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Mahabalipuram Manuments - Part 3 (Rathas)


The Pallavas contributions to temple architecture are many, of which conceiving temples sculpted out of single blocks of stone would remain the most important. There are as many as eight in Mamallapuram, each of which has certain special features. The Panch-pandava group is the most important, in which the Dharmaraja Ratha stands out as the best, containing some exquisite sculptures never found later in this part of India. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Mahabalipuram Manuments - Part 3 (Rathas)

Pallava Mallai Unfinished poetry in stone - 3
S. Swaminathan (
Single-stone rathas
Ratha-s are the cynosure of Mamallapuram. They
are made out of single living rock and hence
are called monoliths (one-stone). Each is a
complete temple. We may even say that they are
sculptured replicas of temples in the round.
Single-stone rathas
The Pallava-s are the pioneers in this branch
of temple architecture. And for reasons unknown
to us, even the Pallava-s have not attempted
ratha-s outside Mamallapuram.
Single-stone rathas
There are nine of them in various locations. The
group called Panchpandava Ratha-s is the most
important. There is one more in the main
complex, called Ganesa Ratha. There are three
in the outskirts the two Pidari Ratha-s and
the Valaiyankuttai Ratha. Apart from these there
are a few where work had been abandoned
immediately after the starting of the
One cannot but wonder why did they make so many
and in so scattered places.
Single-stone rathas
The Pallava-s revelled in variety. There are
three different forms in plan square, like the
Dharmaraja Ratha oblong, like the Bhima Ratha
and apsidal, (the Sahadeva Ratha).
There is variety in superstructure
too pyramidal with octagonal crown like the
Dhahramrja Ratha pyramidal with square crown
like the Pidari Ratha wagon-roofed like the
Bhima Ratha hut-roofed like the Draupati Ratha
Single-stone rathas
On sculpting monoliths
Unlike building structural temples, causing
monoliths is fundamentally sculpting. The
sculptor working in situ cannot afford to make
any mistake. Should there be a mistake, like
chipping of a nose, the work will have to be
Single-stone rathas
On sculpting monoliths
It was difficult to work in certain postures.
The sculptor may have to stand, squat or crawl
precariously on a rickety scaffold. This may
explain why, in many cases, the foot portions
are generally incomplete.
Pancha-pandava rathas
Visiting the Pancha-pandava Ratha-s would be an
unforgettable experience.
In this seemingly disorderly conglomeration of
sculptural forms of varied shapes and sizes, is
a part of a grand design. These are carved out
of two hillocks, which lie north-south.
The tallest Dharmaraja Ratha and the Arjuna Ratha
have eight-sided top, the Bhima Ratha is
wagon-shaped, the Draupati Ratha is hut-like and
the Sahadeva Ratha is apsidal. This variety is
astounding and the over all effect is
enchanting. Three free-standing animals - an
elephant, a lion and a bull - are the hallmark of
the Pallava craftsmanship
Each one of the ratha-s is of different
form this enables us to study the development of
temple architecture
These are all unfinished in various degrees this
helps us following their sculpting techniques.
Sculpting of monoliths has to start from the
top. This can be seen in the Dharmaraja
Ratha, where the third level is almost
finished, the second level less finished, and the
ground the least.
Let us see how the rathas looked in the last few
centuries, when they were lying neglected by us,
but attracted the attention of the Europeans.
A photo by Alexander Rea 1880
Drawing for the aquatint by the Daniells, 1799
Sculptured Rocks, At Mavalipuram, On The Coast Of
Coromandel Thomas William Daniell, 1799
Mahavellipore.  The Five Raths from James
Fergussons book 'Illustrations of the Rock Cut
Temples of India'.
Water colour 'North View of the 5 Pagodas about
one mile south of Mahabilipoorum showing also a
Lion and Elephant, the latter as large as life,
the former larger, the whole cut sculptured from
solid Granite stones from a Sketch by Mr J.
Braddock. J. Gantz'.
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Dharmaraja ratha
Pinnacle of achievement of the Pallava sthapati,
stands tallest, and has three levels. Along with
its Dravida shikhara is a visual treat. There
are sculptures and those on the higher levels
are iconographic delight. This is the only ratha
containing inscriptions, of which some are
This ratha, dedicated to Siva, is the pinnacle
of achievement of the Pallava stapati-s, of
their controlled artistry. Its shape is
exquisite, and it is a magnificent sight, even
though it is incomplete. The shrine has quite a
few exclusive features. The ratha has three
floors, the only ratha designed to have a
shrine in each level.
The sanctum on the top floor contains a
Somaskanda relief sculpture on the back wall. It
is the only ratha that contains inscription,
mostly label inscriptions. One of them calls
the shrine as Atyantakama-Pallavesvara-Griham.
This would mean that it is caused by
Atyantakama. Who is this Atyantakama is a
subject of controversy.
Its architectural embellishments, including the
crowning glory, the crown, are a visual treat.
In the sculptures the sculptors have some
exquisite icons of the Tamil country. Both the
architecture and the sculptures are perfectly
balanced. This perhaps provided a model for all
the shrines in the region, which can boast of
some of the greatest shrines.
Originally intended to have a shrine in each
floor, the ground floor is incomplete and the
steps to reach the upper level has not been
made. But one can go from the second level to the
The basic plan is square but the neck and the
crown are octagonal. The basement is not
finished. At the ground floor level we see the
ardha-mandapam and its two pillars and two
half-pillars, all vyala-based in various stages
of incompletion. On the two ends on each face we
see two life-size relief statues.
Let us go around the gallery at the ground level
There are a number of similarities among these
relief sculptures.
Posture All are marked by a static pose, the
sthanaka pose in sama-bhanga and sama-pada, the
pose in which they would be depicted if they are
to be worshipped as in the icons in the
sanctum. Most of them have right hand in
abhaya-mudra and their lower left hand on the
hip (katyavalambita hasta)
Dress The lower garments shown are of two types.
The other is a tight garment, kaupina-like.
One is a skirt-like worn in the kachcha
Mostly these are secured by waist-band
(kati-bandha), some times along with a loose
waist-girdle (kati-srinkhala) and also a flat
cummerbund (udara-bandha).
The sacred-thread would be seen as a rolled
piece of cloth (vastra yajnopavita) or in
strands (sutra yajnopavita), worn in the normal
(upavita) style or with the lower end passing
over the right hand, called nivita fashion.
The vastra yajnopavita is very often found to be
with clasps.
Headdress Siva would have jata-makuta and all
others may be portrayed with makuta-s, mostly
karanda-makuta or kirita-makuta.
Ornaments Unlike that became to be a fashion
later, most icons have very scanty ornaments
over the body. Kanthika is the common neck
ornament. Some of the icons are decorated with
bangles (kankana-s and valaya-s). The ear
ornaments are of two kinds one is a
makara-kundala-s, mostly, hanging from a
distended ear-lobe, and the other is
patra-kundala-s. It is interesting to note that
we come across with images with different
kundala-s on the two ears, which is seen all
over Mamallapuram.
West face-North
Siva, perhaps as, Bhairava In kaupina-like lower
garment, holding a deer on his left hand and
rosary on the right hand, with a snake coiling
around his thighs raising its hood on his left
Siva Wearing jata-makuta, holds a serpent in one
hand and a kamandalu on the other. His lower
garment in kaccha fashion is unusual so is both
the upper hands that are hanging down.
West face-South
North face-East
Harihara, A composite figure, a iconographic
feat of depicting two dissimilar deities. Sivas
with jata-makuta on the right, cylindrical crown
of Vishnu on the left. Siva holds an axe in the
upper right hand, and the lower right is in
abhaya mudra. A snake coils out from the waist
on Siva's side. The Vishnu part must have had
a conch shell, and holds a discus on the upper
Brahma Four-headed, upper right and left hands
holding lotus buds.
North face-West
East face-South
Subrahmanya On this corner is a four-armed
Subrahmanya. It is a youthful figure with the
upper right hand holding an aksha-mala and the
upper left a lotus.
Ardhanari This is an exquisite modeling of a
perfect balance of the feminine and the
masculine features and a graceful poise. The
droop in the shoulder, broad shoulder of the
Siva half are prominent features. Its upper
hand, of Parvati resembles swaying trunk of an
elephant. The mukuta also is a combination of
jata-mukuta and karanda-mukuta
East face-North
South face-East
Siva Having jata-makuta, holding an axe on his
upper right hand and, perhaps, aksha-mala on the
upper left hand, his dress similar to that of
Subrahmanya in the adjacent niche.
Narasimha Pallava A majestic royal figure with
tapering crown and royal regalia heavy gold
earrings, a jewelled necklace, garland of
strands of pearls worn like yajnopavita, a
jewelled stomach-band, and three gold bracelets
on each wrist, familar garment, but not special.
East face-North
A number of royal titles in the Pallava Grantha
script are inscribed above most of the figures.
Here are a few samples.
Atyantakama Anekobhaya
Srimegha Trailokyavardhana
Pridhivisara Sridhara
The horizontal superstructure above is complete.
The curved horizontal member is decorated with
a number of kudu arches. Below that is a frieze
of bhuta-gana-s. Above the cornice are human
beings and lions and monkeys, in the pose of
On the first storey, on the outer side is a
series of mini-shrines, which became the
standard ornamentation in temples later.
Between these and the walls is a circumbulatory
On the niches of the wall inside are some
excellent figures, some of which are just
Some introduction is in order to appreciate the
sculptures in the upper two floors
Let us look at the very enterprise working on
the most difficult material, with rudimentary
tools, cramped space and with inconvenient
working postures what the sculptors have achieved
is truly astounding
figures that are youthful, full of vigour,
devoid of contrived movement, with emphasis on
clear outlines and with very few ornaments that
dont distract a superlative spiritual art appear
for the first time in the Tamil country, and .
. . . the last time
Full of feeling (bhava) from benign (saumya) to
malevolent (ugra), in variety of postures,
ranging from samabhanga, dvibhanga, tribhanga
to atibhanga, and covering the whole gamut from
frontal to profile looking as if emerging out of
the walls with gusto, make these animated figures
some of the best this culture produced.
Their varied iconography, forms and poses make
them important in the study of Indian
sculptures. These compare well with those in the
Arjuna Ratha in the same complex and those in
the Great Penance panel.
There are more than forty reliefs Fourteen forms
of Siva, as slayer of evil, a benefactor of
devotees, as player and teacher of music and
dance, and composites, like Harihara and
Srdhanari. Other deities are Vishnu, Subrahmanya,
Brahma, Surya and Chandra. Human beings are well
represented, which includes, interestingly members
of temple establishment priest, his assistant,
temple-cook and temple singer.
Now let us go around the gallery of the Pallava
sculpture in the second level.
Dharmaraja Ratha Sculptures II Level
The level is a wonderful gallery of icons, which
became models for later icons. Many of them carry
titles of the builder.
Showing temple staff (above) is unusual.
West face
Siva as a divine beggar is seen carrying a
human skull for a begging bowl, a pasa, a
trisula and a staff on the right shoulder on
which hangs the dead body Vishvaksena. With the
right foot kept slightly forward and alert, this
is a typical Pallava icon. One can see a slight
change in the depiction of nose, from a flat
Pallava nose a sharper one, a precursor to the
later Chola bronzes.
West face
Woman devotee
A graceful devotee walks towards the shrine
carrying a holy water for puja. Postured in
tribhanga suggests her moving towards the sanctum
with careful gait. Her features, bust, hip, legs
etc, her almost diaphanous skirt, and
unobtrusive, but significant, ornaments,
karanda-makuta, patra-kundala-s, anklets on both
legs, make her an important creation of the
Pallava sculptors. She is the only female in this
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North face
Vinadhara Siva
One of the earliest Pallava depictions, Siva
stands graceful, holding his rod-like vina
close to his chest and is playing attentively,
as can be seen from his lowered head. Elsewhere
we may find Vinadhara Siva in sitting posture
North face
Siva as teacher of dance
Siva as Natarja is very common, but Siva
instructing his foremost disciple, Tandu, who
gave the name Tandava to the art, is rare. The
student is a personification of guru-bhakti and
dedication, who is attempting early steps under
gurus watchful eye.
North face
Chandesanugraha Siva
A separate shrine for oneself is what one would
earn for unflinching devotion to the Lord, and a
pilgrimage to a Siva shrine would not be complete
without paying respects to Chandikesvara. His
rare devotion is rewarded by a warm embrace
of Tenderness from the Lord. Sivas countenance
is benign and that of the devotee is of
utmost gratitude, devotion and total submission
to the lord.
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North face
Siva as Gangadhara
Gangadhara is a favourite motif for the
Pallava-s. In this lovely portrayal Siva is seen
holding Ganga while she descends. Ganga on his
upper, left hand, aksha-mala in the upper right,
lower right in mushti-hasta posture and palms of
lower left suggesting anugraha, is a stately
Siva as Gangadhara in tribhanga. Ganga is seen
North face
Vishnu with Garuda
Vishnu is resplendent in his royal attire. His
mount, identified by the beak-like nose, is as a
youthful person. The submissive Garuda resting
his left palm on his knee, ready to bear the
lord, who is holding him with vatsalya. The
sculptor could create a masterpiece in the
narrow confine available to him.
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North face
Siva as Kalarimurti
Dancing in chatura pose on demon Kala, deer in
upper right hand, trisula in upper left, parasu
in lower right and lower left pointing at the
demon, the right leg firm on the ground and the
left raised to attack Sivas action is palpable.
The vanquished Kala with two small tusk-like
teeth projecting on the corners of mouth is a
pitiable picture.
North face
Siva as Rishabhantika
Rishabhantika, in a relaxed tribhanga pose is an
exquisite composition. His matted hair is made
into a turban with a jewel on its top. The lower
left hand, resting on his hip, has the third
and thumb folded his lower right hand kept
elegantly on the hump of the bull. The lively
bull is looks enjoying the presence and
caressing of his master.
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East face is unusual for a few temple staff are
depicted here. For once we get an idea how
common people looked like fourteen centuries ago!
West face
Temple singer
A temple staff, maintained by temples even
today, is seen strumming a vina. The right hand
and his facial expression indicate that he
singing enraptured. His simple dress and his
matter hair make that he does not belong to
well-to-do section of the society.
West face
Cook (Svayampaki)
We now meet the cook of the temple in a demeanour
very similar to temple cooks of present day. He
carries food on the right hand held aloft over
his shoulder, a large-size key on his left
shoulder, top-knot on head, lower garment in
kaccha fashion and sporting a yajnopavita. A
lively portrayal!
West face
Temple Attendant (Paricharaka)
This bearded attendant is carrying a bell,
holding by its top handle, on his right hand.
He wears a jata-bhara. His expression is one
of utter devotion to his service to the lord.
West face
Priest (Archaka)
His top-knot of hair, yajnopavita, lower garment
in kaccha fashion are all typical of a priest.
His kanthiki on the neck and kundala-s as ear
ornaments adds to his importance. He is holding
a long basket in his left hand and performing
archana. Deep devotion to his duty can be felt
in the composition.
South face
A dynamic sculpture of Siva in tribhanga
pose, carries rosary and, interestingly, chamara
and sports patra-kundala on the left ear, and
intriguingly, none on the other ear.
South face
Andhakari Siva
Siva vanquishing Andhaka is another panel of
great sensitivity. The posture is vigorous, legs
astride, with the right one on of the asura.
His lower left hand holds a trisula. In his
triumphant posture Siva looks calm and composed.
Andhakasura, with curved side tusks showing out
of his mouth, lies on the ground writhing, fear
and pain writ on his face.
South face
Vinadhara Siva
Crossing legs, relaxed and graceful Siva is
enjoying playing on the vina. The upper left hand
rests on a gana and the other holds a damaru.
His has a very heavy jata-bhara. A
patra-kundala adorns the left ear. That he has no
yajnopavita is noteworthy. The pot-bellied gana
sports an unusually large patra-kundala-s.
South face
On the central niche on this face of this temple
for Siva, interestingly, is a sculpture of
Vishnu. It is in sama-bhanga, like those which
are in the sanctum and for worship. The
posture, dress, standards and ornaments are
those that are normally found for Vishnu.
South face
Siva with Nandi
Siva, in perfect beatitude, rests his left hand
on Nandi in human form. His benign smile and
deep inner contemplation are the hall mark of
the Pallava sculptor. The bhaktas humble
reverence is also truthfully depicted.
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South face
Kaliamardana Krishna
A grown up Krishna, adorned with peacock
feathers, heavy patra-kundala-s and a
vastra-yajnopavita, stands on Kalia, the
serpant-demon in human form, holding its
tail, his left foot planted firmly and the right
one tramples upon the writhing demon. The
fanciful and imaginative artist has used the
restricted space to manage a dramatic moment of
energy and power!
South face
This is another beautifully modelled Siva, very
similar to the one we have seen before on the
extreme west on this face.
The top level is similar to the second level, but
smaller. On the west side is cut a
sanctum, which is finished with a relief
sculpture of Somaskanda. On the walls of the
shrine also we have sculptures of great beauty.
Dharmaraja Ratha Sculptures Top Level
It has Somaskanda in the sanctum and beautiful
sculptures on the walls.
Siva sits comfortably on a simple seat and lower
right hand is in an exposition pose. What he
holds in the upper hands are indistinct. Uma is
seated facing Siva. A playul Skanda sits cozy on
her mothers lap. On either corner hover two
gana-s with chamara. Vishnu and Brahma are shown
standing on the sides, and would be shown behind
the pair in later compositions.
The shrine is guarded by two gatekeepers with
clubs. They are lively, attentive and,
relaxed, with a faint smile, a tribute to the
Pallava craftsmen. They are attired in loosely
coiled cummerbund, Vastra yajnopavita, heavy
patra-kundala and jata-makuta, appropriate to
their station.
Two almost identical devotees, one on either
extreme niche of the west face, are refined
sculptures, exuding great charm and in stylistic
unison with the rest on this floor.
The walls of this floor are some excellent
depiction of devotees too. On the central niches
on the three sides are found divinities. All
others are sculptures of devotees.
North face
Chandra stands in sama-bhanga posture, With a
circular halo. Two sacred threads from the two
shoulders, worn in the channavira fashion is a
special feature. He holds a lotus (nilotpala) on
his right hand and the left is on his hip
(kati). There are similarities with Chandra in
the Great Penance panel.
East face
On this face is Surya, and is very similar to
Chandra on the other face.
South face
This Siva as the preceptor is one of the finely
modelled sculptures and is a rare icon. The
south-facing idol here is in the standing
posture, with left leg firmly on the ground, the
right leg bent at the knee and almost touching
the shank, is graceful, but uncommon and
reminds us of the ascetic in the Great Penance
panel. His head is tilted and is in a
contemplative mood.
The Pallava dvara-pala-s are an interesting
study. In this face as well as on the eastern
wing on both sides of the central divinity are
two pairs of devotees. There are similarities
among the inner-pairs and among the outer
pairs, but they are not mirror images, to avoid
monotony, a trait not found in later times.
The inner pair and outer pair are differentiated,
particularly, in terms of dress in the
kachcha-fashion lower garment for the inner ones
and tight for the outer ones. In both the
cases, they are retained, in many cases, by a
belt (kati-sutra) and a ribbon-like bad looping
around loosely. A faint smile on the faces
speaks of the calibre of the Pallava craftsman.
East face
The sculptor has also differentiated the two
pairs of the devotees with the main figure,
Surya. Sama-bhanga of Surya against tri-bhanga,
the chin-up posture of the central god opposed
to the slight downward look of the rest.
We have an important inscription on the top
floors. These inscriptions have a role to play
in the debate on the authorship. One among them
on the east, above the sculpture of Surya names
the shrine as Sri Atyantakama Pallavesvara
griham In the Pallava Grantha characters.
The finale, the octagonal shikhara, is the
crowning glory of the Pallava-s, and became the
model for all the temples in the south then
onwards. Kudu arches embellish all the eight
sides With floral designs on all the corners
remind us of typical brass work of later
period. On the top of the crown is a lotus base,
to which a stupi, a symbolic final piece would
be inserted, before the actual consecration
ceremony. A stupi was found at the bottom of
the east corner of the temple.
We come out of the ratha, with a sense of
fulfillment, of having seen a gallery of
exquisite icons of the Tamil country and with
the pride that our ancestors attained such
artistic heights.
Here are a few vintage views
Photo by Alexander Rea 1880
Figures sculptured on the North side of the
Lower Story of the Square Ruddam at
Mahabalipooram. Copied by Nujeebulla.
Figures sculptured on the Lower Story of the
Square Ruddams at Mahabalipooram. Copied by
Nujeebulla. 1816
Sculptured Figures on the 2nd Story of the
Square Ruddam at Mahabalipooram. Copd. by J.
Sculptured Figures on the 2nd Story of the
Square Ruddam at Mahabalipooram. Copd. by J.
Mustie, 1819.
Sculptured Figures on the 2nd Story of the
Square Ruddam at Mahabalipooram. Copied by J.
Mustie 1819.
Sculptured Figures on the North side of the
Second Story of the Square Ruddam at
Mahabalipooram, Copied by J. Mustie, 1819
Sculptured Figures on the South side of the
Second story of the Square Ruddam at
Mahabalipooram. Copied by J. Mustie, 1819.
Bheema Ratha
The Bhima Ratha looks massive and virile. This
striking immensity fits in with the popular name
of the shrine after the hefty Pandava brother.
Another striking feature is the shape of the
superstructure. This is shaped like a wagon-top.
This one reminds of the wooden original much
more than the others, particularly the end
portions of the crown.
It is a two-storeyed ratha, but the upper level
is not functional, though a narrow ambulatory
passage is provided.
The upper level is complete, where some
excellent architectural features can be
seen. This ratha also remains unfinished at the
ground level. There are very few sculptures and
no inscriptions in this ratha. You can see a big
crack running diagonally which could also be the
reason for the stoppage of the work.
A long, shallow niche on the eastern wall must be
the sanctum, where vague outlines of Reclining
Vishnu could be gleaned. This, perhaps, dictated
a rectangular shrine.
The requirement of rectangular sanctum is
accomplished by choosing a barrel roof, which
resembles roof of a wagin, hence called sala.
A few features of the superstructure are of
architectural importance.
The cornice has well shaped kudu-arches, one
pair for each bay.
Above that we see a string of five beautiful
sala-s and two karnakuta-s at the ends, all
connected by harantara-s.
Beyond this we see the wagon-shaped roof.
Between the two is a narrow passage.
On the roof we see five kudu-arches. Each is
supported by a pair of half-pillars. These are
sculpted on the griva (neck). These provide
niches, called nasika-s (nose).
These are most likely duplication of the
ventilators of the timber-brick temples of the
There are beautiful royal figures, sculpted upto
the bust, in some of niches.
The sides have some interesting features,
perhaps, these duplicate the contemporary wooden
On both ends of the arch are seen makara-s in low
relief. From their mouth emanate floral
decoration reaching to the top.
There are six dainty brackets form another
decorative element.
In the middle is a relief of a model of a
single-storey temple, That gives an idea of
contemporary temples in timbre. Similar replicas
would be seen in Ganesa Ratha and Sahadeva Ratha
too. An actual one can be found in the Shore
Temples complex.
Arjuna Ratha
Arjuna Ratha
Arjuna ratha is an irresistible sight. It is
similar to Dharmaraja Ratha, square and
pyramidal, and with an octagonal crown, but
smaller in size.
Its two storeys are not functional. For those
who feel sorry to have missed the exquisite
sculptures on the upper floors of the Dharmaraja
Ratha they have some consolation here.
The niches on the outer wall can boast of
some of the best that the Pallava sculptors
produced in the classical style.
Its outer walls, both at the ground level and
upper level, are veritable gallery of relief
It is unfortunate that there is no approach to
the upper tala and the sculptures there will
have to be savoured only from distance.
The facade
Basement is supported by elephants and vyala-s
and is common with the Draupati Ratha. Till a
few years ago this was covered with sand.
The facade
The adhishtana is of the pada-bandha type.
The facade
The cornice is similar to that of the
Dharmaraja ratha, carries three pairs of kudu-s.
The facade
Above the cornice are a sala, two karnakuta-s
all connected by harantara-s. This is repeated
on the roof of the first storey.
The facade
The ratha is topped by a beautiful sikhara
The facade
Unlike the Dharmaraja Ratha there is no
circumbulatory passage in the first floor nor
there an approach to the upper floor.
The facade
There are a few beautiful divine couples carved
upto the waist on the niches in the first
floor. When these are not even fully visible from
the ground, what would have been the purpose of
making these figures there?
Sanctum Before savouring the sculptures on the
outer wall, let us a quick look at the sanctum.
The sanctum has a narrow ardha-mandapam in
front. It is empty except for a pedestal carved
on the back-wall, for fixing the image of
Somaskanda. A socket for taking a linga, which
looks too large for the shrine, must be a later
addition, as also the crude outlet for
abhishekam water to go out.
Around the sculptural gallery Now we are ready
to go around the Ratha gallery. The outer walls
on all the three sides contain some beautiful
sculptures. All the central niches contain
divine figures. On both the sides we have human
figures, mostly royal couples. And in the corner
niches are princely youths, perhaps doorkeepers
in pensive and devotional mood.
On the right Vishnu is shown resting on the
shoulder of Garuda, his eagle mount, who is
here depicted in man-like form, identified by
the beak-like nose, kneeling next to his Lord,
with his finger to his lips, requesting the
spectator's silence. Garuda in human form was
depicted on the 2nd level of the Dharmaraja Ratha
Northern wall
Eastern Wall
Indra on Iravatham or Subrahmanya, on his mount
elephant. The expression on the face of the god
is benign and the animal figure is a result of
careful observation.
The one on the right is exceptionally modeled
round shoulders, narrow waist, tapering thighs,
supple but strong legs and arms like proverbial
creepers blushful smile on her face like a
half-blown lotus. What would have been
impossible in the hardest stone has been
attempted. A senior lady is on the left, her
stand contrasting with the other one to enhance
her voluptuousness.
Eastern Wall
Royal ladies
Eastern Wall
Teacher disciple
A staff-carrying rishi with his dutiful sishya.
Who are the two and why are they depicted are
not known.
Eastern Wall
Two youthful dvara-pala-s, strong and alert,
they stand majestically, with outer hands on
the hips. These are ideal figures with round
and robust shoulders, narrow waist, wearing
kirita and patra-kundala-s, with smile on their
full and tight lips And are all characteristics
of the period. The one of the left, sports a
yajnopavita made of skulls and holds a bow.
Southern Wall
Four-armed Siva, cross legged, is leaning on
Nandi. He wears simple jewellery, a necklace, a
patra-kundala on the left ear, jatamukuta and one
uttariya around his waist. Easy, graceful an
relaxed pose, tranquil smile and a spiritual
expression, all within a narrow niche, are a
pinnacle of the Pallava art. Probably this is
the first representation of Siva as
Rishabhantika. There are two excellent depictions
of Rishabhantika in the Dharmaraja Ratha.
Rishabhantika Siva
Southern Wall
Royal couples, majestic kings and demure
queens, are another example of delicate
modeling. The kings with broad chest and
prominent and round shoulders and firm limbs are
juxtaposed with curvaceous torso and soft and
supple limbs of the queens. But who are they and
are they portraits, we may never know.
Southern Wall
The two, shown on the ends in three-fourth
profiles, are another examples of youthful royal
guards. They wear ribbon-like kati-sutra-s and
carry long swords. The one on the left wears
jata-makuta with all the Saivite symbols, a
skull and the crescent moon.
To stand back and savour the site, serenity is
palpable. Isnt it a miracle that the sculptors
could manage all these in hard, unyielding
granite? Thank god they have chosen this hardest
material for us to enjoy their creations after
millennia! All these look that the work was
completed only yesterday!
The two queens, guard and elephant with rider
is an "example of this peaceful, tranquil and
harmoniously balanced classic art",
characteristic of classical art so perfect,
so peaceful a composition. The central panel is
a masterpiece of exquisite feminine beauty.
  • From the Guest Book
  • By Charles Fabri, Former Director, National
    Museum, Delhi

  • From the Guest Book
  • By Charles Fabri, Former Director, National
    Museum, Delhi (Year?)

"The guard . . . . stands in an easy, nonchalant
pose, legs crossed a variety of natural stances
was no problem to the classical artist, who
chiselled these three reliefs. He obviously was
a thorough master of drawing, knew all about
reality, and used this knowledge to create
exquisite beauty.
The two lovely ladies, with slender, elegant
bodies, seem to rest contentedly . . . Both
stand in elegant, aristocratic poses of great
beauty, attractive, gently curving shapes, legs
elongated and their lovely faces seen in two
different inclinations. Their grace and dignified
charm make them exquisite examples of feminine
attractiveness . . they certainly do not seem
very spiritual or very religious in yeaning
they are just beautiful women, and that is what
the artist wished to show.
  • From the Guest Book
  • By Charles Fabri,
  • Former Director,
  • National Museum, Delhi

The amount of realism he was capable of is
best seen in the elephant . . . a superbly
truthful image of the great, slow pachyderm, a
masterly depiction of the animal.
  • From the Guest Book
  • By Charles Fabri, Former Director, National
    Museum, Delhi (Year?)

"Finally, it should be observed how here, in
Mamallapuram, just as in Ajanta, the framework
is unadorned there is hardly a single
decorative device on either the plasters or on
the panel frame. Classical simplicity prevails".
  • From the Guest Book
  • By Charles Fabri, Former Director, National
    Museum, Delhi

Draupati Ratha
This hut-shaped shrine has a relief of Durga in
the sanctum. This relief along with the two
elegant female-gate-keepers are a proof of high
calibre of the sculptors.
The Draupati Ratha is a shrine for Durga, and
it is the smallest in the complex. Its
superstructure is unique and exquisite. The
roof is in the form of a thatched hut. The
sanctum contains a relief image of Durga, which
is again a novel feature for a Mamallapuram
The shrine, of very beautiful shape, sits on
the same platform that is common with the
Arjuna Ratha, supported by elephants and
vyala-s/lions. The thatch-like roof with its
corners ornamented with beautiful scroll work is
an excellent sight. The final element stupi,
which would have been inserted at the time of
consecration, can be seen on the floor.
Inside the sanctum is Durga, standing on lotus,
though frontal and symmetrical, captivating. The
upper right hand holds a discus. The right hand
is in the gesture of protection and the left hand
rests on her hip. The upper left hand is broken
and missing. Four gana-s carrying swords are
shown on the upper corners. The devotee sitting
on the right is doing archana, while the one on
the left is in shown in the gruesome act of
self-sacrifice, cutting his own head.
Sahadeva Ratha
This last of the five temples and has been
sculpted out of a freestanding boulder. The plan
is unique, a semi-circle over a rectangle, and
resembles the hind part of an elephant, and
hence called gaja-prishtha. This is the only
shrine of this plan.
The three-storeyed shrine faces the south. This
was evidently dictated by the orientation of
the boulder out of which it is caused. According
to canons Hindu temples dont face the south.
The ardha-mandapam is supported by two
vyala-based pillars and, but the pilasters are
elephant-based, which is a novel feature.
There are no gate-keepers and we have no clue as
to the identification of the presiding deity.
The rectangular sanctum is empty.
The upper floors are not approachable. They are
similar to the Dharmaraja, the Bhima and the
Arjuna Ratha-s. The kudu-arches contain faces of
gandharva-s. The sikharam is apsidal.
The decorative elements on the south-facing
front resemble the side faces of the Bhima
Ratha. A miniature single-storeyed shrine is
also found here in relief, but it is hexagonal
from bottom to top.
Right next to this monolith stands a large
elephant, carved out of stone. Is it carved
next the shrine to emphasis its apsidal nature?
Ganesa Ratha
This wagon-shaped ratha is almost finished. Its
sculptural quality is very good, particularly of
the architectural details on the superstructure.
It contains an enigmatic inscription, most of
which are reproduced in a few other monuments
adds to its importance.
This is the intriguing inscription as similar
ones are found in the Dharmaraja the
Atianachanda Mandapams.
Ganesa Ratha
The Ganesa Ratha, craved out of a free-standing
boulder, is very elegant shrine and the
ambience adds to it. The name Ganesa Ratha is a
misnomer it was not built for Ganesa, but for
Siva, which is adduced from the inscription found
here. But due to historical twists the divine
son came to occupy it.
As usual first its uniqueness. It is the only
ratha under worship, though a different deity
than the original, has been installed. It is
also the most complete of all the ratha-s.
It contains a very important inscription, in
Sanskrit verses in the Pallava Grantha script.
According to this, the shrine is known as
The fact that this is not the only shrine known
by this name, and that very similar inscription
is found in other temples within Mamallapuram
have been a subject of research among the
experts, as to who were the authors of the
Mamallapuram monuments.
This is the intriguing inscription as similar
ones are found in the Dharmaraja the
Atianachanda Mandapams.
This two-storeyed ratha exudes quiet dignity and
is, like the Bhima ratha, a shrine that is
rectangular in plan. The superstructure has the
familiar arrangement, like the Bhima Ratha. Nine
stupi-s, the finial elements, along with head
bearing a trident on each end of the roof, are
in position.
The pillars and half-pillars are all vyala-based.
Two typical Pallava dvara-pala-s, smiling, shy
and thoughtful, from their cramped niche, greet
The ardha-mandapam, bereft of sculptures,
contains the celebrated inscription.
There are no sculptures on the niches of the
outer wall. But there are a lot of details on
the superstructure.
Because it is of rectangular plan, the ends have
specific design, like we had in the Bhima and
the Sahadeva Ratha-s.
As had in these two temples, we find a replica
another contemporary style of temple. In relief
on each of the end of the shikhara is a tall and
column-like two-storeyed shrine, circular in
section from base to apex.
Ganesh Temple, a photograph, 1870s
Pidari Rathas Valayankutta Ratha
Three rathas lie in desolate majesty on the
outskirts of the town. These least-visited
shrines not only offer scope for study of
Pallava architecture by themselves, but the
captivating natural surrounding provide us quite
a few interesting clues to the now-lost
excavating shrines.
Valayankutta Pidari Rathas
Three ratha-s lie in desolate majesty on the
outskirts of the town. These least-visited
shrines not only offer scope for study of
Pallava architecture by themselves, but the
captivating natural surrounding provide us quite
a few interesting clues to the now-lost
excavating shrines.
Pidari Ratha-s
The names they go by are recent ones. The twin
temples get their name because of the presence
of a Pidari temple nearby, so the other, because
of a small tank, called Valaiyan-kuttai.
Valaiyan-kuttai Ratha
These three monoliths seem to be minor
variations on the Arjuna Ratha theme. They are
smaller, and lack major sculptured figures. All
three shrines are unfinished and there are no
inscriptions. The deities, they were to house,
are unknown nor are their authors.
Though there are no sculptures of importance, its
meticulous sculpturing is a tribute to the
Pallava sthapati.
Particularly, the makara-torana-s, with four
makara-s and two volutes supported by a
central bracket stone, attempted on the northern
Pidari ratha and on the Valaiyan-kuttai Ratha.
We may go into some detail, Two of them are
square-domed and the other is octagonal. The
northern Pidari Ratha faces north, a direction
not permitted in the later canons. Perhaps this
is because of the fanciful nature of the
Atyantakama clan! It must be the same reason why
two are square-crown, while the last is
The three temples, on their own, and their
environs offer study of steps in monothic
sculpturing. On all the three, the unfinished
boulders at the ground level tell give you an
idea how the excavation was gone about.
On the hill to the east of the Pidari Ratha-s
one can see typical makings of square patterns,
the traditional methods of removal of stone. On
the top of this low hill can be seen markings
for the excavation, perhaps for a monolith, from
the top.
As one walks towards the Valayankuttai Ratha
from the Pidari Ratha-s, the picturesque path
also takes you through a few sites where various
stages of cutting boulders can be witnessed.
What a cleat-cut, a butter-cut!