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Mahabalipuram Manuments - Part 4 (Structural temples)


Structural temples were the last executed by the Pallavas before their attention was shifted to their capital, Kanchipuram and its environs. However these temples in Mamallapuram were the earliest structural temples in the Tamil country. Even the four that were constructed here bring out the fanciful nature of the clan; the two Shore Temples are built on the very edge of the sea, the Olakkanesvara Temple on top of a hillock and the Mukundanayanar Temple on the ground. The Shore Temples, though highly eroded, have sculptures which would remind of the exceptional grace and beauty in the bygone era. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Mahabalipuram Manuments - Part 4 (Structural temples)

Pallava Mallai Unfinished poetry in stone - 4
Structural Temples
S. Swaminathan (
Structural Temples
Earliest structural temples using stones are
first seen here. Two temples, called the
Shore Temples, are on the sea shore. Olakkaneswara
Temple is on the top of the main hill.
Mukundanayanar Temple is on the boundary of the
town. The very choice of locations betrays the
fanciful minds of the Pallavas the very edge of
the sea, the very top of a hill and the terra
The material
It looks that there has been considerable
experimentation on the choice of the material.
It was hard granite for the cave temples and
monoliths, blackish leptinite for the Shore
Temples, reddish granite for the Mukundanayanar
Temple, softer greyish-white granite for
Olakkanesvara Temple. The main reason for the
erosion of the Shore Temples is due to the
choice of softer stone.
Chronology in Mamallapuram
The Mukundanayanar Temple dedicated to Siva
could be the tentative start to the structural
temple phase at Mamallapuram. The now
more-or-less-gone Olakkanesvara Temple and the
pride of Mamallai, the twin temples on the
seashore followed.
The setting of the Shore Temples is the most
dramatic, washed by the sea waves for centuries!
Its slenderness imparts a special grace to the
temples. Though most sculptures are badly eroded
the architectural proportions and make-up, and
the natural setting on the sea make the edifice
one of the finest monuments in India.
Shore Temples
There is a belief that a part of the town has
been swallowed by the sea. But there are strong
reasons to believe that these temples were built
on the shore, at the very edge of the sea. The
parts of the temple which would have been
normally located in front of the temple are at
the back. It is fairly certain that the
Reclining Vishnu image, a rock-cut one,
sandwiched between the two tall temples, is an
earlier shrine and the Shore Temple was built
around it. An azhvar has sung the God on the
sea shore.
But why locate a temple on the very edge of sea,
exposing to the vagaries of nature? It is not
uncommon for the Pallava-s to attempt uncommon
Shore Temples - a short history
The Reclining Vishnu, of unknown origin, is the
nucleus for the development of this
complex. Rajasimha built two tall stone shrines
for Siva to the east and to the west of this
rock-cut figure, with a prakara wall which runs
around the larger temple.
The rediscovery
This Pallava wonder, like all the Pallava
monuments, was lying abandoned, many covered by
sand, how long we have no idea, till the
Europeans started frequenting the place, for
pleasure. Towards the end of the 18th century
one Col. Mackenzie, an extraordinary person dug
these temples out of sand.
A painting of 1784
A photo of 1890s
Let us first have survey of the complex.
Monuments within the complex All these three
shrines are accommodated in a spacious
courtyard, along with accessory mandapam-s,
prakaram enclosures and gopuram entrances, but
much of it being on the west side.
Monuments within the complex To the north of the
Shore Temples is a well-like deep clearance in
which there are three curios a varaha,
miniature shrine and a cistern. Similarly on the
south there is a shrine shaped like a lion.
Monuments in the environs There are a few very
interesting monuments outside the fenced area.
On the south, on the sand is the basement of a
shrine, either incomplete or completed, but now
without superstructure. A little beyond are a
few sculpted outcrops, like a Mini-Tiger cave. On
to the north is another interesting carved
shrine, called Mahishasuramardini rock.
Shore Temples, its Complex and its Environs
Lithe, sleek and delicate shrines, these are
photographers delight. The setting is dramatic,
washed by the waves for centuries. The two
temples dedicated to Siva. The beginning of
gupuram that became the hallmark of the south
Indian temples can be seen here. The prakaram
once contained some beautiful sculptures were
eaten away by time and waves. Between the two
shrines lies a rock-cut Reclining Vishnu, most
likely the earliest sculpture of Mamallai. While
the complex houses a number of religious
artefacts, in the environs the Pallavas have
attempted to satisfy their artistic curiosity
with every outcrops!
The east-facing shrine is four-storied has a
square plan and octagonal crown. The finial, the
stupi, adds to its elegance. The sanctum contains
an excellent Somaskanda relief and a lingam that
was added later. The attending deities, Brahma,
Vishnu and the gate-keepers are all eroded, so
are most of those on the prakaram.
Shore Temples
Shore Temples
The twin temples are a magnificence sight, the
sea and the sky for the backdrop. The temples are
approached from the east, and enter
Kshatriya-simhesvara, which is the name of the
east-facing temple.
It would have been extraordinary sight during
the Pallava-s to stand on the base of the temple
and watch the sun rising in the eastern waters.
The splendour is the same even today, after 13
centuries, the eroded sculptures adding a
mystical charm a most befitting entry to the
art and commerce of the Tamil country in the
past when Mamallai was a flourishing port, and,
now, to the poetry in stone. The temples are
eaten substantially by time and by the
sea, mainly because of the choice of soft
variety of stone, called leptinite.
To the east of the temple is a flag staff made of
stone, which used to be in the sea, before the
present protective embankment was erected some
years ago.
Kshatriya-simhesvara (East-facing temple)
This is a four-storeyed shrine with a square
plan. The usual sala-s and kuta-s are found only
on the prakara walls and in the second and third
On the four corners on the top of the ground
level are squatting lions and on the top level
bhuta gana-s blowing conches occupy these
positions. This arrangement we see for the
first time and are significant, for these
motifs came to be adapted in later temples.
The sikhara and the stupi are octagonal, and
are made basalt, which is not available locally.
One enters the shrine through a gateway, the
beginning of a gopuram. The shrine is guarded by
two dvara-pala-s, both badly eroded. On the
two side walls of the ardha-mandapam have
Vishnu with his consort and Brahma with
Sarasvati, in highly weather-beaten condition.
Sanctum The sanctum has a relief sculpture of
Somaskanda. Four-armed Siva is shown on a
rectangular seat in sukhasana and on his left
side Parvati with two hands is seated facing
Siva. In between, Skanda as a boy is shown
seated and enjoying the parental affection.
Brahma and Vishnu are standing behind Siva. It
is an excellent composition.
A fluted, but broken lingam, withour avudaiyar is
also found installed in the sanctum. There are
interesting references to the existence of beams
made of sandalwood above the deity, which are
now lost.
Sculptured panels on the prakara The outer walls
of the shrine, the prakara, have tell-tale marks
of some very interesting images. On the corners
are rearing lions, another motif introduced and
popularised by Rajasimha. Besides this, we have
the elephant, ram, naga-s and bhuta gana-s.
A figure of Durga along with her gana-s is carved
on the outside of the back wall of the temple.
Her left leg is resting on her mount, lion and
holds a long bow on his right hand. This relaxed
Durga, is a masterly composition. If only we had
all the originals to view instead of shapeless
weather beaten figures!
The northern wall of the shrine contains a few
sculptural reliefs, some of which are barely
In the centre is a very beautiful Tripuranataka,
on the east a lively Mahishasuramardini and on
the west Narasimha. A host of gana-s, in vibrant
poses, are shown below.
Till the time of Rajasimha, Ganesa we dont find
the image in the Pallava shrines, though in both
the Pandya and the Chalukya temples, belonging
to the same period, Ganesa idols are found
prominently. In the Shore Temples Ganesa figures
start appearing, which can be seen in many
places. Here area few.
Ganesa in the Mini-shrine located to the north
of the Shore Temples
Ganesa on the superstructure of the east-facing
On the outer wall of the northern prakara are
kept a number of loose sculpture panels, and
most of them are difficult to be identified.
There are at least a few interesting and
intriguing sculptures, though eroded
substantially, still identifiable. There are
three panels. that have motifs similar to those
on the Great Penance open-air bas-relief.
On the top one can see the unmistakable posture
of the ascetic. Below this on the right is the
deer pair, and just to the left of the pair is
the cheating monkey with a few mice. What do
these signify and how did these motifs come to be
sculpted here?
The inside surfaces of this wall appear to have
had a series of sculptured panels. According
scholars these illustrate the history of the
Pallava dynasty. But all of them are now beyond
The inside surfaces of this wall appear to have
had a series of sculptured panels. According
some scholars these illustrate the history of
the Pallava dynasty. But all of them are now
beyond recognition. This is perhaps the
forerunner of the well-documented series carved
on the prakara wall of the Vaikuntha Perumal
Temple, Kanchi.
Narapati-simha-Pallava-Vishnu-griha (Jala-sayana
Vishnu Temple)
Half way through the perambulation of the eastern
temple, just behind its sanctum is a shrine for
Reclining Vishnu. It is called
Narapati-Simha-Pallava-Vishnu-Griham, as per an
inscription. It is the oldest image of
Mamallapuram, and is excavated in live rock,
that is, the earliest monolith too! Most likely
this Vishnu shrine was built by an early Pallava
and did not have a ceiling.
Vishnu here is now called Jalasayana Perumal
(God-who-lies-by-the-water), to identify this
shrine being close to water. This is to
differentiate it with the other Anantasayana
Vishnu in the structural temple in the town
belonging to a much later period, which is known
as Sthalasayana perumal (God-who-lies-on-ground
), to mean that the shrine in inland. But
originally this Perumal was the Sthalasayana
Vishnu, sthala here referring to Vishnu sleeping
on the floor, and not on the Ananta serpent.
The sanctum is rectangular to accommodate a
reclining figure. Vishnu is reclining on bare
rock, with head to the south, and has two hands.
The sculpture is somewhat crude, by the Pallava
On the southern wall of this shrine is the scene
of Gajendra Moksham and on the north side is a
mural of Kaliamardana. In the next one Krishna
in the form of a horse is seen killing an asura.
All these indicate that the temples in this
complex are filled with reliefs. Even in the
eroded form all these show great dynamism.
During the Pallava times it would have been a
great sight!
Kshatriya-simhesvara (East-facing temple)
This temple is similar to its twin neighbour,
but shorter and three-storeyed. Four bhuta-s
can be seen seated at the corners blowing conches
on the two floors. These positions are taken
over by Nandi-s in the later Siva temples. The
pilasters on the walls have rearing lion bases,
as is characteristic of the Rajasimha temples.
Kshatriya-simhesvara (East-facing temple)
In the sanctum is a Somaskanda panel, similar
to the one in the other shrine, but smaller and
better preserved. There is a socket cut in the
floor, but the lingam is missing.
In the sanctum is a Somaskanda panel, similar
to the one in the other shrine, but smaller and
better preserved. There is a socket cut in the
floor, but the lingam is missing.
On both sides of the temple are inscriptions of
Main Entrance and Maha-mandapam In front of the
west-facing shrine is the maha-mandapam, an
open-air mandapam. In fact the main entrance to
the shrines has been from the west. This is
understandable as the east-facing shrine is at
the very edge of the sea, which would have been
often unapproachable.
This is a spacious hall with a prakaram. Time
has eaten most, except the basements. Many
sculptures are lost or badly eroded, some of
which are placed in this complex.
The inner side of the pakaram wall contained
relief sculptures depicting the Pallava history,
the other side, of warriors riding lions and
were placed on the walls. Most of these are
lost. Whatever could be retrieved is kept along
the prakaram walls.
Further west lies the main entrance. Two
sculptures are found at the entrance.
One on the southern side is an eka-pada-murti
(one-legged-deity) three heads, six arms
carrying among other things sula and snake,
supported on one leg.
On the west is the naga-raja standing under the
hood of a snake with many heads.
In front of the entrance are three bali-pitha-s,
and these contain panegyric sloka-s in Sanskrit
praising Rajasimha. The entire complex shows the
influence of sea over a millennium.
Shore Temples Complex
On the north of the Shore Temples are a few,
interesting, but intriguing objects a
mini-shrine that has a Siva with his bull and a
Varaha, both excellent sculptures. On the base of
the Varaha and elsewhere are found some important
inscriptions. There is also a cistern with a
royal maiden in relief.
To the north is a lion. Its chest has a niche
of Mahishasuramardini sitting on the
Buffalo-demon. Two lovely women, shown on the
sides, are guarding the shrine. Durga is also
associated with a lion and deer, the latter,
headless now, being sculpted by the side.
The Pallava-s keep us guessing all the time. Now
it is a mini-complex comprising a host of very
unusual, miniature monuments.
Butting the twin temples is a shallow stepped
pit, apsidal in shape. This complex was
unearthed only recently. There are three
curios, boar in the round, a small cylindrical
shrine and a cistern, and an interesting
inscription. Each of these puzzles us, but
fortunately one thing is clear, the
atyantakama here is Rajasimha, and this is
inscribed here!
Varaha in animal form The realistic boar is
carved out of live rock. This must be Varaha
trying to find the feet of Siva, for boars snout
is rooting downward as in mythology, and whorls
and lotus shown between the legs may represent
ocean. Its being carved in the round is also
important, as the Pallava-s didnt sculpt many
sculptures in the round.
There are three important inscriptions on the
front of the pedestal, which are titles of
Rajasimha, in the Pllava Grantha script, in the
characteristic Pallava calligraphic hand. The
titles inscribed are in the front are Sri
Rajasimhah (lion-among-kings), Sri Ranajayah
(victorious-in-battles) and Sribharah
(upholder-of-prosperity), and one, Sri
Chitrakarmmukah (wonderful-archer) on the
western flank. That the same titles in the same
order appear in Mamallapuram, Kanchi
Kailasanatha Temple and Talagirisvara Temple in
Panamalai, add to their importance.
Very close to the boar, on the inner faces of
three upper rim stone slabs on the south-west
side of the well Is another important
inscription. The same text is repeated in a
temple by Rajasimha in Vayalur.
There is a possibility that this image has
suffered vandalism, broken into pieces. It
looks these were collected and assembled, whose
tell-tales marks are visible.
For all the self-praise and after causing a
number of shrines for Siva in the complex, why
did Rajasimha create this unique image of an
avatara of Vishnu in this complex?
To the north of Varaha is another curio, an
unusual mini-shrine dedicated to Siva, a complete
temple in miniature. The east facing temple, is
cylindrical from bottom to top, and is made of
five parts.
The base is part of the mother-rock. A ring open
on the east is the wall of the shrine, with four
half pillars with lion-riders, a Rajasimha motif.
The sanctum houses Vinadhara Siva, sitting on a
bull, a very beautiful miniature idol.
The side walls are Vishnu and Brahma attending on
him. all these miniatures are the unique Pallava
contributions. Time has taken the toll, and all
these wonderful images are badly eroded,
The superstructure has all the components of a
regular temple. Third part is a block placed like
a lid, with chaitya-windows at the
bottom, vyala-s and gana-s alternating above, and
finally, with a griva with gana-s. The fourth
forms the crown, with four kudu-s. The last, the
stupi, is missing.
We have seen similar mini-shrines shown in relief
on the roof of the Bhima, the Sahadeva and the
Ganesa Ratha-s.
To the north of the mini-shrine, is a small well
cut in the mother-rock. It would have no
significance if it did not have a relief image
in it. It is a beautiful goddess or a royal
lady with two female attendants. This composition
is another excellent miniature relief.
Isnt the entire complex exciting and intriguing?
All these fantastic pieces of spiritual
art, seen for the first time, and the last time.
Mini-Durga Temple
A Durga Temple in miniature in the Shore Temples
Complex is another Pallava gift. Durga seems to
be a favourite deity for the Pallava-s and we
have her shrines and her idol in numerous
shrines elsewhere too in Mamallapuram. But the
composition of this temple is most unusual,
even by the Pallava standard.
Shore Temples
Watercolour of the Shore Temple, with a palanquin
and resting bearers by the shore at
Mamallapuram, by George Chinnery, 1802-05.
Shore Temples
Watercolour of the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram,
by an anonymous artist, 1784
Shore Temples
'N W View of two ancient Temples by the Seaside.
Mahabilipoorum. J. Gantz'. 1825
Shore Temples
From James Fergusson's 'Ancient Architecture in
Shore Temples
Watercolour of a general view of the Shore Temple
and beach  at Mamallapuram, by Elisha Trapaud,
c. 1805
Shore Temples a photo in 1890s
Shore Temples environs
To the north of the shrines is a hillock that has
a niche for Durga. On the face of the rock it is
the lion which attacks the demon. Done in low
relief this is a remarkable composition.
To the south, a number of boulders have
been sculpted as mini-Tiger Cave, sitting lion,
running horse etc. There is no end to the
Pallava riddles!
Shore Temples environs
There is no doubt of the Pallava infatuation for
Durga. On most available rock the Rajasimha
sculptors celebrated the Devi. Here on the
northern side another outcrop we have yet
another Durga temple. And it is a Pallava
It is a small rock-cut Mahishasuramardini temple
facing the sea. Being nearer to the sea and left
without protection both nature and vandalaism,
this piece of art of yore would be lost to us in
a very short time.
The small cave shrine facing the sea enshrines a
relief image of eight-armed Durga. The doorway
is provided with lion-based pilasters, and is
guarded by highly eroded female-gatekeepers.
The surprise is on the outside. In low relied
the fighting scene, a unique composition, we see
the vahana of Durga mauling the buffalo demon
which is running away in agony. This scene is the
only one of its kind The Pallava sculptor
abhorred monotony.
Here is a reproduction of a painting done by a
European artist in early 19th century. This
tells you the details that we have lost. And in
the near future, we would lose the remaining too!
Shore Temples environs
To the south, a number of boulders have been
sculpted as mini-Tiger cave, sitting lion,
running horse etc. There is no end to the Pallava
A few hundred metres south of the Shore Temples
along the sand are a few astonishing object
dart. Among the outcrops, there are three low
ones close to each other. These have been shaped
into varieties of shrines. Interestingly, all of
them have models elsewhere, but are not
stereotypes of their models.
There are three boulders which had the benefit of
the Pallava chisels working on them. On the
extreme left is the mini-tiger cave. which is
much smaller, and not so grand as the original
Tiger Cave in Saluvakkuppam. The boulder itself
is far thinner, and couldnt accommodate any
more than a few vyala-heads.
On the extreme right is a slightly bigger
boulder, which has been shaped into a mini-Durga
temple on the chest of a lion. This has more
On the back side of this is sculpted in
relief an elephant with howdah with an
unidentified figure inside it, like in
Saluvakkuppam. Is it a shrine? If so, is it for
Indra or Subrahmanya?
In front of the mini-Durga shrine, on the
smallest outcrop, is a couching lion in repose.
All of them are disfigured considerably exposed
to the natural elements for centuries. One would
wonder whether the Pallava-s or their silpi-s
were atyantakama-s! Arent these quaint? Or
Olakkanesvara Temple
The Pallava fancy in action, again constructing
a temple on the top of a hill! This abode for
Siva has lost its superstructure, and to add to
the woe, most of the exquisite sculptures are
now mostly eroded. Being the tallest point, one
can have a view of the sea and around.
Olakkanesvara Temple
This is a very interesting structure, sadly
neglected and unwisely used for a few centuries
in the near past. Why was a structural temple
built on the top of a hill, we may never know.
Perhaps again the Pallava desire to be fanciful
Located on the hill directly above the
Mahishasuramardini cave, is approachable by a
narrow flight of stairs.
The Temple is without its superstructure and only
a few sculptures remains to appreciate the past
glory. Today it looks rather severe, bereft of
the Pallava charm.
We dont know how this temple was called in the
Pallava time. In the 19th century this temple was
under worship. We understand that it was the
practice in those days of collecting a measure
of oil (Uzhakku-ennai) from the community for
the permanent light of this temple. Thus it
came to be called Uzhakku-Ennai-Isvarar Temple.
Olakkaneswra is its corruption is a view.
It is believed that there grew a banyan tree on
its superstructure and this was the reason for
its damage. The rape of the monument was not the
handy work of nature and the apathy of the
people alone. The British used this for a
light-house in the 19th century till a new one,
around 1900, was built. What a shame, to use
a cultural signpost for signaling!
Believed to have been the contribution of the
structural-temple poineer, Rajasimha, has his
stamp of rearing-vyala-based pilasters on the
four corners of the garbha-griham and the
ardha-mandapam. What we see today just the outer
shell of adi-tala and ardha-mandapam. The
sculptures on the niches and pilasters of the
outer walls, though extremely eroded, give a
glimpse of the Pallava art. There are a few
relief sculptures on the outer walls which are
still discernable.
On the south is Dakshinamurti, Siva as a teacher,
heralding a practice in all Siva temple then on,
Siva as the divine dancer on the eastern wall
and finally, on the north side, an exquisite
relief of Siva subduing Ravana who had the
temerity to lift Mount Kailasa.
This is the highest point of Mamallai. It gives a
commanding view of the vast stretch of the
agricultural fields all around, dotting Pallava
creations here and there, the spread of the Bay
of Bengal, the Shore Temples standing as
permanent sentries and the milling crowd, mostly
Mukundanayanar Temple
Because of the poor quality of work, it is
unbelievable that this was caused by the
Pallavas. But the Somaskanda image in the
sanctum and a few relief sculptures on the
supersturcture are the only saving graces!
Mukundanayanar Temple
Because of the poor quality of work, it is
unbelievable that this was caused by the
Pallavas. But the Somaskanda image in the
sanctum and a few relief sculptures on the
supersturcture are the only saving graces!
Mukundanayanar Temple
The Mukundanayanar Temple, at the entrance to
the town, is an oddity in Mamallapuram, a
Pallava drishti-parikaram. Scholars wonder how
the greatest aesthetic Pallava clan could build
such an uncouth edifice.
It is a pity, that as an introduction to the
treasure of Mamallapuram, it its least
attractive the architectural elements dont
balance, a very freak un-Pallava shrine by the
An inscription mentions its name
as Tiru-makalippa-mudaiyar Temple. Its
importance is not in its architectural features,
but because it is the earliest structural temple
by Rajasimha and contains some interesting
The material used is reddish granite. It is
different from leptinite used for the Shore
Temples and softer greyish-white granite for
Olakkanesvara Temple, the three Pallava
structural temples of Mamallapuaram.
The oblong temple has a pillared ardha-mandapam
beyond which is a square garbha-griham. The
outer walls contain no sculptures.
Kuta-s, on each on both the floors look
incongruous. The upper floor is squarish and
plainer, and the octagonal griva looks rather
tall and the sikharam above is correspondingly
short. These give the shrine a squat and
unbalanced look. Added to this is the poor
But there is some compensation there are a few
beautiful sculptures. The sanctum houses a
typical Pallava Somaskanda, a beautiful
composition. Also found in the sanctum, a round
On the griva are also found some beautiful
sculptures Uma-sahita-murti in the east,
Dakshinamurti in the south, Yoga-Narasimha in
the west and, finally, Brahma in the north.
Mukundanayanar Temple
Mukundanayanar Temple
'An old ruined Temple about half a mile North of
the Village Choultry Mahabilipoorum from a
Sketch by Mr J. Braddock' 1825
Mukundanayanar Temple
Mukundanayanar Temple
View from the S.E. of a Ruinous Temple buried in
the Sand North of the Mavellapooram Rock. Copied
by J.S. May, 1819 from the original by J. Newman.