Between 501 to 1000 CE, Pallavas, Pandyas, Tamilnadu

Maliyadipatti – The Hill of the Holy

IntroductionMaliyadipatti is a small village settlement located in Pudukkottai district of Tamilnadu. There are two cave temples which are carved out from a single rock running east to west. As per the inscriptions found on these caves this region was under Kil-Sengali-nadu. The territorial division of Kil-Sengali-nadu was comprised of the region around Maliyadipatti in Kulattur taluk of the present Pudukkottai. The hill in which the cave temples are scooped out is referred as Tiruvalattur hill in a Pallava inscription whereas in a Nayaka inscription it is referred as Tiruvayamalai, Hill of the Holy.

Cave Temples – Cave temples of the Pandya region are unique in relation to other such shrines of India as most of these are live temples and under worship. The main reason behind this is the continuous royal patronage received by these shrines. The cave temple complex at Maliyadipatti is consisted of two caves, one dedicated to Shiva and another to Vishnu. Vishnu cave temple is locally known as Olipathivishnu-griham1 and Shiva cave temple is known as Alathurthali2 cave. Both the caves are living temples and under worship. Both the caves face north and have been carved on the same rock running from east to west.

Vishnu Cave Temple –  Excavated on the western face of the rock, this north facing rock-cut shrine is locally known as Olipathivishnu-griham. However in an inscription of Sundar Pandya it is referred as Ranganatha cave, Arankan-cunai. In a later inscription of Sadasiva maharaja the lord is called Tiruvalattur Perumal. In an another inscription of Achyutappa Nayaka the lord of this cave has been referred as Tiruvayamalai Kanniraina Perumal, The Lord who is full in one’s eyes. Getting the lord full in one’s eye probably reflects the merger of atman with parmatman which is a prescribed way to attain the ultimate goal of one’s life in many Hindu religious scriptures.

Entrance to Vishnu Cave Temple


This cave temple has been later extended with a mandapa and an enclosure compound with a gopuram entrance on the north. We find here a flat roofed gopuram instead of familiar high-rising gopurams. It is not very clear whether there was once a tower above this roof, however if it was, there is no sign left of its existence.

Valampuri Ganesha on the entrance


On the external wall of the enclosure, proper left of the gopuram, a Ganesha image is installed. This valampuri Ganesha idol has four hands, carrying a broken tusk, ankusha (elephant goad) and modaka in three of his hands. Inside the complex, on north-west corner, there is an east facing shrine, a later structure, constructed for Goddess Nachiar. Passing through bali-pitha, deepa-stambha (lamp-tower), a goddess idol and a Garuda idol, we reach the main cave complex. A mandapa has been attached to this cave at the entrance during later extensions.

Inside the Vishnu Cave Complex


The original cave is consisted of a rectangular sanctum cell and a mukha-mandapa (front-hall). Mukha-mandapa has three openings formed by pilasters and pillars which are supported on lion/vyala figures at the base. These lion/vyala figures are shown seated with their one limb raised up. This posture make them different from the Pallava style where we find seated lions/vyalas with both limbs on the ground. The tail of the animal however forms a familiar icon of an English numeral, 8, as found in Pallava sculptures. The door openings of the mukha-mandapa are marked with lintel and door jambs which is rather unique for a cave which sole purpose is to be used as a shrine. These kinds of jambs and lintels are seen in the caves excavated for residential purposes.

Left side dvarpala on mukha-mandapa


Beyond the extreme pilasters, on either side, are two dvarpalas (door-guardians) carved in relief. Both of them are standing in similar posture, with one leg straight and second slightly bent at knee. They are wearing yajno-pavita with other usual ornaments like necklace, bracelets etc. In one hand they carry a flower, lotus perhaps, and another hand is resting on their waist. They wear a charming smile on their faces and greet the visitor with their grace. A rather strange feature found in dvarpalas is a coiled snake near their shoulders. As this is a Vishnu cave, so presence of snake with dvarpalas is very curious. As I have not much knowledge about Pandya iconometry, probably I may be able to give more information on this once I acquire that knowledge.

Eastern lateral wall panel of standing Vishnu


On the lateral walls, east and west, of this mukha-mandapa are carved two exquisite panels in relief. Most of the reliefs of this cave are covered with stucco and later on decorated with paint. On the eastern wall is a relief panel showing Vishnu with his two consorts. He is shown standing in sambhaga posture holding sankha (conch) and chakra (discus), both depicted with flames, in his two upper hands. His one lower hand is in abhaya mudra and another one is resting at his waist (katyavalambita). Either side of his are standing his two consorts, Lakshmi (Sri-devi) and Bhu-devi. Lakshmi is standing on his right, probably, holding a lotus flower in one of her hands while Bhu-devi is standing on his left holding a nilotpala, lily flower. Lakshmi is shown wearing a breast-band but Bhu-devi is depicted without it. Other than this, most of the features are same in both the goddesses. In the upper portion of the panel are shown two flying devas, probably Chandra (Moon) and Surya (Sun) as evident from prabha-valaya (halo) behind their heads. In one hand they hold a flower and other hand is raised in adoration for the god, Vishnu.

There are quite a few early representations of Vishnu in standing posture.In most of the cases he is depicted as the main deity accompanied with devotees or other devatas. In the early icons of the Pallavas such as Adi-varaha cave, Trimurti cave temple in Mahabalipuram, Vishnu is shown standing with devotees or flying ganas. V Latha suggests that this standing Vishnu image is the only image where Vishnu is shown with his two consorts. As this type of icon was not present in the Pallava iconography hence this should be considered as an unique representation under the Pandya iconography.

Western lateral wall panel of seated Vishnu


On the western lateral wall is a relief panel depicting Vishnu and his two consorts, but in seated posture. Vishnu is seated in sukhasana with one leg resting on a Padma-pitha (lotus base) and another bent and resting on the platform. He is holding a shankha and chakra, both with flames, in his two upper hands. His one lower hand is in abhaya mudra and another one resting on his left thigh. Goddess Lakshmi is seated in utkita-asana and another one is resting on a padma-pitha. She is holding a flower in one hand and wearing a breast-band. Bhu-devi is shown seated on left side of Vishnu in utkita-asana. One leg of hers is resting on padma-pitha. She is holding a flower in one hand, but depicted without a breast-band. There is no flying devas in upper part of the panel, as shown in the previous panel.

Seated Vishnu as an icon is absent from the Pallava cave temples. It is present in later structural temples of the Pallavas such as in Kailasanatha and Vaikuntha Perumal temples both in Kanchipuram. This icon is not very frequent in Pandya caves as well. The only other such representation is found in Tirupparankunram cave temple near Madurai where seated Vishnu is present in its sanctum. There is a seated Vishnu image in Badami also however that image is carved on one of the lateral walls of the cave and Vishnu is shown seated on Sesha coils without any attendant.

Narasimha on southern wall


Southern wall of the mukha-mandapa has been partitioned in three parts, middle one is left open to go inside the sanctum. The two side partitions are adorned with relief sculptures. Partition on the west has a sculpture of Vishnu in Narasimha form. He is shown seated in maharajalilasana attitude with one leg hanging down and another bent at the knee and placed on the seat. He is holding shankha and chakra in his two upper hands. One of the lower hand is rested on the knee of the bent leg and another lower hand is resting on the thigh of the another leg. He is shown wearing rings in all of his fingers, even in thumbs as well. Ring on the thumbs of the upper hands are very much clear in the stucco. Shown with ferocious look, it appears that this posture would have been taken after slaying the demon, Hiranyakashipu. Behind the head of this image, there is a torana which is shown without any makara. Such toranas are known as tiruvachi in shilpa-sastras.

If Narasimha image is depicted without any attendant or companion then it is called as Kevala-Narasimha. It is a rare icon as in most of the images Narasimha is shown slaying the demon, Hiranyakashipu or either shown seated in yoga-mudra. Narasimha images at Badami, Udayagiri, Vaikuntha Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram and Namakkal Ranganatha cave are all in standing posture of Kevala-Narasimha type. Seated image of Narasimha is seen in Vettuvankoil which is a monolith temple of Pandya origin and dated prior to Maliyadipatti. Such a seated image could be a characteristic icon of the Pandyas.



On the left pilaster of this Narasimha niche is a painting of a lady. The upper part of the painting is almost gone. She is wearing a checkered lower dress which goes till her ankles. She is shown wearing many ornaments consisting of beads. There are many different color beads, red one usually used as the central bead in the ornament. Her upper portion is devoid of any clothes. She seems to be holding and taking support of a tree branch in one of her hand while other hand is shown hanging parallel to her right leg.

Varaha on southern wall


Partition on the east carries an image of Varaha. He is shown seated on a raised platform, one part of which is painted. In his two upper hands, he carries shankha and chakra, both depicted with flames. Lower right hand is in abhaya-mudra while lower left hand is rested on his left thigh. He is also wearing rings in all of his fingers, including thumbs. He is wearing a necklace, bracelets in both arms, waist-band, wrist-bands and yajno-pavita. Behind his head is a tiruvachi, whose two ends are shown emerging from rampant vyalas.

Varaha icon is usually depicted in alidha posture where he is shown taking Bhu-devi out from the depths of an ocean. Such representation of Varaha is seen at Udayagiri caves near Vidisha, Varaha cave at Mahabalipuram, at Badami. Maliyadippati, perhaps, is the only place where Varaha is seen seated alone without any companion.

Hanuman on jambs of Varaha niche


On proper right of the above Varaha niche, there is a painting of Hanuman. He is shown standing with face turned to the god and holding his both hands in anjali-mudra. He is wearing a checkered lower garment. All the ornaments wore by him are made of flowers. He is shown wearing a garland, bracelets, earrings and wristbands. He is having a protruding tooth coming out of his mouth. This is very curious and strange depiction as Hanuman is usually not depicted with protruding teeth. Though he is shown with such a rare feature, this does not result in ferocious appearance. He is standing very gracefully with full devotion towards the God, sitting on his left.

Dashavatar painting on the canopy of the mandapa


Before moving inside the sanctum, mention of the canopy of this hall must be made. The canopy of this hall is painted with the ten incarnations of Vishnu. However this painting is in very bad condition. Much of the damage has been caused due to smoke and oil vapors. Only the starting few figures and ending few figures are clear now, all in between these are gone. On the leftmost is painted Vishnu as Matsya (fish incarnation). On its right is Vishnu as Narasimha (man-lion incarnation). This Narasimha representation is very unique as he is shown with the body of lion and head of a human quite in contrast where in regular representations Narasimha is shown with the body of a human and head of a lion. On its right is all black and dark. Further right is seen Vishnu as Rama, the hero of Ramayana. Rama is shown in dark color holding his bow. Next right to it is Balrama, brother of Krishna. Balrama is holding a plough, his weapon. Next to Balrama is Krishna who is depicted in a dancing posture. Though there is no snake seen below Krishna, but it seems that this posture reflects the dance which he performed after subduing the snake, Kaliya. Right next to Krishna is shown Kalki, the future and last incarnation of Vishnu.

View of the sanctum and mandapa
Vishnu as Anantasyana-murti


Sanctum cell is excavated in the center of the southern wall. This is flanked with two pillars and two pilasters in the front. The pillars are almost spherical throughout except the top part. Corbels above the pillars are in angular profile. Whole of the sanctum is covered by the Anantasayana icon of Vishnu which is carved out of the mother rock. Vishnu is shown reclining on a coil formed by the body of the serpent, Adisesha. Adisesha’s hood is depicted with five heads and it forms a canopy above the head of lord Vishnu. Vishnu is depicted with two hands, one stretched on his right over the coil of Adisesha while another one is raised above in kataka-mudra. He is wearing a kirita-makuta and many ornaments. His legs are stretched out of the coil bed and supported on a lotus.

Brahma with musicians and dancers


There are many figures carved on lateral parts and the back wall of this sanctum cell. On the back wall, Brahma is shown seated on a lotus which emerges from the naval of Vishnu. He is depicted with three heads and four arms. He is carrying a akshamala and rosary in his upper two arms. Right lower arm is in abhaya-mudra while left lower arm is resting on his thigh. There are total of eight figures around him, two on right and six on left. Two figures on his right seem to be musicians. The rightmost figure is holding a musical instrument in his both hands. The musical instrument which he is holding is not very clear. The person on his left is depicted with moustaches. He is also holding a musical instrument however in a rather strange manner. He is holding the instrument in his left hand but the instrument is kept behind his arm instead of keeping it in front to take support of the arm. The instrument resembles to ektara, single string Indian musical instrument.

In the six figures on left of Brahma, two are females and four are males. Next left to Brahma is shown Tumburu, a Gandharva musician and singer. Next left to him are shown two celestial females dancing with Tumburu. On left of these two celestial maidens, there are three male figures. Two of the first three seem to be ordinary gandharvas. The last in line is a dwarf celestial deity. Who is he is not very certain. It looks that the two figures on right of Brahma are the musicians of the party whose six dancers are shown on the left side of Brahma.

Garuda and above him flying devas


On the eastern wall of this cell are carved four figures. The male figure at the bottom is Garuda. He is shown rising above the ground. His wings are depicted behind his body. Above Three male figures are shown above the figure of Garuda. Two figures are shown with holding their hands together in anjali-mudra. The last one is shown with a halo behind his head. This could be depiction of Chandra (Moon) or Surya (Sun).

Madhu and Kaitabha


On western wall of this cell, near the feet of Vishnu, are carved huge figures of two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha. One is holding a heavy club while another is holding some unidentified object in one of his hands. The demons are carved in attacking stated instead of retreating state which is seen in other such Anantasayana panels. They wear short lower garments and many ornaments on their bodies. There is a human figure carved in between the faces of these two demons. There is halo behind this figure and his two hands are raised in adoration. Because of this halo, this figure could be identified with Surya or Chandra.

On the ground, near the coil of Adisesha, Bhrigu is seen on the eastern side while Bhu-devi is seen on western side near the feet of the lord. In middle is installed a very recent addition in form of an image of Lakshminarayana.

The earliest Anantasayana representation is seen at Udayagiri which is dated to Gupta period. In Pallava cave temples this icon is seen in Mahishasurmardini cave and Shore Temple both in Mahabalipuram and Ranganatha in Singavaram. Among the caves in the Pandya region Thirumayam has the largest such representation which measures up to 9 meters. The panel at Maliyadipatti is also huge however it is smaller in comparison and measure up to 4.6 meters. S Gopalakrishnan suggests that the Pandyas borrowed this huge representation from the Guptas at Udayagiri.

Inscriptions of the cave – There is no foundation inscription found in this shrine hence it’s time of construction is not that easy to be determined. The adjacent Shiva cave has a foundation inscription from the reign of a Pallava king, Dantivarman. Due to the absence of any foundation inscription in this shrine, it might have been constructed before the adjacent one or after that. There is a division between scholars about its time, V Latha is of the opinion that this Vishnu cave was constructed before the Shiva one whereas K R Srinivasan thinks that this is a construction of Later Pandyas.

An inscription of Sundara Pandya talks about a water reservoir called Arankan-cunai which might be a tank of the temple of Arankan, i.e. Ranganatha. This supports the local name of the cave as Ranganatha cave. An inscription of Sadasiva maharaja refers the lord of this cave as Tiruvalattur Perumal. Tiruvalattur is the name of this hill as referred in the foundation inscription of the Shiva cave. A later record of Achyutappa Nayaka refers the lord of this cave as Tiruvayamalai Kannirainta Perumal, the Lord who is full in one’s eyes. Another inscription of this cave talks about donation of land and for daily pujas and renovations and additions.

From the inscriptions it is clear that this shrine received a continuous patronage from its inception till the period of the Nayakas. Raju Kalidos suggests that this patronage was continued during the reign of the Marathas as paintings of that period are found in this cave temple.

Shiva Cave Temple – This cave has been referred as Vagisvara cave in the inscriptions. In a Chola inscription of Rajakesarivarman the lord of this shrine has been called Tiru Alattur Malaiutaiyar Vayicuramutaiya Nayanar, the Lord of Vagisvara of the Tiruvalattur hill. The same record registers the donation of paddy for the temple. There is an interesting inscription which talks about an story of the donor. The inscriptions runs that the donor was away with his paramour. On returning to his home he found his wife with a brahmana. It is not stated whether they committed adultery but the husband in a hurry killed both the wife and the brahmana. The husband lost his eye sights after this incident. He visited the Lord Vagisvara and regained his lost eye sight. To mark his thankfulness, he donated all his property to the lord. He also added that if anyone does any harm to this endowment shall be an offender and the sin committed by him will equal to killing a fine cow on the banks of Ganga.

Entrance to the Shiva cave


This north facing cave is carved on the eastern end of the rock and known as Alathurthali cave temple. There is a modern mandapa constructed in front of the cave, which entrance is from west side. Original cave has been extended with a pillared mandapa and two separate shrines in later times, most probably during Vijayanagara reign. Entrance of the mandapa is on west while the original cave faces north. There are four pillars inside this mandapa which resembles Vijayanagara architectural style. A shrine is formed by connecting two rear pillars with an arch. Two idols, Murugan and Ganesha, are placed inside this shrine.

Original cave


The rock-cut cave shrine is consisted of a mandapa (pillared hall) facing north. In its eastern wall, a cubical shrine has been carved out facing west. The southern wall is adorned with a sapta-matrika frieze while the western wall is adorned with three panels representing various deities. In middle of the hall an image of Nandi is placed on a platform facing the shrine. The front façade of the cave is supported on two pillars and two pilasters resulting in a three bays arrangement. The pillars are done in typical Mahendra style with cubical top and bottom with an octagonal shaft in between. Both, pillars and pilasters, are carved in same design. Corbel is in angular profile. There is a portion of overhanging rock above the corbel and beam, which is left unfinished.

Shrine on the eastern lateral wall of the cave


A shrine is carved in the eastern wall of this cave. Adhisthana (platform) is raised about 2.5 feet above the ground level and can be reached with a flight of four steps in which last one is in form of a chandrasila (moonstone). The shrine measures about 10 feet from east to west and 11 feet from north to south. This shrine has a cubical sanctum of 7 feet side. Front façade of it is supported on four pilasters, middle two forming the entrance and extreme two forming two niches on either side of the entrance. Dvarpalas (door guardians) are carved in these two niches. There is a Shivalinga inside the sanctum. This linga has been carved out of the mother rock representing svambhu characteristic of the icon.

Dvarpala on left niche is a representation of trisula (trident), a weapon of Shiva. Protruding prongs of the trisula can be seen coming out from the side and top of the crown. Prong of left side is very clear however the one on right side is almost eroded. Dvarpala of the right niche should be the representation of parasu (axe), another weapon of Shiva. However this feature is not very clear in this figure. Both the dvarapalas are standing in similar posture. One hand of theirs is supported on the handle of their clubs. One hand of the left side dvarpala is in tarjani-mudra (one finger pointing upwards) while one hand of right side dvarpala is raised upwards in vismaya-mudra (astonishing posture). There is snake seen above the shoulders on both the dvarpalas. Both are carved in front profile however left one is slightly turned towards the shrine.

Sapta-matrika panel


Southern back wall of this cave has a Sapta-matrika panel carved in. This particular frieze is very important for iconography study as this is probably the oldest such rock carving in South India. All the matrikas are shown with their respective flags which is not usually seen in other such panels. The panel starts with Veerbhadra on the eastern end and ends with Ganesha on the western end. In between Veerbhadra and Ganesha, seven goddesses are placed. All except Veerbhadra are seated in sukhasana with one leg folded and placed on the seat while one leg hanging and resting on the ground. Veerbhadra is seated with both legs placed on the seat and joined with a yogapatta. He is depicted with four hands however the image is so worn out that it is not easy to recognize what he carries in the upper two hands. Lower two hands are rested on his thighs. He is followed by Brahmi who is depicted with her hamsa (swan) flag. She is shown with three heads and four hands. Her two upper hands are no more visible except the traces as the image is very much worn out. Next to her is placed Maheshwari with her Nandi flag. Her two upper hands are also no more visible. She is holding a parasu in one of her upper hand as seen from left tracings of the carving. Next to her is sitting Kumari. There is a peacock flag placed behind here. She is holding akshamala in one of her upper hand. The object held in another hand is not very clear however it could be vajra or shakti in most probability. Next to her is Vaishnavi holding a chakra and shakha in her two upper hands. Garuda flag is shown behind her. Next to her is Varahi who is shown with her boar flag. She is holding a shankha and chakra in her two upper hands. Next is Indrani who is shown with her elephant flag placed behind her. She should be holding a ankusha (elephant goad) in one of her upper hand and akshamala in another hand. Next to her is Chamunda who is shown with her owl flag. She is holding a dagger in one of her upper hand while other upper hand is in vismaya-mudra. In the end of the frieze is placed Ganesha. He is holding his broken tusk in one of his hand and leaves (sugarcane probably) in his another hand. One lower hand has a modaka (Indian sweet) while other lower hand is placed on his left thigh.

Ganesha in Sapta-matrika panel


Start of Ganesha worship in Tamilnadu is a matter of dispute. Some scholars like K R Srinivasan, A H Longhurst etc have suggested that this icon came from the Chalukyas to the Pallavas as there is a Ganesha image in Badami caves which are the earliest caves of this region. In the image of Badami cave Ganesha is depicted in two hands with his trunk turned to left. Ganesha depicted with two hands is considered an earlier one in comparison to depiction with four hands. There is no Ganesha image in any of the rock-cut shrine of the Pallavas except in Ramanuja Mandapa where he is shown with other ganas. In later structural temples of the Pallavas such as Kailasanatha Temple at Kanchipuram Ganesha image appears in niches.

Another set of scholars like Raju Kalidos, V Latha, S Gopalkrishnan etc are of the opinion that Ganesha icon did not come from outside to Tamilnadu. A cave temple dedicated to Ganesha at Pillayarpatti has been dated to fifth century by some scholars. This cave temple has an image of Ganesha which is depicted with two hands and truck turned to his right in contrast to the Badami icon. Presence of this cave temple in Pandya region attests to the theory that Pandyas were already into rock-cut shrines before the Pallavas.



Whole of the west wall is adorned with panels of different deities. There are three different icon carved in life size portraits. South most icon represents Subramanya standing in sambhaga. He is carrying akshamala and vajra in his two upper hands. Left upper hand is placed on his waist and another lower hand is in abhaya-mudra. He is wearing a channa-vira across his body which depicts his warrior characteristic. Along with other regular ornaments he is wearing a karanda-makuta which is another characteristic of Skanda iconography.

Skanda or Subramanya is an old icon in Tamilandu. It is seen in many of the Pallava caves. This icon assumed a special  place in the cult of Somaskanda which was started by the Pallava king Parameshvaravarman (670-690 CE). This icon is found in Dharmaraja Ratha, Arjuna Ratha and Trimurti Cave Temple all in Mahabalipuram.



Next to Skanda is a panel depicting Harihara. Harihara is a composite form of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva) in which right side reflects the characteristics of Shiva and left side that of Vishnu. He is standing in sambhaga posture. Left upper hand is carrying a some unidentified object (deer/tanka?) and lower left arm is in abhaya-mudra. Left part of the headdress shows a crescent moon with jatabhara. Right upper hand carries a shakha while lower right arm is rested on the waist. There is a kirita-makuta on right side of the headdress. The lower garment on left side is worn above the knees while that of right side goes down till ankles. There are two devotees on either side. Both the devotees are holding a flower in one of their hands. There are two flying figures on either side of Harihara. These can be identified with Surya and Chandra as both of the figures have a halo behind their head.

Harihara is seen in the Pallava monuments as well such as in Adi-Varaha cave temple and Dharmaraja Ratha both in Mahabalipuram. In the former he is shown standing with two devotees but in later one he is depicted standing alone. In Maliyadipatti he is shown with devotees and two flying devas. As per iconography style, this icon seems to be an evolved form from the above two mentioned Pallava examples. There are only two instances of this icon in the Pandya monuments, one here and another at Vittuvankoil where he is shown seated instead of standing.


Next panel depicts Durga as Mahishasura-mardini. Her mount, lion, is shown on her right side just adjacent to Harihara image. It is shown in rampant posture with open mouth. Durga is standing on a lotus pedestal with one straight leg and another bent at the knee. She is depicted with eight hands carrying various objects. Front two hands carry a trisula (trident) which is pointed to a figure shown on left side of the goddess. This figure could be the buffalo-demon, Mahishasura as proposed by Raju Kalidos. Some scholars took this as a deer who is one of the mount of the goddess. In some other icons of Durga both of her mounts are seen on either side of her. Raju Kalidos further states that the lion shown on right of the goddess has a rider which depicts Durga as Simhavahini. Durga is seen as Simhavahini in Devi-Mahatmyam who slays the demon Mahishasura. As the image is very much worn out so the objects carries in other hands of the goddess are not clear. There are two devotees seated on the ground on either side.

Durga as Mahishasuramardini is a very old and revered icon which is given importance in all the dynasties since the Guptas. Udayagiri cave near Vidisha is a fine example of the Gupta icon of Mahishasuramardini. First example of this icon in South India comes from Badami caves of the Chalukyas. Later the Pallavas gave special attention to this goddess and there are many instances found in their monuments. Mahishasuramardini cave, Adi-varaha cave, Varaha cave, Trimurti cave all in Mahabalipuram depicts this goddess. Durga panel in Singavaram is another such Pallava example.

Inscription in the cave – The foundation inscription of this cave was engraved in the sixteenth year of the reign of the Pallava king Dantivarman (796-847 CE). This assigns the excavation of this cave to 812 CE. The inscription is as given below:

1.    Svasti Sri [||*] Ko-Visaya Dantiparmarkk(k)ku yandu pa-
2.    dinaravadu [|*] Videlvidugu Muttaraiyanakiya
3.    Kuvavan Cattanen Tiruvalattur malai
4.    taliyaga kudaindu Bhatararai pradistai se-
5.    ydu itta(ta)liyai…………………………….
6.    ………..Kil-Sengali-nattu natta-
7.    …………nattarkku seyda[sa]

Abstract – Mentions that Videlvidugu Muttaraiyan alias Kuvavan Cattan scooped the Tituvalattur hill into a temple and consecrated the god Bhatarar in it. Mentions the region Kil Sengali-nadu.

There are many other inscriptions found in this cave. Some of those have been mentioned in the introduction of this cave.

Summary Maliyadipatti caves hold very important position in the study of the progressive movement of cave temples in Tamilnadu. The two caves of this complex have been assigned to two different dynasties, the Pallava and the Pandya. The Shiva cave was excavated during the Pallava regime but the time of the Vishnu cave is not known due to absence of any foundation inscription. It could be an earlier or a later construction. V Latha, S Goapakrishnan and Raju Kalidos are of the opinion that it is an earlier construction and done in early Pandya regime. K R Srinivasan is of the opinion that it is a later construction of Pandya rulers. Though the time of construction is in dispute but most scholars agree upon that this is a Pandya construction.

Pillars of the Shiva cave are done in Mahendra style where those in Vishnu cave are not. Pillars of Vishnu cave do have a lion as their base however the lion does not match with the sedant lion base of the later Pallava pillars.

There are many rare and unique iconography found in the Vishnu cave temple whose origins could be traced to the Gupta caves in Udayagiri. Based upon this V Latha and Raju Kalidos suggests that Pandyas did not borrow the styles from the Pallavas but from the Guptas. As suggested by many scholars that as the Pandyas borrowed the style from the Pallavas hence their caves are of later period however if theory of Gupta inheritance is accepted then this remove the Pallava dependency and caves of the Pandyas could have been excavated in same period, if not earlier, to that of the Pallavas.



How to ReachMaliyadipatti is located on Keeranur-Killukottai route, 20 km from Keeranur and 3 km from Killukkottai. It is about 20 km from Asur, located on Tiruchirappalli-Thanjavur highway. It can also be reached by taking a diversion from Adhanakkottai on the Thanjavur-Pudukkottai road. It is about 40 km from Pudukkottai. It is about 5 km from Visalur, another archeological gem located on Keeranur-Killukottai route. Public buses are available from Keeranur and Killukottai however the frequency is not very good.


  1. Latha, V (2005). Cave Temples of Pandya Country: Art and Ritual. New Delhi. Sharada Publishing House. ISBN 8188934224
  2. Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. New Delhi. Agam Prakashan
  3. Srinivasan, K R (1996). Temples of South India. New Delhi. National Book Trust. ISBN  8123718675.

Web References:
1. Sumitha, S. Olipathi Vishnugraham in Maliyadipatti. Retrieved from
2. Sumitha, S. Alathurthali in Malayadipatti. Retrieved from

  • Anu

    Beautiful!! It is amazing, the kind of details you notice and write about! We just returned from a visit to Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal… and thought of you when our guide was describing some of the panels…. All I could do was appreciate the skills of the unknown artisans and relish the beauty of the sculptures….

  • Saurabh Saxena

    Hi Anu,
    So glad that you liked the article. Your appreciative and motivating statements will help me in continuing this endeavor.

  • Shash

    This is the kind of detailed posts I've come to expect from you… Wonderful!

  • Saurabh Saxena

    Hi Shash,
    I hope that my future articles will meet your expectations as well. Thanks for the kind words.

    When you mentioned that you remembered my articles when a guide was explaining images during your Karnataka trip, I feel that this is the highest recognition someone can get in his lifetime. I am really honored.

  • P.R.Pandit

    Very nice to see the temple details thanks for your excellent work.

  • Saurabh Saxena

    Glad you liked the article.

  • pkgaran

    Excellent narration and supporting Pictures. Informative Blog.

    P Karunagaran

  • Swami

    Saurabh .. No Words to describe the enthusiasm in your words.. Great Work .. Keep it up !!!!

  • Saurabh Saxena

    Glad to know that you like it Swami. Hope you will enjoy my other articles as well.

  • kayal

    Hi saurabh
    kaliyappatti is my village. i am so proude to say this. Very very thanks to u. if u want visit i will help mail me [email protected] .com

  • K.M.Gopinaath

    Grand..enjoyed reading every bit of it. will go to this place with the family.

  • Govind
    • Saurabh

      Hi, Please send me your article.