Mamallapuram – Dharmaraja Mandapa

Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas

Dharmaraja Mandapa

Photograph of the Dharmaraja Cave Temple at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, from the south-west, taken by Alexander Rea in the 1880s | British Library

Located near the unfinished penance panel, this cave temple falls under the category of the early Pallava cave temples. The reason for this is its very primitive design and style resembling very much with the early caves of the Mahendravarman period.

Dharmaraja Mandapa |

This cave temple faces east. Its façade has a heavy cornice in front however it is devoid of any decoration such as dormer windows (kudu arches) or miniature shrines. The excavation is in form of a hall with three cells at its back wall. The hall is supported on two rows of pillars, dividing it into two bays. Both the rows have two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars in both the rows are of the same design, with characteristic square at the top and the bottom and an octagonal section in between. The pilasters in both the rows are tetragonal throughout.

Dharmaraja Mandapa

Three cells are excavated on the back wall of the hall.  All the cells are raised above the floor and provided with a staircase of three steps. The central cell is given different treatment, suggesting its importance. It is extended further into the hall in comparison to the other two cells. Its stair case is provided with a parapet differentiating it from other cells. Presence of three cells suggests that the cave-temple was dedicated to the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. As evident from the name of the cave-temple in its inscriptions, the central cell would have been dedicated to Shiva. The dvarapalas adoring the central cell are chiseled off, most probably during the Vaishnava resurgence during the Vijayanagara period of 14th-15th  centuries1. As the temple was originally dedicated to Shiva, to refit the shrine for the Vaishnava followers, its dvarapalas were chiseled off as those were carved with Shavite character.

Chiseled-off dvarapalas |

From the outlines of the dvarapalas, it can said that they were two armed, one arm is rested on their waist, and one arm is holding on to some object of no clarity. During the same period of insurgence, a conch and a shell symbols were carved on the outer pillars of the cave. As with other excavations at Mamallapuram, this one is also not bereft of its controversies. The main controversy is with the authorship of this cave, and this topic is dealt in detail below.

Inscriptions – We have only one inscription2, engraved at a lateral wall at the entrance, details provided below:

  1. (verse 1) Let (Siva), the destroyer of Love, (who is) the cause of production, existence and destruction, (but is himself) without cause, fulfill the boundless desires of man!
  2. (verse 2) let him be victorious, who is (both) without illusion (and) possessed of manifold illusion (Chitramaya), who is (both) without qualities (and) endowed with qualities (Gunabhajana), who is self-existent (Svastha) (and) without superior (Niruttara), who is without lord (and) the highest lord (Paramesvara)
  3. (verse 3) Srinidhi bears on (his) head that Aja (Siva), pressed by the weight of whose great toe, the Kailasa (mountain) together with the ten-faced (Ravana) sank down into Patala
  4. (verse 4) Let that Sribhara be victorious for a long time, who bears Bhava (Siva) in (his) mind which is humbled with devotion, and (who bears) the earth on (his) arm like a coquettish ornament!
  5. (verse 5) King Atyantakama, who has subdued the circle of (his) foes, is famed (by the name of) Ranajaya – he caused to be made this abode of Sambhu (Siva)
  6. (verse 6) Let (Siva) be victorious, who is (both) sentient (and) motionless (Sthanu), who is (both) undivided (and) the moon, who has (both) the nature of fire (and) a body of air, who is (both) terrible (Bhima) (and) kind (Siva, who is (both) beneficent (Samkara) (and) the destroyer of Love
  7. (verse 7) Let Tarunankura be victorious, who is a king of kings (Rajaraja), (but) is not ugly (like Kuvera), who is an emperor, (but) does not distress people, (while Vishnu is both Chakrabhrit and Janardana), who is the lord of protectors (and) independent (Svastha), (while the moon is the lord of stars, but is waning in the dark half of month and subject to eclipses)!
  8. (verse 8) Just as in a large lake, filled with water (which is fit) for bathing, (and) covered with various lotus-flowers, handsome Samkara (Siva) abides on the massive head – sprinkled with the water of coronation (and) covered with bright jewels – of the glorious Atyantakama, who deprives (his) enemies of (their) pride, who is a receptacle of wealth (Srinidhi), who possesses the charm of Love (Kamaraga), (and) who assiduously worships Hara (Siva)
  9. (verse 10) He, desiring (to attain) the glory of Samkara (Siva), cased to be made this lofty dwelling-house of Dhurjati (Siva), in order (to procure) the fulfillment of (their) desires to (his) subjects
  10. (verse 11) Six times cursed be those in whose hearts does not dwell Rudra (Siva), the deliverer from the walking on the evil path!
  11. (verse 12) The Isvara (Siva) temple of Atyantakama-Pallava.

The authoriship of this inscription is shrouded in controversy. The inscription does not carry a proper name for the Pallava king, but his titles. Two Pallava kings, Mahendravarman I and Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha have left their numerous titles in various epigraphs. Let’s study the titles (birudas) found in this inscription.

Title Analysis
Srinidhi A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha3
Sribhara A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha4
Atyantakama A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha4
Ranajaya A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha4
Rajaraja A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha5
Tarunankura Not a known biruda of any Pallava king, however this is also found in Ganesha Ratha
Kamaraga A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha3
Gunabhajana Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
Chitramaya Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
Svastha Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
Niruttara Not a known biruda of any Pallava king

From the above we see that many birudas persent in this inscriptions are found elsewhere among the epigraphs of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha. However, there are few birudas which are not found any any epigraph of any Pallava king. These birudas are Tarunankura, Svastha, Niruttara, Chitramaya and Gunabhajana. In this situation, can this inscription be assigned to the reign of Rajasimha? Another challenge with Rajasimha is that in his Reyuru grant6, he is mentioned to be a staunch devotee of Vishnu, Shiva and Subramanya. A later Udayendiram grant of Nandivarman II7 makes him a staunch follower of Shiva. However, there of course is a possibility that though Rajasimha was religiously tolerant during his early years but in his later years, he might have been devoted only to Shiva. If we see other edifices he constructed, we find that he only raised temples in honor of Shiva but no one else.

E Hultzsch, who edited the inscription in Epigraphia Indica, suggests that the proper name of the king should be taken as Paramesvara, corresponding to the Pallava king Paramesvaravarman I, as evident in verse 2. The issue with Paramesvaravarman is that we have very few of his inscriptions, at other places than Mamallapuram, and in none of these his titles are enumerated. In the later inscriptions of the Pallavas, Paramesvaravarman is referred with other titles but not with these found in this inscription. Many scholars including Mahaligam8, Srinivasan9 have accepted Hultzsch’s view and assigned the construction to Paramesvaravarman I. However, Dehejia and Nagaswamy10 differ and based upon epigraphical studies, assigns the inscription to Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha.

Ignoring the resemblances in the titles of Rajasimha and the ones found in this inscription would be very tough except the cases with unknown birudas such as Tarunankura as mentioned above. However, in Saluvankuppam inscription, which is for sure of Rajasimha, we do not find the imprecatory verse though the excavation is dedicated to Shiva. In such situation, I would go with Paramesvaravarman I, who in his own grant11 is referred as staunch Shaiva and therefore would be a good candidate to be assigned to this imprecatory verse. Therefore, this excavation may be assigned to the reign of Paramesvaravarman.

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1 Dehejia, Vidya & Davis, Richard (2010). Addition, Erasure and Adaptations: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram published in Archives of Asian Art vol. 60. p 15
2 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. pp 10-11
3 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 64
4 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 54
5 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 55
6 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 53
7 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 76
8 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 49
9 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 125
10 Nagaswamy, R (2008). Mahabalipuram. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. ISBN 9780198071273.
11 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 45

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