Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
This simple cave temple, facing west, resembles very much to the early cave temples of Mahendravarman I period. The hall is supported on two pillars and two pilasters, resulting into three aisles and one bay. The measurement of the hall is provided as 21’10’’x8’x8’3”1.
The upper part of the front façade has few socket holes, suggesting presence of a temporary wooden mandapa in front of the cave. This upper part is not ornamented with usual features of miniature shrines or kudu arches (dormer window or horse-shoe window), probably as there was a plan to cover this under a wooden structure, for which mortise holes were provided on the front façade.
The sanctum, on the back wall, is projected ahead and raised above the floor. A two-step staircase leads into the sanctum, which is empty now. Two female dvarpals (guardians) are placed on either side of the sanctum entrance. The dvarpala on left holds a sword and shield while the one on the right holds a long bow. Presence of female dvarpalas suggests that this shrine should be dedicated to a female deity, most probably it should be Durga in this case. This view has been taken by almost all scholars including Longhurst, Srinivasan, Lockwood2 and Nagaswamy3.
Lockwood mentions that the present name of the shrine would have been derived from kodi = an epithet of Durga and kal = stone. Therefore it should be the stone temple of Durga. This is also supported, as mentioned above, by the presence of the female dvarpalas.
Though we do not find kudu arches on the front façade of the cave, however this ornamentation is present on the beam of the inner sanctum. Based upon the presence of these arches, KR Srinivasan4 suggests the indication of later Mahendra period, however he assigns this excavation to the earlier part of the reign of Narasimhavarman I, based upon the form of the dvarpala sculptures and comparative thinness of the pillars.
Longhurst5 draws its resemblance with the cave temple at Mahendravadi, an excavation of Mahendravarman I. Sivaramamurti6 also draws the same comparison, and he assigns this shrine at Mamallapuram to Mahendravarman I.
Plainly looking at this edifice, we can come to a conclusion that this excavation lacks certain ornamentations which were evident in the early cave temples of Mahendravarman I. In such situation, based upon the architectural style, the edifice may be dated to Mahendravarman I. Absence of any foundation inscription further complexes the matter.
However, we cannot safely rule out, that an earlier architectural style is totally abandoned as soon as a newer one is found. Therefore, even if the edifice shows affinity to its earlier counterparts, it might have been excavated at some later point of time. The enigma of architecture and epigraph at the site of Mamallapuram is discussed in a different chapter of this article.
A short inscription is found on the front pillar of the cave. This seems to be a title however this title is not encountered in any other Pallava inscriptions. Therefore K R Srinivasan7 suggests that it could be an epithet of a chieftain, under the Pallavas, who would have excavated this shrine.
- On the front pillar – Epigraphia Indica vol. X – Pallava Granta script, seventh century CE characters – reads ‘Sri Vamankusa’
1 Longhurst, A H. Pallava Architecture vol. II. p 13
2 Lockwood, Michael. Mamallapuram. p 164
3 Nagaswamy, R. Mahabalipuram. p 32
4 Srinivasan, K R. Cave Temples of the Pallavas. p 109
5 Longhurst, A H. Pallava Architecture vol. II. p 12
6 Sivaramamurti, C. Mahabalipuram. p 28
7 Srinivasan, K R. Cave Temples of the Pallavas. p 110