Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
This unique rock-cut shrine is situated adjacent to Atiranachanda cave-temple. It differs from all other cave temples of Mamallapuram. This east-facing shrine is in form of a scooped cavity, measuring 6 feet x 4 feet, excavated at a height of about 6 feet above the ground. It can be raised with a flight of four steps.
The cavity or cell has been projected forward and supported on two pillars. The pillars have rearing lion bases, characteristic of Rajasimha period, and there is a rider above the lion. On either side of this cell, two niches are excavated. All these three, central cell and two niches, are surrounded by yali or vyala heads, eleven in number.
On evidence of multiple vyala heads, as taken by few scholars, a natural thought might be that the cave was dedicated to Durga who rides over a lion. However, as there is no image found inside the central cell, and no inscription describing the dedication, its association with Durga might be on slightly shaky grounds.
On the southern side of the Yali Mandapa, sharing the same boulder, are carved two elephant heads carrying howdahs on their back. The howdahs are in form of a cavity in the rock, on the back wall of which an image is engraved. In between these two elephants is a flag post. Srinivasan1 tells that the image, on the back wall, is shown with four hands and holding what appears to be a Vajra or Shakti. This led him to suggest that the deity might be representing Indra or Skanda as elephant is the mount of both.
This further led him to suggest that the this mandapa was a utasava mandapa, used during the popular Indra festival. Processional deities were brought and placed here where the king watched the festivities. He points to an inscription, found in vicinity, which referred this place as Tiru-veluchchil, meaning where divine processions are conducted.
To the south of the elephants, there is a rough carving of a horse or pony. To the north of the Yali Mandapa, there is a seated lion with a cavity in its torso. Nagaswamy2, based upon the similarity of this seated lion sculpture with that of the similar structure in the Shore Temple, is of opinion that this mandapa was dedicated to Durga. The two images, on the back wall of the howdahs, are of the celestial attendants of the goddess. He states that presence of a horse and a lion is similar to the present practice of putting these animals in terracotta medium near Durga shrines.
This curious cave has been compared with few other, though not similar, specimens found elsewhere. Fergusson3 takes this Yali Mandapa as a descendant of the Tiger Cave in Orissa.
1 Srinivasan, K R. Cave-temples of the Pallavas. pp 182-83
2 Nagaswamy, R. Mahabalipuram. pp 37-38
3 Fergusson, James. History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. p 342