Architecture of Mamallapuram

A list of various architectural aspects of Mamallapuram.

SHORE TEMPLE. This temple lacks homogeneity in its lay-out; it was built about a century after that of Mahakutesvara and is its direct successor. It is very likely that the Calukyas influenced this type of temple, which is usually classified as purely Dravidian. Actually we find the same characteristics in it as in the Calukya temples. The square cella is surmounted by a square tower which also consists of several superimposed stories on which miniature models of buildings may be noted. The dome is here slightly different and ends in a finial. This top may derive from the amalaka of the Calukya sikharas or have been inspired by them. The little sanctuary attached behind the main cella (logically, it should have been in front of it) seems to have been added as an afterthought. This temple, which is dedicated to Siva and surrounded by Nandins forming a sort of wall, also contains a colossal statue of Visnu lying down. The temples of this type are often classified under the generic name of Pallava after the dynasty under which they were built. This sanctuary lies on the edge of the sea. Its carvings have suffered badly from marine erosion. An apparently unfounded legend assures us that six more temples of the same type have been swallowed by the sea. What is certain is that the coastline has come farther inland, for at low tide many structures and carved rocks can be seen under water. But there is no evidence to support the legend. The date of construction of this temple may be placed approximately at 700.

It houses a linga, the pillar-shaped symbol if Shiva, and is close to the place where the Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma embarked to China in the 5th Century AD. He is also said to have meditated deeply here, sitting in samadhi for a while. The linga is worshiped with bhajans such as Bhaja Govindam.

GANESA RATHA . This ratha is the most complete of them all. The pinnacle has been preserved. This temple was consecrated to the god Ganesa whose effigy stands at the end of the mandapa, the entrance to which may be seen, supported by two columns. The ratha seen here, beside the large stone elephant is the Sahadeva Ratha. The five main rathas are called after the five Pandava brothers and their communal wife, Draupadi, although there has never been any connection between this story of Vedic times and the monuments. The Sahadeva Ratha is dedicated to the twin brothers Sahadeva and Nakula and looks like a replica of a Buddhist temple with its apsidal plan and vaulted roof. According to some authors this form is derived from the stupa itself to which an awning was added to shelter the faithful.

BHIMA RATHA. Immediately after the Draupadi Ratha, comes the Arjuna Ratha, standing on the same basement. A little further on is the Bhima Ratha. It is rectangular in form. It looks like a long hut, constructed on a platform supported by pillars. The first floor is completed, but some of the pillars of the ground floor, on the other hand, seem to have been abandoned suddenly during construction. All these pillars, which according to some authors, derive from the stupa, have a base in the shape of a seated lion. They are not real shrines, but are already miniature models of buildings.

DHARMARAJA RATHA. In spite of the hardness of the granite, the sculptor has succeeded with great delicacy in giving an expression and gentleness to this portrait. For we can be almost certain that it is a portrait. The great of this world already liked to be represented in divine form. The Dharmaraja Ratha is the largest of the five. Its square plan consists of a sanctuary with three real stories, bordered by miniature buildings and surmounted by an octagonal dome. This sanctuary is in all details similar to that of the Kailasanatha and other temples of the same type. Perhaps these rathas were experimental, made as architects’ models for the definitive execution of the temples. This would explain the diversity of the models which had been submitted for royal approbation. Subsequently they could have been transformed into little sanctuaries. The two stories of the vimana of the Dharmaraja arc decorated with carvings, like this one, depicting kings, and queens of astonishing beauty.

THE DESCENT OF THE GANGES. This is a rock face of 30 feet high and 66 feet long, divided into two more or less equal parts by a vertical fault. The whole rock has been carved with human and animal figures in life-size, including elephants. This enormous rock had to serve as a dam to retain the water of an artificial reservoir. The water could flow through the fault and symbolise the Ganges. From both sides animals, flying men, spirits and ascetics hasten towards the sacred stream. The legend of the birth of the Ganges may be seen illustrated here. The animals are treated either very realistically or in a humorous style, as for instance the cat who, with its front paws lifted up, preaches austerity while mice are enjoying themselves at its feet. The quality of the carving of this immense group is excellent and shows once more the mastery of the Pallava at cutting the stone directly.

A detailed examination of this ratha reveals several interesting features. A housewife holding the gesture of welcome, a namaskar or namaste, for her husband. Several dancers holding different mudras or hand positions.

RECUMBENT BULL. This is the bull of the Krishna Mandapa, which is famous for its animal carvings. The natural expression of the bull is rendered in a masterly fashion by the artist’s chisel. The pose is right, the volumes perfectly observed. It is cut life-size in the rock. A man on the path of brahmacharya (a monk ) practicing his sadhana in kriya yoga, to raise his kundalini through his three nadis - the ida, pingala and sushumna, also called the energy channels. A fasting man, practicing the period of fasting on Ekadasi. A good Samaritan performing his selfless duty of Karma Yoga. And an outcaste, being driven away, by the high castes in India’s social division system.

RECUMBENT VISHNU. This bas relief is situated on the left wall of the Mahisasura Mandapa. Opposite is another bas-relief, depicting Durga’s fight with the demon Mahisa. In the first, we see Vishnu lying on the coils of Ananta whose five heads form an umbrella, and dreaming the 188 Creation of the Universe. Flying figures, worshipers and guardians watch over his sleep. The carving of this bas-relief is of exceptional power.


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