Amazing 7th century Durga temple, Aihole, Karnataka - a heritage lovers' paradise!!

Durga temple.Aihole,

Durga temple.Aihole, Karnataka.

Though worship of Goddess Durga is quite common in West Bengal, it has pan India tradition and there are many Durga temples in Tamil Nadu  and also in other southern states. In Kerala, Durga is worshipped in the form of Kali. As for Tamil Nadu, it is said, Mariamman is a form of Durga.

Goddess Durga , Aihole.

 Above image:  A statue of the Hindu goddess Durga at Aihole, India. 6th century CE. The goddess has many weapons in her hands, rides her vahana -  lion.  She is seen killing the  the buffalo-headed  demon Mahisa (bottom right) .........................

The Durga temple in  Aihole in the state of Karnataka, India. is a popular medieval Hindu temple awaiting UNESCO world heritage site recognition. What is so unique about this temple? What way does it differ from other Hindu temples across south India?  The temple plan is  a rare apsidal or round-ended suggestive of the end stage in the transition of the ancient Chaitanya hall tradition to later Hindu temple architecture.  However, one can see a blend of Dravida and Nagara style in some areas. The largest of a group of over 120 temples at Aihole it was built by the dynasty of the Chalukyas; in the 7th century.  This particular Durga temple represents Badami Chalukya architecture. The name Durga is associated with this temple because  it was part of a fort built by the Marathas. The belief was the goddess would protect the fort and the ruler. So, the temple gets its name not because of dedication. As you may be aware Goddess Durga is symbolic of courage, valor, destruction of the evil over the good and wisdom. 
 Durga temple.Aihole, Karnataka.

It is believed the original deity of this temple must have been the Sun God or either Vishnu or Shiva; the latter two are trinity gods in the Hindu mythology. 

 Durga temple.Aihole, Karnataka.

An interesting feature of this old temple  is  the covered and limited ambulatory around the temple itself. Here, on the walls are nicely carved sculptures of different gods or goddesses. The ends at the rear or sanctuary  are rounded and include a total of three layers: passages or ambulatory runs all around the temple with pillars,  To have better ventilation inside the temple from the passage, there are  stone grilles with various geometrical  patterns. This allows fresh air inside.  The sanctum/garbhagriha is surmounted by a tower  and this provision is meant for future higher towers, shikharas and vimanas. The amalaka that once crowned the shikara is on the ground nearby (visible in top picture).

 At the front, the porch is accessed by  two staircases with many richly carved relief panels, including roundels with groups of lovers. The sober and square pillars are  ornate decorated with characters around the porch and the entrance to the peristyle. The parapet  has niches with  small animals. The pillared mukhamantapa' and "sabhamantapa" can be reached through the porch/  and then on to the sanctuary, garbagriha./ sanctum.  As mentioned before, the plan of the temple is oblong  and apsidal. The corridor  with pillars forms the prakara (path of prathakshna) It allows worshippers to perform the parikrama (circumambulation ritual) with ease.

This temple, unlike other Hindu temple has a peculiar shape called Gajaprasta meaning the resemblance to the back of an elephant. It may be deemed as a departure from the traditional shape of Hindu temples.  It is believed it was done on the model of  Buddhist Chaitanya halls,  The apsidal designs in Indian architecture  are not confined to one or two regions and the studies show that they are a pan-Indian tradition, which had been  shared by various faiths since the 2nd century BCE,_Aihole