Ravanaphadi Cave, Aihole
A cave temple of the Early Western Chalukyas dated to the sixth century, the Ravanaphadi Cave at Aihole (formerly Aryapura or Ayyavole), is considered an important shrine in the development of early mediaeval Deccan architecture.
The cave temple of Ravanaphadi was built during the rule of Early western Chalukyas c. 550 CE in the region. It has a simple facade with two pillars at the entrance, flanked by a unique pair of dvarapalas dressed in tunics. The dvarapalas adjoin a pair of portly relief-carved figures seated in pavilions with kuta roofs; a register under each pavilion contains a gana. The cave’s entrance leads to a rock-cut mandapa with chambers ca its three walls. Each chamber has a triple-bayed opening and relief-carved figures on the wall surface behind them. The figures depicted include Shiva as Ardhanarishvara clutching a trident, two-armed Shaiva guardians, Harihara, and Shiva accompanied by Parvati and Bhringi with river goddesses overhead. The ceiling of the mandapa is decorated with a relief-carved lotus medallion at its centre surrounded by ornamental bands depicting human torsos, makaras and fish.
The chamber on the left side has a tableau-esque image of a ten-armed dancing Shiva, accompanied by Parvati and the Saptamatrikas. Opposite the entrance is a small vestibule containing a Shiva linga flanked by relief sculptures of Varaha rescuing Bhudevi on the left and Durga spearing Mahishasura on the right. The ceilings bear two panels that show Shiva and Parvati on Nandi on the left and Vishnu and Lakshmi on Garuda on the right. The doorway jambs are incompletely carved.
Stylistically, all figures depicted in the cave have slender bodies, pleated costumes with striated and incised lines, intricate jewellery, and conical crowns with circular head-dresses behind. Residual traces of colour on the wall surfaces suggest that they were once painted.
The Ravanaphadi cave is unprecedented in terms of both style and subject. The complexity of its iconographic programme may be seen as a precedent to later Deccan cave-temples as well as freestanding shrines. Scholars have suggested that one of the objectives of the cave was to incorporate the pre-existing iconography of the Saptamatrikas into a Chalukya royal shrine, as it is around this time that Chalukya inscriptions begin to claim that the dynasty was favoured by these goddesses. The scene of Shiva dancing may thus be understood as following his defeat of the demon Andhakasura, an endeavour for which the Saptamatrikas were created to assist him.
The panel assumes further political significance in the light of the Chalukyas’ defeat of their rivals, the Kadambas. The Kadambas prominently featured the Saptamatrikas in their shrines and inscriptions. Their depiction in this cave may thus be read as a sign of Chalukya dominance and the appropriation of the icons of their defeated enemies, especially since earlier Chalukya temples such as Cave 1 at Badami give prominence to Kartikeya.
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Harle, J.C. The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986.
Huntington, Susan and John C. Huntington. “Hindu Rock-cut Architecture of the Deccan: Kalacuri and Early Western Calukya Phases.” The Art of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. University of Michigan, 1985.
Michell, George. Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal. London: Deccan Heritage Foundation, 2014.