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No fewer than 125 temples, dating from the Chalukyan and the later Rashtrakuta periods (sixth to twelfth centuries), are found in the tiny village of AIHOLE (Aivalli), near the banks of the River Malaprabha. Lying in clusters within the village, in surrounding fields and on rocky outcrops, many of the temples are remarkably well preserved, despite being used as dwellings and cattle sheds. Reflecting both its geographical position and spirit of architectural experimentation, Aihole boasts northern (nagari) and southern (Dravida) temples, as well as variants that failed to survive subsequent stylistic developments.

Two of the temples are rock-cut caves dating from the sixth century. The Hindu Ravanaphadigudi, northeast of the centre, a Shiva shrine with a triple entrance, contains fine sculptures of Mahishasuramardini, a ten-armed Nateshan (the precursor of Shiva Nataraja) dancing with Parvati, Ganesh and the Sapta Matrikas (“seven mothers”). A two-storey cave, plain save for decoration at the entrances and a panel image of Buddha in its upper veranda, can be found partway up the hill to the southeast, overlooking the village. At the top of that hill, the Jain Meguti temple, which may never have been completed, bears an inscription on an outer wall dating it to 634 AD. You can climb up to the first floor for fine views of Aihole and the surrounding country.

The late seventh- to early eighth-century Durga temple, – one of the most unusual, elaborate and large in Aihole, – stands close to others on open ground in the Archeological Survey compound, near the centre of the village. It derives its name not from the goddess Durga but from the Kannada durgadagudi, meaning “temple near the fort”. A series of pillars – many featuring amorous couples – forming an open ambulatory continue from the porch around the whole building. Other sculptural highlights include the decoration on the entrance to the mandapa hallway and niche images on the outer walls of the now-empty semicircular sanctum. Nearby, a small Archeological Museum displays early Chalukyan sculpture and sells the booklet Glorious Aihole, which includes a site map and accounts of the monuments.

Further south, beyond several other temples, the Ladh Khan (the name of a Muslim who made it his home) is perhaps the best known of all at Aihole. Now thought to have been constructed at some point between the end of the sixth century and the eighth, it was originally seen as one of the country’s temple prototypes. Inside stands a Nandi bull and a small sanctuary containing a shivalingam is next to the back wall. Both may have been later additions, with the original inner sanctum located at the centre.

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