Exploring The Badami Cave Temples
Badami is undeniably the most iconic archaeological site in Karnataka after the ruins in Hampi. Although most people know Badami as the site of the cave temple, there’s a lot more to the place and its history. And after all the tiring exploring during the day, we feast on a delicious meal in classic Bagalkot style! Ready?
You’ll find everything you need to know to plan a trip to Badami, Karnataka in this blog post. This guide contains details on which cave temples to see in Badami and what time to visit. We also tell you about other places to see in Badami. In addition, there are some beautiful photographs to inspire you to visit this marvel on your next north Karnataka trip!
Our experience of visiting Badami
We visited Badami on the first day of our two day visit to Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole. It is one of north Karnataka‘s most popular tourist spots. In addition, the popularity is very evident when you enter the premises!
We entered the Badami Cave Temples premises on a cold December morning at 7 am. It was amazing to see the first rock cut cave. The stairway led to the upper cave temples which were shining in a reddish orange glow. In fact, the cave temples were so beautifully maintained despite heavy footfall. We were pleasantly surprised! After that, we explored the Bhoothanatha temples and the lake. Very few people visit this monument. As a result, it was very calm to explore! We gulped down some chilled lime soda to beat the heat. Later, we hiked up to the Shivalaya temples for a charming sunset experience which we’ll never forget! The caves across the lake were glowing beautifully in the twilight.
After a long day of walking, climbing and exploring, our hunger pangs led us to a traditional diner nearby. It turned out to be the best meal we’ve had in all of North Karnataka! We spent two nights in Badami town as we had made it our base to visit other nearby towns. Our hotel stay experience was good too! Read more about it below.
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History of Badami and the Cave Temples
Badami was known as Vatapi in ancient times. It features in the ancient Hindu epics of Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The story goes like this:
Vatapi was a demon and he lived with his evil brother Ilvala in a forest. They had devoured 9,000 men who crossed their path! Vatapi would transform into a goat that his brother would cook him. Ilvala would then offer the dish to a lone passerby. As they would finish eating, Vatapi would recollect himself inside the stomach of the man and tear himself out and kill the human instantly. Sometime later, Agastya, who was respected even by the Gods as a great sage, came as the lone passerby and was offered the ‘goat’ dish. The sage began digesting even before the demon could begin to recollect inside his stomach, thus killing the latter! As a result, the names of the town and the lake came to be.
Badami was ruled by the Chalukya dynasty between the sixth and eight centuries. Their empire extended far beyond the Indian subcontinent with the town as its capital. Architecture was a very popular part of the dynasty’s works. Therefore, the Badami Cave temples stand as proof of great architecture even today.
The ASI and Karnataka government worked together and have painstakingly maintained this legendary site. Therefore it is very easy to explore the area comfortably. In addition, we’ve detailed all the major sites in Badami in this blog post for you.
Badami Cave Temples
The Badami Cave Temples were carved out of the north-facing facade of the hills that surround lake. These caves were built in the order they remain numbered today from 1 to 4. However, cave 3 is the only one with a known construction year of AD 579. The other three are believed to have been carved in the sixth century.
The carvings of the cave extend several metres into the soft sandstone rock. Each cave temple is a little higher than the other, as you go walking from cave 1 to cave 4. The caves were built as shrines for both Hindu Gods and Jain saints. The Badami Cave Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site today.
Badami Cave Temple 1
The first cave is the lowest of the four Badami Cave Temples. It is only 18 metres above ground level. There is a beautiful garden walkway to the cave’s entrance. This cave features carvings of God Shiva, Goddess Parvati (in her avatars), their sons Ganesha and Karthikeya and the servant devotee, Nandi. In addition, there is a Linga in the sanctum and serpent motifs along the ceiling. As a result, this cave is called as the Shiva Cave.
Badami Cave Temple 2
Similar to the first cave, this second cave temple is also dedicated to God Vishnu. He is depicted in two main avatars of Trivikrama and Vamana (dwarf). There is another carving of Varaha (the boar avatar which lifts mother earth from the cosmic ocean) in the cave. Although smaller than the first cave, this temple features the same kind of detailed carvings.
Badami Cave Temple 3
Cave 3 is the largest of the four Badami Cave temples. It houses both Vishnu and Shiva carvings which have been well preserved. The cave features faded fresco paintings on the ceilings. In addition to carvings and murals of Gods and Goddesses, there are many other depictions of mortal desires as well.
Badami Cave Temple 4
The fourth cave in Badami is smaller than the three. However, unlike the other caves, this one predominantly features Jainism. The Teerthankaras or saints of the religion are depicted in the form of Bahubali, Parshvanatha and Mahavira. Similarly, you can find these carvings in Aihole and Ellora.
Lake Agasthya and Bhoothanatha Temples
The Agastya Teertha is a man made lake in the centre of Badami. The Badami cave temples are on one side. The Bhoothanatha temples are to the back with the Shivalaya ridge temples are to the other side. You’ll get to see the Akka Thangi waterfalls in full glory if you visit the lake in the monsoon season!
The temple complex is on the east bank of the lake. This group of monuments also dates back to the sixth century. It is a cluster of sandstone temples dedicated to the God Bhutanatha. In addition, the temple complex has steps into the lake.
Tip: You can take a vehicle up to the entry gates near the lake. Alternatively, you can walk there too.
Upper and Lower Shivalaya Temples
We strongly recommend a visit to this place if you love sunset hikes! It is located on the northern shore of the lake. In other words, it is on the opposite banks of the lake from the Badami cave temples. The golden glow at sunset hour beams beautifully on the orange hued rocks! This makes for a perfect ending to a long day after exploring the other monuments in town.
You can begin the hike from the Museum. It is located at the foothills. The path meanders through the ravines up to the flat hill top. In fact, it felt very similar to the canyon walk we did in Petra, Jordan! The smaller, Lower Shivalaya temple is midway up. The Upper Shivalaya temple is on the hilltop and much bigger. There is another Malegitti Shivalaya temple which is even better maintained. It shows off classic Dravidian architecture.
We recommend starting the hike before 5 pm for the best sunset experience. It takes less than 45 minutes to the top. Spend fifteen minutes at the lower temple and more time at the upper temple. Along the way, there is a crevice to a mantapa. There is a lookout from where you can admire all of Badami at sunset!
Tip: Watch out for troops of monkeys at the Upper temple. However, ASI guards will keep you safe.
ASI Museum and other places to see in Badami
The museum is located at the base of the hills on the northern banks of the lake. The museum has a small entry fee of INR 10. Many stone carvings, inscriptions, idols, precious stones murals and paintings have been curated inside this museum.
Other places to see in Badami include the Mahakuta temple and the Jambulinga temple. In addition, the remnants of the Badami fort and the grand Akka Thangi falls are a must see in the monsoon season!
Planning a trip to Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole in Karnataka
It is best to visit Badami along with Pattadakal and Aihole. You can even visit all three places in one day. Pattadakal is a massive park of ancient temples featuring impressive architecture and design. The complex is located on the banks of river Malaprabha and is most beautiful at sunrise hour! Similarly, Aihole is a complex of Hindu and Jain temples just thirty minutes away. It features one of the most beautiful monuments which has many curved sections unlike traditional temples.
On the other hand, you can also visit these three places over two days, slowly. Checkout our detailed guide on planning a trip to the three places for the perfect itinerary and budget details!
Where to stay and where to eat in Badami
We stayed in Hotel Mookambika Deluxe in Badami town for two nights. It cost INR 1,100 or USD 15 for a double bed room with fan. It is right across the street from the KSRTC bus stand. The Badami cave temples are only 15 minutes away from the hotel on foot. We spent one day exploring Badami and another day visiting nearby Pattadakal and Aihole, before heading out to Bijapur.
We had breakfast at Hotel Udupi and delicious dinner at Lingayat Khanavali. Both are within 50 metres from the hotel and very reasonably priced.
Karnataka is indeed a very beautiful part of India! It is very popular for its greenery and architecture from the yesteryears. In fact, it is our home state and we’ve explored a few other places which you might find just as appealing to explore! Check it out here.
If you have more questions or want to explore Badami with us, please write to us – we’d be very happy to help!
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Shishira & Navneeth