Exploring Karnataka’s heritage and culture is incomplete without the cave temples in Badami. Set in a gorge, framed by hills and a stepped tank, the town of Badami originally went by the name of Vatapi. It gets this name from a mythical form-changing asura who is known to have dwelled here.
The name was later changed to Badami – owing to the almond coloured rocks that you can see around you. Almond, in Sanskrit, is known as ‘Vadaam’.
The history of Badami and the various dynasties:
Prior to being made a capital by the Early Chalukyas, Badami was believed to be the home to the Satavahana and Kadamba dynasties. However, evidence for this theory is still pretty sparse. The inscriptions on the pillars and temples here make references to Early Chalukyan Kings like Pulakeshin I and II, Mangalesha, Vikramaditya II etc.
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Badami is known to have flourished under Pulakeshin I, its founding ruler. To establish the supremacy of his rule, Pulakeshin I is said to have successfully undertaken the Ashwamedha Yagna. This yagna was undertaken by kings who wanted to establish their power – a horse, accompanied by the king’s warriors was allowed to run free for a period of one year.
If, after one year, the horse returned to the capital unchallenged, it was proof of the king’s power and the area covered by the horse would be considered the King’s domain.
Pulakeshin I had two sons – Kirtivarman I and Mangalesha. Upon his death, his older son Kirtivarman ascended the throne. These two brothers were also behind the construction of Badami’s famous rock-cut temples.
Kirtivarman passed away circa 592 AD, leaving his son Pulakeshin II as the rightful heir. However, being a minor, Pulakeshin II could not ascend the throne. The responsibility of the empire fell on Mangalesha.
Mangalesha continued to rule as regent. Legend has it, he wished to see his own son become King of the empire. This led to a conflict with Pulakeshin II. Mangalesha was defeated and killed by his nephew, Pulakeshin II in circa 610 AD.
Then commenced the rule of a king who would go on to become the greatest of the Chalukyas. Pulakeshin II expanded the empire and continued ruling for close to 34 years. He was killed when the Pallavas invaded Badami. Badami was under their rule for almost 15 years.
Some interesting facts about the Early Chalukyas
- The Chalukyas of Badami were given the name of Early Chalukyas to differentiate them from the Kalyani or Later Chalukyas. Interestingly, though the two families share a common name, they were not related to each other.
- Another interesting fact about the Early Chalukyas is that they were also relaxed when it came to religion. The Early Chalukyas were Vaishnavites. We gather this from their royal emblem, Varaha – Lord Vishnu’s third avatar. They also patronized other religions like Jainism and Buddhism. They were major supporters of Shaivism.
This is the story of two demon brothers Vatapi and Ilvava who dwelled in this town. As per legend, Ilvala yearned to have a child like Indra and prayed about it but the Brahmins who could grant him this wish, refused to do so.
This upset Ilvala, who along with his brother Vatapi decided to take revenge. The two devised a plan wherein Vatapi would turn himself into a goat. Ilvava would then cook Vatapi and serve him as food to the oblivious Brahmins.
Once consumed by these Brahmins, Ilvava would summon Vatapi, who would then tear himself out of their stomach, thereby killing them. Using this practice, the two brothers had successfully killed 9000 men, till the Sage Agastya visited them.
The brothers, ignorant of the divine powers of the sage, attempted the same with him. However, Sage Agastya was well versed with their evil practice and had come prepared to put an end to this. Upon eating the food offered by Ilvala, the sage immediately offered a mantra, which helped him digest the demon in his stomach, without any delay.
That was the end of Vatapi. Upon seeing this Ilvala begged the sage for mercy and life. Sage Agastya didn’t kill him but instead transformed him into a hillock, near Aihole. Vatapi too was turned into a hill and it is why the city came to be known so. So, while the town got its named after the asura, the lake / stepped tank got its name after the great Sage Agastya and is called the Agastya tirtha.