Aihole is 30 km from Bagalkot and 26 km from Hungund and is noted for its rich architectural accomplishments. Situated on the banks of the Malaprabha River, Aihole is a place of great architectural interest containing several temples within its huge old crumbling walls that enclose a space of over 400 metres in length.
Many more structures are found in the open fields outside. The place has three rock-cut shrines-one Vedic, one Jain and one Buddhist. In all there are about 125 temples at this place, big and small, most of them in dilapidated condition.
Percy Brown has called it as ‘One of the cradles of Temple Architecture’, because of the variety found in these excellent monuments. It was a commercial centre bubbling with trade activities during the Badami Chalukyan times and rich merchants here built a large number and variety of temples. Aihole had been their earliest capital before Pulikeshi II shifted it to Vatapi or Badami. Of late, the Archaeological Survey of India has conserved many monuments, developed parks and gardens and also opened an interesting Archaeological Museum. In inscriptions from South India, mentions of Ayyavole Ainurvar (500) - a trade guild, Ayyapura and Ayyapolal can be found. Mythologically it is believed that Saint Parusharama after fulfilling his vow of avenging his father’s murder is said to have come down to the Malaprabha and washed his blood stained hands and the Axe. Hence the water turned red, and he cried “Ai, Ai! Holi” (Ah! the river). Agasthya is believed to have killed Vatapi’s brother, the giant Ilvala, here and thus the name ‘Ilavalapura’ according to another version.
At a spot called Morera near Meguti Hill are several stone tombs of the pre-historic era. Excavations conducted near some temples of Aihole have yielded old foundations of brick buildings and pieces of pottery of pre-Chalukyan era. Development here hastened with the commencement of the Badami Chalukyan administration by about the 7th century AD. Many inscriptions here are from the 6th and 9th century AD. Some temples were built here during the Rashtrakuta and Kalyana Chalukyan times. The inscription of 1169-70 AD was the last one from Aihole, which stated that it was an Agrahara of 500 great citizens (Mahajanas).
Typical features of the early Chalukyan architecture include mortar-less assembly, an emphasis on length rather than width or height, flat roofs, richly carved ceilings and an emphasis on relatively major sculptures which can be easily isolated from each other, rather than arranged in crowded groups. The aesthetic sensibility of sculptures from this period seems to retain a certain classical quality whose impulse does not carry over into later periods of Indian art. Prominent temples here are divided into 22 groups and the following are some of the important and striking ones.