Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mahabalipuram, derived from 'Mamallapuram' was a 7th century port city of the South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas around 60 km south from the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It has been identified as the port Melange mentionDSC00445ed in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea by an unknown Greek navigator of the first century A.D. The name Mamallapuram is believed to have been given after the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who took on the epithet Maha-malla (great wrestler). It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Mahabalipuram is seen as the workshop of Indian sculptures where they experimented with various temple and architectural styles, hence this place has a very important place in study of Indian architecture. Here we find examples of various temple types, be it monoliths or rock-cut shrinDSC00444es. We can categorize the monuments in four different categories:

1. Rock-cut shrines – In this style, a rock face is excavated to make place for temple elements like sanctum, mantapa etc.
2. Monolith structures – Locally called as ‘Rathas’, these are free-standing temples  cut out of a solid rock
3. Bas-relief – These kind of reliefs are only found in Mahabalipuram, where a rock-face is carved extensively with figures and other plastic art elements usually depicting some mythological scene
4. Structural Temples – These are built-up masonry temples

Let us visit each of the places and talk about them. 

The first monDSC00449ument we visit is the Krishna Mantapa. Even though it is called a Mantapa, it is actually a bas-relief of the dedicated to Lord Krishna and some of his stories. The most notable sculpture inside is the lifting of of the Govardhana mountain. The Mantapa was evidently added later in the 16th century. The central figure of Krishna, with Balarama by his side, is shown lifting the hill with his little finger. Enjoying the divine protection, the rest are carrying on their business as usual. The artist suggests this by depicting a cowherd milking a cow while the cow itself is fondly licking its calf.

On the left corner of the relief are shown few animals, mostly lions. One lioness is shown in her cave, above these lions. One lion of interest as it is carved with body of a lion but heDSC00451ad of a human. A representation of Narasimha? or this is ‘man/king among lions’ a title, ‘Rajasimha,’ taken up by a Pallava king, Narasimhavarman II. In my understanding, this cannot be taken as a representation of Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu. However ‘man/king among lions’ quite fits here. Does that mean Rajasimha was the creator of this relief?

Each figure on this bas-relief is well carved and looks as if they are alive. The cows especially are carved so beautifully even taking care of the small curves. I spent almost 15 minutes inside this small Mantapa and moved on to one of the most wonderful monuments in Mahabalipuram, the Arjuna’s penance.


Swapna said...

Had been to mahabalipuram long back. Good to read a nice, detailed update..

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