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The Western Chalukyas succeeded the Vakatakas in the Deccan as the most powerful dynasty of kings. Pulakesin I was succeeded by his war-like son Kirtivarman, the father of the famous Pulakesin II. Mangalesa, the younger brother of Kirtivarman, succeeded the latter to the throne. He was a great patron of art and created some of the most magnificent caves and temples in his capital. The loveliest of them all is Cave 4, i.e., the Vaishnava cave, as it is usually called. Imposing carvings here represent the principal forms of Vishnu like Trivikrama, Narasimha, Virat, Bhogiblogasanasina and Varaha. As the lanchhana or emblem of the Chalukyas, the Varaha has especially been shown to advantage, and suggests how the king had a reason to be proud of himself for carrying lightly the burden of a vast empire on earth under his sway, like Varaha, who raised the almost submerged Prithvi.
In an inscription dated Sakti 500, i.e., A.D. 578-79 in the twelfth year of his reign, the construction of this cave temple is described at length as also the installation of the image of Vishnu in it. The inscription near the Varaha panel is so informative that it gives a clue to the visitor to look around on the ceiling and walls as well as the sculptures to appreciate the wonderful decoration of the cave by the craftsman of Mangalesa.
Usually every part of a building was so painted as to arrest the attention of appreciative and aesthetic-minded connoisseurs of art. At Mahabalipu ram, fragments of paintings may be noted in the upper cells of the Dharmarajaratha. Similarly they occur in other Pallava cave temples and the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram. At Badarni also, this decorative factor is present. It is so recorded in an inscription at Badami that we can understand that the painters of Mangalesa's court were continuing the traditions of the earlier Vakatakas who had got their Ajanta caves painted. The classical idiom in the paintings of Badami clearly bears out the fact of the continuation of their tradition by the Chalukyas of Badami. The credit for the discovery of these paintings on the heavily vaulted roof goes to Stella Kramrisch. The paintings of Badami are among the earliest in Brahmanical temples, just as the paintings at Ajanta and Sittannavasal are among the earliest Buddhist and Jain murals, respectively.
In the fragmentary paintings at Badami, Mangalesa is clearly seen as a great patron of the painter's art. A large panel represents a scene in the palace. The central seated figure in it is witnessing music and dance. Watching the scene from the balcony above is a group of visitors. The principal figure, soft bluish green in complexion, is seated with one foot resting on his seat and the other on the padapitha, but the painting is so damaged that it is difficult to make out details. The beautiful torso and both the hands can be made out. Though the face is lost, a portion of the makuta is preserved. A beautiful necklace with lovely pendant tassels, usual in Chalukyan style, can be noticed on the neck. The yajnopavita is composed of pearls. At the feet of this important personage are a number of seated figures, mostly damaged, and several damsels are in attendance, some of them holding the chamaras. To the left is the orchestra composed of musicians and two beautiful dancing figures a male and a female. The male dancer dances in the chatura pose with his left hand in the dandahasta. The other has her legs crossed almost in the prishthasvastika attitude and her right hand is in danda. She wears her hair in an elaborate coiffure. All the musicians playing various instruments like the flute and the drum are women. The scene is placed in a grand mansion with a pillared hall provided with a yavanika or screen arranged for indicating the inner apartments of the place. It may be identified as the court of Indra in his magnificent palace Vaijayanta, witnessing dance and music, and the dancer may be Bharata or Tandu himself, it may be recalled that Urvasi committed an error on one such occasion of performance at the court of Indra.
The next panel should be understood in this context. This depicts a princely figure seated at ease in the maharajalila pose, with his leg on the padapitha, his left leg raised and placed on the seat, and his left arm resting leisurely on his knee. There are several crowned princes seated on the ground to his right. Towards the farthest end is a woman dressed in a lower garment of the aprapadina type reaching up to her anklets and holding a vetradanda or staff. She is probably the usher or pratihari. To the left of the picture is the queen attended upon by prasadhikas or attendants, one of whom is painting her foot with alaktaka. The queen is seated on a low couch with a rectangular back and provided with cushions. Chamaradharinis also attend on the prince. The queen is seated in a leisurely pose, her right leg touching the padapitha and the left raised on the seat itself. Her coiffure is beautifully fashioned. The prince is swarthy and the queen is of the gaura or fair type.
This appears to be the portrait of Kirtivarman, in the vicinity of Indra in all his glory, in the Indrasabha, to suggest the close similarities between the lord of heaven and the lord of the earth, the comparison that Kalidasa has so often made in his works. The great ruler on earth, when he reached heaven, became a partner of the glory in heaven with Indra. Mangalesa had such a great love for his royal brother, and such respect, that the entire merit of the offering of the cave was made over by him as recorded in the inscription there, to his elder born, and it is no wonder that he got his portrait also painted, as seated in his private chamber with his queen and select friendly subordinate rulers. There can be no better compliment paid to his brother by Mangalesa than by presenting these two pictures of Indra and Kirtivarman side by side, enhancing the prestige of the latter in terms beyond any formal praise.
It is interesting to note that this painting is close to the Varaha panel in the Badami cave. It is a fact that this Varaha panel inspired the Varaha panel at Mahabalipuram. It is also interesting that at Mahabalipuram the portraits of Narasimhavarman's grandfather and father, Simhavishnu and Mahendravarman, with their queens, are carved close to the Varaha, following the tradition at Badami, where Kirtivarman and his queen are presented in the Vaishnava cave of Mangalesa. It is interesting to recall the lines of Kalidasa in the context of this panel: aindram padam bhumigatopi bhunkte (Raghuvainsa), tayor divas paterasidekas sinthasanardhabhak dvitiyapi sakhi sachyah paraijatamsabhagini (Raghtivamsa) with close stress on both king and queen.
Two more fragments of panels are noticed in the Badami cave delineating flying pairs of Vidyadharas. One of them shows their hands closely entwining each other's neck in kanthaslesha. The trtakuta of the Vidyadhara and the beautiful dhammilla of the Vidyadhari are noteworthy. The latter is swarthy, while the former is fair.
Even more beautiful, though less preserved, is the second pair. The Vidyadhara plays the vina. In this case, the damsel who is fair and her consort greenish blue recall the description of Kalidasa: indivarasyamatanur nriposau tvam rochattagattrasarirayasht atlyonyasobhaparivriddhayevam yogas tadittoyadayor ivastu (Raghuvamsa).
The few fragments at Badami, although the only existing material for study of early Chalukyan paintings, are yet beautiful and suggestive of all the grace of the painter's art, comparable to the magnificent remains of sculptural work of the period of glory in the Deccan.
Writer- C. Sivaramamurti