Mamallapuram – Ramanuja Mandapa

Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas

Ramanuja Mandapa

This east facing cave temple is 24 feet long and 8 feet deep. It appears that this would have been a most complete edifice in its time, till it was taken over by the Vaishnava occupants during the Vijayanagara period and modified to a large extent. During this Vaishnava resurgence, figures adoring the walls of this temples were chiseled off, the arrangement of shrines at the back wall was altered and a mandapa was added in front of the cave.

Ramanuja Mandapa (image courtesy –

The façade of the cave is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. These are having seated vyalas as their bases which supports a shaft above, the shaft is octagonal in case of pillars and tetragonal in case of pilasters. Above the shaft, we find a bulbous capital as seen in few other caves however the square abacus above the capital is absent. The cornice on the façade has dormer-window (kudu arches) decoration, but devoid of human heads inside. Here we find lotus medallions inside. Above these arches, five interconnected oblong shrines are hewn out.

Front Facade (image courtesy –

A frieze of ganas, under the cornice, is the first such specimen found in Mamallapuram. This motif was adopted as an essential part in the later edifices. There are total of twenty-seven ganas, the central one is shown with pot-belly, while those on the terminals are shown supporting the roof. Two interesting ganas are found, one with the head of an elephant and one with that of a bull. The one with the elephant head is identified with Ganapati by Srinivasan1, and its presence suggests that he was the leader of the ganas. Another gana is shown with the head of a bull and it may be identified with Nandi.

Mandapa and Facade

At the extreme ends of the façade, on either side, a dvarpala figure was carved out. These figures have been totally chiseled out during the Vaishnava resurgence in the 14th-15th century CE2. From whatever is left of these figures, it may be surmised that they were showing Shaiva character. On either sides of this facade, an ekatala shrine has been carved out. Its shikhara is square, which according to later period agamas, falls under the Nagara style.

In the back wall of the cave, three shrines were excavated originally. Out of these three, the central shrine is projecting forward into the hall. The side shrines have been destructed during the Vaishnava insurgence and we are left only with the central shrine. The cell is provided with dvarpalas at its entrance, the dvarpala figures have been chiseled out. Inside the cell, on its back wall, there is a niche where Somaskanda panel was carved out however this panel is also carefully chiseled off. Dehejia3 tells that this Somaskanda is in the same style as that of the Dharmaraja Ratha and predates the Somaskanda panels of the Rajasimha period.

As the two subsidiary shrine did not have niche on their back walls, Srinivasan suggests that this cave temple was originally dedicated either to Hindu Trinity with Shiva in central shrine or to the three different forms of Shiva. Relief panels were carved out on the lateral walls of the mandapa however these were also chiseled off. From the etchings left, it appears that the southern panel had Durga with attendants4 while the northern panel had seated Sadashiva with three faces accompanied with sage Vyaghrapada5.

Inscriptions – A foundation inscription found at this cave is of much interest. This inscription is very much left intact and it is surprising that no damage was done to it during the Vaishnana resurgence. One theory may be that the script of this inscription was already obliterated by that time. As its meaning was not understood therefore the resurgents did not waste their time in etching it off. The text of the inscription is provided below.

No 50 of the Inscriptions of the Pallavas6 – language Sanskrit, script Pallava-grantha – “Six times cursed be those, in whose, heart does not dwell Rudra, the deliverer from the walking on the evil path

The inscriptional verse is the same as the last verse found in the inscriptions of the Dharmaraja Mandapa and Ganesha Ratha. We have already discussed the authorship of this inscription in the chapter of Dharmaraja Ratha and Adi-Varaha Cave Temple. It is evident that the author was the Pallava king Parameshvaravarman I and therefore authorship of this cave may be assigned to him.

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1 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. p 176
2 Dehejia & David. Addition, Erasure and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram. Archives of Asian Art vol. 60 (2010),  p 10
3 Dehejia & David. Addition, Erasure and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram. Archives of Asian Art vol. 60 (2010), p 9
4 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. p 178/ Dehejia & David. Addition, Erasure and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram. Archives of Asian Art vol. 60 (2010), p 13
5 Dehejia & David. Addition, Erasure and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram. Archives of Asian Art vol. 60 (2010), p 15
6 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala. New Delhi. p 166