Understanding the Indian temple architecture @ Aihole

A visit to Aihole helps understand the Indian temple styles better. Here the writer details how.

Belur,Halebidu draws  millions of visitors each year. The stellar plan of temples, the lathe shaped pillars, the exquisite craftsmanship on temple walls, niches, the intricate motifs and yalis,the fine figurines of gods and goddesses-each inch of temple space has been effectively used and is a masterpiece in itself.  But surprisingly I was not effected much, the reason being I could not comprehend the Hoysala architecture . But things changed when years later I got a chance to visit Aihole.


Hundreds of temples now most of it in ruins lie scattered at Aihole. The sandstone structures were a beauty, most of it had no idols in the inner sanctum only the statue of Nandi-the bull that was looking forlorn without its beloved deity Shiva. But the carvings on the walls, the latticed windows, the ornamental door frames, the peculiar designs on the ceilings, the massive pillars-these simple designs helped me understand the Hoysala styles better.

There is a reason for that. Aihole was an important architectural center of the Chalukyan dynasty that ruled between 450-750 AD in South India.There are about 123 odd temples in this town-it was the playground for sculptures then, who were practicing  their art and styles on these almond colored sand stones abundantly available all around the town.

“Aihole is the primary school of art and architecture, Badami the secondary school while Pattadakal is college and Belur is PHD, madam,” said a grinning Basavappa, our guide. Ah.. that made sense because I was able to understand the layout better here and could draw comparisons to the fully evolved Belur-Halebidu architectural wonder.

The foundation:

Temple layers Aihole

Take the temple layers for instance. The foundation layers, all beautifully sculptured look seamless at Halebidu temple. Though we sing praises of the motifs and patterns on each layer we seldom give a glance at the temple construction itself. We do not understand that these are layers of stone pilfered on top of each other and that it does not have mortar to bind them together.

But this clarity comes when you see the prototype temples at Aihole.Each stone slab is placed one above the other and iron rods keep them in place. There are holes drilled in each slab and a rod inserted that aligns the top and bottom slab. Fascinating isn’t it?

Now you know the effort that goes in to placing these slabs and you start questioning how in the world did they bring these slabs or place them on top without crane, some 1000 years back?

The Pillars:

Aihole pillar

Consider another example, the pillars. At the 8th century Cottage temple at Aihole, so named because of the roof type, each  pillar was an amalgamation of five stones put together as one. You could make out the base, the square or circular  cylinders and other stone structures placed on top of one another to form each pillar of the temple. In Hoysala this distinction is difficult to make out. They may not be all monolithic and two or more structures may have been placed to make up one pillar. Yet the techniques are sophisticated and only a keen observer can make out the distinct structures.

You learn more styles and techniques as you go around looking at the various temple complexes at Aihole. Looking at the various Shikaras of temple you understand how the North Indian(Aryan style), the South Indian(Dravidian) and the Vesara styles(a mix of both Aryan and Dravidian styles) differ. And the understanding that comes, helps you appreciate the advanced Hoysala architecture better.

So if you have the time and inclination go visit Aihole . Some of the temples worthy of visit are the Durga temple, Ladkhan temple, Gowdar temple, Ravanaphadi cave etc. You will truly appreciate the work, effort and skills that has gone behind building these great temples.  Things become simplified here at Aihole- rightly called the Cradle of Indian Architecture.





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