Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
This most complete ratha stands near the Arjuna Penance bas-relief. It being the most complete one might be due the reason of its location, near to the most famous bas-relief, the importance it would have enjoyed during the Pallava period. The ratha was known as Arjuna Ratha as mentioned by Lakshmiah Kavali in 1803. It was known as Arjuna Ratha due to its location, near the Arjuna Penance relief. Kavali tells that a shivalinga was installed inside the sanctum however that linga was removed by a British officer. Then the locals put a Ganesha image inside. Since then it is known is Ganesha Ratha. Kavali also tells that the stone Nandi, installed in front of the ratha, was taken away by Lord Clive, the then governor of Madras.
In style and design, this ratha very much resemble to the Bhima Ratha of the Pancha Ratha group. This west facing ratha measures 20 feet in length, 11.5 feet in width and 28 feet in height1. A projecting mukha-mandapa is supported on two pillars and two pilasters, all having lion-bases. At the terminals of this mandapa are two dvarpalas. Longhurst mentions that he discovered the original linga, however as the locals did not agree to remove the Ganesha image, he placed that linga under a tree.
This is a two story structure. The ground floor has a cornice adorned with kudu (dormer windows/chaitya) arches, with peeping human heads except in few where we see a mini shrine. Above the cornice is a regular arrangement of oblong and square shrines, all interconnected with a cloister. The first story rises in the same fashion as of the ground floor except the mukha-mandapa. Its cornice is decorated very similar to the ground floor and this cornice is topped with the similar mini-shrine scheme. Above it rises the wagon (sala) roof of the ratha, with its two gable ends on north and south.
The gable end on the east side has survived with its full detail. It has a cylindrical shrine in the middle. Longhurst took this cylindrical object as a representation of a linga however Sankar Narayan is very appropriately explains that this cylindrical decoration, quoting Kamikagama, is a vrtta sphutitam, used in decoration of temple Vimana.
The ridge of the roof is adorned with multiple stupis, nine in number. The trishula (trident) emblem present at the terminals of the wagon roof is very significant. It has a face at the base, above which rises three prongs of trishula. This motif is also present above the nasikas (kudu arches) on the sides of the roof. There is no proof required to suggest the affiliation of the ratha with Shiva, evident as per its foundation inscription. Trishula motif further substantiate the fact.
Inscriptions – There is only one inscription, found on a lateral wall of the mukha-mandapa. The inscription is same as the one found in Dharmaraja Mandapa. It states the name of the temple as Atyantakama-pallaveshvara-griham. We have already discussed this inscription in detail in the chapter of Dharmaraja Mandapa.
1 Longhurst, A H. Pallava Architecture vol II. pp 28-29