Friday, December 31, 2010

This is perhaps the monument which gave this town the name of ‘Seven Pagodas’ by earlier mariners. This high rising monument is located at the sea shore, hence the name Shore Temple, and is visible from quite a distance across the ocean. This monument would have acted as a landmark for the ships to get the right directions DSC00045 to safely dock at nearby shore. First look of the monument gives the feeling of a pagoda, which European mariners were quite familiar with hence they gave the name ‘Seven Pagodas’ to this town. It was indeed earlier thought as the work of Chinese or Egyptians, which was only later clarified with extensive study of various monuments of the town. The local villagers tells about stories of seven such monuments with gilded top crowns which they were able to see just above the water level, however all were submerged soon. ASI took up the task of underwater archaeology however nothing much was found to support theDSC00044 existence of those monuments. It is quite clear that the sea has encroached much of the ground of the temple, as ASI did a wonderful job to clear out the debris from 8 feet sand accumulated by continuous drift from the sea and constructed break-water wall all around the sea shore to save the temple from further damage.

This temple complex consist three different temples, raised above the same platform. Towers of the two temples have survived, but of the one is missing. Temple with smaller tower faces west while temple with large tower faces east toDSC00022wards the sea. Both the towers are pyramidal stepped structure which is topped with an octagonal sikhara above. The octagonal sikhara puts this into Dravidian style of temple architecture.

The large temple tower has three recessed storeys. The cornice of each storey has regular arrangement of kudus(horseshoe dormer windows) as seen in the cave temples. Octagonal sikhara is mounted over a circular griva. This sikhara is topped  with a kalasa and finial. The inner cell, garbhagriha, is a square of 12 feet sides and 11 feet high. There is a somaskanda panel at the back wall of this cell, while two similar panels are there in the porch of the temple. The enshrined Shivalinga is of typical Rajasimha style, made of black basalt stone with multi-faceted sides, sixteen in this case, and slightly fluted at the top such as to form the crown above the top. The upper part of the linga is broken. The total height of the linga would have been six feet out of this one feet is buried in the ground to fit in theDSC00030 hole to support the vertical shaft. The garbhagriha is preceded by a ardha-mandapa, in which south wall is sculpted Brahma and north wall is depicting Vishnu. On outer northern wall of the sanctum, we find two sculptures of interest, Shiva as Tripurantaka and Durga. There is an open circumambulatory path around this shrine. Many of the sculptures on the external walls are in much ruined condition.

The middle shrine, without any tower, is sandwiched in between small and large Shiva temples. This is a rectangular shrine to enshrine Anantasayana (Sleeping posture of Vishnu over Sesha) image of Vishnu. This image is very mush ruined and the attributes in his hands are beyond recognition. There is an inscription in Pallava Grantha script on the  lintel of this shrine which suggests that this is perhaps the earliest shrine of the complex. The smaller Shiva temple is sculpted in similar design as that of large temple or Dharmaraja Ratha. The tower is stepped pyramidal in design, topped with an octagonal sikhara mounted on a circular griha. The sikhara is topped with a kalasa and finial above that. The cell has a somaskanda panel at the back wall. There would have been a mandapa in front of this temple, however this is missing now.

DSC00644 In recent excavations, a compound is found near the main shrine, within the complex. This compound has a circular shrine in the middle which has rampant lions on its pilasters. It has a circular sikhara. Inside is shown a figure of Ganesha. There would have been a kalasa above this sikhara however it is missing now. Another interesting discovery is an image of Varaha (boar) placed within this compound. We have seen similar Varaha images at Khajuraho and Eran, however those images are shown representing varaha coming out of the ocean carrying Bhu-devi. This Varaha at Mahabalipuram is in different posture, it is shown with its head down and pressing its hind legs with force such as to plunge into the ocean. There is no figure of Bhu-devi hence it is assumed that the scene represented here is of the start of spectacle of getting Bhu-devi from the depths of the ocean. As the shrine and the Varaha are constructed atDSC00025 the base of the compound, hence when it would have been filled with water, this would have presented a marvellous fascinating scene of Varaha submerged in waters to get Bhu-devi from its depths.

Within the compound of this temple, is a monolith sculpture of a lion. This is partly  carved out of rock and partly sculpted. This majestic lion is seated majestically with a hole in its torso. This hole in its torso is perhaps a representation of a cave shrine. Inside the back of the hole, is carved a miniature image of Durga in Mahishasurmardini posture. Creation of this space near the heart of the lion also represents that concept of most loved person residing with your heart, viewers can recall a famous story from Ramayana where Hanuman opened up his heart to shown that Rama with Sita live within his heart. In similar fashion, for lion, being the mount of goddess Durga, it is quite appropriate to carve her image near its heart. A female guardian is shown sitting on lions leg, carrying a bow.

Hundreds of sculptures are found in this vicinity and are displayed as an open air  museum. There are few inscriptions found in this temple. Some of those are listed below.
1. On the lintel of Vishnu shrine is an inscription which refers this temple as Narapatisimha Pallava Vishnu Griha. Narapatisimha is a title of Rajasimha, as seen among his list of titles from Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchi.
2. On
DSC00033 the plinth of two balipithas excavated in the courtyard of this temple, there is found a damaged Sanskrit record of six verses written in Pallava Grantha script. This inscription praises Pallava King Atyantakama, a title of Rajasimha.
3. In the slab of smaller Shiva temple, which is now inserted in the base, are found two inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola I dated in his twenty-fifth year of reign, 1010 CE. The names of the three temples mentioned in these inscriptions are,Kshatriyasimha Pallaveshvara-griham, Rajasimha Pallaveshvara-griham and Pllikondaruliya-devar. The whole complex is referred as Jalashayana. These inscriptions also indicates that the Vishnu shrine was executed first among all the shrines.

We now move on to the last leg of the trip to Mahabalipuram, the Tiger Cave.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Bhima Ratha is the third ratha in line after Draupadi and Arjuna Rathas. As this seems to be the bulkiest one among the group hence name Bihma seems quite appropriate however keep in mind that these buildings had nothing to do with Pandavas. From the architecture style, this building resembles the early Buddhist DSC00606 building. This is oblong in plan and topped with a wagon vaulted roof with gabled ends. It is 42 feet long, 25 feet wide and 25 feet high. This is two storey building, where the ground floor is left unfinished. A circumambulatory path was planned around the oblong shrine, all around supported by the pillars. The corners were to be transformed into lion-base pillars but the work on those is left unfinished. From the oblong shrine in middle, we may deduce that this ratha was constructed to house Anantasayana (sleeping Vishnu) icon of Vishnu, however there is no proof to support this deduction. The pillars supporting the wagon roof of these shrines are supported on rampant lion pillars.

The first storey has wagon vaulted roof supported a rectangular structure with niches carved at regular intervals. In some of the niches are seen unfinished human figures. The gable ends of this roof are very interesting, northern one is more finished than the southern one. IDSC00626n these is shown a shrine with octagonal vimana topped with a spherical roof. If you compare the style of this shrine, inside the gabled end, then for sure it resembles with the Buddhist stupas however, there are many differentiating factors which suggests that this is one of the temple tower style tried out by the Mahabalipuram artists. If we count all the rathas, then we have total of twelve tower styles seen altogether, ten of the rathas and one shrine each in the gabled ends of Bhima and Sahadeva Ratha. It can be assumed that the artists there tried to show various kinds of tower styles so that the appropriate styles can be taken up for further refinement. The vaulted roof of this ratha would have many finials along its ridge however none can be seen now except their bases.

The DharDSC00617maraja Ratha is the south-most shrine in the series and the highest one as well. Being the biggest one among the group, the name Dharmaraja, the eldest among the Pandavas, justifies it pretty well. On plan and architecture it looks very similar to Arjuna Ratha, however here we see a three storey building instead of two. The ground floor is a square of 28 feet side and the tallest among the all floors. This is more than 35 feet high from the ground to its domed roof. As in most of the other rathas, this ratha is also incomplete as can be seen from the left work on the ground floor. This west facing ratha is open on all the sides, each side supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The corners on each side are left such as forming piers supporting the roof. Initially the plan was to excavate the cell in the middleDSC00615 however the rock gave in due to the weight of above structure as the fissure seen in the middle. Initial travellers and scholars took this fissure as the result of an earthquake however, there seems to be no such incident of this nature happening in the past.

This ratha is very important from iconography perspective as here we see many icons for the first time in Pallava history and of south India as well. All of the three floors are carved extensively all around hence we see various icons. There are total of eight niches on the external sides of the ground floor. Some of the niches bear the inscriptions, which were first thought as the names of the artists but later on clarified as the titles of some Pallava king.

One of the niches has a very important image, Pallava king Narasimhavarman I Mamalla. This theory is dependentDSC00622 upon the inscription above the niche. The figure as such depicts all the features of a royal personage. Long ear rings are in his both ears. He is shown wearing a short lower garment which is tied in front of his waist. He is also shown wearing a yajnopavita. Another feature to distinguish him from other celestial deities is that he is depicted with two hands only. The inscription above the niche gives two titles, ‘Atyantakama (boundless desires)’ and ‘Anekopaya (many expedients)’.

The first floor of this ratha has many images however it’s not easy to reach there as there is no provision in this monument to go to this storey. You need a stair to reach up however it’s not easy as I think you will need permission from ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and also to arrange for such a stair. The second storey is the most finished floor of the ratha. There is a cell excavated with niches on either side having dvarpalas installed. In the cell of this floor we find the earliest representation of Somaskanda panel. In this panel Parvati is shown seated facing Shiva. In later stages we see the face of Parvati turns towards us. In this floor we found two inscriptions, which gave us information about the creator of the monument. The inscription ‘Atyantakama-Pallaveshvara-Griham’ suggests that this temple was constructed by Atyantakama, which accorDSC00613ding to E Hultzsch it is the title of Narasimhavarman I Mamalla, while K R Srinivasan suggests that this is the title of Parameshvaravarman I and R Nagaswamy says that this title is of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha.

The Sahadeva Ratha is standing away from the group, carved out on a separated boulder, just opposite to Arjuna Ratha. Not only this is separated from the group but its architecture style also puts it standing out among the others. Some historians suggest that this ratha was probably dedicated to Indra on account of elephants on the doors as the guardians and a life size elephant figure standing  near this monument. This west facing shrine has it façade supported on two pillars which are with regular lion-base theme. This façade forms a kind of mukha-mandapa which leads to the main cell. This cell has two pilasters on outside with elephants carved on the base such as forming the guardians of the shrines. There are two storeys above the ground floor. Above the cornice of the ground floor, we witness the regular arrangement of oblong gabled shrines and square corner shrines interconnected by a cloister all around the edge. The gabled end at the west is veryDSC00608 interesting in style. We see three gates carved out, the central gate is bigger than the other two. Inside the central door is carved a shrine with square tower topped with a finial.

The side life-size elephant is carved with not very sharp features but rather little crude in craftsmanship. Also this figure in not  complete as the space between front and rear legs is not removed and feet are not carved in complete. The trunk is rather very straight and very raw in features. There are holed space for the tusks however these are empty now. Probably these holes were adorned with real tusks but it’s just a theory nothing to substantiate this.

So these are the various monuments under the group 'Pancha Pandava Rathas'. Understanding the story and the architecture behind these monuments has been a really great experience with the amount of reading that i had done before writing this article.

There are quite a good number of references which includes other blogs. Some of the ideas expressed are taken directly from the other blogs. However, i tried to make this original as much as i could.

We are already on the last leg of the trip to Mahabalipuram. We just have to visit a couple of places more. I next moved to one of the masterpieces in Mahabalipuram, the Shore Temple.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Till now we have seen the rock-cut temple where a rock face is excavated deep to form a verandah and to accommodate one or more cells on the back wall. Also well known is the fact that Mahendravarman I started this rock-cut shrine fashion in South India. As all the cave temple only show the two dimensional representation of your thoughts what if someone wants to represent his ideas in three dimensions and keeping the long lasting characteristic of rocks. This is where we see the brilliance of Mahendra's successor Narasimhavarman I Mamalla when he started a new style, carving the temple out of a monolith, locally called as Rathas. The freshness of these rathas are still the same as it looks that these were finished very recently. A Ratha literally meant a car or chariot. In old times, as well as in present, the temples used to have their cars in which the main deities were put during the processions. However these carved monoliths do not look like a chariot but a full blown temple itself. The sculptors started from the top as noticed from their incomplete state at the bottom. There are total of ten such rathas at Mahabalipuram. We have already see the Ganesha Ratha earlier. We will visit the others now.

DSC00624 The Pancha Pandava Rathas actually have nothing to do with the Pandavas. It was a custom in the earlier period to associate a construction to a mystical figure and moreover the number of constructions are five. Four out of five rathas are carved out of a single whale-back rock which has a gradual increase in height from north to south. This rock is utilized in its fullest and from it came out four magnificent specimen of Pallava architecture. Most of the scholars assign these constructions to Narasimhavarman I Mamalla, however some of these might have been completed by his successor Parameshvaravarman I.

The Draupadi Ratha is the smallest of the group and located on the northern most end of the rock. Being the smallest and dedicated to female goddess, this is named so. In architectural style, this looks like a thatched roof of Bengal where curvilinear roof is usually topped upon the structure. This kind of huts would have been quiteDSC00587 in use not only in Bengal but other parts of India, such as in present time also we see such huts in our villages. The finial would have been placed in old time, however now it is missing. This west facing ratha is constructed on a high rise platform, which is supported on a large alternating elephant and lion heads frieze. The front facade has two female dvarapalas, proper right one holding a sword and proper left one holding a bow. At the corners of the roof is seen beautiful creeper designs.

On the back wall of the cell inside, is a magnificent image of Durga. She is shown standing on a lotus. Depicted with four hands, she is carrying a sankha and chakra in her upper hands while her one lower hand is in abhaya mudra and another lower DSC00589 hand is resting on her waist. There are two devotees, left one trying to cut his head in offerings to the goddess while the right one is offering flowers. The devotee on the left is shown with long tresses and he is holding those in order to keep his neck tight to accommodate smooth cutting. We also see four ganas (goblins) on the upper side of the panel, two on either side of the goddess. Two, at extreme ends, are shown holding a small sword while the two inner ones are shown with one hand raised in adoration.

There are three niches carved at the three walls of this ratha. The niches are carvedDSC00593 within two pilasters and are shown an icon of Durga who is standing on a buffalo head, which represents Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. In her upper hands she carries sankha and chakra while her one lower hand is in abhaya mudra and another resting on her waist. In front of this ratha is carved a 6 feet high lion out of a boulder. As the ratha is dedicated to Durga hence her lion in front and this shows the utilization at the maximum, simply outstanding.

The Arjuna Ratha is west facing and measures 11.5 feet by 16 feet and 20 feet high. It shares the platform with the Draupadi Ratha. This is a two storey complex DSC00598 with a octagonal dome like structure on the top. This top would have been adorned with a finial, as this finial can be seen on the platform near this shrine. The front facade is supported on two pillars and two pilasters on the front. The pilasters are supported by lions, which are shown facing each other. The second storey (first floor) has eight niches adorned with couples, two on each side. There is a small mandapa in front which leads into the garbha-griha which is a almost square cell of 4.5 feet by 5 feet in size. The Garbha-griha is empty now, but it was  reported by earlier historians that they found a head with trisula prongs. Hence this structure seems to be dedicated to Shiva. The niche images on external  walls also supports this deduction.There was not much space for dvarpalas inside the cell or in mandapa hence those are carved on external walls.

On north niche is shown Vishnu on Garuda. Vishnu is shown carryingDSC00629 sankha and chakra and shown in the act of mounting on to Garuda. On proper right to this niche is shown a couple and proper left niche is empty. On the corner niches are shown two dvarpalas, with one hand raised in adoration. On east wall is shown Subramanya on his mount, elephant in the central niche. As Indra is also depicted with his elephant so this could be Indra as well, however as the monument is dedicated to Shiva hence Subramanya seems to be better fit. Also his headdress is similar to the Subramanya image of Trimurti Cave, hence this image on this ratha can be treated as of Subramanya. On its proper right niche are shown two female figures, in which one figure is of great beautDSC00599y and grace. On proper left niche is shown a sage with his disciple. On corner niches are shown dvarpalas, in which the proper right one is shown holding a bow and other one with one hand raised in adoration. On southern wall, in middle niche, is shown Shiva where he is shown leaning against his mount, Nandi, the bull. On the either side of this niche are shown two couples, one in each niche. On corner niches are shown dvarpalas, with one hand raised in adoration. On the east of the ratha is a figure of Nandi, the mount of Shiva. As there was no rock found in front of the ratha hence the artists carved this out in the rock at the backside of the monument. In such a case, the artists were able to carve the face of Nandi facing the shrine, as seen in orthodox style.

We will see the other three Rathas in the following article…

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Ganesha Ratha is located on the backside hill of Arjuna’s Penance and is one of the most complete ratha at the site. As this is the most complete ratha hence it mightDSC00495 be that it was started earliest among all however there is no evidence to support this. Though the shrine is meant to be dedicated to Shiva, but a Ganesha image is housed inside. This image was placed by the villagers in about 1880s with  the permission of the then District Collector.The original Shivalinga however was installed later below a nearby tree. This west facing ratha has two upper storeys with a wagon roof and is 20 feet long, 11.5 feet wide and 28 feet high, in proportions. There is cell excavated in the centre, measuring about 7 feet by 4 feet and 7 feet high. The west frontal façade is supported on two lion-base pillars and two lion-base pilasters. The lions of the pillars faces front and those of pilasters faces each other, as per the regular arrangement seen in other similar monuments.

There is seen a human face peeping out of the cornice. Above the cornice is seen regular arrangement of oblong and square mini shrines, interconnected by a cloister. This horizontal frieze of shrines separated the first storey with the ground floor. The gabled ends are very interesting in design, east side end is fully survived. These horse shoe shaped windows have three DSC00494doors carved out, where the central one is shown containing a high Shivalinga like structure. Many scholars suggests that this design is taken from Buddhist style where a stupa is carved or placed under the  central door. The deign does show some affinity with Buddhist style however if such an influence is there then it would have come from Amaravati artists. On the west portico is a Sanskrit inscription, similar to that of Dharmaraja Mandapa. There are total of fourteen verses in this inscription and the twelfth verse  states that this temple is founded by a Pallava king named Atyantakama, Atyantakama-Pallaveshvara-Griham. The other verses eulogized Shiva.

The MahDSC00535ishasura Mardhini Cave is one of the important monuments in Mahabalipuram and a must visit for its beautiful architecture. This cave temple is below the Olakkaneshwara Temple. This is a three celled shrine, 32 feet long, 15 feet wide and 12.5 feet high hall, where the central one is projected forward compared to the two subsidiary cells. The front facade is supported in four pillars and two pilasters. The central cell has a small mukha-mandapa in front of it which is supported in two pillars with seated lion baDSC00541ses.

The middle sanctum is flanked by dvarapalas (guardians) on either side, and inside it has a panel on the back wall. In this panel Shiva is shown seated majestically on a platform with Parvati. Baby Skanda is shown seated on Parvati’s lap. Shiva’s mount Nandi is shown seated near Shiva’s feet on the ground. Shiva and Parvati are shown  wearing various ornaments such as necklaces, bracelets, ear-rings etc. There is a devotee shown on right side corner. Brahma and Vishnu are shown standing behind Shiva-Parvati. Brahma is shown standing on left side with four heads and four hands. He is shown holding a water vessel and akshamala in his upper hands. Vishnu is also shown with four hands, carrying chakra and sankha in his upper hands. Surya is seen on top, between Brahma and Vishnu.

This cave is with so much detail that once can take even an hour to completely explore each part of it. Let us see the other panels and the sculptures in this beautiful Mandapa.

The mDSC00548ost astonishing features of this cave are the two side panels, which are very exquisite in sculpture art. The north wall depicts Durga as Mahishasura Mardhini fighting with demon Mahishasura. This panel is simply put as one of the most elegant example of the Pallava art. Because of this panel, this shrine is named accordingly. If we can divide this panel in two parts with a vertical line, then left part shows the army with Goddess Durga while the right part shows the army of the  buffalo-demon Mahishasura. Durga is shown mounted on prancing lion and carrying weapons in her eight hands. She is shown holding khadga (sword), dhanush (bow), bana(arrows), ghanta (bell) in her right hands while pasa (rope), sankha (conch), dagger in her left hands. Durga is shown getting ready to fire an arrow towards the demon. One chatra(parasol) is held above her head by one of her companion. She is accompanied with her female warriors and ganas(dwarfs). On right is shown retreating army of the demon. Mahishasura is shown in retreating himself back and trying to save himself from falling. He is holding a gada (club) DSC00536whose heaviness can be felt in his posture. One of his companion is trying to hide himself behind another so to escape from death. One of his soldier is shown falling head down. Another is shown fell on the ground and looking above in fear. The panel depicts the victory of divine power over the evil forces, and sculptors were successful in taking this theme out in perfection.

On southern wall is a panel depiction Vishnu in anantasayana mudra. He iDSC00545s shown with two hands, stretched over the coil of serpent, Adi-sesha. Adi-sesha’s five-hooded head is spread as an umbrella over Vishnu’s head. Two demons are shown  approaching Vishnu near his feet to attack him. Both are shown carrying gada (club). Seeing them approaching near, Adi-Sesha hissed and flames came out of his hoods. Due to these flames, the demons retreated backwards, as shown in the scene. One hand of Vishnu is shown taping over the coil of Adi-Sesha. The rightmost female figure is Bhudevi.

I spent almost half an hour in this Mantapa. It was quite hot that day and i was really tired. I took a break for some quick lunch and moved on to visit the Pancha Pandava Rathas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dharmaraja Mantapa is located behind the lighthouse and is triple celled and faces east. This mandapa shows striking resemblances with the earlier Pallava excavations of Mahendravarman I. Here the middle cell is projected forward in comparison to two side ones. All the cells are empty.

DSC00524 This Mantapa is fine made into a huge stone. And we wonder how much it takes to chisel a stone to that level. Here we find angled corbels suggesting that the use of the old architecture of construction. Curved corbels are supposedly taken as an advanced architectural style. The cells inside this cave are about 2 feet above the ground and staircases are provided in front of all, whereas the middle cell staircase is supported by parapets on both sides. This cell style suggests the advanced architectural style.

Here we have dvarpalas carved on the sides of the central cell, though there is ample space on the front façade. Here we see chandra-silas (moon-shaped stair step) on all the three cells. This chandra-sila is also seen a characteristic style DSC00525of Mahendra as we see this feature in his later temples. In conclusion, this cave is excavated in advanced architectural style, except the corbels of the pillars. We do not see any carvings, like miniature shrines and horse-shoe (kudu) windows, above the cornice. This puts this as one of the earliest creation among the caves of Mahabalipuram. This cave was vandalized during the Vaishnava resurgence when the dvarpala figures were completely chiselled off and marks of Vishnu were carved on the front pillars. From the outline of the markings of dvarpala, it can be said that those were carved with front facing profiles with one hand on their waist and another hand resting on something which is not very clear. We are fortunate to find an inscription here, however it only adds to the confusion about the creator of this cave.

The Olakkaneshwara Temple located above the the hill in which the Mahishasura DSC00531 Mardhini Cave is carved out. The temple could be a creation of Rajasimha, as it is most accepted that structural temples have started being constructed during his time. The gopura of the temple has not survived. We need to climb some steps to reach the top. Its a bit tedious as each step is at a considerable height and one cannot climb easily.

Before the stone lighthouse was built in 1900 CE, this temple roof was used as the lighthouse and for that purpose a wooden shad had been constructed on its flat roof. This wooden shed would have been constructed when the tower of the temple would have fallen. The sikhara (tower) of the temple would have been on DSC00568 the same design as that of the Shore Temple, of Dravidian style. The dvarpalas of the main shrine are carved with half-profile, instead of regular posture of front facing style. Guardians on the back wall of the temple are carved with full frontal profile. This east facing temple was under worship till nineteenth century. There is a small ardha-mandapa which leads into a rectangular shrine.

On one external wall of the ardha-mandapa, within a niche with pilasters on each side, DSC00561is carved Shiva slaying Yama. The execution of the sculptures does not suggest any comparison with other Pallava sculptures, such that it seems that this has not been done by those artists. There are three devkoshtas (niches) on external walls of the main shrine, on south we have a nice sculpture of Shiva as Dakshinamurti sitting under a tree, on west is shown Ravana trying to shake up Kailasa with Shiva and Parvati seated over the mountain and on north we see Shiva as Nataraja.

The sculptures are much ruined, and were plastered and painted over hence the originality is much less visible. The temple would have been dedicated to Shiva, as supported by his various postures on external walls. Interestingly we do not find any Somaskanda panel here, which is very characteristic feature of Rajasimha. Also no Shiva-linga found inside.

In absence of any inscriptions, it is hard to assign the temple to any king, however as rampant lion pilasters are present hence this could be assigned to Rajasimha, still the mystery persists that why other characteristic features are missing.

We can see the sea out there from the shrine. I spent around 15 minutes checking each of the sculpture that is carved out on  this amazing temple, and then move on to visit one of the important landmarks of Mahabalipuram, the Mahishasura Mardhini Cave.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This west facing cave excavation is a pillared hall of 20.5 feet long, 8.5 feet wide and 10.5 feet high. It is supported, in front, by two lion-base pillars and two lion-base pilasters on the sides. It is one of the shrines where it is sculpted DSC00501in detail and the ASI is doing a commendable job in protecting the relics. 

There is a closet in the middle and are guarded by dwarapalas As we do not see any dwarapala with trisula character (horned dwarapala), it can be assumed that this cave was dedicated to Vishnu.

One the Northern part of the Mantapa, has a bas relief of Varaha, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, in a standing posture. He is carrying Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) in his hands. His one leg is firmly rested on the ocean ground while another is on the hood of Sesha-naga. He is shown with four hands, in upper hands he DSC00502 carries a chakra and shankha while right lower hand is behind the goddess and left lower hand is holding the legs of the goddess. Bhudevi is shown seated in his bent uplifted right knee. Shesha-naga is shown with five hoods, emerging from the waters with his hands folded in devotion. Brahma is shown standing beside Varaha and Narada behind him, holding a Veena. Over Brahama and Narada is shown Chandra coming out of clouds. Opposite corner shows Surya. There is a female standing with folded hands in front of Varaha and Sesha. The way the detail is depicted in this bas relief is extraordinary. And each of the figure is lifelike.

Next to the above relief is shown a relief of Gaja-Lakshmi. Lakshmi is shown seated on a lotus seat, her both hands is a position probabDSC00503ly to hold lotus stalks. Her hair are put in a conical formation on the top. Four maidens are shown standing, two on  either side of Lakshmi. Two inner side maidens are shown holding water vessels, while the outer maidens are holding flowers in one hand. There are two elephants on the top, left one is shown pouring water from a vessel while the right one is shown picking the vessel from the hands of a maiden.

Southern end shows a bas relief of Trivikrama, Vishnu in Vamana incarnation. Vishnu is shown with one leg placed firmly on the ground and another lifted up to the level of his neck. This posture suggests that he has taken his two steps already and in that he has measured the earth and the heaven. He is shown with eight hands. In left hands he carries Shankha (conch), Khetaka (shield) and dhanush (bow), while one left hand is pointing DSC00504to the direction of his lifted leg. In his right hands he carries chakra (discus), gada (club) and khadga (sword) while his one right hand is raised up with palms turned up. Brahma is shown seated on a lotus and shown washing the foot of Trivikrama. Shiva is also shown seated in padmasana with one hand raised in adoration. On left of Trivikrama, Shukracharya is shown seated facing king Bali and trying to move away from the impact of Trivikrama’s expansion impact. Demon King Bali, wearing a crown, is shown seated next to Shukracharya. He is shown with gloomy faces and amazed at the scene he is witnessing.

Next to this panel is a bas relief of Durga. She is shown standing on a lotus seat She is shown with four hands, in upper hands carrying shankha and chakra while one lower hand is reDSC00505sting on her waist and other lower hand is in abhaya mudra. Four ganas (goblins) are shown flying across the panel, two on either side of the goddess. Ganas on right side are carrying a bowl of offerings in their one hand. On top corners, left and right, are lion and antelope, both mounts of the goddess. There are two devotees shown seated near the feet of the goddess. Devotee on left side is shown cutting his head, holding it by his tuft by one hand, with a sword in his another hand. Right side devotee is seated with one hand raised in adoration and another rested on his thigh.

I spent almost 10 minutes in this small mantapa move on to visit the Dharmaraja Mantapa.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pancha Pandava Cave is connected to the Arjuna’s penance and it is a raw and unfinished structure in the inside. DSC00468However, it is beautifully carved on the outside and lions are carved on the pillars. There is one interesting piece here. One of the pillars is not carved as you see in the picture.

This is the biggest excavation at the site measure 50 feet in length. A cell is cut in the centre but is attached to the back. Behind the front pillars, there is another row of pillars which divide the Cave in five sections but all the sections are unfinished. There is not much to see in this cave and i move ahead to see the Krishna’s Butterball.

This is a very interesting stone. Seen from a distance, it looks as if it is ready to roll down. However, it has a base which prevents from doiDSC00479ng so and that we know only when we go nearer it. Otherwise, it not of much interest in terms of art. The area near this stone is very rocky with huge boulders and vegetation. We need to walk on these rocks, pass through a narrow opening between two boulders and reach the Trimurthi Cave Temple.

This cave temple is a little different from the others as it does not have a pillared hall. The artists have excavated the cells directly into the cave face which is almost vertical. This is a triple celled shrine dedicated to the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and DSC00492 Shiva. The central prominent cell is projected little forward, housing a Shiva image, which suggests that the cave was dedicated to Shiva as the main deity among the trinity. All the cells are flanked with dwarpalas on either sides.DSC00486

The first cell i said to be that of Brahma. However, the sculpture inside has only one head and is wearing a cross-band on its chest, which cannot be Brahma. Some historians believe it to be of Subramanya. There is an old inscription on the floor of this cell mentioning the name Mamalla, suggesting the name of Narasimhavarman I,  in whose time this cave was commissioned.

There are two goblins on the top, on either side of Subramanya, one on left is holding a flag-post while having a pustaka in his arm-pit while that on right is shown holding a bowl of offerings. There are two devotees sitting on ground, with one hand raised in adoration and another placed on their chests.

TheDSC00487 central shrine is a little projected to the front compared to the others. Inside the cell is an image of Shiva in a standing posture. He is shown with four arms, in his upper hand he is holding a axe and rosary of beads and his one lower hand is in abhaya mudra and another resting on his thigh. Two goblins on top are shown with one hand raised in adoration and another on their bent knees. Two devotes are  shown below, one squatting on the ground and holding a flower in one hand and other hand on his knee, while the other one is shown holding flowers in both the hands in anjali mudra. There is a lingam inserted into the base, however this is a later addition.

The rightmost cell is dedicated to DSC00489Vishnu. The dvarpalas are shown in side-views, wearing kirita mukutas and yajnopavita. Inside the cell is an image of Vishnu, in standing posture. He is shown with four hands, in upper hands holding a sankha and chakra while one lower hand is in abhaya and another is resting on his thigh. Two goblins are shown on top with one hand raised in adoration. Below are shown two devotees, bent in similar fashion in adoration to the Lord.

There is a niche on southern most part of the rock where an image of Durga is carved. Durga is shown standing over a buffalo-head, representing demon Mahishasura. She is shown with eight hands, in her right hands she holds chakra (discus), khadga (sword) and ghanta (bell) while in her left hands she holds shankha (conch), dhanush(bow) and khetka (shield). Her remaining one left hand is in abhaya mudra and one right hand is on her thigh.

There is one more small temple near this Mantapa which is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The architecture of this temple is good on its top it has a small sanctum with small pillars on its front end.  Lions are carved on the pillars. I then move on to the famous Varaha Mantapa.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I have visited many temples and had seen many pieces of art, but this stands apart of all. Considering the fact that it is carvMahabalipuram-1141ed on one side of massive stone and has so much detail within it, i say it is one of the most unique and beautiful bas reliefs in India.

This 90 feet by 30 feet bas relief showcases the best of the Pallava architecture and has never been implemented before and after ever in the history of Indian architecture. Lets see this masterpiece in detail.

This bas relief faces east and has an enclosing tank measuring 85 feet by 30.5 feet, in front of it. There are nearly 150 different figures on this panel. Various small themes are depicted in those figures, however the main theme seems to bDSC00460e on the centre of the panel where a life size figure of Shiva is shown standing and an ascetic is shown, standing on one feet,  next to him. This central theme of the panel is a point of controversy that what it represent. There are only two theories proposed, one that it represent Arjuna’s penance to acquire Pashupata from Shiva, another that it represents Bhagiratha’s penance to Shiva in order to bring Ganga from heaven to earth. Now we will talk about the notable parts.

There are DSC00464numerous figures on this bas relief which talk about the central theme. However, there are numerous others which are just spectator. For example, there are a couple of geese, right next to Arjuna which are moving away from him. Also there are other figures of interest like that of a Gana of Shiva shown in the above picture where a lion’s head is carved on his belly. Also there is a picture of a lion with its tail formed as numerical “8” as you can see in the picture here. Then you have the cat holding its hands up like Arjuna in the top. The cat is shown with erect ears and raised eye-brows, watching the hDSC00456appenings neaby very carefully. Near the cat, are the life size elephants which are a marvellous and beautiful creation on this monument.  The male is followed by the female elephant and there are three babies under the male and one on its side. This scene perhaps depicts an elephant herd who is going to drink water from the river. In the middle of the bas relief, there are Nagas which stand in a respectable posture.

As you see in the picture beside, we see a temple housing a small statue of Vishnu. Some scholars suggested that the small size of this image in comparisonDSC00458 with life-size image of Shivashows the subordinate status of Vishnu. However I think that this is not correct as during those times, 6th century AD, the separation between Vaishnava and Shiva was not very distinct. The temple is very simple in architectural style, consisting of a cell topped with square curvilinear dome like tower, which  looks similar to Draupadi Ratha roof style. However instead of having a pointed end like Draupadi Ratha, this tower is flat on top which is topped with stupid. On corners we see flower creeper arrangement while in middle of the edge is shown a kudu with a shrine inside.  Kudus with humans faces are seen on the cornice. Above the cornice we see another storey of the temple. The base of that storey has lion motifs onDSC00463 corners and middle of the side.

There is one very interesting piece of sculpture which does not belong to the bas relief but has been at the very same location for centuries. It is the picture that you see here, of two monkeys one cleaning the other’s head. Even though this piece of architecture is part of the Arjuna’s penance, it stands funnily noticeable.

The Un-finished Arjuna’s penance:

At a little distance from the Arjuna’s Penance, there is another bas relief which is of DSC00516 a similar theme as the Arjuna’s penance and somehow it is not completed. It cannot be proved whether this unfinished piece is a way to cover the one that is already there. The part of rock on which this scene is carved is detached from the other part of the rock and is protruding forward.

The Arjuna’s penance is undoubtedly one of the best works of the Pallava art and architecture. One can spend hours in exploring this sculpture. I spent for more than half an hour here and move on to the Pancha Pandava Cave.