Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Located near the unfinished penance panel, this cave temple falls under the category of the early Pallava cave temples. The reason for this is its very primitive design and style resembling very much with the early caves of the Mahendravarman period.
This cave temple faces east. Its façade has a heavy cornice in front however it is devoid of any decoration such as dormer windows (kudu arches) or miniature shrines. The excavation is in form of a hall with three cells at its back wall. The hall is supported on two rows of pillars, dividing it into two bays. Both the rows have two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars in both the rows are of the same design, with characteristic square at the top and the bottom and an octagonal section in between. The pilasters in both the rows are tetragonal throughout.
On the back wall of the cave, three shrines are excavated. All these shrines are raised above the floor of the hall and provided with a staircase of three steps. The central cell is given different treatment, suggesting its importance. It is extended further into the hall in comparison to the other two shrines. Its stair case is provided with parapet while others are not.
Presence of three shrines suggests that the excavation was dedicated to the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. However, as the temple name suggests, the central cell would have been dedicated to Shiva. The dvarpalas adoring the central shrine are chiseled off, most probably during the Vaishnava resurgence during the Vijayanagara period of 14th-15th centuries1.
From the outlines of the dvarpalas, it can said that they were two armed, one arm is rested on their waist, and one arm is holding on to some object of no clarity. During the same period of insurgence, a conch and a shell was carved on the outer pillars of the cave.
As with other excavations at Mamallapuram, this one is also not bereft of its controversies. The main controversy is with the authorship of this cave, and this topic is dealt in detail below.
Inscriptions – We have only one inscription, engraved at a lateral wall at the entrance, found in this shrine. This inscription is of much importance as well as shrouded in controversies. It is published in Epigraphia Indica vol. X, no 1 and South Indian Inscriptions vol. 1.
For the benefit of readers, I am providing here the full translation of the inscription. This inscription is a copy of the inscription found at Ganesha Ratha.
(verse 1) Let (Siva), the destroyer of Love, (who is) the cause of production, existence and destruction, (but is himself) without cause, fulfill the boundless desires of man!
(verse 2) let him be victorious, who is (both) without illusion (and) possessed of manifold illusion (Chitramaya), who is (both) without qualities (and) endowed with qualities (Gunabhajana), who is self-existent (Svastha) (and) without superior (Niruttara), who is without lord (and) the highest lord (Paramesvara)
(verse 3) Srinidhi bears on (his) head that Aja (Siva), pressed by the weight of whose great toe, the Kailasa (mountain) together with the ten-faced (Ravana) sank down into Patala
(verse 4) Let that Sribhara be victorious for a long time, who bears Bhava (Siva) in (his) mind which is humbled with devotion, and (who bears) the earth on (his) arm like a coquettish ornament!
(verse 5) King Atyantakama, who has subdued the circle of (his) foes, is famed (by the name of) Ranajaya – he caused to be made this abode of Sambhu (Siva)
(verse 6) Let (Siva) be victorious, who is (both) sentient (and) motionless (Sthanu), who is (both) undivided (and) the moon, who has (both) the nature of fire (and) a body of air, who is (both) terrible (Bhima) (and) kind (Siva, who is (both) beneficent (Samkara) (and) the destroyer of Love!
(verse 7) Let Tarunankura be victorious, who is a king of kings (Rajaraja), (but) is not ugly (like Kuvera), who is an emperor, (but) does not distress people, (while Vishnu is both Chakrabhrit and Janardana), who is the lord of protectors (and) independent (Svastha), (while the moon is the lord of stars, but is waning in the dark half of month and subject to eclipses)!
(verse 8) Just as in a large lake, filled with water (which is fit) for bathing, (and) covered with various lotus-flowers, handsome Samkara (Siva) abides on the massive head – sprinkled with the water of coronation (and) covered with bright jewels – of the glorious Atyantakama, who deprives (his) enemies of (their) pride, who is a receptacle of wealth (Srinidhi), who possesses the charm of Love (Kamaraga), (and) who assiduously worships Hara (Siva)
(verse 10) He, desiring (to attain) the glory of Samkara (Siva), cased to be made this lofty dwelling-house of Dhurjati (Siva), in order (to procure) the fulfillment of (their) desires to )his) subjects
(verse 11) Six times cursed be those in whose hearts does not dwell Rudra (Siva), the deliverer from the walking on the evil path!
(verse 12) The Isvara )Siva) temple of Atyantakama-Pallava.
The controversy associated with this inscription is about its authorship. As the inscription does not carry a proper name for the Pallava king, but his titles, resulting in this controversy. The following titles are found in this inscription, Srinidhi, Sribhara, Atyantakama, Ranajaya, Rajaraja, Tarunankura and Kamaraga.
Pallava king Mahendravarman and Rajasimha have left their innumerable titles in their various inscription, however the Pallava king have not left such rich information with respect to their titles.
Among the titles found in this inscription, Srinidhi, Sribhara, Atyantakama, Ranajaya, Rajaraja and Kamaraga are found in the inscriptions of Rajasimha2 as his titles. However we do not find Tarunankura among his titles, though he had left more then two hundred and fifty of his titles. In this situation, can this inscription be assigned to the reign of Rajasimha?
Another challenge with Rajasimha is that in his Reyuru grant3, he is mentioned to be a staunch devotee of Vishnu, Shiva and Subramanya. A later grant, Uadyendiram of Nandivarman II4.
However, there of course is a possibility that though Rajasimha was religiously tolerant during his early years but in his later years, he might have been devoted only to Shiva. If we see other edifices he constructed, we find that he only raised temples in honor of Shiva but no one else.
E Hultzsch, who edited the inscription in Epigraphia Indica vol. X, suggests that the proper name of the king should be taken as Paramesvara, corresponding to the Pallava king Paramesvaravarman I, as evident in verse 2. The issue with Paramesvaravarman is that we have very few of his inscriptions, at other places than Mamallapuram, and in none of these his titles are enumerated. In the later inscriptions of the Pallavas, Paramesvaravarman is referred with other titles but not with these found in this inscription.
Many scholars including Mahaligam5, Srinivasan6 have accepted Hultzsch’s view and assigned the construction to Paramesvaravarman I. However, Nagaswamy7 differs and based upon epigraphical studies, assigns the excavation to Rajasimha.
Ignoring the resemblances in the titles of Rajasimha and the ones found in this inscription would be very tough except the case with Tarunankura as mentioned above. However, in Saluvankuppam inscription, which is for sure of Rajasimha, we do not find the imprecatory verse though the excavation is dedicated to Shiva.
In such situation, I would go with Paramesvaravarman I, who in his own grant8 is referred as staunch Shaiva and therefore would be a good candidate to be assigned to this imprecatory verse. Therefore this excavation should be assigned to the reign of Paramesvaravarman.
1 Dehejia & Davis. Addition, Erasure and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram. Archives of Asian Art vol. 60 (2010) p15
2 Mahalingam, T V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas, no 55 and no 64
3 Mahalingam, T V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas, no 53
4 Mahalingam, T V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas, no 76
5 Mahalingam, T V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas, no 49
6 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. p 125
7 Nagaswamy, R. Mahabalipuram.
8 Mahalingam, T V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas, no 45