In Karnataka's northern district of Bijapur, four archaeological sites - Aihole, Badami, Pattadakal and Bijapur - span 1,000 years of history. Visited in chronological order, they demonstrate how the earliest experiments in Hindu architecture matured, but also include some remarkable examples of Muslim architecture. Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami are only a few kilometers apart. Badami is on the railway line 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Bijapur. As local transport is difficult to arrange, it is best to drive there from Bijapur, Hubli or Hampi.
Aihole, 50 kilometers (32 miles) from Badami, is the site of the first capital of the Chalukyas, who reigned in the fifth century. The original inhabitants built 50 temples inside their fort walls and another 50 outside before moving on to Badami, leaving behind mute monuments which reveal nothing of these people's way of life or the reasons for their departure. The temple known as Lad Khan, dating from AD 450, is probably Aihole's oldest building. It was sometimes used as an assembly hall for royal marriages, and is named after a mysterious Muslim prince who later converted it into his residence, leaving the Hindu images untouched. Lad Khan has an upper sanctum with images of Vishnu and Surya, the sun god, carved on its walls. From here you can view the village of Aihole, known locally as Aivalli and historically as Arya-Hole (the city of the Aryans).
Aihole is architecturally important because its temples are prototypes for both North and South Indian styles. Compared with the grandeur of later Hindu temples, Aihole's are modest. Without them, however, there would be neither the massive magnificence of Madurai nor the powerful majesty of Bhubaneswar.
Near the fort wall is the Temple of Durga, laid out like a Buddhist temple but with a unique semicircular apse containing high-relief carvings of Hindu deities: the all-powered goddess Chamundi Devi is overcoming a buffalo demon, whilst the bold eyes of Narasimha, the half-lion god, confront the onlooker, and great Shiva reveals himself in many beautiful poses.
The Chalukyas seen to have had no sectarian preferences. Their temples honour not only a great number of Hindu deities but also those revered by the Jains and Buddhists. In the Huchimalli Temple we find the three great Hindu gods: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Lower down the hill, there is a Buddhist temple whose dark interior shields hordes of squeaking bats and a serenely detached figure of the Buddha. One of the finest temples, the Ravana Phadi, is carved out of sandstone and is remarkable for the vigour and energy sculpted into the high relief figures of Shiva.
In around AD 550 the Chalukyas shifted their capital from Aihole to Badami, remaining there until they were ousted by a Pallava king a century later. Badami nestles amongst hills which enclose the healing waters of Bhuthanatha Lake. Several temples cluster on the shores and in the natural gorge that leads into the city. While these deserve a visit, it is the gigantic carvings on the walls of the four cave temples that have made Badami famous.
Cave 1: Although this cave contains an image of a four-armed Vishnu, the deity who dominates is Shiva. Attended by his servant, the dwarf Ganas, he is shown in many forms: as Nataraja, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance; as Ardhanaresvar, a half-man, half woman aspect; as Bhuthanatha, the God of Souls; and as a lingam protected by a hooded cobra.
Cave 2: Twp stone doorkeepers guard the entrance to this cave dedicated to Vishnu. The huge sculptures portray him in some of his incarnations, including that of Krishna.
Cave 3: Here the theme of Vishnu's incarnations continues. There are also some very beautiful, though faded, frescos.
Cave 4: Probably later than the others, this cave honours Jain deities. The meditative figure in the shrine is Mahavir, the founder of Jainism. There is also an enormous carving of the Jain saint, Parsanatha.
Pattadakal, on the banks of the Malaprabha River, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Badami, was the last Chalukyas capital and the place where the Chalukyas crowded their kings.
Although Pattadakal flourished from the seventh century, the earliest building, a brick-pillared pavilion, dates from the third or fourth century. The Chalukyas have a left a scattering of fine temples, all built with the local pink sandstone. The eighth-century Virupaksha Temple is a huge some structure with sculptures depicting scenes from both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. There is also a famous carving which appears to be either an elephant or a buffalo. The exteriors of both the Mallikarjuna and Papanatha temples are decorated with detailed scenes from the epics. The latest building, the ninth-century Jain temple, has two beautifully sculpted stone elephants.
The great monuments built by the Muslim rulers of Bijapur, the Adil Shah sultans, are masterpieces of Islamic architecture. They represent a contrast to the region's Hindu temples but nonetheless make as powerful an impact.
Standing on the formidable fort walls that enclose the 'City of Victory' is the great cannon known as the Malik-e-Maidan (King of the Plains). It took the combined muscle of 400 bullocks and ten elephants to drag this 54-tonne war trophy from distant Purandar. So loud were the explosions which roared from its huge mouth, which takes the form of a lion devouring elephants, that the gunner had to submerge himself in water. Cast in an alloy of copper, tin and iron, this massive cannon remains cool even in the blazing sun and gives off a hauntingly gentle sound when tapped.
Built by Adil Shah (1557-80), the interior arches of the Jami Masjid, one of India's largest and most beautiful mosques, are designed to give an unobstructed view of the pulpit. Although the mosque's awesome vastness is crowded by a huge onion dome, the overall effect is lightened by graceful minarets and the golden calligraphy of Koranic verses.
During the lifetime of his queen, Taj Sultana, Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1626) began to build her palatial tomb. The Ibrahim Roza is said to have inspired the Taj Mahal. Its lyrical and symmetrical grace is achieved with delicate minarets, and although verses from the Koran are inscribed on the outer walls, the dynasty's religious tolerance is apparent in the panels carved with crosses and lotuses. In the mosque that forms part of the complex, the acoustics amplify the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, but make him inaudible near the tombs. Ibrahim Shah also lies here, having died before his queen.
The Gol Gumbaz, the great mausoleum of Ibrahim's successor, Muhammad Adil Shah III (1626-56), is also an acoustical marvel; in the Whispering Gallery of its vast dome the softest sound will carry 75 meters (246 feet) and more. Walls three meters (ten feet) thick soar up to the huge dome unsupported by even a single pillar, an architectural feat second only to St Peter's in Rome. The Gol Gumbaz houses the tombs of Muhammad Adil Shah, his wife, daughter and favourite court dancer.