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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds very interesting!!! Gud job Hari. Nvr got a chance to visit da place...feel very nice that atleast got a chance to view & hear abt all those historical places in dis way....:).

Deguide said...

I heard this is the world's largest bas relief sculpture

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