of any carvings and adornments.
This temple dates back to the 7th century and has a four pillared inner sanctum with a Rekhanagara tower over it. It is especially famous for a 2 feet tall statue of Surya along with Usha and Sandhya, his consorts.
Konti group of temples
Built in the 7th century, this consists of 4 separate temples, with few additions in subsequent years. This group is famous for exquisite panels of Brahma, Shiva and a reclined Vishnu on the ceiling, and draws a footfall of a several thousand every year.
How to reach Aihole
The city is well connected by air, rail and road to all major cities in the country.
The nearest airport is Belgaum which is 189 km from Aihole. There are regular flights to Belgaum from all major cities in the country.
The nearest railway station is Bagalkot, which is 34 km from Aihole. There are several direct trains to Bagalkot from all major cities in the country.
The city enjoys connectivity to nearby places through a network of busses. Package tours are conducted from Bangalore (490 km away) a during tourist season. The city is 44 kms and 17 kms away from Badami and Pattadakal respectively. From Belgaum via Bagalkot one can easily reach the city by road.