The magnificent temple complex at Pattadakal in northern Karnataka is a fitting place to contemplate a setting year and a rising new one. The kings of the Chalukya dynasty from the 6th to 8th Century AD built this UNESCO World Heritage site, and the nearby rock-cut temples of Badami. Though smaller in size, it is as impressive as the famous Angkor Vat temple complex in Cambodia and pre-dates that construction by a few centuries. In the temple buildings located in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, the Chalukyas demonstrated a keen desire to experiment and learn and a very tolerant attitude to religion. Aihole was established as the laboratory with over a 100 temples piloted in both the Dravidian and Nagara (northern) style of architecture. These were later brought together into a finished product at Pattadakal with an elegant layout and an elaborate combination of architectural styles. The Chalukyas worshipped not only Hindu Gods—Shiva, Vishnu and Durga—but also built several Jain temples.

The Chalukyas fought an inter-generational battle with the neighbouring Pallavas. Even as they fought and conquered each other’s territories they learnt and absorbed the science, culture and aesthetics of the other. More than 1400 years ago, this group of rulers—including the famous king Pulekeshin II—showed the power of learning, borrowing, experimenting and building structures that have magnificently stood the test of time. The Badami Chalukyas and the many other dynasties that followed nurtured language and writing as well. The many inscriptions found at these sites mix and match language and script—old Kannada (a derivative of Brahmi) and Sanskrit—and laid the foundation for much of Kannada and Telugu literature that followed. By all accounts architecture, engineering, culture and literature flourished for several centuries in the Chalukyan capital, Vathapi.

The odds are that many readers of this column have heard little about the Chalukyas or Pattadakal. In the contemporary din about our mythology, real accomplishments in our history, even those with material evidence, are being drowned. It is a strange tale indeed that our politicians expend much energy on contemporary history (who owns Sardar Patel’s legacy? for instance) and mythology (was Ganesh a beneficiary of plastic surgery) but not, it seems, about the period in between. Only last week, a paper presented at the 102nd Indian Science Congress, claimed Indians had developed interplanetary spacecraft thousands of years ago. Forty years ago, some young scientists from the Indian Institute of Science had debunked the “ancient" Sanskrit verses upon which this claim was based, as having been written between 1900 and 1922. Without verification or evidence many politicians rushed to accredit this “ancient Indian science".

What purpose does glorification of the supposed science in mythology serve? Let us for a moment assume it is pride. If this pride does not in turn inspire or cause to explore or investigate further then it is a dead-end. One that has not merely resulted in nothing new but also occupied the energy of the recipient with smug arrogance and jingoism. Human knowledge and science grows steadily by building upon the cumulative knowledge before it. The inspiration, knowledge, sophistication and execution of the temples at Pattadakal are demonstrably the effect of an accumulation of craft at Badami and Aihole. In turn, the world famous Hampi site is an example of the Vijayanagara dynasty building upon the combined earlier wisdom of the Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Cholas. To the idea of temples, the Hampi group of monuments adds military structures, civilian complexes, and water infrastructure. Shamefully for contemporary India, the earliest evidence in the world for flush toilets and common sewerage pipes dates back to the Indus Valley civilization.

As modern India struggles with toilets, water, electricity, roads and jobs, it appears likely that even the mighty Hanuman will delegate the task right back to us. To help ourselves we will need all the ancient engineering wisdom enshrined in our books and monuments combined with modern ones (remember the mobile revolution?). To this science we will need to add the “shastra" of administration and implementation that derives from the timeless Arthashastra of Kautilya (as an aside there is conclusive evidence that it was written in a location that is in present day Gujarat).

If the political narrative needs to trace a thread to India’s past, then far better for that narrative to celebrate India’s evidenced history than imagined mythology. Let us use the evidence of India’s magnificent history to inspire our young minds to inquire into problems and issues of today. Let them use the building blocks of the many centuries of dynasties and civilizations in India, but also those of the West from the last few centuries. What matters is not where the technology comes from, but that we adapt and build on it to suit our requirements and solve our problems. Independently, without aping the West.

P.S. Listen to Vathapi, Ganpathim Bajeham. Raga Hamsadhwani. Composed by Muthuswami Dikshithar. This idol of Ganesha was brought to Tamil Nadu from Badami by Pallavan king Narasimhavarman I.

Narayan Ramachandran is chairman, InKlude Labs.

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