EXOTIC SCULPTURAL MARVEL OF SOUTH INDIA  

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Hinduism is a combination of a long and eventful history. It is a conglomeration of beliefs from diverse sources and numerous variations in content .It is a historical religion that has close similarities to ancient religions of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Persia. As the word HIND - was used by Persians to refer the region of indo-Gangetic plains and the people living there. Evolution of Hinduism in India has passed through many stages of history .The creation preservation and three deities Brahma Vishnu and Shiva represent destruction in the universe. The latter two gods however became the objects of sectarianism from the olden days.  These three deities have largely influenced practical Hinduism till present days.

 As a symbol of its rich tradition, spirituality and culture remains the temples and palaces of the Hindu kings who ruled India. One of which is Mahabalipuram in south India.

Mahabalipuram is one of history’s intriguing enigmas. Situated just 60 km off Chennai on the Bay of Bengal coast in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  Was this sculptural glorification a king’s fancy? A celebration of war victories? A queen’s fantasy? Nobody has the answer. Mahabalipuram a site of many ancient sculptural marvels!

 Mamallapuram was its original name. The word Mamalla means great wrestler, and is a reference to the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I, to whom the title was given.    The town was originally built by King Mahendravarman of the Pallava dynasty, but it was during Narasimhavarman`s reign that it achieved prominence as a seaport. Mamallapuram was the second capital of the Pallava dynasty, which ruled from Kancheepuram. The Pallavas commissioned mythological themes on the rocks at Mamallapuram. The excellent rock sculptures and architectural wonders on this 8-sq km spot have put it on the world map. Legend has it that the name of Mahabalipuram came from the name of the Demon Mahabali, whom Lord Vishnu killed in a dwarf incarnation. These marvels of Mamallapuram embody Pallava art during the 6th to the 8th century AD, and draws visitors by thousands. They represent day-to-day life during the period, mythology and the Panchatantra Tales. A site of many ancient sculptural marvels the monuments here are hewn out of solid rocks. The whole complex consists of 10 cave temples (man-made), 9 monolithic chariots-all in the name of 5 Pandavas, 4 Bas -relief sculpture panels on the rock walls, and the Sore Temple. The main places of attraction are

ARJUNA’S PENANCE an enormous relief made on two huge boulders is the universe itself in stone, throbbing with a vastness of conception. This colossus of art, 27 meters long and 9 meters high, is perhaps the world’s largest bas-relief.   It gets its name from the figure of an ascetic who is believed to be Arjuna, the hero of Mahabharata, doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Siva. However, there are others who think that the figure is actually King Bhagiratha who entreated Siva to let the river Ganges flow over the earth. Among the other carvings on the rock are animals and heavenly beings witnessing the descent of the Ganges from the Himalayas   The two large elephants are remarkable for their artistry, and so are the scenes from the Panchatantra. There is a forest carved out with tribal people and all forms of animal life, just as they would appear in their habitat. Women are clothed in an aura of ineffable grace, a rich inner beauty transfiguring the plainest of them.

SHORE TEMPLE  The most famous monument of Mamallapuram is the Shore Temple. This breathtaking piece of architecture represents seventh century Pallava art, and stands sentinel on the shore, witness to sunrise and sunset alike. The Pallava King Raja Singha built the five-storied Shore Temple on the sea beach at the end of seventh century in pure dravidian sculpture. This temple was the last work of Pallava dynasty. Guarding the temple is Lion-King Nandi or the row of oxen’s.

The polygonal dome protects shrines to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, a masterpiece of its kind, it gained World Heritage listing, and now a huge rock wall seeks to protect it from the vagaries of wind and wave. The Sore Temple Though known as the land of Seven Pagoda’s, there is only one remaining today. This is one of the oldest temples of south India. The Shore Temple forms the backdrop of the

Mahabalipuram Dance Festival celebrated in the month of January/February every year. This festival is an occasion when artists from all over the country come together to perform. The Mahabalipuram Dance festival is an occasion when artists from all over the country come together to perform. The Sthalasayana Perumal temple festivals, Masimagam and Brahmothsavam, are held in the month of March.

Krishna Mandapam The Krishna Temple is one of the earliest rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram. The walls of the temples depict scenes of pastoral life, one with the image of Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill in his fingertips to protect his people from the rain god Indra. The decorated Krishna stall is depicted with the episodes from Lord Srikrishna's life. Caves The Varaha Cave, a small rock-cut mandapam (hall), is a gem with two incarnations of Vishnu—Varaha (boar) and Vamana (dwarf). Particularly noteworthy sculptors here are four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers. The Dharma raja Cave, built in the early seventh century, contains three empty shrines. The Mahisasurmardini Cave (mid-seventh century) has fine bas-reliefs on its panels of enduring beauty. The Somaskanda sculpture radiates peace, power, and wisdom while Lord Vishnu is shown in omniscient repose in a masterpiece of dhwani (the art of suggestion). On the opposite side is a huge theatrical panel showing, Goddess Durga’s fight with the demon Mahishasura, an episode called from the celebrated Sanskrit poem Devi Mahatmya. About 5 km north of Mahabalipuram is another cave called Tiger Cave, a rock-cut shrine possibly dating back to 7th century. Tiger's Cave The main monument complex, has an open-air theatre, where cultural programmes were held for the benefit of the royal family. Rathas A group of structures lying at the southern extreme of Mahabalipuram, amidst casuarina trees, are the famous Rathas (chariots). The Pancha Pandava Rathas, as they are called, are five in number. Out of these, four are carved out of a single rock, while the fifth on the west is scooped out from a small rock. The square Draupadi and Arjuna Rathas, the linear Bhima Ratha, the taller Dharamraja Ratha and the apsidal Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha, constitute the complex. Besides these, there are the Ganesha Ratha to the north of the main hill and two Pidari Rathas on the eastern side. The rectangular Ganesh Mandapam was also built carving out of a whole rock and is worshipped still daily.  The hut-like Draupadi Ratha sports doorkeepers and Durga with a worshipper offering his head. The Arjuna Ratha, facing west, has its outer walls carved with the most graceful figures of gods and mortals. The Sahadeva Ratha with a huge monolithic elephant in front; the Bhima Ratha with its two storeys and lion-based pillars; and, of course, the Dharamraja Ratha—the biggest and finest of them all with its eight panels of exquisite sculptures—provide the visitor with insight into the craftsmen’s skill of a time long gone by.

 If anybody is interested in visiting mammalapuram or want to experience the intricacies of sculpture carving or experience the exotic primitive settings of south India, do get in touch with me.