Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
The third ratha, from north, is known as Bhima Ratha, which is apt for its bulky and large appearance. Bhima Ratha differs from the previous two cousins, Draupadi and Arjuna, in its design and architecture. It has a rectangular sanctum topped with an oblong or wagon-vault roof with gable ends. This curious roof has led scholars to suggest that its design is influenced from earlier Buddhist cave-shrines. The ratha measures 42 feet long, 25 feet wide and 25 feet high. It is a two story building, putting it in category of dvi-tala temples.
Like other monuments at Mamallapuram, this ratha is also left in an incomplete state. The second story is better finished in comparison to the ground floor. The larger sides, on west and east, have four pillars and two pilasters. The pillar and pilasters have seated lions as bases with circular shaft rising above. The smaller sides have two pillars and two pilasters. Above the pillars and beam is a cornice (kapota) with chaitya-arches (dormer window/kudu arches) design. Each such arch has a human head inside. Above the cornice is an arrangement (hara) of mini-shrines, square shrines (kuta) at the corners and oblong (sala) in middle, interconnected with a cloister.
The second story is in a disjoint construction, in the manner that its roof does not superimpose on the hara of the ground floor. A recess or perambulatory path is provided between the hara of the ground floor and the shrine of the second story. The shrine, here, is also a rectangular or oblong structure with a vaulted roof on top. The larger sides are provided with five niches, few having unfinished human figures. Three of these niches, two terminal and one middle, are in form of a full shrine with a cornice and superstructure with gable ends in front profile. The other two niches are also in form of a shrine, but without a cornice and griva, as the superstructure is directly imposed on the beam above the pillars. The middle niches might have served as an entrance into the shrine.
The vaulted roof, also called sala or wagon roof, is a curvilinear slopping structure with a ridge in the middle. This ridge is decorated with eighteen stupis. Only bases of these are found stupis are carved out of the natural rock. The idea would have been to install the stupis during the consecration of the temple. As stupis of Draupadi and Arjuna ratha are found near their platform, the idea, of carving the stupi from a separate stone and installing these during consecration, strengthens. This would have been appropriate as these monoliths are carved in top-down fashion which would require carving the stupi first and thus violating the consecration process.
The gable ends of the roof are most interesting part of the shrine. The ends are in form of a chaitya arch or horse-shoe arch. Six projecting brackets, three on each side, signify the ends of rafters, inserted to support such an arch. These rafters suggest that the design of this building is influenced from similar structures designed and constructed in wood. Within this gable arch is shown a shrine, square shrine topped with a circular shikhara. The circular shikhara puts the shrine in vesara architectural style according to south Indian agamas, though these agamas are of late origin. These gables ends would have been adorned with trishula motif, as seen of Ganesha ratha, if not with regular stupis.
With the arrangements of pillars at all the sides, a circumambulatory path was conceived, thus putting this temple in category of sandhara shrines. The circumambulatory path is open in all the directions except at the corners. This arrangement of pillars on all sides leaves a rectangular sanctum in middle which was designed to be entered through west. This kind of oblong sanctum is usually constructed to enshrine an image of Sapta-matrikas or Anantasayana Vishnu. Beck1 mentions that it was meant to house Anantasayana image as outlines of this image are visible.
1 Beck, Elisabeth. Pallava Rock Architecture & Sculpture. East West Books. Madras. ISBN 8188661465