Between 501 to 1000 CE, Pallavas, Tamilnadu

Singavaram – Sri Ranganathesvara Cave Temple

IntroductionSingavaram is located in near Gingee town and is famous for a live cave temple, known as Sri Ranganathesvara temple. This cave temple is taken as a Pallava cave temple by most of the scholars on basis of its architectural style. Dubreuil suggests that Singavaram could be Simhapura, the capital of Simhapuranadu. On the basis of the name similarity, this Simhapuranadu is assumed to be founded by Simhavishnu. He proposes that this cave temple could have been started by Simhavishnu, however after the finding of Mandagapattu inscription, it is very clear that Mahendravarman I was the first Pallava king to start this tradition. K R Srinivasan suggests that the association of Durga and Vishnu in same shrine shows similarities with few cave shrines of Mahabalipuram. Hence this cave temple could be assigned to Narasimhavarman II Mamalla or Parameshavaravarman I. Narasimhavarman II also had title Simhavishnu so this Simhapuranadu could have been founded by him as well. Whatever theory we accept here, the architecture and style puts this temple to the existing style during Mahendravarman I.

Temple Entrance


Cave Temple and its Architecture – This east facing cave temple has been extended and renovated many times since its creation. It is located high above a hill and can be reached via steps of flights. There is a mandapa created in front of the original cave which obscure the view of the cave in its full. The front façade of the cave is supported on two pillars and two pilasters, as seen in other cave temples of Mahendravarman I. The pillars are with cubical top and bottom parts with an octagonal shaft in between. Nothing much can be said about the cornice and front parts of the cave due to later mandapa addition. The pilasters on the corners are like pillars, having cubical top and bottom with octagonal shaft in between, only difference is that they are still in antis. This feature is similar to the Mandagappatu cave temple. In the niches formed by pilasters are placed dvarpalas, which are very similar to Dalavanur dvarpalas. Behind the front row of the pillars and pilasters is another row of two pillars and pilasters. Pilasters in this row are uniform from top to bottom, however pillars are similar to the front row. Most of the faces of the pillars, front and back, are shown with full lotus medallion similar to Dalavanur. The two rows of the pillars separates mukha-mandapa and ardha-mandapa within the cave shrine. From the style of pillars forming three bays and two rows of the pillars, this cave can be assigned to Mahendravarman I.


Vishnu as Sheshashai - image courtesy Arvind Venkataraman


On the back wall of the shrine is a magnificent image of Vishnu as Anantasayana, which covers almost the whole wall. Vishnu is shown reclining on the coil of Sesha, whose five hoods are shown above the head of Vishnu such as to form a shade. Brahma, seated on a lotus, is shown issuing out of Vishnu’s naval. Vishnu’s left hand is in kataka mudra while the right hand is patting the coil of Sesha. Brahma is shown with four heads, three visible, and four hands. In his upper hands he is holding a akshamala and a vessel, while one lower hand is in vyakhana mudra and another hand is resting on his thighs. On right of Brahma is shown a flying gana, who could be one of ayudha-purusha, personified weapon, of Vishnu. His one hand is raised above, holding something, while another hand is pointing in the direction of the legs of Vishnu, where two demons are shown standing. On immediate left of Brahma is standing Garuda. His left hand is raised in suchi mudra, such as warning the demons, while his right hand is on his waist. His wings are shown behind his body. On Garuda’s left are shown two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha. One of them is holding a club while his another hand is stretched in the direction towards Vishnu, in suchi mudra . Another one is also holding his club but the club is shown resting over his thigh. It seems that both of them are planning how to attack over Vishnu. Seeing them planning and as Vishnu was sleeping, so Garuda is shown warning those demons. In meantime Sesha also sees the demons approaching so he spits fire from his mouth to move them away. However later Sesha realized that he has not taken permission from Vishnu hence he is ashamed over his act. However Vishnu taps his coil in order to show his approval for his act of spitting fire to move away the demons. The best description of fire and movement of the demons is depicted in Anatasayana panel of Thirumayam. Below the coil of Sesha, on southern side, are shown four figures sitting on ground. Three figures are shown wearing kirita-makuta and raising a hand in adoration. The fourth figure is of Bhu-Devi, who is shown near the feet of Vishnu. This image has been redone many times since the original image of Pallavas hence the original image attributes are not very much clear.


Durga - image courtesy Arvind Venkataraman


There is a niche beyond the dvarapala niche on northern end. Durga is shown in this niche, standing in tribhanga posture over a buffalo head. This buffalo head represents demon Mahishasura, hence this mudra of Durga is perhaps just after slaying the demon. She has four arms, in upper right hand is prayoga chakra (discus) while upper right hand is holding a sankha (conch). Lower hands are resting on thigh and waist. She is shown with minimal ornaments, a characteristic feature of Pallava art. There are two devotees shown kneeling on the ground. Devotee on viewer’s left is shown piercing his palm/wrist with a knife in order to offer his blood to the goddess. In earlier article on Mahabalipuram, we have seen a more violent depiction, in Draupadi Ratha, of this sacrifice where the devotee is shown offering his head to the goddess. Another devotee is shown with one hand in kataka mudra, to hold a flower, while another hand is on his waist.

Inscriptions of Singavaram – There are no inscriptions found in this cave shrine. There are few later inscriptions on the extended mandapa but these seem not to be of much importance.


How to ReachSingavaram is located about 41 km from Viluppuram and 4 km from Gingee and comes under Viluppuram district. From Chennai it would be around 162 km. This is a small village hence you might get proper and regular transport, so arrange a taxi from whichever town you plan to visit here.

Link to Yahoo Map route from Chennai


  1. Pallava Architecture 3 vols by A H Longhurst (1930), Archaeological Survey of India
  2. Pallava Antiquities by G Jouveau Dubreuil (1917), Asian Education Services, Chennai, ISBN 8120605713
  3. Cave Temples of the Pallavas by K R Srinivasan (1964), Archaeological Survey of India
  4. Pallava Rock Architecture and Sculpture by Elisabeth Beck (2006), Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences, Puducheri,  ISBN 8188661465
  • The sculptor of the reclining Vishnu is indeed amazing!

  • Very informative article and great photos.