The southern state of Karnataka is a beautiful tourist destination in India that attracts visitors from near and far all through the year. It houses some of the most attractive heritage sites, temples, beaches, and monuments. In fact, Karnataka is a place that holds major historical and cultural significance.
Karnataka was formerly known as the princely state of Mysore, and glimpses of royal grandeur can be noticed in the architecture of the various sites in the state. It houses the second largest number of centrally-protected monuments in India, each exhibiting architectural genius and tales of the times gone by across dynasties.
Get acquainted with the 7 most famous monuments of Karnataka that form an integral part of the culture of Karnataka.
1. Hampi Monuments, Hampi
Hampi Monuments are among the most famous monuments of Karnataka, and for good reason. Not only do they hold immense historical significance but they are also a wonderful specimen of architectural marvel. The campus once housed multiple temples, elephant shelters, water reservoirs, farms, and many more structures.
Hampi city is on the southern bank of River Tungabhadra and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is known to have been among the most prosperous cities of the medieval era.
Coming to the history of this world-famous site in modern-day Karnataka, Hampi Monuments were built during the Vijayanagar Empire between 1336 and 1570 when Hampi was the capital city. Later, as it was conquered by Deccan sultanates, many structures were destructed and never reconstructed. So, if you were to book a Karnataka tour package today, what you will visit are the ruins of one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in South India. However, even these relics speak wondrously of the brilliant craftsmanship of the time.
One of the most popular destinations to visit in Karnataka is the Virupaksha Temple, which is one of the few structures of the Hampi Monuments that were restored and opened for public visit. It is spread over an area of 25 square metres and would take more than a day to explore.
2. Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur
Gol Gumbaz is another historical monument in Karnataka that attracts visitors from all over the country. The construction of the mausoleum started in the 17th century at the very beginning of the Adil Shahi dynasty. It is believed to have taken 20 years to complete and holds the tomb of their seventh ruler, Mohammed Adil Shah. Located in Bijapur or Vijaypura, this is one of the most important monuments of Karnataka. It also houses the tombs of Adilshah’s wives, mistress, daughter, and grandson.
Envisioned by a Muslim sultan, Gol Gumbaz follows an Indo-Islamic style of architecture. Made of dark grey basalt, the structure is 51 metres tall and the diameter of the dome is 44 meters which makes it one of the largest domes built in its era. The most prominent feature of the structure is a circular dome that does not have any pillars to support it. Another fascinating feature of the monument is the whispering gallery. It is said that sounds made inside the gallery echo several times, making Gol Gumbaz one of the most famous monuments in Karnataka among visitors.
Belur and Halebid are sister temples with both having a similar star-shaped structure. Though they are located 16 km apart, both were home to the Hoysala Dynasty for three centuries. Belur was the capital during the Hoysala Empire and Halebid had its own significance. Belur-Halebid is undeniably two of the most significant historical monuments in Karnataka that exude grandeur like none other. These temples have some of the most interesting intricately-designed carvings of kings, animals, and gods, each having a story behind it.
Shravenbelagola, on the other hand, is a Jain temple that attracts millions of devotees on an everyday basis. It houses a 57-metre tall statue of Lord Gomateshwara or Bahubali, worshipping who is believed to offer a path to eternal happiness. This temple has witnessed the rise and fall of multiple dynasties, each having its own contribution to the temple.
Belur-Halebid-Shravenbelgola together makes for some of the most interesting honeymoon places in Karnataka. Located at a few hours’ drive from Bangalore, this trio can alternatively offer a good weekend getaway option for travellers.
4. Badami Caves, Bagalkot
Badami Caves are a group of 4 temple caves located in the northern part of Karnataka. They were built by Chalukya rulers, probably in the 6th century, and were known as Vatapi caves back then. These caves are in the colour of almonds, which is translated to ‘badam’ in Hindi, hence the name ‘Badami’. The temples are constructed on a hill and have 2000 steps below them for the pilgrims to climb.
The first three cave temples are dedicated to Hindu gods and are dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, while the fourth temple is dedicated to the Jain leader Mahavir. The fourth temple was actually constructed 100 years after the other three. The Badami Caves complex is another UNESCO world heritage site, making them one of the preferred monuments to visit in Karnataka.
Badami Caves, Bagalkot can be reached by air from Belgaum or Hubli, by train from Hubli or Bangalore, or by road from Hubli, Bijapur, Belgaum, or Bangalore.
5. Bidar Fort, Bidar
Bidar Fort is located at the edge of the Bidar plateau. It is one of the most prestigious historical monuments in Karnataka. Built by Sultan Alla-Ud Din Bahman of the Bahmanid Dynasty, it is a prime example of craftsmanship in red laterite stone. The origin story of Bidar fort is ambiguous and has vanished in translation; however, it is said that the fortress has witnessed ascents and descents of many dynasties such as Kakatiyas, Chalukyas, Satvahanas, and Yadavas, followed by the Mughals and the Nizams.
There are various attractions in the fort that make it a top Karnataka sightseeing destination such as the Rangin Mahal, the Takht Mahal, Jami Masjid, and the Sola Khamba Masjid. The most unusual feature of the fort, which is a major archaeological attraction, is the historic water supply system known as “Karez”. It displays the ingenuity and advancement of people in the Late Medieval era who implemented a network of underground tunnels to supply water to the houses of the people for various domestic uses like washing, drinking, irrigation, and watering livestock.
Bidar Fort is among the important monuments in Karnataka that holds genuine architectural brilliance of the early South Indian dynasties. The fort is now considered one of the most stunning ones in India.
6. Mysore Palace
The royal Mysore Palace is sited in the middle of Mysore or ‘City of Palaces’ and faces the Chamundi Hills. It is where the rulers of the Wadiyar dynasty took residence, making it one of the most famous monuments of Karnataka which is visited by over 8 million tourists every year. It has been demolished and rebuilt several times since it was first built in the 14th century.
Built in an Indo-Saracenic theme with traces of Hindu, Islamic, and Gothic architecture styles, Mysore Palace is made of stone and has marble domes. Surrounding the palace is a beautiful garden. It also has three major exclusive temple buildings known as Trineshwara Temple, Sri Gayathri Devi Temple, and Sri Bhuvaneshwari Temple. These are located about 18 metres inside the palace’s main building.
The best time to visit this popular Karnataka monument is during the 10-day festival celebrated in the state known as ‘Mysore Dasara’ when the palace is illuminated and well-decorated to offer a festive experience to the visitors.
7. Pattadakal Monuments
One of the major attractions in the vast cultural history of Karnataka, the monuments in Pattadakal are perfect for heritage tourism in the state. The temples at Pattadakal are famous for their electric stone art fusion in architecture. Built in the 7th and 8th centuries, these monuments have been a host to many historic events such as the royal coronation “Pattadakisuvolal” of the kings of Chalukya dynasty. Even today, the Pattadakal dance festival is hosted in the backdrop of these temples by the Karnataka government.
The collection of the temple includes the Mallikarjuna and the Virupaksha temples at Pattadakal, which were built by two queens of Vikaramaditya II to commemorate their husband’s victory over the kings of the South. One of the most visited places in Karnataka, Virupaksha temple was originally called Lokeshwara.
There’s also the Jambulinga temple at Pattadakal that has an admirable sculpture of the Dancing Shiva with Nandi (bull) & Parvathi by his side. Built with a northern-style tower, there is a horseshoe arched on its fascia. The Chandrashekhara and Kadasideeshwara temples are the other major temples here. Pattadakal also includes a Jain basadi (shrine) from the Rashtrakuta times with two amazing carvings of elephants at the front.
If you are a history buff and a seeker of rich culture and history, then Karnataka is fuel for your wanderlust.