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.


Sujatha Sathya said...

aah! seen these!
lovely narrative of the place

Sudhagee said...

Now this was a trip down memory lane. I had visited Mahabalipuram in 1997, and I think it is time to go again.

Sudhagee said...

Reading your post was like taking a trip down memory lane as I had last visited it Mahabalipuram in 1997. I think it is now time to visit it again.

Hari Narayana said...

@Sujatha - Thanks..

@Sudha - Happy that i could take you back.. Mahabalipuram was indeed an amazing place to visit. Only thing is that the person can really enjoy if he/she can understand history and architecture.

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