Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Dharmaraja Ratha – Sculptures at the ground floor
There are total of about fifty images spanned across the three stories of this ratha. Almost all of these fifty images, except one dvarpala niche, are complete in most aspects. Therefore this ratha plays a very important role in the study of the style and iconography of the Pallava period. The icons found here are among the earliest examples and few are rather rare and not found elsewhere. Among these fifty images, except one maiden, all the male forms, mostly depicting Shiva in his various aspects. Prominence given to Shiva suggests that the ratha was dedicated to him.
There are eight images at the ground floor, two on each side. There are labels above few of images however these have no bearing on the subject or the icon below. These labels are mere the titles of the Pallava kings.
The images on the west are of two forms of Shiva. In one image, Shiva is shown standing in sambhanga posture. He is shown with four hands, holding tail of a serpent and kamandalu in his two hands. His lower right hand is in kataka-mudra, probably to hold a flower and his lower left hand is on his thigh. It is rather unusual to see the upper hands of Shiva hanging down as these are rather held up to hold his usual attributes. The lower garment with folds near ankle is also unusual as such an attire is found on Vishnu images. Though there is no clear identification of this icon, he may be simply referred as Chandrashekhara-murti.
Shiva on the southern end is again shown with four hands and standing in sambhanga posture. In his upper hands, he holds a mrga (deer) and aksamala (rosary). His one lower hand is in abhaya-mudra while another is resting over his thigh (katyavalambita). He has a huge jatabhara as his headdress and wears patra-kundala in both his ears. Srinivasan1 identifies him with Kapardin while Nagaswamy2 as Bhairava.
Brahma shown with four hands is standing in sambhanga posture. He is holding lotus in his both upper hands. His one lower hand is in abhaya-mudra while another is on his waist. He is wearing the same lower garment as seen above in Shiva image.
Harihara is shown with four hand and standing in sambhanga posture. His right side represents Shiva while left side represents Vishnu. The headdress is also sculpted accordingly, left side is kiritamakuta and right side is jatamakuta with crescent moon. In his upper hand, he holds a parasu (axe) and a prayoga-chakra. Interestingly, this chakra is carved outside the niche, which probably due to insufficient space for that within the niche. The label above reads Sri Narasimha.
Ardhanarishvara is one of the best specimen of the Pallava plastic art. Its beauty lies in the perfect balance between the masculine and feminine features. The symmetry is achieved by providing two hands to Parvati-half as of the Shiva-half. In the upper hands is held padma (lotus) and parasu (axe). He wears a patra-kundala and a makara-kundala in his ears. A snake is hanging with raised hood near Shiva-half. The ornamentation, in arms and ankles, are appropriate for Parvati-half. The expertise of the artist comes out in the combination of sambhanga of Shiva-half and tribhanga of Parvati-half. The label above reads Bhuvanabhajana.
Skanda or Subramanya is shown with four hands holding aksamala (rosary) and padma (lotus). He wears patra-kundala in his ears and has a karanda-makuta as his headdress. Srinivasan also identifies him as Brahma-sasta form of Skanda. Labels above read Prthvisara and Sri-Bhara.
Shiva with four arms is shown standing in sambhanga posture. He wears makara-kundala in both his ears. He is holding a parasu (axe) in his right upper hand. The object held in left upper hand is not clear, Srinivasan suggests possibility of pasa (noose). His lower garment is different from other Shiva images in the manner that it is not folded near his ankles. The label above reads Atyantakama and Anekopaya.
This may be a royal portrait, representing the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I as suggested by Srinivasan and Sivaramamurti3. One argument in this support is that this is the only image which is shown with two hands but not four, therefore it should be representing a mortal being, and in that case a Pallava king, probably the sponsor of the monument. However, Nagaswamy differs with this view and identifies him with Vishnu. The labels above read, Srimegha, Trailokyavardhana and Vidhi.
1 Srinivasan, K R. The Dharmaraja Ratha and its Sculptures. p 22
2 Nagaswamy, R. Mahabalipuram. pp 52-56
3 Sivaramamurti, C. Mahabalipuram. p 12