Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
This west facing cave temple overlooks the Koneri tank therefore named so.There are two side by side excavations, one is very much incomplete while the other one is better finished. The article below is about the finished excavation.
The upper portion of the front façade is well ornamented with oblong mini shrines and chaitya arches (dormer window). There are five oblong shrines connected with six intermittent cloisters. Below these shrines is the chaitya arches decoration. There are total ten of such arches and each has a peeping human face inside. These faces are looking in the direction of their respective shrines. Below these arches, we find a freeze of geese, thirty in number.
The cave temple is excavated into a rectangular hall consisting of two bays. It has two rows of pillars, having four pillars and two pilasters in each. The front row has pillars resembling the characteristic Mahendra style with square section at top and the bottom and an octagonal section in between. The pillars in the inner row are different from that of the front row and display an advanced stage. These pillars are cylindrical at bottom but multi-faceted above. These are slender, slimmer and have a bulbous abacus at the top. These are also ornamented with creeper and flower designs. As these pillars do not have seated lion base, therefore these may be termed as a transitional phase from the Mahednra style to the Mamalla style.
At the back wall of the cave, five shrines haven been hewn out. All the shrines are raised above the hall floor. Three out of five cells, central and the ones at the extreme ends, project forward into the hall. All the cells were provided with staircase however only of the projecting ones were completed. All these shrines are provided with a niche in their back walls, probably to install an image. All the shrines are with their set of davrpalas.
In case of the absence of a linga or an image, study of dvarpalas helps in determining the the presiding deity. This is the case with this excavation, as all the five cells are empty. Though these have sockets for installing lingas however we cannot be certain if this was a later modifications or an original design. For this cave, Srinivasan1 suggests that these linga sockets are later additions as we miss the water outlet. In such cases, study of dvarpalas and their features help understanding to whom the excavation was dedicated.
The northernmost cell has its two dvarpalas, one of which is completely obliterated leaving its etchings, most probably during the Vaishnava resurgence in the Vijayanagara period2. The other dvarpala, the right one, is also much damaged however from what remains is enough to form an idea about their form and style. These dvarpalas shows feminine characteristics as their figure seems be slender and slimmer. Both have one of their hand at their waist and another one raised above pointing towards the shrine.
The next shrine has both the dvarpalas intact. They both are shown standing facing the viewer. Both have one hand resting over their wait and one hand in suchi posture, pointing towards the shrine. The dvarpala on the right has horns behind his headdress. Srinivasan3 and Nagaswamy4 takes it as representation of Nandi, while Siromoney5 takes it as trishula or trident. Siromoney seems to be correct here as he proves that the other dvarpala represents the battle-axe weapon of Shiva while the one with horns represents his trident. Refer nice graphical work from Vijay (poetryinstone.in) in understanding this representation.
Dvarpalas of the central shrine wear large kirita-makuta and a long garland reaching till their ankles. Both have one hand resting over their wait and one hand in suchi posture, pointing towards the shrine. The dvarpala on the right has horns behind his headdress in similar fashion as of the preceding pair.
Dvarpalas of the next shrine are facing front and standing cross-legged. They have one arm resting over their hip while their another hand is on their clubs. They are provided with fierce look and appearance with their protruding tusks and bulging eyes. The dvarpalas of the southernmost and the last shrine are very similar to those of the central shrine except these are not shown wearing garlands. The dvarpala on the right shows trishula prongs behind his headdress.
From the above description of the dvarpalas, we see that three sets confirm with the Shiva dvarpalas. Therefore it might be the case that all the five shrines were dedicated to some form of Shiva. Srinivasan6 suggests that these five aspects or form are of Sadashiva icon, i.e. Ishana, Tatpurusha, Aghora, Vamadeva and Sadyojata. The middle shrine would be dedicated to Sadyojata as it faces west, northernmost to Ishana, southernmost to Tatpurusha, northern recessed shrine to Vamadeva and southern recessed shrine to Aghora. However, the shrine to Vamadeva, feminine aspect to Shiva, should the northernmost as it has feminine dvarpalas but not the one as suggested by Srinivasan.
There is no inscription found in this shrine therefore its foundation cannot be fixed for certainty. Based upon its architectural style and few advance features on top of Mahendra style, Srinivasan assigns this excavation to the Mamalla or Narasimhavarman I’s period.
1 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. p 140
2 Dehejia & Davis. Addition, Erasure and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram. Archives of Asian Art vol. 60 (2010) p16
3 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. p 139
4 Nagaswamy, R. Mahabalipuram. p 31
6 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. p 141