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Mahabalipuram Monuments - Part 1 (Introduction)


Mamallapuram, a world heritage site, is important place in the art history of India. Its temples and sculptures are not only some of the earliest in this region, but also significant in variety and elegance. This is the only place where you can find all the three styles of temples, namely, cave shrines, single-stone temples and structural temples. Open-air bas-relief is a product of creative Pallava mind cannot be seen anywhere else. There a number of architectural and sculptural objects which are seen in Mamallapuram and no where else. All these make this place a museum of temple architecture and sculpture. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Mahabalipuram Monuments - Part 1 (Introduction)

Pallava Mallai Unfinished poetry in stone -
S. Swaminathan (
Mamallapuram holds an important place in the art
history of the Tamil country and of India.
Its temples and sculptures are not only some of
the earliest in this region, but also significant
in variety and elegance.
Mandakappattu Cave Temple the Pallava Overture

Beginning of causing temples in stone in the
Tamil country was made by Mahendra Pallava in
early 7th century
The famous Inscription
(No Transcript)
ºíø, ÁÃõ, Äõ ÁüÚõ Íñ½õÒ ÀÂýÀÎò¾Áø ÀÃõÁ,
ºÅý ÁüÚõ ÅÏÅüÌ Åºòúò¾ý (Áó¾Ã ÀøÄÅý)
þó¾ (Ìì) ÂÄ Îò¾ý. The (cave) temple
dedicated to Brahma, Siva and Vishnu was
excavated by Vichitrachitta (Mahendra
Pallava) without using brick, timber, metal and
Then the Tamil landscape came to be studded with
innumerable temples then on.
The Mamallapuram story starts with Mahendras
son, Narasimha Pallava (638-668 CE), who
shifted the location for his creative efforts to
his port town, Mamallapuram, which is named
after Mamalla, a title of Narasimha.
Temple building activity was carried on by his
descendents till 728 CE Narasimhas grand-son,
Paramesvara and his great-grand son, Rajasimha
continued developing the town. Later Rajasimha
shifted out and concentrated in his capital,
Kanchipuram and its environs.
Mamallapuram became a museum of temple
Mamallai Museum Cave Temples
from the most rudimentary . . .
. . . to the most sophisticated, . . .
Dharmaraja Mandapam
Varaha Mandapam
. . . monoliths of great variety, . . .
Mamallai Museum
Hut-shaped Draupati ratha
Apsidal Sahadeva ratha
Wagon-roofed Bhima ratha
Dravida Arjuna ratha
Dravida Dharmaraja ratha
Nagari Pidari ratha
Mamallai Museum
Mukundanayanar Temple
Shore Temples, on the seashore
Olakkanesvara Temple, on the top of a hill
. . . structural temples of diverse styles . . .
Mamallai Museum
. . . unique art treasures, like the bas-relief
of the Great Penance . . .
Mamallai Museum
. . unusual excavations the Tiger Cave in
Saluvakkuppam, . . .
Mamallai Museum
. . . countless pieces of art strewn all over . .
Varaha sculpture Single-cell Temple
Lion Temple
Mini-Tiger Cave and others
Mamallai Museum
. . . panels of great elegance . . .
Mamallai Museum
. . sculptures of extraordinary beauty . .
Mamallai Museum
. . calligraphic, but intriguing inscriptions etc
. . .
Mamallai Museum
Similar inscriptions on three stylistically
different monuments confusing the authorship
Mamallai Museum
Saivite curse in a Vaishnava shrine
. . . all these make the Mamallai Museum an
exciting place.
Mamallapuram, a World Heritage
UNESCO has declared Mamallapuram monuments as
World Heritage monuments in 1984, for - Its
Descent of the Ganges is a unique artistic
achievement - Mamallapuram is the testimony
to the Pallavas civilization of southeast
India - Its sculptures are characterised by
the softness and suppleness of their modeling -
The influence of its sculptures spread to the
East, to Cambodia, Java etc
Mamallapuram, a Unique Site
The Pallava sculptures are in the classical
style, right at the first attempt They are
wrought on granite, the hardest material, a feat
accomplished 700 years after Asoka Mamallapuram
is a one-stop-shop for temple architecture of
the South
Mamallapuram, a Unique Site
Mamallapuram in the only place in India where all
the three stages of temple architecture, namely,
- cave temples - single-stone temples and -
structural temples can be seen. Open-air
bas-reliefs are not found anywhere else in the
country, excepting Mamallpuram.
Unanswered questions
What is the history of the site before the
Pallavas chose it? Is there a city under the
sea? Why it is named Mahabalipuram? How did the
name Seven Pagodas come into use?
Unanswered questions
Who were the authors of the monuments? What do we
understand of the enigmatic inscriptions found
in a number of places? Why most monuments are
unfinished? Who are the royal figures in the
Adivaraha Mandapam?
Unanswered questions
Is the Great Penance of Arjuna or of
Bhagiratha? How did the Shore Temple complex
develop? Why are the Shore Temples located at the
very edge of sea?
Unanswered questions
Why many monuments are named after the
Mahabharata heroes? Why are the immovable
monoliths called ratha-s? What is the full story
of wanton vandalism during Narasimha period,
and later, during the Vijayanagara times?
Unanswered questions
Why these monuments, of international fame now,
did not attract the attention of the
contemporary religious savants at the height of
bhakti movement? Kanchi was the intellectual
capital of the south during the period, but why
there is hardly any literary reference to
Unanswered questions
There are more ..
Before going to Mamallapuran, can we look for
possible inspiration in the vicinity?
Southern predecessors Satavahana Dynasty (2nd
Century BCE - 4th Century, CE)
Buddhist Monuments of Amaravathi in Andhra Pradesh
Southern predecessors Ikshvaku Dynasty (3rd-4th
Centuries, CE)
Nagarjunakonda Buddhist monuments in Andhra
The Pallava contemporaries too imbibed the
spirit of artistic creativity, like the
Pallavas, and their contribution to southern
temple architecture is no less. The period was
truly momentous.
Southern Contemporaries Chalukyas (6th 7th
Centuries CE)
Badami Cave Temples in Karnataka
Southern Contemporaries Pandyas (7th 9th
Centuries CE)
Tirumayam Cave Temple
We seem to enjoy and celebrate royal
splendour. Thus we attribute the Mamallai marvels
to the Pallava kings, little realising royal
intentions and wealth alone would not have
But these were the work of the sculptor, whose
names we dont know.
We may keep in mind what would make a good
sculptor. A whole life of dedication starting
with decades of apprenticeship under
elders, study of scriptures and canons, ability
to imbibe bhava and transfer the same to
inanimate material, capacity to concentrate and
many more. What would he get in return? No
family or social lfe, living with anxiety all
life, anxious of the outcome of his work and
the reactions of the royal patron.
We may also keep one more aspect in mind while
visiting our religious sites. What we celebrate
as wonderful art were not created as art
objects. They were meant to be objects for
contemplation, meditation and religious
focus. We fail to understand and appreciate the
metaphysical, spiritual and philosophical
significance. May be we are seeing these
monuments from the wrong side of telescope!
Many of us may not know that, in Indian
religious art, all sculptures were plastered and
painted. What we see today, in most places, the
base bereft of plaster and paint. One will have
to use ones own imagination how these would
have looked in their glorious days. What
astonishes us is that Even the base stone
sculpture is alive and expressive, which tells us
that for the sculptor every step important to
be done with utmost spiritual concentration.
Authorship and Chronology
There is no complete unanimity among experts. But
the following can be taken as the majority view.
Narasimha Pallava (630-668) initiated
excavating cave temples, Pandava Rathas, the
single-stone temples and sculpted the Great
Penance panel His grandson, Paramesvara
(672-700) not only completed some of the
unfinished ones, but also sculpted Ganesa Ratha,
a single-stone ratha His son, Rajasimha
(700-728), was responsible for building the
structural Shore Temples, and also developing
the Complex.
The monuments are located within the village of
Mamallapuram and in Saluvakkuppam, a neighbourhood
Monuments are distributed over a large area, and
the largest concentration is around Main Hill
Let us now visit the Mallai monuments