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…


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