Pattadakal:An insight in to Indian Temple Architecture

January 1, 1970

by Usha Mv

Pattadakal is a World Heritage Site

If stones could speak, the sandstone structures at Pattadakal would tell a 1000 tales of battles fought, victories won, and the grand coronation ceremonies of the Chalukyan Kings. But the sandstone’ don’t, so the sculptors tell the tales. Their skilled hands work magic on the stones. Thus stories unfold in the ornate towers or in the intricate carvings and even in the heavy decorative columns supporting the Pattadakal structures. So splendid are these that the fine monuments of Pattadakal have bagged a place in the list of World Heritage sites by the UNESCO.

The Chalukyans were a formidable kingdom ruling parts of South and Central India. The early Chalukyan dynasty ruled between 6-8th century AD and Pattadakal was an important religious and cultural center for them.


Pattadakal was the Cultural Capital

The river Malaprabha arising from Sahayadri hills from the west of India takes a turn towards north at Pattadakal. This is auspicious. For the kings it is most favorable signifying prosperity and success. The flowing of river towards the north direction denotes the presence of Hindu God Shiva on Mount Kailash. And so Pattadakal became a place of coronation for the crowning of prince.

Architects, scholars, sculptors settled here building temples and fine monuments and Pattadakal became the cultural capital of the early Chalukyans. The hundreds of inscriptions found here are a testimony to this fact.

Chief attractions at Pattadakal

The place is simple to explore. The group of monuments are easy to locate and are grouped in a cluster. There are ten monuments in all. While eight temples are together, the other two temples are located south and west of this cluster. There are more structures in Pattadakal but they are damaged either suffering the vagaries of nature or vandalism by the localities or perhaps future rulers.

There is plenty to learn, observe and understand in this cultural capital. Here are a couple of things to watch out for.

1000 year old temples at Pattadakal

Standing amidst these structures can make you feel small and humble. After all each of these temples is more than a 1000 years old. Most of them belong to 7th or the 8th century. The Jambulinga temple, for example is of 7th century, the Papanatha temple dedicated to Hindu God Shiva belongs to 680 AD, the Virupaksha temple and Mallikarjuna temple is of 740 AD while the Galaganatha temple is of 8th century. The temples are all made from sandstone, the pillars and columns intricately carved with various scenes from mythological tales that are eye catching and worth your time.

Pattadakal temples

A motley of North and South Indian style architecture at Pattadakal

A quick look at the towers of various temple structures will give you a clue on what style of architecture it follows. The towers are either stepped pyramid like structures or curvilinear inclining from all corners towards the top. These denote the two prominent architecture styles of Indian temples-the North Indian style and the South Indian style.

The North Indian style of Indian architecture

The North Indian style called as the Nagara style has a curvilinear tower. The Galaganatha temple of Pattadakal is an example of this type of architecture. All the corners of this tower tapers towards the top. Watch out for the dancing form of Shiva in this temple at the doorway.

The South Indian style of Indian architecture

Some of the temples have a stepped pyramidal tower. This denotes the South Indian style or the Dravidian style of temple architecture.  Visit the Virupaksha temple to get a glimpse of this style. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was constructed in 740 AD and is a large temple with a wide courtyard. There is the statue of Nandi or the bull in black stone at the entrance of the temple and the courtyard accommodates several smaller shrines dedicated to gods and goddesses. The hall inside has 18 decorative pillars leading to the inner sanctum. The 18 perforated windows around the temple is unique with a different design patterned on them.  Serpent bands, peacock motifs, various forms of Hindu God Vishnu – the sculptor has lovingly sculpted each stone in great detail.

A mix of both – the Vesara style of Indian architecture

A combination of North and South Indian style is the Vesara style. The Papanatha temple is an example of this. The temple lies some 500 meters south of the eight temple cluster. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and it has some beautiful sculpturing on its walls. The ten headed demon Ravana is very beautifully depicted on the walls. The sculptures who worked on this temple were Baladeva, Changana and Revadi Ovajja. Inside the temple there are scenes of Ramayana and Mahabharata –mythological Indian tales carved on the walls.


There are more than 100 inscriptions at Pattadakal. These give valuable details about the lifestyle then. For example, you understand that the Virupaksha temple was commissioned by a queen Lokamahadevi. The pillar adjacent to the temple provides this information. It says the architect Suthradhari Gunda constructed this temple on the behest of the queen. The king Vikramaditya-2 had won three major battles with Pallava dynasty, an equally strong force in South India and in order to commemorate his victories the queen commissioned this temple.

At the half constructed Sangameshwara temple there is another inscription. This talks about the grants given to this temple by a Chalukyan king Vijayaditya towards construction. The temple is of 8th century built in the Dravidian style.

Temple walls tell a story

Each of the temple walls tell a story or depict a scene from a mythological tale. Some like the walls of Mallikarjuna temple depict the lifestyle of the Chalukyan kingdom too. The Mallikarjuna temple was built by the second queen of King Vikramaditya-2, Trailokyamahadevi to commemorate his victories. The temple walls portray the animals used for transport during the Chalukya period like horse, camel, elephant etc. The punishment meted out to women who went astray are also illustrated here. Costumes and the various hair styles adopted by women are also sketched here. The walls coupled with the inscriptions can enlighten you a bit on the way of life then.

Carvings on the temple walls

How to get there?

Pattadakal is well connected by road and train. The nearest rail head is at Badami. From there you can catch buses to Pattadakal i.e. around 22 kilometers from Badami. Badami is around 500 kilometers from Bangalore and 595 kilometers from Bombay.


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