It is a funny thought, isn’t it? To think that the ideas of our ancient rulers to leave their mark behind, are today part of one of India’s largest economic sectors ! Would they have ever thought that their passion for architecture and art, music and literature, would make India one of the fastest growing tourism economies in world? What they had pursued as a passion to showcase their prowess, is today earning a huge amount of foreign exchange for India ! Was it their foresight that one day the world would pay to see their glory?
What better place than Aihole to think about this? In their eagerness to achieve greatness that lives beyond their times, the Chalukyas went on a temple building spree in the place where they first sowed the seeds of their great empire and no better place than the fort to look for those foundations.
Mallikarjuna group of temples
The remnants of the Aihole fort are located on a small hillock. There is another temple complex at the foot of the hill leading to the fort – the Mallikarjuna group of temples.
The hillock overlooks the temple complex.
Honestly, by this time, our mind was whirling with temples and we even got a tad tired of turning around and finding temples at every corner ! We thought the Chalukyas were insane to fill up the entire capital city with temples, insanely genius !
Before reaching the fort, one has to walk through the all familiar site of settlements and encroachments, between lazing cattle, dogs and cats ! Beyond this chaos, you will find the steps leading up the hill.
Halfway up the hill, there is a Buddhist temple. An interesting thing about Badami and Aihole is that you would find Buddhist, Jain and Hindu temples, sometimes within the same complex. The two tiered, pillared temple was probably used for meditation.
Meguti temple, Aihole fort
At the top of the hill, where the fort is supposed to have been located, is the Meguti Temple. The internet calls this the Meguti Jain temple. There is nothing left of the fort except this temple and what look like a part of the fort walls.
The Meguti temple is probably the oldest structure in Aihole. It seems there is an inscription which talks about the temple having been built by a poet belonging to Pulakesi II times, it gives the temple a date of 634 A.D, the temple could be the one of the earliest stamps of the Chalukyas.
The temple has a breathtaking location. It stands alone on top of the hill looking down at the Aihole village. When you stand inside the pillared hall, there is perfect silence all around except for the whispering breeze, the serenity of the place can only be experienced !
Rebuilt, restored fort walls run around the temple. We do not even know if these walls actually stood there or were just placed as a protection around the Meguti temple by ASI. The bastions are the only proof that the first fortification of the Chalukya empire was once located here.
If you asked this writer the difficult task of picking the favourite monument of the Chalukyan era, Meguti temple is most likely to top the list !
From atop the hill, you can get a bird’s eye view of Aihole. One look and you will understand why we were tired of all the temples, temples, temples every where and this is only one side of the view.
The picture will also give you an idea of how the place has been encroached. The lastest news on Aihole is that the government is trying to relocate the people, if it happens it will be good news and the Chalukya kings would be celebrating up there !
Aihole’s prehistory !
As if all the history is not enough, Aihole goes further into prehistory ! It seems there is a prehistoric burial site, a short trek behind the temple. We did not venture there, as we were short of time. There is some interesting information about the site at the Badami and Aihole museum. If you do a google search, you will also find a travelogue on this site. You might need a guide, if you are the less adventurous kind and don’t want to get lost in search of a burial site !
The flipside of tourism
As we walked down from the fort and back to the main road, we were hounded by little village kids who followed us all the way to our car. They keep walking behind you saying “Hello”, “Hello, any gifts?”, “Hello, photos?”. This must be the outcome of foreign tourists taking pictures of these kids and they probably give them some money. Even their parents seemed to encourage them. Our hearts went out to those innocent kids, some of them have learned to mock at the visitors and pass snide remarks if you don’t stop for them. It was a very disturbing experience. Why do the authorities let such things happen? How do you tell tourists not to encourage this? How do you stop kids from becoming a source of tourist income? Even one month later, the image and the voices refuse to leave the mind.
More and more temples unfolded before us, as we drove towards the village center where the main tourist attractions of Aihole were located. It became joke every time we spotted a temple in a corner, “there goes another one” ! At first glance, they would just look like a small shrine between some houses, when you enter, they magically transform into a complex full of temples and shrines ! The temple enthusiast in us wouldn’t rest and we stopped by as many temples as we could like this complex of Jain temples
with Jain sculpture in the sanctom sanctorum
and this Shiva temple nearby called the Gauri Gudi whose interiors reminded us of the Kakatiya temples in and around Warangal. So, the Kakatiyas too could not escape the Chalukyan charm?
For being the geniuses who started the temple building culture, which has gone on to give India a unique identity in the world of tourism, can the Chalukyan temple architects be given Bharat Ratnas, posthumously?
And so, way beyond the designated 2 hours, the Aihole saga continued for us.
Most of the temples can be reached by walk, you could park your vehicle on the road and walk to the complexes in the vicinity. You might get a little tired towards the end.
Do not miss the Meguti temple even if people tell you there is nothing up there on the fort.
You will get used to the cattle and dogs and might even discover that they are not always interested in you.