Between 501 to 1000 CE, Pallavas, Pandyas, Tamilnadu

Pallava Cave Temples of Trichy

Introduction – There are two cave temples at Trichy which can be attributed to the Pallavas. One cave had been excavated by the Pallava king Mahendravarman I as supported by the inscriptions around this. Another cave temple does not have any inscription, however on basis of the design and architecture, most of the scholars have assigned this to the reign of Narasimhavarman I Mamalla. We will look into the details of both the cave temples in this article.

 

Lalitankura Cave Temple – This is cave temple of Mahendravarman I is the farthest one from the Pallava capital, Kanchipuram. It is believed that Mahendra would have got this part of the land from his father Simhavishnu. Simhavishnu, who in turn,would have taken this from the Cholas. Why Mahendra came this far to excavate this temple is not very certain. However it can be inferred that Trichy would have been the last major town in the southern boundary of his kingdom, hence he might be interested to leave his mark there. Another reason for this may be because of association of Kaveri with this town. Kaveri is seen as an integral part of the Cholas, once Pallavas conquered over them, they would have liked to commemorate this. Though Simhavishnu did defeat the Cholas but at his time cave temple architecture was not present in this part of country. Hence when Mahendra started this long-lasting architecture, he did one such construction at this site as well to leave his legacy and mark of victory in the land of the Cholas. Trichy did not remain with Pallavas for long time, after Mahendravarman I this part of the country came under Pandyas or remained under the independent Muttaraiyars till Pallava power extended over it again a century later.

Upper Cave Temple

 

Cave Temple and its Architecture – This south facing cave temple shows various advancements over the first such attempt in Mandagapattu. From its style and design, this would have been the latest construction from Mahendravarman I. This is located on the hill, locally known as Uchchi-p-pillaiyar-malai (hill with Ganesha temple at top) or Rockfort. This is about 200 meters above the ground and is reached by steep flight of steps. The front façade is supported on four pillars and two pilasters, thus forming five openings. The pillars are in usual Mahendra style, cubical top and bottom with intermediate octagonal shaft. The lower cubical parts of the pillars are adorned with lotus medallions. However the upper cubical parts are having various designs in circles, instead of lotus medallions. This feature is seen only in this cave temple of Mahendra. The potikas (corbel) above the pillars are molded with a median patta (band). This corbel style is seen in later Pallava constructions. K R Srinivasan writes that this feature resembles with the cave temples of Pandya origin, as in Tirumalapuram cave temple. This façade has been cut inwards of the cave, resulting in overhanging cornice. The cornice is devoid of any architectural element such as kudu or mini-shrines etc. This deep cutting in on the rock face gave space to construct a three-step staircase in middle front of the cave so reach the platform of the shrine. The stair case is flanked with makara parapets on either sides. The oblong hall inside is of 30 feet in length, 15 feet in width and 9 feet in height. There is another row of pillars behind the front row. This row also has four pillars and two pilasters. The faces of lower cubical part has lotus medallions while the faces of upper cubical part have various designs in circles. In these designs we find females, animals like elephant, swan etc. The arrangement of this inner row is same as of the façade row of pillars.

 

Inner Shrine

 

As the cave is facing south, hence an inner shrine, of 8 feet square and 7 feet high, is cut on the eastern wall of the mandapa (hall). The shrine has a three step stair case in front to reach over to the platform. The platform (adhisthana) is comprised of, from below to top, jagati (in red color), tripatta-kumuda (in orange color), recessed kampa (in violet color), recessed kantha (in sky-blue color), another recessed kampa (in violet color) and projecting pattika (in light green color). Above the platform are four pilasters, forming three niches. The middle one is made into an entrance and the side niches have dvarpalas. The pilasters of the door shows pretty good advancement in architectural style as we observe various components of the pillars found on these pilasters, features which were not seen earlier in Mahendra’s time. These features include various components as suggested by earlier shilpa-sastras i.e. Mayamatam. Above the cornice are characteristic arrangement of three kudus, the middle one is in exact middle of the main entrance and others are in middle of respective niches. Inside the cell are two cavities made in the floor. One hole, about 2 feet square and 2.5 feet deep, would have been for Shivalingam. Another cavity, north of the first hole, is of about 2 feet by 1 feet and 9 inches deep. This would have been for an image of Parvati, as suggested by an inscription of this cave. Some authors, as A H Longhurst, took the inscription such as this second cavity is to house an image of Mahendravarman I, however later scholars, like K R Srinivasan, explained the inscription as this image is of Parvati but not Mahendravarman I. From the arrangement of the holes, it seems that Parvati would have been facing the central deity, in posture of worship perhaps. We will discuss about this inscription later in our article.

 

Shiva as Gangadhara

 

Major feature and attraction of this cave temple is a huge bas-relief carved on its western wall. Below the platform we see a design similar to the rails seen in Buddhist stupas. This rail design is similar to Amaravati stupa, it may be that Mahendravarman or some of the artist/architect have seen such a design and implemented here. However this is just an assumption on the basis of similarity over the design pattern. This bas-relief depicts Shiva as Gangadhara. Shiva is shown standing in tribhanga posture, with one leg firmly set upon the ground while the other leg is resting above the head of a gana. The left hand of the gana supports the ankle of Shiva’s leg while his right hand is carrying a snake. Shiva is shown with four hands, upper right hand is holding a tress of his hair, upper left hand is holding an akshamala, lower right hand is carrying a snake and lower left hand is on waist. On his right, Ganga, depicted in a female form, in anjali posture is shown descending  over to his tress. Shiva is shown wearing a long jata-makuta, makara kundala in his ears, valayas and keyuras (bracelets). On his jata-makuta, left side is shown Chandra (moon) and right side is a skull. He is also wearing a yajnopavita. His lower garment is hanging till his ankles with many folds. Corresponding to Ganga, on left of Shiva, is an animal. A H Longhurst identifies this with a deer, however it is much ruined now. There are two flying vidyadharas which are wearing similar ornaments as Shiva. Their one hand is raised in adoration while other hand is on their waists. Below at the base are shown two devotes kneeling on their feet. Both the devotees are almost similar except the yajnopavita they are wearing. The left one is wearing four strands of sutra-yajnopavita while the right one is shown wearing vastra-yajnopavita. Their one hand is raised in adoration while the other hand is on waist. They both are shown wearing folded long lower garments. Behind these two kneeling devotes are two rishis, as evident from their beard and jata. Their one hand is raised in adoration. Many scholars agree that this is one of the best representation of Gangadhara, and one of the most magnificent piece of art of the Pallavas. This is taken as precursor to the bas-relief panels of Mahabalipuram.

 

Dvarapalas

 

Dvarapalas of the cave – There are no dvarpalas on the front façade. But the inner shrine has a set of dvarpalas. Both the dvarpalas are identical in style and posture. They are almost facing front but slightly turned towards the shrine. Shown in tribhanga posture with one leg on the ground and another is bent at the knee joint. They are standing over the support of their club where palm of one hand is above the handle of the club, which is almost inside the armpit. Another hand is stretched along the side of the club. Top of the club, at the joint of the handle and the heavy base, is a snake entwining over that part. Both are shown wearing yajnopavita, valayas, keyuras, patra-kundalas and necklace. Above the head is jata-makuta, with jata-bhara behind their head.

Inscriptions of Lalitankura Cave Temple – There are many inscriptions found in this cave shrine. They are inscribed on the pillar faces, over the beam and on the walls. We will have a look at the various inscriptions found in this cave. First we look at the inscriptions on the outer row of pillars. These inscriptions are detailed in South Indian Inscriptions Vol XII, number 8 & 9.

Proper right pilaster – वञ्जवलव (Vanjavalav)

First Pillar –    There are inscription on the top, middle and bottom part of the pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight.

Top Cubical Part –  सर्व्वभ[त] (Sarvvabha[t])

Middle Shaft –
तरदण्ड् (taradand)                    | नित्यविनीत: (nityavineetha)         |    निबम्बु (nibambu)
तनुम्पुनोमि (tanumpunomi)      | निरपेक्ष: (nirpeksha)                     |    नयम्बु (nayambu)
तुकानु (Tukanu)                       | निल्वुलेनेयम्बु (nilvuleneyambu)    |    न….कु (na…ku)
तो…का (to…ka)                     | णैहिकमुत्रिक: (naihikamutrika)      |    नरापश (narapash)

Bottom Cubical Part –   द…कु (da…ku)

Second Pillar – There are inscription on the top, middle and bottom part of the pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight.

Top Cubical Part –  संकीर्णजातिः (sankeernajaatih)

Middle Octagonal Shaft –
विरसः (virasah)   | अनित्यरागः (anityaragah)    | वम्बु (vambu)
व्यवास्थतः (vyavaasthath) | अनुमानः (anumanah)  | वुका (vuka)
व्यवसायः (vyavasaayah)  | अवनिभाजनः (avanibhajanah)    | [व्ला]पु ([vla]pu)

Bottom Cubical Part –  चि[त्ति]….प्पु[लि] (chi[tti]….ppu[li])

Third Pillar – There are inscription on the top, middle and bottom part of the pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight.

Top Cubical Part –  सत्यसन्दः (satyasandha)

Middle Octagonal Shaft –
कतुन्क्तायु (katunktayu) | अभिमुरव: (abhimuravh)    | वेसाथ (vesaatha)
क[तु]न्तरम्बु (ka[tu]ntarambu) | अकरुणः (akarunh) | वन्कि….. (vanki….)
कं…..पु (kam…pu)    | अलबल (alval)         | वन्कः (vankah)

Bottom Cubical Part –   पिणःपिनःअक्कु (pinhpinhakku)

Fourth Pillar – There are inscription on the top, middle and bottom part of the pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight.

Top Cubical Part –  ललितान्कुर: (lalitankurah)

Middle Octagonal Shaft –
मैकु (maiku)                   | [च]लम्बु ([cha]lambu)      | ऐमुकु (aimuku)
कष्ट (kashta)                 | किलम्बु (kilambu)            | ऐथि (aithi)
कु….म्बु (ku….mbu)      | म्लायु (mlaayu)                | कुहकः (kuhakah)
वम्बर (vambar)             | वावे…ति (vaave…ti)        | [वु]नाथ: ([vu]nathah)

Bottom  Cubical Part – कुचग्राणः (kuchagranah)

Proper left pilaster – लक्षितः (lakshitah)

Now we look at the inscriptions on inner row of pillars. There are very few inscriptions, found on inner row of the pillars, as compared to the front row.

Proper right pilaster –  गुणभरः (gunabharah)

First Pillar –
Top Cubical Part - अन्क्कपासु (ankkapasu)
Middle Octagonal Shaft –  तो…. (to…..)

Second Pillar –
Top Cubical Part – आसेट्ति: आय[न्ति]”: (aasetti aayan[ti])
Middle Octagonal Shaft - ते…. (te….)

Third Pillar –
Top Cubical Part - आलुप्तकामः (aaluptakamah)
Middle Octagonal Shaft - ते[थ] (te[tha])

Fourth Pillar –
Top Cubical Part - [आहार्य्यबुद्धि]: ([aahaaryyabuddhi]h)
Middle Octagonal Shaft – क…… (ka….)

Proper left pilaster – on inner face of this pilaster
1 स्वस्ति श्री [||] महेन्द्रविक्रमः     swasti shree [||] mahendravikramah
2 मत्तविलासः मयमयक्कु         mattavilasah mayamayakku
3 म…मा…. महामेघ                  m…ma… mahamegha
4 मन्प्रावु मिदेल्चु….                  manpravu midelchu….
5 मुर्खविज्ज मोग्गर                   murkhvijja moggar
6 [महिचे]थ्थकारि                     [mahiche]ththakari
7 …[पन्द] च…[चे]…मु…        ….[pand] cha….[che]…mu…
8 चु…….सा[र्थ्थ]…..                chu….saa[rththa]……
9 …….[सम्ब]रुतु                     …..[samb]rutu
10 [विडे]……न्वु                      [vide]…..nvu
11 damaged
12 …………………….णाल   ………………naal

There is a verse inscription found on the beam of the inner row of the pillars which gives the name of the cave shrine.

Verse in Sanskrit –
इति  जगति विदितनाम्ना ललितं ललितान्कुरेण [पल्लवपतिना]
क्रतिना कारित्मेतल्ललुतान्कुर पल्लवेश्वरगृहं[हितं]

In English script – 
iti jagati viditanamna lalitam lalitankurena [pallavapatina]
kratina karitmetallalutankura palleveshvaragriham[hitam]

Translation –
“It should be known that this Lalitankura-pallaveshvara-griham is constructed by the king Lalitankura.”


There are two long verse inscription found on the pilasters on either side of the bas-relief of Gangadhara. This inscription is very important as it gives the explanation of the relief and few birudas (titles) of king Mahendravarman I which are also found in his other cave temples. This inscription is detailed in South Indian Inscriptions Vol I, inscription number 33 & 34. The number in that volume are interchanged, such that 34 is actually the start of the inscription and 33 the later part. We will also keep the same number to avoid any confusion.

Inscription number 34 –
1 Sail-endra-murddhani sila-bhavane vichitre
2 sailin=tanum Gunabharo nripatir=nnidhya [|]
3 Sthanum vyadha[tta] Vi[dhi]r=esha yathartha-samjnam
4 sthanuh svayan=cha saha tena jagatsu jatah [|| verse 1]
5 Griham=akrita Starumallo girindra-kanya-
6 pater=ggirav-asmin [|] girisasya girisha-
7 [sam] jnam=anvartthikartum=arthapatih [|| verse 2]
8 Vibhutin=Cholanam katham=aham=avekshe-
9 ya vipulam nadim va Kavirim=avani-bhavan-ava-
10 sthita iti [|] Haren=oktah pritya vibhur=adisa-
11 d=abhramiliham=idam=Manu-pra [khyo rajye] ga (gi)ri-bhavana-
12 m=asmai Gunabharah [|| verse 3] Nirmmapita [m=itti muda]
13 Purushottamena sailim Harasya tanum=aprati-
14 mam-anena [|] Kritva Sivam sirasi dharayat=atma-
15 samstham=uchchaih-sirastvam=acha[lasya] kritam krit-a-
16 rttham [|| verse 4]

Translation –
Verse 1. When king Gunabhara placed a stone-figure in the wonderful stone-temple on the top of the best of mountains, he made in this way Sthanu (Shiva) stationary and became himself stationary (i.e.immortal) in the worlds together with him.
Verse 2. King Satrumalla built on this mountain a temple of Girisha (Shiva), the husband of the daughter of the king of mountains, in order to make he name Girisha (i.e. the mountain dweller) true to its meaning.
Verse 3. After Hara (Shiva) had graciously asked him : “How could I, standing in a temple on earth, view the great power of the Cholas or the river Kaviri ?” – king Gunabhara, who resembled  Manu in his manner of ruling, assigned to him this mountain-temple, which touches the clouds.
Verse 4. Thus having joyfully placed on the top (of the mountain named Sira) a matchless stone-figure of Hara (Shiva), which he caused to be executed, that Purushottama, who bore Siva fixed in his mind, made the loftiness of the mountain fruitful.

Some points of ponder in above inscription –
Verse 1 states that Mahendra made Shiva stationary here and in turn made himself stationary as well. E Hultzsch and A H Longhurst interpreted this as Mahendra placed his stone image next to Shiva’s stone lingam. Lockwood interpreted that the Shiva in Gangadhara panel in turn also depicts Mahendravarman, hence both stationary at same place. K R Srinivasan is also of the opinion that there was no image of Mahendra placed with Shiva here. The second socket inside the shrine, where earlier scholar suggested an image of Mahendra would have been placed, was actually made to house an image of Parvati, as clear from verse of inscription 33.
Another point is how to explain the term ‘great power of the Cholas‘ in verse 3 of this Pallava inscription. Simhavishnu won this part of country from the Cholas, and Mahendra got this from him in inheritance. From this information, I deduce that the relation between these two dynasties were not very good, or better I say not that good that you will praise about them in your inscription. Does this suggest that the relations during Mahendra’s time were somehow maintained in good terms? No proof as such to support this. Another thing, this place was under Pallavas when this temple was excavated, in that case why would they inscribed that Shiva wants to view the great power of the Cholas but not of Pallavas?

Inscription 33 –
1 Kavirin=nayan-abhirama-salilam=ara-
2 ma-mala-dharam devo vikshya nadi-priyah
3 priya=[gu] nam=apy=esha rajyed=iti [|] sasam-
4 ka Girikanyka pitri-kulam hitv=eha manye gi-
5 [rau] nityan=tishthati Pallavasya dayitam=etam bru-
6 vana nadim [||] Gunabhara-namani rajany=anena li-
7 ngena lingini jnanam [|] prathatan=chiraya loke vi-
8 paksha-vritteh paravrittam [||] Chola-vishyasya sailo-
9 maulir=iv=ayam maha-manir=iv=asya [|] Hara-griham=eta-
10 j=jyotis=tadiyam=iva Samkaram jyotih [||] Sila-[kha]re-
11 na janita Satyasandhasya bhautiki [|] Murttih kirttima-
12 yi ch=asya krita ten-aiva sasvati [||] Nishkri[shya] chala[sa]-
13 madhayi [Gunabha]re bhaktih

 

 

Translation –
Verse 1. Being afraid, that the god who is nadi-priya (fond of rivers – Shiva), having perceived the Kaveri, whose waters please the eye, who wears a garland of gardens, and who possesses lovely qualities, might fall in love (with her), the daughter of the mountain (Parvati) has, I think, left her father’s family and resides permanently on this mountain, calling this river the beloved of the Pallava (king).
Verse 2. While the king called Gunabhara is a worshipper of the linga, let the knowledge, which has turned back from hostile (vipaksha) conduct, be spread for a long time in the world by this linga !
Verse 3. This mountain resembles the diadem of the Chola province, this temple of Hara (Shiva) its chief jewel, and the splendour of Samkara (Shiva)  its splendour.
Verse 4. By the stone-chisel a material body of Satyasamdha was executed, and by the same an eternal body of his fame was produced.

Some points to ponder on above inscription –
In verse 1, Kaveri is said to be the beloved of the Pallava king. However in inscription 34 verse 3, Kaveri is mentioned with the Cholas, though no specific relation is specified there. Another thing of interest is term nadi-priya (lover of rivers). The representation of this nadi-priya is reflected in the Gangadhara panel, signifying Shiva’s love with Ganga, which is adorning the same wall on which this inscription is engraved.
In next verse, verse 2, we see a term linga. K R Srinivasan suggests that this term, linga, does nor mean Shivalingam here but image of the god. He says that we do not see any mention of Shivalingam in contemporary hymns of saints and also do not find any such symbol in Pallava temples of Mahendra’s time. Hence it should be taken that Mahendra installed a stone image of Shiva but not Shivalingam.
In the same verse, as above, we also find mention of Mahendra’s turn towards Shiva from some other hostile faith. This hostile faith could be Jainism, as accepted by many scholars. Saint Appar is seen contemporary with Mahendra and also was responsible to turn the king into Shaivism. In our previous article, we came to know that Mandagapattu is accepted as the first cave temple excavated by Mahendravarman I and he dedicated that shrine to Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. When Mahendra was turned to Shaivism from Jainism then it is expected from him to excavated temples for Shiva. However he did not do this, instead he excavated many temples dedicated to Trinity and Vishnu, along with Shiva. K R Srinivasan says that it seem Mahendra was a tolerant follower of Vedic (Brahmana) path and later he became ardent Shaiva. Hence his first temples were for trinity, later one for Vishnu and many of his last temples were dedicated to Shiva only. He further states that theory of Mahendra’s conversion by Appar to Shaivism is based upon a much later work, Periyapuranam, and also on the identification of Gunadhara as to same as Gunabhara.

 

Lower Cave Temple

 

Lower Cave Temple – This cave temple is locally called as Lower Cave Temple and is located near the entrance to the Rockfort complex. This cave temple is excavated on an almost vertical scarp of the rock. Due to its almost vertical alignment, there would have been very less cutting to prepare it for excavation. The front façade is supported on four pillars and two pilasters. The pillar is constituted of cubical saduram, octagonal kattu, padma-bandha, kalasa, tadi, kumbha and virakantha. This pillar style seems to be the transitional design from cubical saduram and octagonal kattu pillar style of Mahendra to slender padmasana based oma octagonal shaft with other design elements. Lotus medallions on cubical base are missing, except on one phase of the pillar. The pottika (corbel) above the pillar is curved but without roll and median patta. In the kapota (space under the cornice) we see a horizontal frieze of bhuta-gana. Among these we find a monkey faced gana. The pillars and the pilaster are of similar design. The hall inside is of 25.5 feet in length and 12 feet wide. There are two shrines on two side walls. The back wall is divided into five niches.

 

Various  architectural parts of the pillar are shown in this picture.

Inner Shrine

 

The shrine on side wall has an extended mandapa supported on two pillars. The platform has a horizontal frieze of elephants on the topmost band. The platform is reached by three flights of steps, however the last step is not a chandrashila (moonstone). The front of the shrine has three niches formed between three pilasters. The middle niche is turned into the entrance while the other two niches have dvarpalas. Above the pilasters, on the cornice, we see two kudus. Though we did not find kudus on front façade of the cave but on the inner shrine this design element is found. Inside the shrine is a hole in the floor, perhaps to enshrine a Shivalinga. However the hole for water outlet is perhaps done later as its position is quite awkward, near the left dvarpala. In such a case the plan to put Shivalinga was not originally in but this arrangement was done in later times.

 

 

Dvarapalas of this shrine are carved in semi-front profile, turned towards the shrine. Both are standing is similar tribhanga posture over the support of their club. They are wearing long crown with jata-bhara behind the head. Both are wearing a necklace, bahu-valaya, bracelet, yajnopavita. The features of the figures are not very clear due to much damage they suffered as well as they were not completely finished it seem. The club of the left dvarpala is resting above his feet, feet firmly resting on the ground. Hence he is not standing on the support of his club which is seen from his stance as well. The club of right dvarpala is firmly resting on the ground. The stance of this dvarpala is very similar to the dvarpalas seen at Mahendra’s caves. His one leg is bent at knee. The club handle is almost in his right arm-pit while the palm of another hand is above the handle. His another hand is stretched along the club. Both the dvarpala’s clubs are entwined by a serpent. The features of dvarpalas suggest that the shrine is dedicated to Shiva.

 

Dvarapala

 

There are two dvarpalas on the side wall, on either side of the shrine. However these dvarpalas do not look like dedicatory guardians of a deity that’s why there position is also not proper. They are carved in front profile without any weapon. They are with two hands, one of which is rested on their waist. One hand of left dvarapala is raised in adoration while one hand of right dvarapala is in kataka mudra. They are shown wearing yajnopavita, necklace, bahu-valaya, keyuras. One dvarapala is wearing long crown and another seems to be having a karanda-makuta.

 

Ganesha

 

On the back wall of the hall are carved five niches. The first niche is carved an image of Ganesha. This could be taken as the first such representation of Ganesha in Pallava art during Mahendra and Mamalla period. Another smaller representation is found in Ramanuja Mandapa at Mahabalipuram where Ganesha is seen in bhuta-vali under the cornice. Ganesha is shown standing in sambhaga posture with two attending ganas near his feat. The sculpture is much damaged hence not all attributes of that can be explained. Ganesha is seen with four hands, in upper left hand is perhaps a noose, while the upper right hand might be having ankusa (elephant goad). The lower hands were perhaps above the gana heads. The ganas are carved in very crude proportions as can be seen from their body parts. The same applies to the figure of Ganesha as well. One gana is holding a snake in his hand. Ganesha is shown wearing a necklace, bahu-valayas, keyura, yajnopavita and a karanda-makuta. There are two flying vidhyadharas above in the panel. Their one hand is on waist and another is raised in adoration.

 

Subramanya

 

Next niche has an image of Subramanya. A H Longhurst identified this with Shiva however it was a wrong identification. In one upper hand he is holding an akshamala, the other upper hand attribute is not very clear. One lower hand is on waist (katyavalambita) and another lower hand is in abhaya mudra. He is shown with a karanda-makuta, necklace, bracelets, valayas and yajnopavita. Tangles of his lower garments are flowing on either side in folds. There are two attendants on either side of him. There are two vidhyadharas above on the panel with one hand raised in adoration. Second hand of left vidhyadhara is on his waist while of the right vidhyadhara is holding a flower. The execution of the sculpture is not very good in comparison with other magnificent pieces of arts from same dynasty, the Pallavas.

 

Brahma

 

The next niche has an sculpture of Brahma. Brahma is shown standing in sambhaga posture while two devotes are shown near his feet on the ground. In his four hands, the upper left hand has rosary and upper right hand is akshamala. Lower right hand is in abhaya mudra and lower left hand is on waist. He is wearing a karanda makuta above his head where as his three heads are visible in the sculpture. A yajnopavita, necklace and valayas are also worn by him. His lower garment reaches till his ankles in folds. One devotee is shown seated in yogasana. He wearing a jata-makuta and a yajnopavita. His one hand is resting on his thigh and another hand is in vyakhana mudra. His features depict the saintly character. Another devotee is seated with one bent leg at knee. He is offering something to Brahma, as seen from his posture. He is also wearing a jata-makuta and a yajnopavita. There are two flying vidhyadhara above in this panel, with their one hand raised in adoration. Second hand of left vidhyadhara is on his waist while of the right vidhyadhara is holding a flower.

 

Surya

 

The next niche has an sculpture of Surya. He is standing in sambhaga posture and there is a large halo behind his head. Above the head is a long makuta and a jata-bhara behind his head. He is wearing makara-kundala, hara in his neck, bahu-valaya in his arms and keyuras in his wrists. There is a yajnopavita worn across his waist. In his four arms, upper left arm is having a rosary while upper right hand is holding a akshamala. Lower left hand is on waist and lower right hand is in abhaya mudra. He is standing on a slightly raised platform. Near his feat are two devotees. Both are seated in similar fashion, with one leg bent at knee. It looks as though they are holding something in their hands to offer to the deity. They are wearing similar ornamentation as of Surya. One devotee is wearing a coiled bracelet however another one is with flat bracelet. They wear patra-kundala, necklace and a yajnopavita. There are two vidhyadhara on top of the panel, in similar fashion as seen in previous niches. One hand of theirs is raised in adoration and in another hand both are holding a flower.

 

Durga

 

Next and the last niche has an image of Durga as Kottavarai, goddess of war. She is standing in sambhaga posture above a raised platform. She is wearing a karanda-makuta, patra kundala, three necklaces, bracelets and bangles. She is shown with four hands, upper right hand is holding a chakra (discus) and upper left hand is not carved completely. Lower left hand is on waist and lower right hand is in abhaya mudra. Compared to her slender waist, her hip portion is quite broad in measurement. I am not sure whether the idea of the sculptor was to carve a broad hip female or it is due to the inexperience in female figure proportions. She is wearing a breast-band. There are two devotees sitting near her feat. One on proper left is offering a flower while one on proper right is trying to offer his head by cutting it with some sword like weapon. He has held his hair by one of his hand to make the head stable while slitting it through. This kind of self-sacrifice was in practice during those days, especially during the worship just before the start of a war. One such practice was nava-khanda where a devotee to the king offers nine parts of his body to the goddess for victory of the king over his enemies. These devotee figures are not complete hence many of their attributes are not visible, such as ornamentation on their body. There is only one vidhyadhara in this panel, other one was left unfinished. This vidhyadhara on left side has raised one hand in adoration and another hand is having a flower. A similar representation can be seen in Mahabalipuram, in Varaha Cave and in Draupadi Ratha.

 

Another Inner Shrine

 

On the adjacent side wall of this last niche is another inner shrine of this cave. The arrangement of this inner shrine is similar as the other shrine which is on opposite wall of this shrine as have been discussed earlier in this article. There is a mandapa in front of this shrine which is supported on two pillars in front. The mandapa is constructed over a raised platform which can be accessed via three step stair case constructed in front. The uppermost band of this platform has a horizontal frieze of elephants and lion all around the three sides. There are two kudus (horse shoe window) on the front cornice of this mandapa. The front of the shrine is divided into three niches by four pilasters. The middle niche is turned into the entrance while the other two niches have dvarpalas. The corner pilasters are almost like pillars the only difference is that those are not cut completely on all sides. Similar to the first inner shrine, here also we find two dvarpalas on either side of the shrine. They are similar to the side dvarapalas of opposite wall, one hand on waist and one raised above in adoration.

 

Vishnu

 

Inside the shrine is bas-relief of Vishnu. He is standing in sambhaga posture with two devotees near his feet. He is depicted with four hands, upper right hand holding chakra, upper left hand holding shankha, lower right hand is in varada mudra and lower left hand is in katyavalambita mudra. He is wearing a long kirita-makuta, makara kundala, necklace, bracelets, keyuras, valaya and a yajopavita. His lower garment is reaching till his ankles with many folds, it is tied at his waist and two tangles are on either side. Two devotees, one male one female, on either side are sitting with one leg bent at knee. Male devotee is wearing jata-makuta, makara kundala, sutra-yajnopavita. Female devotee is with karanda-makuta, patra kundala, bracelets, bangles and necklace. Both are holding a flower in one of the hand to offer to the God, while the other hand is resting on their thigh. There are two flying ganas on top of the panel, on either side of Vishnu. Both are wearing jata-makuta and yajnopavita. One hand of theirs are raised in adoration and another hand is on near their waist.

 

Dvarapalas

 

Dvarpalas of this shrine are Vaishnava in features as they do not have any club with them. Proper right dvarpala is more finished as compared to proper left one. The right dvarpala is standing on one feet above the ground and one feet is bent at knee and placed above the head of a gana. He is wearing yajnopavita, bracelets, valaya, necklace and jata-makuta with jata-bhara. One hand is holding a snake and another hand is near his mouth. The left dvarpala is standing turned towards the shrine. He also wearing similar ornaments as of his right counterpart. His one hand is raised in adoration and another hand is on his waist. The sculptures are not completely finished as seen the left work near their feet.

 

 

Food and AccommodationBreeze Residency is a decent hotel for accommodation and its location is also justified as this is near to bus stand and the railway station. There are are various other option suitable to every budget to choose from. Banana Leaf is a good option for food and they have many branches in the city. You will also find Vasantha Bhavan and Adyar Anand Bhavan, two famous south Indian restaurant chain, as well in Trichy.

How to ReachTrichy is a major town of Tamilnadu and is well connected with other major towns. It has an airport and a major rail-head.

References:

  1. Beck, Elisabeth (2006). Pallava Rock Architecture and Sculpture. Puducheri. Sri Aurobindo Institute of Research in Social Sciences. ISBN 8188661465
  2. Dubreuil, G Jouveau (1917). Pallava Antiquities. Madras. Asian Education Services. ISBN 8120605713
  3. Longhurst, A H (1930). Pallava Architecture 3 vols. Archaeological Survey of India.
  4. Mahalingam, T V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas. New Delhi. Agam Prakashan.
  5. South Indian Inscriptions Vol I. Archaeological Survey of India.
  6. South Indian Inscriptions Vol XII. Archaeological Survey of India.
  7. Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India.

Web References:
1. Nagaswamy, R. Mahendra’s Inscription At Tiruchirapalli. Tamil Arts Academy. Retrieved from http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/articles/article09.xml

11 Comments

  1. What an amazing piece of work. How do you work so quickly?
    Hope all researchers are seeing your blogs.

  2. Raj

    Beautifully done, Saurabh.

  3. Hi Saurabh,

    Wonderful post on our Trichy caves! thanks a lot!
    I expected your call on that weekend when you were in Trichy.

    Regards,

    Shriram Rajaram
    Tiruchy.

  4. Lower Cave: The dvarapalaka with hand to mouth is, I believe, holding the nag to his lips. It coils around under his right arm.
    The style of his crown is called a Phrygian Cap in the west. Wonder what it signifies?

  5. Great work and great writing Saurabh !

    Vinod.
    Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

  6. Anonymous

    Awesome research and cataloging: You may also be interested in reading this article by Dr. R. Nagaswamy – http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/articles/article09.xml

  7. @Anonymous, thanks for this link, this article of Dr Nagaswamy was taken into account in this article.

  8. Very exhaustive Saurabh. Hats off top you.

  9. Kuldeep

    very nice temple,this is indian art.

  10. Hi there! This article couldn’t be written any better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I will send this article to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a
    good read. I appreciate you for sharing!

  11. PK

    We recently visited the caves. We saw the upper caves. They have gates and we couldn’t go near (not sure if it was the timing, we reached there on the late evening). Unfortunately, we missed the lower cave. Something to look for the next trip.

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