Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Dharmaraja Ratha – Sculptures at the ground floor
There are about fifty images spanning across the three stories of this ratha. Almost all of these fifty images, except one dvarapala 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 others are male forms mostly depicting Shiva in his various aspects. There are eight images at the ground floor, two on each side. There are labels above few images however these have no bearing on the subject or the icon below.
The images on the west depict two different forms of Shiva. In one image, Shiva is shown standing in sambhanga-mudra (equipoise). He is shown with four hands, holding tail of a serpent and kamandal in his two upper hands. It is rather unusual to see that his upper hands are shown hanging down as usually these are rather shown raised up holding his usual attributes. His one lower right hand is in kataka-mudra, probably to hold a flower and the other lower left hand is resting on his thigh. The lower garment with folds near ankle is also unusual for the icon as such an attire is usually 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 also shown with four hands and standing in sambhanga-mudra. 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. 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. Identification with Bhairava appears questionable as the God does not appear naked as the usual case with Bhairava.
In the western niche in the north, Brahma is shown with four hands and standing in sambhanga-mudra. 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 similar lower garment as seen above in Shiva images and other image at the same floor.
In the eastern niche in the north, Harihara is shown with four hand and standing in sambhanga-mudra. His right side represents Shiva while left side represents Vishnu. The headdress is also sculpted accordingly, left side is kirita-makuta and right side is jata-makuta with crescent moon. In his upper hand, he holds a parasu (axe) and a prayoga-chakra. Interestingly, this chakra is carved outside the niche at a distance, which probably due to insufficient space for that within the niche. The label above reads Sri Narasimha.
The northern niche in the east has Ardhanarishvara, representing as one of the best specimen of the Pallava 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. The ornamentation, in arms and ankles, are appropriate for Parvati. 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.
The southern niche in the east has an image of Skanda or Subramanya who 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 however the image does not have channa-vira (cross-band over chest) characteristic of Brahma-sasta. Labels above read Prthvisara and Sri-Bhara.
In the eastern niche in the south, Shiva is shown with four arms and standing in sambhanga-mudra. 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.
In the western niche in the south is found a royal portrait as he is shown with two hands but not multiple. In most probability, the image represents a Pallava king, probably the sponsor of the monument. Based upon our argument in the previous chapter, the king may be identified with Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha. The Pallava king is identified as Narasimhavarman I Mamalla by Srinivasan and Sivaramamurti3. Nagaswamy differs with this view and identifies him with Vishnu. The labels above read, Srimegha, Trailokyavardhana and Vidhi.
1 Srinivasan, K R (1975). The Dharmaraja Ratha and its Sculptures. Abhinav Publications. New Delhi. p 22
2 Nagaswamy, R (2008). Mahabalipuram. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. ISBN 9780198071273. pp 52-56
3 Sivaramamurti, C (1952). Mahabalipuram. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 12