As we are constantly bombarded with images and ideas, it is rare in our age to be confronted with a picture of the unfamiliar. The world's hyperlinked advancement has meant greater accessibility for all, wider avenues to know and understand, and not be awed by the depth and richness of our habitats and histories. Sometimes, however, this familiarity fails us and leaves our mind undefended to bear the sheer consequence of all that is at hand. These places and moments are rare in our lives, but their coming is truly an affective epoch which changes who we are.
The temples and caves of the Badami Chalukyas are just such places. Located in the valley of the River Malaprabha in Bagalkot district, the antiquity of these structures boggles the mind. The depth of imagination, the capricious will of a crown which caused rock and earth to be chiselled divine in the cave temples of Badami, speak of a singular vision of grace and grandeur.
Historians inform us that these temples of the Chalukyas are a bold fusion of the Nagara and the Dravidian styles, heralding a new 'eclectic art' where kalashas of the north met vimanas of the south in an innovation never attempted before. They not only patronised the efflorescence of Puranic Hinduism but also gave support to Buddhist and Jain worship. They experimented with rock and paint, leaving an ample evidence of keen sense of beauty, sense and subtlety.
Most of us today lack the grammar to fully read into this significance, the tales which these structures narrate. The Mallikarjuna Temple complex in Pattadakal, for instance, is the universe distilled minutely in stone.
Dedicated to Shiva, to be within its intricately carved portals is to be hurled immediately to a cosmic vantage point and to have your eyes opened with the dim light of an ancient revelation - the unity of being and action. Similarly, in Ravanaphadi Cave in Aihole the grim glory of an ageless music can be heard along with the transcendental dance of Lord Nataraja.
Amidst this, it is the human alone which anchors the heart in the tidal wave of the immortal. To be human is not just to offer the soul in supplication: it is also to laugh and work and play, to seek beauty and to find joy in its realisation. Whether it be in the scenes of the amorous in the quiet, domestic porticos of Ladh Khan Temple in Aihole; or the festive joy of the dwarapalas at Virupaksha Temple in Pattadakal; or the bubbling mirth of the ganas of the Upper Shivalaya on the heights of Badami Fort. The walls and caves of Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami hide everywhere just such men and women in the deep shadows of gods. It is this human urge to give the transience of what is innately good a more permanent form which acts as a relational portal bridging the distance between then and now. This is how we may familiarise our long lost heritage.
All around in Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami, by scenes of creation and doom, of heroic battles and titanic struggles, ordinary men and women dance with gay abandon, their knotted hair was undone as their bodies twirl to an eternal beat. Their earthiness pales in significance to the power and pomp of the deities they worship, but in being so keenly alive these foster-children of silence mirror the deeds and desires of all of us.