Aihole

Definition

Mark Cartwright
by
published on 03 July 2015
Gaudargudi Temple, Aihole (by Jean-Pierre Dalbera)

Aiholi (Ayyavole) was an ancient walled city in Karnataka, central India. Aiholi was the first regional capital of the Karnakata region under the rule of the Calukyas. The large number of early Hindu temples and shrines at the site mostly date from the 6th to 8th century CE when the city was at its zenith of prosperity and power.

Historical Overview

Aiholi prospered from the mid-6th century CE under the regional rule of the Early Western Calukyas, one of the most important Deccan dynasties in the late Gupta period. Notable rulers were Pulakasin I (c. 535-566 CE) and Pulakasin II (610-642 CE) who were powerful enough to entertain diplomatic relations with distant Persia. Another significant ruler and bringer of prosperity to the region was Vikramaditya I (655-681 CE) who regained control of the Calukya capital Badami following its loss to regional rival, the Pallava king. Aiholi was an important regional capital (one of four) and the fortification walls and gateways which surround the site are unique survivors from the 6th century CE in ancient India. The Chalukya dynasty fell to the Rashtrakutas in the mid-7th century CE.

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Aiholi provides a valuable record of Indian temple architecture before it fully evolved into a canonical style. 

Architecture & Monuments

There is a mix of architectural styles at the site and, due to the lack of later rebuilding, Aiholi provides a valuable record of Indian temple architecture before it fully evolved into a canonical style. Most temples at Aiholi are Hindu but there are some early Buddhist caves and Jain monuments. There are a number of rock-cut caves at Aihole which are embellished with architectural sculpture cut into the sandstone. The Ravula Phadi cave has a ten-armed Shiva dancing along with the Saptamatrikas, Durga attacking Mahisha with a spear, and Bhudevi being rescued by Varaha. The Ravanaphadi cave is notable for its life-size high relief sculpture of four dancing Matrkas and a Shiva Gangadhara, c. 600 CE, which shows the great god gently lowering Ganga - a personification of the River Ganges - to earth using his hair. Jain architecture at the site includes the Meguti temple, perched atop an acropolis, which was first built in 634 CE.

Many of the Hindu temples display typical characteristics of northern Indian architecture - the sikharas (a four-sided superstructure or tower formed using many decorative layers of stonework), the nasika or sukanas (projecting facade medallions), a gavaksa (double-curved arch), and an amalaka (a large ribbed circular stone on top of the sikhara). The temples have stone slab roofing, many have stone lattice windows, and most have an entrance hall and porch accessed via a short flight of steps, the latter being a typical feature of Early Western Calukya architecture.

Durga Temple, Aihole

A good example incorporating all of these features is the 8th century CE temple of Durga, commissioned by Komarasengama, a private citizen. This structure is also unusual as it has columns running around the building to form a peristyle. The garbhagriha (sacred sanctuary or shrine) end of the building forms an unusual semicircular curve. The sculpted panels such as those depicting Durga in her battle with the buffalo demon and Shiva alongside Nandi are amongst the finest examples of all ancient Indian sculpture.

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Shiva with Nandi, Aihole

The temples carry rich architectural sculpture on pillars and ceilings, especially depictions of such major gods as Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. The temple porches also have finely carved ceiling slabs showing nagas coiled in spirals. In contrast, the exterior walls are generally austere and carry neither the sculpture nor niches so common to southern and later Indian temples. Besides the larger temples Aiholi also has a great number of smaller shrines, many of which have domes. 

Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

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About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a history writer based in Italy. Surrounded by archaeological sites, his special interests include ancient ceramics, architecture, and mythology. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Cartwright, M. (2015, July 03). Aihole. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Aihole/

Chicago Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Aihole." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 03, 2015. https://www.ancient.eu/Aihole/.

MLA Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Aihole." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 03 Jul 2015. Web. 14 Dec 2018.

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