The hidden trail of the Bhutanatha Group of Temples in Badami

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Karnataka | 33

If you are on the Temple Evolution circuit of Aihole-Badami-Pattadakal, then you are bound to spot an attractive set of temples from Badami Caves. Right across the banks of Agasthya Lake, the Bhutanatha group of temples seem like living shrines. They seem complete but are not. The Bhutanatha temples are quite unassuming in the appearance but hide plenty around themselves. The only way you can discover these secrets is to go across the lake on this unique trail of Bhutanatha temples.

Bhutanatha Temple as seen from Badami Caves

Interestingly, I happen to take this trail before I visited the famous Badami Cave Temples.  It was on this trail that I stumbled upon a few unexpected things. Where the Badami Caves mesmerized me with their details, the Bhutanatha Temple Trail perplexed and teased me. It left me with a thirst of finding some more of the unknown. Basically, it got me into my regular character of Indiana Jones. Once you go along this trail with me, you are bound to add the Bhootanatha Temples to your list of things to do in Badami.

History of Bhutanatha Group of Temples

Bhuthanatha Group of Temples

What is visible from the Badami Caves are two temples. In fact, when you ask for the Bhutanatha Temple, you will be shown these two temples. It was after my trail that I realized that there were in fact, more than two. In my opinion, the term Group of Temples is actually a perfect way to describe this area. Since a lot of it is undiscovered, there is not much of history documented about them. All I know is about the visible two temples and that is what I will share.

Mallikarjuna Group - the 2nd of the Bhutanatha temples

The main Bhutanatha temple is dated back to the 7th century. The main part of it was built by the dynasty they refer to as Badami Chalukyas. However, the outer mandapa of the same was built later by the Kalyani Chalukyas in the 11th century. Around the same time, the other temple – referred to Temple 2, was constructed by the Kalyani Chalukyas. Whether these were used or were a part of the temple experiments is not clear. Most likely, it was only Temple 2 that was used while the first might have been a prototype – quite like the ones found in Pattadakal, Badami, and Aihole.

Agasthya Lake in Badami

However, before all these temples were built, it was the Lake that came into being. It was the 5th century that with dam construction, Lake Agasthya was formed. They say that the lake water has healing powers. A dip here is said to be auspicious. Given the current condition of the lake, this is not advisable. That, however, does not take away from the fact that the presence of Lake Agasthya literally adds a charm to the Bhutanatha Temple.

Temple 2 of Bhootanatha Complex – Mallikarjuna Temple

One of the shrines in Mallikarjuna Temple

The guys at our Badami Hotel tipped us off that car parking near Badami Caves was a little limited. We took the hot tip and landed on the opposite end of Agasthya Lake. With no one in sight, we took the most obvious path that led towards the Bhutanatha group of temples. Between the two obvious temples, we first encountered temple 2. Also referred to as the Mallikarjuna Temple, this was designed in a typical South Indian style.

Temple door frames of Mallikarjuna Temple

Not one but many small shrines with pyramid shaped roofs made up the temple. The pillars were not as ornate as the ones that I saw at Pattadakal but were quite lovely in a very symmetrical and geometrical manner. The one very distinct aspect that I noticed about these temples were the door frames. From lattice windows designs to solid floral carvings, each shrine had a different one to showcase.

Temple 1 – the Main Bhuthanatha Temple

Colorful ghats of Lake Agasthya along Mallikarjuna Temple

Walking past the colorful ghats of Agasthya Lake, we reached the main Bhuthanatha Temple. The temple is a good mix of North Indian and South Indian styles. The roof of the main temple is very north in its architecture while the rest of the temple is quite Deccan in its style. This key temple shrine has a Shiva Linga within it and a Nandi facing the same.

Bhutanatha Temple - one of the things to see in Badami

Don’t miss the carvings of Ganga and Yamuna along the door frame of the inner shrine. You can identify Ganga as the Goddess riding on Crocodile or Makar while the other Goddess is on a tortoise.

Ganga and Yamuna carved by the doors of the Inner Shrine
The carved ceiling of Bhutanatha Temple

Remember to look up at the ceiling to find a Lotus carving. This part of the temple is apparently the older part while the rest of the shrines around it and the open courtyard was build at the same time as the Mallikarjuna temple.

Bhutanatha temple as seen from behind

A local guy around the temple mentioned that the shrine behind the main temple was a Jain Shrine. I am not sure if he was referring to the architecture of it or whether the chief deity within was meant for Jain worship. I would have loved to know more but with a closed door and no signages, it was hard to decipher. That was the beginning of the many mysteries that I encountered along this trail.

Hidden Vishnu Temple

No no no….It is not yet time to turn back but to get into a very Indiana Jones Mode! Get behind the Bhuthanatha Temple and walk away from the path you came from towards a huge boulder. Atop that boulder is a temple. Pretend that is your destination. So, now you got to find access to it.  That will take you closer to the boulders and behold!

Bhutanatha Temple as seen from Mallikarjuna Temple

Ok – you can now close your mouth. Carved on the boulder are numerous sculptures. The center ones relate to the Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. I am pretty sure that by now you can recognize my favorite deity – Lord Ganesha on the left.  The Goddess on the right is Durga slaying Mahishasura. The others around those refer to the Dashavatars of Vishnu.

Sculpted boulder behind Bhutanatha Temple in Badami

No one knows why they are here. To me, it seemed as if some amateur artist was practicing his art before his actual work – possibly in the main Badami Caves. The grooves around the boulder felt as if there was more to that boulder relief but there was no way to ascertain that. In fact, if you see the sides, there seems to be some pillar kind of grooves.

Other carved rocks around Bhutanatha Temple

Keep a lookout on the other boulders here for there are plenty of mysterious etchings. Like this one that symbolizing Shiva. Keep looking for the way to the top of that Sandstone hill to the temple and you will reach the opposite side of the sand carvings. This is the hidden Vishnu temple.

Hidden Vishnu Temple behind the Bhutanatha temple
Sights along Agasthya Lake in Badami

I spend a little time gazing out at Lake Agastya and the Badami caves on the opposite bank. It gave me time to enjoy the various textures of the rocks around. They were almost poetic with their myriad striations and layers. Walking up and down the platform helped me sight my next biggest find!

Cave 5 of Badami Cave Temples – Kostraya Cave

At the far end of the same platform, opposite the hidden Vishnu temple, is a cave. You need to almost crawl your way in. And when you do, you are rewarded with this find.

Kostraya Cave - the fifth cave of the Badami Cave temples

This is apparently the Cave 5 of the Badami Cave Temples – one that I mentioned in my earlier post on Badami. It is referred to as Kostraya Cave. At the first instance, it seems like a Buddhist cave with the Buddha in his dhyana position. A few other historians say it is a Jain statue. I am no expert but having seen various statues across Ladakh, Bhutan and other Buddhist nations, I feel this might be Buddha.

I admired the place for its quiet existence and the way the narrow slit of the caves lit up the statue. There was a strange feeling that there was more to the place than what met my eye. However, it was time to head out to discover the path to that temple. Interestingly, I never did find it. Had I looked, I might have along with other rumored caves in the vicinity. It was the greed to visit the famed Badami temple caves that had me abandon the search.

Badami Fort & Kappe Arabhatta

Badami Fort as seen on my Bhutanatha Temple Trail

I walked the familiar path back to my car but not before taking a diversion. “Kappe Arabhatta Inscription,” said the signboard and I followed it up a hill. And lo behold! I found the remnants of the old Badami Fort. In the history of Badami that I have shared earlier, you might recall that the Chalukya dynasty was attacked by various other dynasties like the Pallavas and the Bijapur Adil Shahi ones. The fort was built along the cliff – not just a protective structure but also, as a residence of the Chalukya kings.

Rock-cut steps of Badami Fort

Rock cut stairs and lone bastions were what I could see along the short trail that I took up the hill. It was a fenced area and I could not get any closer to them. I  could also, see some more of those deities etched on the rocks. It was evident that there was a story there but unfortunately, too far for me to decipher it.

Sculptures along the boulder walls of the Badami Fort

My final halt came along a hill, where I had to jump a few boulders to get close to what was a famous Kannada Inscription. The Kappe Arabhatta is a five-stanza poem of which the first three were in Kannada and the last two were in Sanskrit. My google knowledge tells me that it is a metered poem (tripada for those who understand music) that praises a warrior by that name. Referred to as a memorial rock, these inscriptions have been traced back to the 7th century.

Kappe Arabhatta Inscription. You can see the text atop the floral design

That was all that was to the inscription and fort on this diversion. I believe you can actually see more of a fort from a different vantage point. As I understand, you can venture in through a lone gate to find lost granaries and cannons. This trip for me did not allow me to venture here. Guess, I will have to figure this the next time around.

Yallamma Temple

Yellamma Temple - a bonus find on the Bhutanatha - Badami Caves Trail

Technically my Bhuthanatha Temple Trail had ended for I was back to my car. However, I would like to extend this one to one other temple that I visited before I hit Badami Caves. Past my car, through narrow and interesting by-lanes by the Agasthya Lake and before I reached Badami Caves, I came across this well-maintained but ancient temple. The Yallamma temple attracted me with its intricate artistic facade. I could not make out much about the shrines but I loved capturing the latticework around its main door frame.

Yallamma Temple facing the Bhutanatha temple across the Lake Agasthya
The Shrine pillars and doors of Yallamma Temple

The other thing that I liked about it was its pretty roof carvings. It seemed to follow the same style as the Mallikarjuna temple. I suppose it was built around that time.

With that, I end this mysterious trail of the Bhuthanatha temples. I leave you with a lot of unsolved mysteries. And I know that it is precisely that which will make you add this Bhuthanatha Temple Trail to your itinerary of Badami tourist places.

How to get to Bhutanatha Temple in Badami?

  • Badami in Bagalkot district does not have its own airport. Hubli is the closest one at 105 km. The other option is Belgaum at 150 km.
  • Both the airport towns are well connected to Badami by road. You can opt for one of the regular buses from here or hire a cab to Badami.
  • The other option is a train to Badami station from any of the key towns of India.
  • Click this link to get your starting point for the Bhutanatha Temple trail. Any auto rickshaw or horse carriage will get you here.

Where to stay in Badami?

  • Badami has some decent hotels for your stay. You can book these Badami Hotels through any of the online websites. Just ensure that you book it well in advance.

Travel Tips

  • The various stops mentioned in this Bhutanatha temple trail do not have any entrance tickets.
  • Remember that there is a fair amount of walking and climbing. Hence, please wear appropriate footwear.
  • Badami is generally, warm throughout the year. Winters – October to February, are a little pleasant to visit here. Light cotton clothes are good for your day trips. Evenings might just require a light shawl or sweater to be comfortable.
  • Badami Fort can be visited through a separate entrance, which is ticketed. It might require you to hire an auto or tonga to get there.

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