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Aihole [Aihoḷe, Aivalli; anc. Āryapura, Ayyāvoḷe]locked

  • Gary Michael Tartakov

Temple site and city in Karnataka, India, that flourished c. ad 525–1200.

1. History.

An important centre of the early Chalukya dynasty (see Chalukya, §1), Aihole is situated, like the nearby sites of Pattadakal and Badami, near the Malaprabha River. Little is known of the ancient urban complex, but there are remains of a massive city wall with bastions and fragmentary crenellations. Inscriptions indicate that Aihole was a prominent commercial centre and the home of the ‘Ayyavole Five Hundred’, a corporation of traders and craftsmen. The remains of about 150 temples (in diverse styles) are preserved at the site. The oldest date to the mid-6th century and later examples to the time of the Rashtrakuta dynasty (c. 752–973) and Chalukyas of Kalyana (973–1189; see Chalukya, §2).

The temples at Aihole were first photographed and published in the mid-19th century by Col. Thomas Biggs, Bhau Daji and James Fergusson. Further work was subsequently carried out by James Burgess and Henry Cousens. Cousens’s numbering system, with some addition and alteration, is that still used. Since India’s independence Aihole has received substantial attention and re-evaluation, including extensive clearing and restoration by the Archaeological Survey. The numerous later monuments have, however, received little systematic study.

2. Rock-cut shrines.

Four rock-cut temples at Aihole, dating to the early Chalukya period, are the earliest shrines to survive in the Karnataka region. The first excavation is the Shaiva Ravana Phadi, which faces the ancient town from a low rocky hill to the north. The sculpture and profuse decoration show some affiliation with the late 5th-century and early 6th-century caves of Maharashtra, as does the plan, with its central hall and flanking subsidiary shrines.

The Jaina Meena Basti (no. 70), near the centre of the site, is also rock-cut. It had an open verandah (later filled in) similar to those at Badami, while the decoration is much like that of the Ravana Phadi. To its north is an unusual two-storey Buddhist temple, the only such dedication to survive from early Chalukya times. A few metres to the west is a Jaina or Buddhist shrine hollowed out of a single boulder.

3. Structural temples.

Aihole exhibits the full range of architectural forms used during the early Chalukya period. The south temple of the Ravana Phadi complex, with its unarticulated square cupola, appears to be the simplest and earliest example in the southern (Skt drāviḍa) idiom to have survived to the late 20th century. The only other building in the southern style is the Jaina Meguti, dedicated in ad 634–5 (Shaka era 556), which dominates the town from a small hill. The plan, with its square hall enclosing the sanctum, is a general type appearing often in early Chalukya architecture. The original superstructure has disappeared, but the wall articulation is typically southern. The pilasters, brackets and scrollwork are executed with precision and clarity.

In the second half of the 6th century a number of elements of the latina form of the northern (nāgara) style were introduced at Aihole, as well as some anomalous temples that defy conventional definition; these buildings show that the tendency toward creative hybrids in Karnataka started at an early date. Many of these temples carry inscriptions, but none gives an unarguable date; dedications tend to favour the god Shiva. The idiosyncratic Lad Khan, long considered to be one of the earliest temples in India, is best dated to the late 7th century or the early 8th on the basis of the similarity of its interior to that of the Jambulinga temple (dated 699) at Badami. The Lad Khan is a stoutly proportioned building, square in plan with a closed pillared hall lit by pierced screens. The roof, built of sloping slabs, carries a miniature temple over the centre.

More standard are the temples in the northern style erected from the late 7th century to the mid-8th. (The Kannada word for temple, gudi, often forms part of the name.) The Huchchimalli Gudi and Tarappa Gudi, to the north of the town, have fully developed but austere superstructures of the curvilinear northern (nāgara) kind. The halls are closed, like those of the Lad Khan, and built of massive blocks of masonry. The Mallikarjuna and Temple 10, in the Galagnath complex, present a distinct variation, with interior details northern in style and the spires composed of rows of cornice mouldings (kapota). This simplified northern form of superstructure has sometimes been called ‘kadamba’ on the mistaken assumption that it is traceable to the Kadamba dynasty that preceded the early Chalukyas in the Deccan. Other examples are found at Bhadranayika Jalihal and Mahakuta near Badami.

Three temples at Aihole show influence from the architecture of the Andhra or Telingana region. The Chekki Gudi (no. 15) shares interior features with the Huchchimalli Gudi, but the outer walls are closely related to the Kumara Brahma at Alampur. Elements traceable to the Andhra region are also evident in the Durga temple, the most elaborate and ornately sculpted building at the site. Standing on a richly moulded base (adhịsṭhāna), the Durga temple is apsidal-ended and has an open ambulatory (pradakṣiṇapatha) running around the whole structure. The porch and ambulatory are decorated with southern-style niches, while the sanctum carries an elegant superstructure of the northern type. There are splendid images in the niches in the outer wall of the hall (maṇḍapa), and remains of a gateway beside the temple. After a long controversy, this building is now recognized as a Sun (Aditya) temple from the end of Vijayaditya II’s reign (reg c. 696–733).

The most impressive of Aihole’s sculpture is generally found on temple doorways, lintels and ceiling panels, the last usually depicting Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Fine ceiling panels from the time of Vikramaditya II (reg c. 734–46) remain in the north-western temple of the Konti Gudi group (no. 5). The set from the Huchchappayya Gudi, designed by the craftsmen Narasobba and Ganasobba, have been removed to the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay. Some fragmentary sets and individual ceiling panels remain in the Galagnath and Ravana Phadi complexes; an example from the latter group depicting Vishnu is now in the National Museum, New Delhi.

Quality varied towards the end of the early Chalukya period: richly carved fragments in the Jyotirlinga group indicate continued patronage, while the Chakra Gudi, begun with care, was finished in a patchwork of anomalous pieces. Finally there are entirely haphazard works, such as Temple 47 and the eastern structures of the Ambiger group (no. 21). Temples from the Rashtrakuta period—the south-western and north-eastern temples of the Konti Gudi group (nos 4 and 6), Temple 11, Temple 39, the Ambiger Gudi and Santa Gavunda’s temple in the Huchchimalli Gudi group—have little figurative sculpture, and what there is is small in scale. Buildings from the time of the Chalukyas of Kalyana include the Charanti Matha (no. 40) and the Virupaksha, both 12th century.

Remains of other early Chalukya-period structures are located within a few kilometres of Aihole: at Siddhanakola, to the south, a Lakulisha temple, a panel depicting the seven mother goddesses (saptamātṛkā) and a rock-cut Lajja Gauri; across the Malaprabha River at Damoa a southern-style temple; and at Sulibhavi, to the east, a ritual tank and gateway with workmanship stylistically similar to that of the Durga temple.


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