Badami Cave Temples in Karnataka – Ancient Rock Cut Temples

Badami Cave Temples is a prestige of Badami town, nearly the historical town reservoir, Agastya tirtha reservoir, in Bagalkot district of Karnataka, India. The temples have great value for Hindu and Jain traditions.

Badami Cave Temples
Photo by Vinu Padmanabhan on

A Brief History

The temples are said to be built around the late 6th-7th century AD, after the initiation by the first ruler of the Early Chalukya dynasty, Pukalesi I. He built a new capital for his kingdom around 540 AD. Initially named Vatapi, the city was located at the mouth of the steep ravine. As all the great kingdoms went on with their view of building outstanding sanctuaries to be remembered in history, the Chalukyas built the exquisite Badami Cave Temples.

Badami caves in night
Photo by Raj kamal Sahu on

The Chalukyan Royal Temples

The ancient artificial lake – the Agastya tirtha reservoir – gathers the water flowing from the ravine in Badami.

Agastya tirtha
Photo by SKT Photography on

There are soft sandstone cliffs high above the water, and there are royal shrines made on this cliff with a grand view that looks towards the former capital city.

Badami capital
Photo by Prashanth TK on

Four cave temples were built during the reign of the son of Pulakesi I – Kirthivarman (ruled 567-598 AD) and his brother Mangalesha I (ruled 598-610 AD). Among the four caves, one is dedicated to Shiva, two to Vishnu, and one is a Jain temple. Like several other successful dynasties in Ancient India, Chalukyas showed great religious tolerance during their reign.

The architecture is quite similar to what the other ancient cultures were portraying. However, a unique Chalukyan style is added to it in terms of art and architecture. However, it shows an influence of both the South Indian Style (Dravidian style) and the northern style (Indo-Aryan Nagara style).

Mukha mandapa of Badami Cave Temple
Photo by Srinivasa S on

The external areas of the temple look very simple and mundane, but the interiors are embellished with ornate finishing. A pillared verandah – Mukha mandapa – is at the entrance, and the pillars have square forms in sections. Below the columns lie a lavish frieze that enters the three caves. In all the main halls of temples, the maha mandapa stands on massive columns. At the back of the hall is a shrine – cella or garbhagrha. In ancient times, the caves were covered with exciting murals. But most are only traces of them now.

Image source –

The inscriptions written in Kannada and Sanskrit languages are important features of the temple. There are about 18 cliff inscriptions in the Badami caves, and the oldest one dates back to 543 AD. The most important one is the one that talks about Kappe Arahatta, a local saint and hero; the inscription consists of ten lines written in both Kannada and Sanskrit language, and with a nice carving of ten leaved lotus in the circle.

There is also a fifth cave, a natural cave used as a Buddhist temple.

Cave 1:

It is believed that it was built during 575-585 AD.

One must climb 40 steps to enter the portal, which contains four freestanding square columns and two semi-columns. A frieze with ganas – attendants of Shiva – is below the columns.

At the back of the wall, square-shaped shrines can be found. One can find murals of amorous couples preserved for more than 1400 years on the ceiling. Exquisite reliefs embellish the cave; the most important one is that of Shiva and Parvati with a coiled serpent; the 18-armed Nataraja, when closely observed, can be seen as portraying 81 dancing poses.

Cave 2:

It is believed to be built during the late 6th century and is dedicated to Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is portrayed as Trivikrama, with one foot on earth and the other directed to the north. One can also see Vishnu as a boar (Varaha) and Krishna avatars.

Photo by Rahul Wedpathak on

After walking 64 steps from the first cave, one can enter this cave. There are reliefs of guardians (dvarapalas) with smaller female attendants at the entrance.

Cave 3:

This is the largest and is built around 578 – 580 AD. According to the inscription, Chalukya king Mangalesa organized the excavation of this Vishnu temple. The same inscription, made in 578 AD, claims that Mangalesa became a king in 597 and ruled until 609 AD.

Image source –

It is also oriented towards north-south, with the main hall going up to 14.5m deep into the mountain. The height of the main hall is approximately 4.5m.

To get to this cave, one must climb 60 steps from Cave 2. The temple’s façade is 21m wide and contains a row of six massive columns. A friese consisting of 30 smaller reliefs of ganas are below the columns.

There are paintings and magnificent adornments throughout the cave, along with a centerpiece of four-armed Brahma on his swan. There is a lotus mural on the ground where offerings used to be laid back in the days.

The monuments also contain Vishnu relics: standing Vishnu, Vishnu with a serpent, Vishnu as Narasimha (half human – half lion), Varaha, Harihara, and Trivikrama avatars. They are as high as 4m.

The cave is also important as this region’s art of culture and clothing is the 6th century.

Cave 4:

Image source –

This cave stands as a Jain temple and is said to be built around the 6th-7th century AD. It is higher than other caves but rather less elaborate and smaller. Still, one cannot say it is not beautiful and not rich with adornment. There are carvings of Tirthankara Parshavnatha with a serpent at his feet, along with a sculpture of Jain saint Mahavira in a seated pose and standing Gomatesvara with creepers twisted around his legs.