Badami, the ancient Vatapi, was the capital of the Chalukyas who ruled from 543-757 CE. The Badami Chalukya period was known for distinctive and innovative architectural and sculptural examples. Badami, now in Karnataka’s Bagalkot district, has unique rock-cut shrines. Among the four cave temples, Cave 3 is the most important for its varied sculptural programme and magnificent scale.
It was consecrated in the year 578 CE. It has a dedicatory inscription engraved on a large pilaster next to the Varaha image. The patron of Cave Temple 3 was Parama Bhagavata Mangalisha. He was the younger brother of the ruling king Kirtivarma I. Both were sons of Prithvi Vallabha Pulakeshi I, the founder of the Chalukya dynasty. When Kirtivarma I was the king, Mangalisha served as viceroy at Badami. He was almost like a half ruler and in the absence of Kirtivarma I, he not only took care of the capital but continued all royal activities without any lapse.
The eminent epigraphist late Dr K V Ramesh, quoting the Mahakuta pillar inscription of Mangalisha, had opined that he had already become the ruler of the Chalukyan empire by 596 CE, perhaps due to the sudden demise of his elder brother Kirtivarma I, whose elder son Pulakeshi II was a minor then. Mangalisha had great aesthetic taste. The majority of the activities and constructions likely took place in his period. In the history of the Chalukyas, Mangalisha has been portrayed as a villain. It is said that he did not transfer power to his nephew.
An inscription of Pulakeshi II from Peddavadaguru (in Andhra Pradesh) refers to the civil war and his uncle’s death. Mangalisha ruled as an independent king for about 15 years. Within this span, he developed the Chalukya state as one of India’s most prominent kingdoms, both politically and artistically. When we look through the literature that has been produced in the last 150 years about Chalukyas by many scholars of great repute, Mangalisha has not got the due importance and credit he should have received. But just look at the monuments he built and got excavated.
The inscriptions also speak about his noble qualities. In the Badami Cave 3 inscription’s last part, Mangalisha has given the credit for this Mahavishnu Griham, the great house of Vishnu, to his elder brother and king Kirtivarma I. When we look at Badami Chalukya architecture, without any doubt Mangalisha gets the credit for patronising and executing most major art works at Badami, Mahakuta and even Aihole. He was a great lover of art and true to the imperial nature of the family, created remarkable structures and excavations like his early predecessors.
Mangalisha got the Cave 3 excavated and dedicated to Maha Vishnu in the Saka Year 500 (578 CE). It was eulogised as a wonder in the universe. The cave temple is grand in its conception and execution. The entire space has been decorated with richly and elaborately carved large sculptures. Its pillars have beautiful bracket figures; perhaps some of them were conceived and depicted for the first time. Cave 3 at Badami consists mainly of Vaishnavite images.
Ashtabhuja Vishnu (eight- armed Vishnu with his attributes), Ananta Vishnu (Vishnu seated on coiled serpent), Varaha rescuing Bhudevi, Harihara, Kevala Narasimha and Vamana Trivikrama are the large sculptures on the walls of the veranda. The bracket figures include Shiva-Parvati, Kama-Rati, Ardhanari Shiva and mithuna couples. The ceilings and inner pillars and beams have narrative as well as decorative sculptures. Considering the date and sculptural programme of Cave 3, all the cave temples in Badami, including the Jain Cave (Cave 4), may be ascribed to the patronisation of Mangalisha and his elder brother Kirtivarma I.
Mangalisha’s Dharma Vijaya Sthambha (596 CE) categorically speaks about his victory over the Kalachuri kings. The inscription carved on a pillar was originally installed at Mahakuta—another important place of Chalukya art and architecture near Badami. Nestled in the beautiful landscape of a sandstone valley with trees and local tropical plants and bushes, Mahakuteshwaranatha was the family deity of the Chalukyas. Mangalisha spent part of the wealth he acquired from the war on idol procession and gifted some villages to the temple.
Mahakuta has a good number of temples with both Dravida and Nagara vimanas, situated around the ancient water tank Deva Droni that is fed by a natural spring. The Mahakuteshwara, Mallikarjuna, Virupaksha and Vishnu temples have beautiful wall and narrative sculptures. The Ardhanari Siva sculpture in Mahakuta is one of the finest examples of Chalukya art. Mahakuta was also a tantric centre. Fertility worship was practiced in the ancient period, which is recorded by the presence of the Lajja Gauri sculpture.
The Ravanphadi cave temple at Aihole may also be ascribed to Mangalisha (Unique cave temple in lab of Indian architecture, March). Though there is no epigraphic evidence to prove its date, based on the sculptural programme and style, it can be dated to the early period of Chalukyas. A separate guild of artists appear to have worked on this monument, contemporaneously to those at Badami.
Mangalisha, often described as a villain, in reality is the actual unsung hero of Badami Chalukya art and architecture. Without his personal interest and aesthetic flavour, no such magnificent monuments might have been created. Salutations to this great patron of Chalukya art.