Mamallapuram – Atiranachanda Cave temple

Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas

Atiranachanda Cave Temple

Photograph of an unidentified cave temple at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections taken by Alexander Rea in the 1880s | British Library

This cave-temple is located little far from Mamallapuram town, in a small hamlet Saluvankuppam. However, as the excavations in this hamlet belong to the Pallava kings therefore these should be taken up within the discussion on the monuments of Mamallapuram.

Atiranachanda Cave Temple

This cave-temple has a simple facade resembling earlier Pallava period excavations of king Mahendravarman I. The cave is excavated into a mandapa (hall) with a cell in its rear wall. The mandapa is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are of simple design having square top and bottom sections with an intervening octagonal section. The pilasters are tetragonal throughout.

Facade of the Cave Temple
Inner Shrine | www.kevinstandagephotography.com

The cornice of the facade is bereft of usual decoration scheme of dormer windows (kudu arches) and interconnected oblong shrines. Later period holes, hewn in the cornice, suggests a plan to support a porch in front, probably made of wood. The inner cell is projected forward into the mandapa and provided with an entrance. On either side of the entrance, pilaster framed niches house dvarapalas. They depict typical Shaiva attributes suggesting the cell was dedicated to Shiva. Both rest their one hand on their club and other hand is raised in suchi-mudra.

Somaskanda panel | www.kevinstandagephotography.com

Inside the cell, on its back wall, is a bas-relief of Somaskanda. In the relief, Shiva and Parvati are shown seated, while Skanda is in the lap of Parvati. There is a parasol above Paravti. Vishnu and Brahma are shown in upper corners. On either side of this cell, on the back wall, similar Somaskanda panels were tried but left incomplete. A granite multi-faceted linga is placed in front of the Somaskanda panel in the cell. This type of black polished linga is usually found during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha. Srinivasan1 is of opinion that this linga is a later addition as the provision for its pranala (water outlet) appears an after-thought as it is provided after cutting off the lower part of the club of the right side dvarapala. This suggests that insertion of linga was a later design. However, Lockwood2 is of opinion that water ablution rights for linga might not be in vogue during the original excavation and when this practice came into fashion, a water outlet was carved out. Therefore thinking that linga was a later addition on basis of missing water outlet for perform ablutions is not proper. There is another granite linga installed in front of the cave-temple. Longhurst3 takes it as the original linga, however Srinivasan4 disagrees mentioning the height of the linga does not allow it be originally inside the cave shrine. He suggests that this linga might be belonging to a structural temple, ruins of which are found lying around this cave temple.

Mahishasura Panel | www.kevinstandagephotography.com
Durga as Mahishasuramardini | www.kevinstandagephotography.com

On a separate boulder in front of the cave temple is a magnificent panel depicting Durga as Mahishasuramardini. The Goddess is shown with six arms carrying dhanush (bow), shankha (conch), chakra (discus) and khadga (sword). She is shown alighting from her lion mount. Her army is already in process of annihilating the demon army, the latter is led by demon king Mahishasura. The demon is shown in anthropomorphic form with a head of a buffalo. Mahishasura is already in process of retreat where he and his army is being chased by the gana army of the goddess. This panel can be compared with another similar panel from Mahishasuramardini-mandapa where the Goddess is shown holding her strung bow striking over the demon army. The present panel is next in sequence as here the Goddess has completed annihilation of the demon army, dismounting from her mount over to a lotus pedestal. The demon king has dropped his club suggesting that he has accepted the defeat and awaits his final moments in the hands of the Goddess. The present panel is one among the best specimens of Mamallapuram art for its aesthetic, dynamic and vivid portrayal of the fight scene.

Inscriptions – There are four inscriptions found in this cave temple. The two large inscriptions, on its lateral walls are copies of each other, in different scripts. Two small label inscriptions are found at the entrance of the cave.

  1. On the lateral wall of the cave temple5– language Sanskrit, script Pallava-grantha – the inscription runs for seventeen lines and consists seven verses. The translated verses are provided below
    • Verse 1 & 2 – 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 receptacle of wealth (Srinidhi), who possesses the charm of love (Kamaraga) (and) who assiduously worships Hara (Siva)
    • Verse 3 – For the welfare of the earth, he who is standing at the head of the lords of the earth caused to be made this house of Sambhu (Siva), which resembles (the mountain) Kailasa and Mandara
    • Verse 4 – Let the 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) arms like a coquettish ornament
    • Verse 5 – Atiranachanda, the lord of the rulers of the earth, made this (temple called) Atiranachandesvara. Let Pasupati (Siva) attended by the mountain-daughter (Parvati), Guha (Skanda), and the demi-gods (Gana), always take delight (in residing) here!
    • Verse 6 – let the eight-formed lord of beings (Siva) take up (his) abode for a long time in this temple (called) Atiranachandesvara, which was caused to be built by him who, together with the name Atiranachanda, owe deep devotion to Isana (Siva), abundant wealth, the heavy burden of the earth and unequaled liberality, (and) who is renowned by the name Ranajaya, (and) Anugrasila.
    • Verse 7 – Who is able to master the name of Kalakala, unless the performer (were) Bharata, Hari, Narada, or Skanda. Samaradhanamjaya (Arjuna in battle), Samgramadhira (he who is firm in war)
  2. On another lateral wall of the cave temple6 – language Sanskrit, script Nagari – this is a copy of the above inscription, it runs for sixteen lines and contains only first six verses as of the above inscription
  3. Above the entrance of the cave temple7 – language Sanskrit, script Pallava-grantha – reads “[The Ishvara (Siva) temple of] Atiranachanda-Palla[va]”
  4. Below the above inscription8 – language Sanskrit, script Pallava-grantha – reads “[The Ishvara (Siva) temple of] Atiranachanda-Palla[va]”

Riddle of inscriptions – Inscription number 1 of the above list is of very importance. If we compare it with the inscription of the Dharmaraja Mandapa, we will find that the first, second and the fourth verse of this inscription are same as that of verse eighth, ninth and fourth respectively of the inscription of Dharmaraja Mandapa. Some interesting comparison points are as below:

  1. Dharmaraja Mandapa inscription has been assigned to the Pallava king Parameshvaravarman I based upon a verse which mentions “Parameshvara“. This verse is missing in the inscription of this cave.
  2. The imprecatory verse found at the end of the Dharmaraja Mandapa inscription and in few other inscriptions at Mamallapuram is the missing in this inscription.
  3. Both the inscriptions share few titles such as Atyantakama, Srinidhi, Sribhara, Ranajaya and Kamaraga. Among these, except for the biruda Srinidhi, all other birudas are found at other definitive epigraphs of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha. New birudas found in inscription at this cave-temple are Atiranachanda, Kalakala, Anugrasila, Samardhanamjaya and Samgramdhira. Among these except Samgramdhira, all other birudas are also found at other definitive epigraphs of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha.
  4. Contrary to Dharmaraja Mandapa and Ganesha Ratha, where the name of the temple was after the biruda Atyantakama, the name of this cave temple is after the biruda Atiranachanda.

Keeping the above points in mind, it would be inappropriate to assign this cave temple to the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha. The style and design of this cave baffles art historians as this resembles very much to the early cave-temples from the period of the Pallava king Mahendravarma I. The characteristic rampant-lion pillar bases of the Rajasimha period are absent. If we would not have the foundation inscription or the Somaskanda panel at the rear wall, assignment of this cave-temple to Rajasimha would be very challenging. Lockwood9 takes this inscription belonging to the Pallava king Parameshvaravarman I though he links the Mahishasuramardini panel to the Pallava king Rajasimha.

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1 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 130
2 Lockwood, Michael (1993). Mamallapuram – A Guide to the Monuments. Tambaram Research Associates. Chennai. p 179
3 Longhurst, A H (1928). Pallava Architecture Part II. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
4 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 130
5 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. pp 12-14
6 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. pp 12-14
7 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. p 14
8 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. p 14
9 Lockwood, Michael (1993). Mamallapuram – A Guide to the Monuments. Tambaram Research Associates. Chennai. p 179

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