The city of Pattadakal is extremely rich in some of India’s oldest standing temples, many of whiah are collectively now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of these, the largest and most magnificent is arguably the Virupaksha Temple. Dedicated to the Lord Shiva, this impressive building dates back to the 8th century, making it one of India’s oldest intact Shiva temples. Because of this it is not only one of Karnataka’s most important temples, it is one of India’smost historic religious sites.
The city of Pattadakal dates back over a millennia and a half, and was once the capital of Karnataka during the reign of the Shalukya kings. The Chalukya dynasty, which ruled the area for over two hundred years beginning in the 6th century, invested heavily in making their capital a showpiece, adorning it with many grand temples.
The golden age of Pattadakal’s temples was in the 8th century. Over half a dozen major temples were built around this time, many of which are essentially still intact. Many rulers contributed to this architectural renaissance. One queen, Lokamahadevi, sponsored the construction of the Virupaksha Temple in honor of her husband.
The Chalukya Empire eventually grew to encompass most of south and central India, becoming one of the most important kingdoms in the pre-Islamic era. Later, as the Chalukya dynasty dwindled, Pattadakal lost its importance as a political and commercial center, and became something of a backwater. It was perhaps for this reason, as well as its remoteness from both the coast and the various Muslim realms, that the city’s temples remained undisturbed for so long.
Throughout the era of the British Raj and afterwards, Pattadakal and its phenomenal collection of temples survived relatively ignored. It remained one of the best collections of undisturbed ancient Hindu religious architecture outside of Tamil Nadu, and because of this has since become one of India’s premier destinations for pilgrims interested in ancient Hindu history.
The Virupaksha Temple is by far the most impressive of all of Pattadakal’s religious shrines. In fact, it is the only one still in active religious use as a temple. Considered to be one of the finest surviving examples of ancient Dravidian architecture anywhere, this giant jumble of pink stone resembles something of a wedding cake, covered in rich detail of figures and carvings. It is set amidst lush greenery and a broad expanse of well-kept lawn that encompasses most of the nearby temple sites.
The temple interior is one of the best surviving examples of the Dravidian style outer and inner sanctums, with towering ceilings held up by a sea of pillars. An inscription inside the temple dedicates the building from Lokamahadevi to her husband Vikramaditya in honor of his military victory over Kanchi.
The Virupaksha Temple is located in the midst of the Group of Monuments at Pattadakal in a large open field just north of the town, approximately three hundred miles southeast of Mumbai. It is open every day of the year from 6:00am-6:00pm. The cost of admission is Rs5. Web: http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_pattadakkal (official website).
Pattadakal is home to one of the richest collections of major temples in India considering the city’s small size. Among the major temples are the Papanatha Temple, which dates back to the 7th century; and the Sangameshvara Temple, Mallikarjuna Temple, Kashivisvanatha Temple and Galganatha Temple, all dating from the 8th century.