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Mahabalipuram Monuments - Part 2 (Cave temples)


There are more than ten cave temples, and these range from very simple to most sophisticated. Some of them contain exquisite large relief compositions of which the Mahishasuramardini composition is the best. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Mahabalipuram Monuments - Part 2 (Cave temples)

Pallava Mallai Unfinished poetry in stone - 2
Cave temples
S. Swaminathan (
Let us now visit the Mallai monuments
Cave Temples An overview
Worshipping places scooped out of the rock faces
are found all over the country. They are
called, cave temples, technically, rock-cut
temples. They are also called mandapam-s. The
cave temples of Mamallapuram, like elsewhere in
the south, consist of a pillared hall and one
or more sanctums at the rear of the hall. The
hall may be divided sometimes into two parts,
the front one called maha-mandapam and the
rear, ardha-mandapam. Number of shrines varied
from one to as many as five in Mamallapuram,
with the presiding deity occupying the central
The early temples were simple and the sculptural
decoration restricted to dvarapala-s only. They
were characterised by heavy square pillars with
octagonal section in the middle, known as the
Mahendra-style. The pillars support the roof
through plain brackets.
The Dharmaraja Mandapam is in this early style.
In course of time pillars became ornate. From
the simple, massive Mahendra-style pillars, they
became almost round. A base, a bulbous top and
embellished bracket that support the beam came
into vogue.
The pillar shaft resting on the head of a sitting
lion or vyala is the next stage, along with
greater details on the bracket above.
It was shafts on standing lions, the last stage.
This type is found in the Shore Temples.
The plain façade of the early period was also
modified to resemble in relief the
superstructure of contemporary vimana-type
Continuing with such increasing complexities,
the walls of the hall came to be decorated with
relief sculptures of themes from purana-s.
In the early stages the deities in the sanctum
in the Pallava temples were either paintings
made or images in relief made of wood fixed on
the rear wall of the sanctum. With these images
gone due to decay, most Mamallapuram sanctums are
empty. But in the three sanctums of the Trimurti
Mandapam and in the Draupati Ratha deities have
been sculpted in relief.
It was in the later stage that lingam came to be
installed in the sanctum, as in the Shore
But we may find lingam in many sanctums in
Mamallapuram, and these are later additions.
The sanctums would normally be guarded by
gate-keepers. They would be women, if the
presiding deity was a goddess, like Durga. It
would be possible to identify the deity they are
guarding, from the dress, the ornaments and
the arms they carry.
As time progressed greater details were
incorporated to the base of the shrine and
elsewhere and also developed stylisation leading
to systemisation. This is the beginning of Vastu
and Agama practices. All the sculptures were
plastered and painted, which are lost due to
centuries of exposure to natural elements. In
Mamallapuram, we have more than ten cave shrines,
in various stages of incompletion, and of
varying degrees of sophistication. Thus the
Kotikkal Mandapam is the simplest and the
Adivaraha shrine is the ultimate in Mamallapuram.
Most of the cave temples in Mamallapuram are
excavated on a large hillock that is oriented
along north south. Two are located in
Saluvakkuppam, the neighboring village
Cave Temples An overview
Kotikkal Mandapam
Koti-k-kal Mandapam, must be an early temple as
can be seen from the plain features. There is no
clue as to the meaning of Kotikkal, nor how it
got the name. It must have been dedicated
Durga, as can be inferred by the presence of
female door-keepers. These very elegant figures
are the only sculptures here, but their dress
and ornaments are worth studying. It can boast
of a short inscription.
Cave Temples An overview
Cave Temples An overview
The two pillars and the two half-pillars in the
front and the roof part are all plain. There is
a short inscription on one of its pillars in the
Grantha script, Shri vamankusha, but its
significance is not known.
The hall has no sculptures and the sanctum is
empty. The only sculptural decoration in this
shrine is the pair of female gate-keepers
guarding the sanctum. Both of them are slim,
graceful and stand in elegant poses. Their
poses are similar, but not same, avoiding
monotony. One rests on a club and the other
holds a bow.
Cave Temples An overview
Their dress consists of breast-band and
waist-band. There is also a loose girdle of
pleated cloth. Their hair-do is jata-makuta, a
Siva standard, laced with ornaments.
This could be another shrine belonging to the
early phase judging from its simple features,
massive square pillars and lack of any
Dharmaraja Mandapam
There are three cells, and it is likely that
the central one was dedicated to Siva. The
mutilated gate-keepers and the inscription on
the wall make it an important monument.
It is an inscription of 11 stanzas written in 14
lines. The language is Sanskrit, like most
inscriptions of the Pallavas in Mallai period
and the script is Pallava Grantha, a script
created by the Pallavas to write Sanskrit. The
inscription is important for a variety of reasons.
It is an elegant writing, Indian calligraphy at
its peak. The inscription says that the shrine
was caused by a king whose title was
Atyamtakama, but we are not certain which
Pallava king it is, for many Pallavas assumed
this title. It is also intriguing as almost
similar inscription is found in the Ganesa
Ratha and the Atiranachanda Mandapam, which
may belong to different periods, if one were to
accept chronology based on stylistic
Here is the facsimile of the inscription
The 5th stanza says King Atyantakama, who has
subdued the territories of his foes, is famed (by
the name of) Ranajaya he caused to be made this
house of Sambhu (Siva)
??????????? ??????????????????????????? ??????
????? ????????????? ??????????? ???????????
???????????????????????????3? ??2???? ????
?0???????????3?? ????0??????3?? atyantakAmo
nRpatirnnirjijitArAtimaNDala khyAto taNajaya
Sambhostenedam veSmakAritam
Koneri Mandapam
Koneri Mandapam is located opposite to a tank,
called Koneri Pallam, perhaps, the reason for
the name of the cave shrine. Its isolation and
it being in the midst of an undisturbed Tropical
Dry Evergreen Forest are its two interesting
features. The other is that it is a five-celled
cave, the only one of its kind in Mamallapuram.
The Pallava-s continue to tease us. Which are the
deities to be housed in these five cells is a
puzzle. More than that having square
Mahendra-type pillars on the front row and more
rounded, well-ornamented pillars on the back row
dents the theory of chronology based on
stylistic development.
Each of the five sanctums is guarded by a pair of
dvara-pala-s. There are similarities among them,
but there is no monotony. The postures and
profiles are different. All of them are
Saivites, with jata-makuta, pair of horns
forming part of their head-dress or the massive
clubs they carry, all Saivite standards. The
gate-keeper on the extreme left is fully chipped
away and its companion partly.
Typical flora of Mallai Tropical Dry Evergreen
The shrine is located in wooded area, a typical
tropical ever green forest, a unique endemic
ecosystem of the eastern coastal area.
Traditional healers use these plants for curing
more than 52 ailments. Many of what we see in
this patch is 200-300 years old. We may see
200-year vintage date palm trees and creepers
are substantial girth. The only creeper
belonging to the ficus family is among the
interesting species here.
Mahishasuramardini Mandapam
Though unfinished, the three-celled
shrine contains two priceless panels, Mahishasuram
ardini and Anatasayanam. The sanctum contains an
early relief of Somaskanda. The portico in front
of the sanctum is a unique feature.
Mahishasuramardini Mandapam
Design of front pillars is definitely
advancement over the square Mahendra pillars.
The beautiful lion-based pillared portico in
front of the central sanctum is found only in
this mandapam. Why are then the pilasters on
the rear are vyala-based?
The rectangular pit on the floor, may be to
accommodate a reclining Vishnu idol, must be a
later addition.
The removal of a pillar in the front, engraving
sanku-chakra on the front pilasters and
modification tried in the porch in front of the
central shrine, are tell-tales marks of the
attempt to convert it into a Vaishnava shrine,
perhaps, in the Vijayanagara times.
The presence of a large Somaskanda panel in the
central sanctum covering almost the entire wall
is a novel feature. Its large size and the
presence of bull-mount in the composition differ
from all the standard composition of Somaskanda.
That the dvara-pala-s of the southern shrine are
clearly Saivite and that the sculptures of the
two dvara-pala-s of the central shrine seem to
be modified, make some to suggest that the
original Vaishnavite temple has been changed to
a Saivite shrine.
The two relief sculptures, Anatasayana and
Mahishasuramardini are among the best
representations of the Pallava art. That these
two scenes are described in the Devi-mahatmiya,
an episode form Markandeya Purana. Was this
the reason for selection for panels here?
Mahishasuramardini Mandapam and the ruins of
Olakkanesvara Temple above
Durga Temple (Mahishasuramardini
Temple), Photograph taken by Nicholas and Co in
ca. 1880
Mahishasuramardini Mandapam and the ruins of
Olakkanesvara Temple above
"Pagodas at Mahabalipuram, engraved by J.
Landseer, after a picture by H.Salt, with recent
hand colour." 1811
Mahishasuramardini Mandapam and the ruins of
Olakkanesvara Temple above
'South View of a Small Temple on the Southernmost
eminence of the Hill at Mahabalipoorum. J.
Gantz' 1825
Atiranachanda Mandapam
Situated in Saluvakkuppam, close to the Tiger
Cave, this temple has a few uncommon features.
In addition to a Somaskanda in the sanctum,
there are two more in the front hall. An
improperly fixed lingam in the sanctum, and one
in the front could be later additions. The
presence of a beautiful bas-relief of
Mahishasuramardini, and two important
inscriptions calligraphically rendered, makes
this cave worth a visit.
Grantha inscription Devanagari
inscription Similar inscription is found in the
Dhramaraja mandapam and the Ganesa Ratha
As excavated in 18 century
Varaha Mandapam
This dainty shrine has a well-finished facade,
and vyali-based pillars of later style.
But its importance lies in the four
extraordinary compositions Varaha, Lakshmi,
Durga and Trivikrma.
A drawing of Varaha Mandapam
Elevation of the Varaha Avatar Cavern.
Adivaraha Mandapam
Dedicated to Adivara, this is under worship. But
the later constructions mar the appearance. Like
Varaha Temple, this has a number of very
beautiful sculptures some being royal portraits
is important. There are two inscriptions of
importance, one of which lists all the ten
avataras of Vishnu.
Adivaraha Mandapam
Dedicated to Adivara is under worship, but the
later constructions mar the appearance. Like
Varaha Temple, this has a number of very
beautiful sculptures some being royal portraits
is important. There are two inscriptions of
importance, one of which lists all the ten
avataras of Vishnu.
Ramanuja Mandapam
What should have been the cynosure of Mamallai,
this cave is a pathetic sight with all the
sculptures fully mutilated. Relief of
single-storied temples on either side is a
tribute to the boundless desire of the Pallavas
to be ever inventive.
Trimurti Mandapam
This sheer poetry in stone, is three-celled
without front halls, and are dedicated to
Subrahmanya, Siva and Vishnu. There is also a
niche for Durga These cells contain the deities
in the sanctums, an unusual feature. The
dvarapala-s also fine sculptures.
A drawing of Trimurti Mandapam
Elevation of the cave to the North of the rock
at Mahabalipooram, facing the west with 3
porches well sculptured on the rock, 1816. By
an anonimous artist
Sculptures of Trimurti Mandapam - Brahmasasta
Sculptured figure within the Cave of Capul
Iswar, at Mahabalipooram 1816. Copied by A.
Sculptures of Trimurti Mandapam - Siva
Sculptured Figure within the Cave of Capul
Iswar at Mahabalipooram Central Compartment.
Copied by J. Gould.
Sculptures of Trimurti Mandapam - Vishnu
Sculpture in Cave of Capul Iswar at
Mahabalipooram. Left Compartment. Copied by J.
Gould, 1819.
Sculptures of Trimurti Mandapam -
Figure of Cali at Mahabalipooram Copied by
Many Pallava kings called themselves as
Atyantakama (of-boundless-desires), for which
this monument is an example. The façade is
decorated with eleven excellently modelled
vyalis. There is no clue as to the purpose for
which this has been excavated. There are a number
of unfinished reliefs two elephants with an
unidentified deity on the howdah of each, a
running horse and a shrine within a lion, all
add to the mystery.
Tiger Cave