The Bhutanatha group of temples are 7th to 12th century Hindu temples east of Lake Agasthya in Badami, Karnataka state, India. It consists of two subgroups: one called the Eastern Bhutanatha group or main group of Bhutanatha from the 7th to the 8th century, mainly in the Dravida architectural style; the other called North Bhutanatha group or Mallikarjuna group from the 11th to 12th centuries mainly in Nagara architecture. The first illustrates Badami Chalukya architects, the second together with the nearby Yellamma temple by Kalyani Chalukya architects.
Bhutanatha main group
The Bhutanatha main group (700–725 CE) is the oldest group of Hindu shrines east of Agastya Teertha. The oldest temple in this group is the great main temple. It has a gudha-mandapa with four massive central pillars (partly octagonal, cubic and rounded around). This mandapa connects to a smaller square-plan shrine with a Shiva linga. At the top of the sanctuary is the Dravida-style tritala superstructure (three stories). The lower part consists of padabandha and kumbha. The vimana walls have karnas with Brahmakanta style pilasters. The nasis on the wall represent heads of kinnaras and gandharvas. The second floor of the superstructure repeats the largest lowest floor, and the third floor is half the second in size, and again repeats the same elements in rhythmic fashion. A square vedi topped with a short shikhara completes the superstructure.
The picture niches on the wall of the shrine and the hall are now empty, although there are still some decorative elements such as makharas (mythical beast) with long tails. The mandapa has jali (perforated windows to illuminate the interior of the mantapa). On each side of the foot of the sanctuary door there is an image of the Ganges goddess in her vehicle, the makara, on the right, and on the left, that of the Yamuna goddesses riding the turtle. There is no dedicatory block on the lintel. Other works of art found nearby include Ganesha and Mahisasuramardini. A notable feature here is the inscription on the outer wall of the temple, announcing a gift from a Paingara family to the Sridharbuteswara (probably an epithet for the deity). This inscription can be dated to approximately the end of the 9th century. This suggests that the main temple was in active use at that time.
The pillars of the portico have a square cross section that transforms into an octagonal cross section. Outside, there is a stepped ghat for devotees and pilgrims. The smaller shrines are in ruins and were added later, probably until the end of the 8th century. To the east of the complex, on a rock, there are four Shaiva reliefs with unusual architectural details – these are impressions of four architectural styles of the Shiva shrine with a panchakuta superstructure on a square plan. These may date from the late 7th or early 8th century, and help establish that this temple complex was a Shaiva complex from its origin.
To the north of the main temple is a small shrine which, proposed by Henry Cousens in 1923, was originally consecrated to Vishnu. At some point, the temple was adopted by the followers of Lingayatism who built an outer hall and installed a Nandi (Shiva vehicle) and a Shiva linga inside the sanctuary.
The Mallikarjuna group is close to the main Bhutanatha group, but located in the northern part of the artificial lake. It consists of several temples. These open to the south and are marked by its remarkable pyramidal superstructure in the Phamsana Nagara style of the 11th to 12th centuries. The largest temple was probably a Vishnu temple, it saw a period when these ruined temples were in disuse and was re-consecrated with Shiva linga while the remains of his historical artwork were preserved. These temples present the building ideas explored by Kalyani Chalukya architects. The largest temple has an open rectangular mandapa with eight pillars, which connects to an inner mandapa, antarala, and garbhagriya, all on a square plane. All the temples in this group have simpler walls, eaves angled over the open blanket (hall). The artwork found in this group includes both Vishnu and Shiva.