Caves are mysterious, sometimes other worldly, landforms that prove endlessly fascinating to almost any nine year old as well as grown spelunkers, cave enthusiasts and geologists. Plato used the Allegory of the Cave in his master work Plato’s Republic to talk about the nature of reality.
Evidence suggests that caves were occupied during the Mesolithic period about 6000 BCE. At least some of the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India, were inhabited by Homo erectus more than 100,000 years ago with Stone Age rock paintings some 30,000 years old.
Cave paintings and drawings on walls or ceilings date back some 40,000 years to around 38,000 BCE in both Asia and Europe. The exact purpose of the Paleolithic cave paintings is not known as they have been found in caves not considered to have been continuously inhabited. They have also been found in areas of caves that are not easily accessible. Theories’ range from communication to ritual, ceremonial or religious purposes.
Caverns proved to be natural sites for shrines. In India, rock-cut architecture is found in greater abundance – more than 1,500 structures – than any other form of rock-cut architecture around the world. Many of these contain artwork of global importance and are decorated with stunning carvings. These ancient constructions represent important achievements in engineering and artistry.
The Badami Cave Temples are a complex of four Hindu and Jain cave temples located in Badami in Karnataka, India. Four caves were carved into the soft sandstone cliffs in the late 6th to 7th centuries CE, and are examples of Badami Chalukya architecture.
Badami was previously known as Vataapi Badami, the capital of the early Chalukya dynasty, which ruled much of Karnataka from the 6th to the 8th century. Badami is situated on the west bank of an artificial lake and is surrounded on the north and south by forts constructed sometime later.
The entrance to the caves is through a terrace that leads to a columned main hall, and then into the first cave, features sculptures of Hindu divinities with a prominent carving of the Tandava-dancing Shiva as Nataraja. The second cave has Hindu subjects including a relief of Vishnu as Trivikrama while the third cave, the largest, encompasses Vishnu-related mythology and is also the most intricately carved. The cave four is dedicated to revered figures of Jainism.
These cave temples represent some of the earliest known examples of Hindu temples. UNESCO has described the designs of the Badami Cave Temples as well as temples in Aihole as having transformed the Malaprabha River Valley into a cradle of temple architecture that defined the components of later Hindu temples elsewhere in India.
These amazing cave temples and the rich heritage of Southern India are featured in our new 14-day President’s Pick: Southern India’s Vijaynagar Empire.