Cave Temples of Badami: Cave – 1

Entrance to Cave - 1, the first of the four of rock-cut caves of Badami, Karnataka, India

Cave Temples of Badami- Masterpieces of Chalukya Temple Art

Carved out of a red sandstone hill overlooking the beautiful Agastya Lake, the four cave temples of Badami are great works of religious art and a showcase of Chalukya temple architecture. Because of their stunningly beautiful carvings – enhanced by the colorfulness and pleasant texture of the red sandstone – they stand out from the rest of the cave temples in India. Visiting them is a fascinating experience.

Built by the Badami Chalukyas between the 6th and 8th century CE, these rock-cut cave temples are the forerunners of the religious monuments built in Southern India. Besides these cave temples, Chalukyas built many freestanding temples in and around Badami. The dynasties that came after them continued this trend, and as a result, the temple building flourished. Hundreds of beautiful temples, big and small, dedicated to different gods and goddesses, now dot the landscape of Karnataka and the surrounding regions.

The rock-cut cave temples were constructed by meticulously carving out the stone material from the rock to create beautiful structures, sculptures, and sculptural reliefs. It is mind-boggling how the ancient Indians manage to carve such magnificent temples out of rocks without the aid of sophisticated machinery or tools.

Built next to each other and connected via stone staircases, the four cave temples are labeled Cave – 1, Cave -2, Cave – 3, and Cave – 4, based on the sequence of their approach from the main entrance to the temple complex. In other words, you would visit Cave – 1 first and Cave – 4 last.

The chronological order of their construction is not known because of the lack of inscriptions. Only Cave – 3 has inscription detailing its dating. However, it is generally believed that they were constructed in the same sequence as their approach.

The rest of the page is about Cave – 1. Check the following pages for a detailed explanation of the other three caves:

Cave – 2VishnuVarahavatara, Vamanavatara
Cave – 3Maha Vishnu Maha Vishnu, Ashtabhuja Vishnu
Varahavatara, Vamanavatara,
Cave – 4Mahavira
(Jain Temple)
Mahavira, Adinatha, Parshvanatha
Bahubali, Mahavira with Jakkave

Cave – 1: Magnificent temple dedicated to Shiva

Dated to approximately to 550 CE, Cave – 1 is the first of the four rock-cut caves in the Badami hills. It is a Mantapa style temple dedicated to Shiva. Visitors first enter the courtyard of the temple through a flight of steps and then take another flight of steps to enter the temple.

Entrance to Cave - 1 located at Badami in Karnataka, India
Facade and Entrance
Ground plan of Cave - 1, the first of the four rock-cut caves located near Badami in Karnataka, India
Ground plan

Excavated from the massive red sandstone boulder at 60ft from the ground level, Cave – 1 has an impressive rectangular-shaped facade with the dimension 70 ft x 20ft. As you can see from the image, the facade has four pillars and a flight of steps. and flanking the facade on either side are the two life-size sculptural reliefs carved on the walls extended from the facade.

The garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) is a small chamber housing the Shivalinga that was carved out of the stone at the rear-side of the cave. Like any traditional Mantapa style temple, there is a sabhamantapa (congregation hall) in front of the garbhagriha and a mukhamantapa (verandah) in front of the sabhamantapa.

The facade shows the pillars of the mukhamantapa and the staircase leading to it. Inside the mukhamantapa and sabhamantapa, there are more pillars embellished with beautiful carvings. Extending the facade on the right and left are the walls carved with beautiful sculptural reliefs, which are described below.

Nataraja performing Tandava Nritya

Carved into the right side extension, this large-size sculptural relief depicts Nataraja (Dancing King), a form of Shiva, performing the Tandava Nritya, a vigorous cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction.

Shiva portrayed as Nataraja carved on the right side of Cave - 1, the first of the four of rock-cut caves of Badami, Karnataka, India
Nataraja carved into a wall on the right side of the Cave – 1 facade

As you can see, Nataraja is standing with an elegant dancing pose on a lotus flower pedestal, and his 18 hands carry a variety of objects, including a trishula (trident) and an ax. His vehicle Nandi is standing behind him, and his son Ganesha is standing to his left. An unidentified figure is seated behind Ganesha.

Dwarapala with Shiva-Parvati and Vrishabha-Kunjara

Dwarapala with Shiva-Parvati and Vrishabha-Kunjara - Left side view of Cave - 1, the first of the four of rock-cut caves of Badami, Karnataka, India
Dwarapala with Shiva-Parvati and Vrishaba-Kunjara

Carved into the left-side extension, this relief depicts the dwarapala (door-keeper) of Shiva. As you can see, the dwarapala is holding a trishula (trident) with his right hand. Carved below the dwarapala is Vrishabha-Kunjara (Bull-Elephant), an illusionary sculpture with a single head joined by the torsos of the bull and elephant. It looks like an elephant from one side and a bull from the other side. Carved above the dwarapala is a relief of Shiva and Parvati seated on Nandi, Shiva’s vehicle.

To the right of dwarapala are the pillars of the mukhamantapa and to the left are the flights of steps to Cave – 2.

Mukhamantapa – Richly decorated porch

As mentioned, the mukhamantapa is the front porch of the cave temple. It is ornate with beautifully carved reliefs on the lateral walls and the ceiling, which are described below.

Ardhanarishvara – Fusion of Shiva and Parvati

Sculptural relief depicting the story of Ardhanarishvara and sage Bhringi carved on the right side wall of the mukha mantapa in Cave - 1 located at Badami, Karnataka, India
Ardhanarishvara and sage Bhringi carved on the right side wall of the mukhamantapa

Carved into the right-side wall of the mukhamantapa, this narrative sculptural relief depicts the story of Ardhanarisvara, a manifestation of Shiva as half man and half woman.

In this relief, Ardhanarishvara, who has man-like features on the right half and woman-like features on the left half, is standing with an elegant Tribhanga stance (i.e., body bent in three places, neck, waist, and knee).

While appearing to play a musical instrument, Ardhanarishvara is gently leaning on his vehicle Nandi. Standing with the folded hands (i.e., namaste gesture) behind Nandi is Bhringi, a sage with three legs who appears like a skeleton. Standing to the left of Ardhanarishvara is an unidentified female figure carrying a bowl with her left hand. Flying above Ardhanarishvara are the Vidyadhara couples.

Read the Ardhanarishvara with Sage Bhringi page for a brief explanation of the story behind Shiva’s manifestation of Ardhanarishvara .

Harihara – Fusion of Shiva and Vishnu

Sculptural relief depicting fusion of Shiva and Vishnu as Harihara carved on the left side wall of the mukha mantapa in Cave - 1 located at Badami, Karnataka, India
Fusion of Shiva and Vishnu as Harihara

This beautifully carved sculptural relief depicting Harihara is on the left lateral wall of the mukhamantapa. Harihara is a symbolical fusion of the two Gods of the Hindu Trinity, Vishnu and Shiva, and is a single entity made from half of Shiva’s and half of Vishnu’s features. Because of this fusion, the followers of both the Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions worship Harihara.

As you can see from the image, Harihara is carved with Shiva’s features on the left side and Vishnu’s features on the right side. Shiva’s wife Parvati and his vehicle Nandi are standing on the right side of Harihara. Likewise, Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi and his vehicle Garuda are standing on the other side.

A stunningly beautiful sculpture depicting Harihara can be found in one of the devakoshtas of the Durga Temple at Aihole, about 22 miles east of Badami. Also built by the Badami Chalukyas, it is a free-standing temple carved with many sculptures and reliefs similar to those in the Badami cave temples.

Coiled Nagaraja

Coiled Nagaraja carved on the ceiling of Cave -1 located at Badami in Karnataka, India
Coiled Nagaraja carved into the ceiling

This intricately carved relief depicts Nagaraja, the mythical king of serpents, with multiple serpent heads and a human head attached to a torso, extended by a spiraling serpent body.

As you can see, the Nagaraja has five serpent heads surrounding his human head, and his coiled serpent body, whose thickness decreases as it spirals out, fits perfectly within a wheel engraved with fine artwork. Enclosing the wheel is a square panel richly decorated with flower-like patterns.

A similar relief is found on the ceiling of the mukhamantapa of the Durga Temple at Aihole.

Garbhagriha with Shivalinga

An interior view showing the garbhagriha entrance and pillars
An inside view showing the garbhagriha entrance and pillars
Shivalinga inside the Garbhagriha of Cave - 1 located at Badami in Karnataka, India
Shivalinga inside the garbhagriha

The image shows an inside view of Cave – 1. At the far end is the entrance to the garbhagriha and a flight of steps leading to it. The Shivalinga is not installed as a separate unit but carved out of the rock when the garbhagriha was built. Notice that the linga is on a square-shaped yoni, which is unusual because most Shivalingas in the Indian temples have oval-shaped yonis.

Proceed to Cave -2

Related Pages
Badami, Cave – 2, Cave – 3, Cave – 4
Durga Temple at Aihole
Somanathapura Keshava Temple
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Bracket Figures
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Navaranga
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Garbhagriha Outer Wall
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Kappe Chennigaraya Shrine
Hampi Virupaksha Temple Murals

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