Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Dharmaraja Ratha – Sculptures at the first floor
The structure on the first floor of this ratha has four pillars at each side. These four pillars provide four projected offsets and three intervening recesses, thus forming seven niches. All these seven niches on all sides are provided with sculptures, except the three middle niches on west and east, due to provision for a cell and staircase respectively. We start with the western face, where middle three niches are taken up by a cell, the latter is not finished. There is a small projecting mukha-mandapa in front of this cell. Sculptures are provided on the rest four niches on this face. As the space provided for circumambulation is very minimal, it poses a great challenge for photographers for capturing these sculptures.
Shiva as Kankala-murti graced the northernmost niche on the western face. He is shown with four hands, carrying a danda (rod), chamara (fly-whisk) and a kapala (skull). The attribute in his upper right hand is not very distinct, Srinivasan1 suggests that it could be pasa (noose). Labels above the sculpture read, Satyaparakrama and Paravara.
Adjacent to the above niche, in the south is shown a dvarapala, guarding the central cell of the western face. Protruding prongs of trishula behind his headdress resemble the similar dvarapalas seen on various other Pallava monuments. Nagaswamy2 suggests that he would surely be Nandi as he carries a long sword. The corresponding niche on the other side, meant for another dvarapala, is left incomplete.
The southernmost niche on the western face shows a maiden carrying a water pot (or a basket of offering) and moving towards the central cell. She is shown without a breast-band though has a huge jata-makuta and patra-kundalas in her ears.
The westernmost niche on the northern face has Shiva as Vinadhara. Shown with four hands, he holds a vina in his two hands, his upper right hand is in kataka-mudra while lower left hand is hanging by his side in lamba-hasta-mudra. He holds an unidentifiable object in his lower left hand, it may be a book, being the Vinadhara theme. The icon may also be identified with Ardhanarishvara, being the feminine posture of the left-half of the body, and one pot of vina being treated as a breast of the feminine part. The labels above read, Nayanamanohara, Vamah and Atimana.
The adjacent niche of the Shiva Vinadhara, houses another sculpture of Shiva where he is standing with an attendant, where the latter seems to be practicing a dance posture. The headdress of Shiva is interesting, as it is in form of a flat turban, being formed by coiling his tresses around his head. Shiva is shown with four hands, holding a parasu (axe) and trishula (trident). His lower left hand is in chin-mudra suggesting him being a teacher. The attendant is shown with two hands. His right leg is bent at knee level, while the left leg is raised above, bent at knee, with sole turned forward. The posture very much resemble with kunchita-mudra. His lower right hand has its palm facing the ground, as in chatura-hasta-mudra. Srinivasan identifies him with Tandu, while Sivaramamurti3 says that it could also be Bharata.
The next niche in sequence has Shiva and Chandesha as Chandesha-anugraha-murti. Shiva shown with four hands, with one arm is embracing Chandesha. What Shiva holds in his upper left hand is not very clear and this has resulted in different identifications. Srinivasan, who identifies him with Chandesha, tells that it is a serpent tail which is held by Shiva. Sivaramamurti3 says, if it could be a bow then it may be the scene where Shiva grants Pashupata to Arjuna or if it is a book, then the attendant could be Bharata, taking teaching of Dance from Shiva. However, looking at the headdress of the attendant, Chandesha seems to be an appropriate identification. The labels above read, Kamalalita, Ameyamaya and Sakalakalyana.
The next niche in sequence shows Shiva as Gangadhara. Shiva is shown with four arms, standing with his right foot firmly placed over a small pedestal, taking strong stand being ready to hold Ganga. In one upper arm, he is holding aksamala (rosary) and in another upper arm, he holds Ganga. Ganga is shown kneeling in anjali-mudra, facing the lord, showing her submission.
The next niche on the northern face has Vishnu with Garuda. Vishnu is shown with four arms, carrying a prayoga-chakra and shankha (conch). His one arm is over the shoulders of Garuda where the latter is bent in submission with his fingers in front of his mouth. Garuda has one of his arms on his thighs, such as preparing himself to mount Vishnu. Labels above read Sri Narasimha, Bhuvanabhajana, Sri Megha and Apratihatasasana.
The next niche has the sculpture of Shiva as Kalari. Shiva has four hands, holding a mrga (deer), parasu (axe) in his upper arms, trishula (trident) in his lower right arm, while lower left arm in pointing to the below figure of Kala in suchi-mudra. Shiva is dancing, in chatura-mudra, over the figure of Kala. This dance posture led Sivaramamurti3 to identify the icon as Natesha dancing over Apasmara.
The last niche, eastern most, of the northern face houses Shiva as Vrshabhantika. Shiva is shown leaning over Nandi, who is in his zoomorphic form. Shiva is again shown in a curious turban like headdress, carrying damaru and pasa (noose). Crescent moon is tucked above this headdress. A serpent with his raised hood is shown hanging by Shiva’s right side. Labels above read, Sthirabhakti, Madanabhirama and Vidhi.
The eastern face does not have seven niches, as middle three niches are occupied for providing a staircase to reach the upper floor. The northernmost niche shows a devotee carrying a single-string instrument known as yal or ektara. Labels above read Anupama and Nayankura.
The next niche in sequence shows another devotee carrying a basket of offerings. The next niche has a temple priest shown with beard and carrying a bell. The southernmost niche has another priest carrying a long basket, taking flowers out for puja. Labels above it read, Vama and Paravara.
The southern face has seven niches with the same number of sculptures. The easternmost niche houses a sculpture of Shiva. He is standing in tribhanga-mudra and carries aksamala (rosary) and chamara (fly-whisk) in his upper arms. One of his lower arm is on his waist while another is in kartari-mudra. Labels above read, Vidhi and Vibhranta.
The next niche in sequence has Shiva as Andhakantaka-murti. In his upper hands, Shiva carries a parasu (axe) and tail of a serpent. With his left hand, he carries trishula, end of which is piercing the body of Andhaka. His another lower arms is in suchi-mudra, pointing finger upwards. Sivaramamurti suggests that the person below may also be Yama.
Next niche has Shiva as Vinadhara-Dakshinamurti. With his two hands, Shiva holds a vina, in one upper hand has damaru and another lower hand is resting over the head of adjoining gana. He has an interesting headdress. Labels above read, Sri Nidhi and Niruttara.
The next niche has an image of Vishnu. Standing in sambhanga-mudrae, he carries a chakra (discus) and a shankha (conch). His one lower hand is in abhaya-mudra while another is resting over his waist. He wears a long kirita-makuta.
The next niche has Shiva leaning over Nandi, where the latter is shown in his human form. Shiva is shown with four hands, in upper arms he carries aksamala (rosary) and tails of a serpent. One of his lower hand is on the shoulders of Nandi, while another lower arm is in kataka-mudra. Nandi is shown in very similar attitude as that of Garuda seen in a previous example. Sivaramamurti identifies the icon as Natya-Dakshinamurti, leaning over Bharata or Nandi. Labels read Nayanamanohara and Sarvatobhadra.
Next niche has Krishna in his Kaliya-mardana role. Interestingly, Krishna is shown with two hands suggesting his earthly presence. In his two hands, he holds the tail of Kaliya, the latter is shown with three hoods and being trampled below Krishna.
The western most niche on the southern face has an image of Shiva standing in tribhanga-mudra. His upper right hand is in kataka-mudra while upper left hand is in kartari-mudra. In his lower right arm, he holds a parasu (axe) while his lower left arm is on his waist. Label above reads, Lalita.
1 Srinivasan, K R (1975). The Dharmaraja Ratha and its Sculptures. Abhinav Publications. New Delhi. p 26
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 12-15