Dr. S.N. Prasad of Mysore, India was kind enough to let us post some of his images from a recent trip to the Badami cave temples. Located in Karnataka, India, they’re an example of Indian rock-cut architecture. In other words, they are structures or statues, carved from solid natural rock. When you see the photos below, you’ll be amazed at this practice, especially when you think about how old they are. They date from the late 6th to 7th centuries.
The town of Badami, India lies at the mouth of a ravine with rocky hills on either side. The cave temples are carved out of the soft sandstone of these hill cliffs.
At the cave entrance is a verandah (mukha mandapa) with stone columns. It leads to a columned main hall (maha mandapa) and then to a small square shrine cut deep into the cave.
There are four temple caves here, each representing different religious sects. Cave 1 is dedicated to Shiva, caves 2 and 3 to Vishnu, and cave 4 is a Jain temple.
There are more examples of rock-cut architecture in India than anywhere else in the world. The early architects removed any rock that wasn’t part of the structure they meant to leave behind in the excavated interior of the cave. Most Indian rock-cut architecture is religious in nature. The carvings are often ancient Indian deities. There are more than 1,500 rock-cut structures known in India.
And many of them do contain exquisite stone carvings. The oldest known examples of rock-cut architecture in India are in the Barabar caves in northern India. Their builders excavated the caves and created the rock-cut carvings around the 3rd century BC. But people used caves long before that. The earliest humans employed caves for shrines and shelters. Some very early caves included overhanging rock decorated with paintings or rock-cut art. It’s an ancient form of expression by humans since very early times.
Scholars have written about the idea that, in India, caves have a long history of being regarded as holy places. In fact, as the centuries passed, and free-standing sanctuaries began to be built in India, they typically retained a cave-like feeling – being small and dark and without natural light.
Bottom line: Photos of the Badami cave temples, an example of Indian rock-cut architecture.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.