Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Dharmaraja Ratha – Sculptures at the second floor
The second floor of the Dharmaraja Ratha follows the pattern in its style and design as that of the first floor. Each side has two pillars and two pilasters, forming three bays and two recesses, resulting into five niches for carrying sculptures in each. The western side is an exception due to its central cell occupying space of one niche, the rest four niches have dvarapalas and devotees carved. There is a mukha-mandapa in front of this central cell. The arrangement of sculptures in the niches follows a regular pattern of having a main deity in the central niche, accompanied with devotees and dvarapalas in the adjoining niches. This is very different from the arrangement seen on the first floor. Another difference, from the first floor, is that there are very few inscriptions found on the second floor. Being the most complete floor, lack of inscriptions here is really surprising.
The northernmost niche on the western face has a devotee holding a flower in his one hand pointed towards the main cell. In the next adjacent niche is a dvarapala. The dvarapala has both his hands resting on a club and he is standing looking towards the main cell. We miss here the characteristics trishula prongs behind his headdress.
The main cell on the western face has an exquisite icon of Somaskanda which may be termed the best among the earliest few such examples. In fact, there are three panels, in the middle is carved Somaskanda while the side panels have Brahma and Vishnu respectively. Both, Brahma and Vishnu, are shown with four hands and standing in tribhanga-mudra with one hand raised in adoration of Lord Shiva. Shiva, shown with four hands, has his upper hands in kataka-mudra. His lower right arm is in chin-mudra while lower left arm is resting on his folded leg. His chin-mudra suggests that he is professing something. Uma, shown in side profile, is seated with baby Skanda in her lap. Uma is slightly bent towards Shiva, one hand of hers near her ears, as such she is trying to hear what Shiva is saying.
In this early icon of Somaskanda, we find that Uma is seated in a profile mode and there is no simhasana or similar seating provided for the couple. At later period, during the reign of Rajasimha, we find that Uma is seated in full frontal mode and usually there is a simhasana provided for their seating. Brahma and Vishnu, also, were moved away from the separate panels, and were made part of the overall theme. With this Somaskanda relief at the back wall, we can safely say that this floor is complete in all respect and as a proof of this, we find an inscription suggesting the consecration of the gods housed inside the cell. The inscription found here reads, Atyantakama-Pallaveshvara-griham.
The niche on the south of the main cell has another dvarapala, whose one hand is on his waist and another in kataka-mudra. His club can be seen in the background of the image. The southernmost niche on the western face has another devotee, holding flower in his one hand, and looking towards the main cell.
Moving to the northern face, we find a devotee on the first niche at the west end. This devotee, similar to the previous ones, is holding a flower in his hand and looking towards the middle niche. The next niche has another devotee also holding a flower in his hand.
The middle niche on the northern face displays Chandra. He is shown wearing a channa-vira (cross-bands) and has a big halo behind his head. He is shown with two hands, in one he is holding a lotus. He wears makara-kundalas in both his ears.
The next niche has a devotee holding a flower. The next niche, on the easternmost end, has another devotee, however this time he does not hold a flower instead his hand is in suchi-mudra, pointing his finger towards the central niche.
The northernmost niche on the eastern face has a devotee. What is holds in his hand is not clear, however most probably it might be a flower. The next niche also has a devotee who holds a flower in his hand. Srinivasan1 identifies the flower as nilotpala (blue water lily).
The central niche on the eastern face houses an image of Surya. Though this image is very similar to that of the Chandra on the northern face, however as it faces east therefore identification with Surya is appropriate. He is shown with two hands, wearing channa-vira (cross-band). Labels above the image reads, Sri Atyantakama Pallavaeshvaragriham and Ranajaya.
The next two niches, on south of Surya, has two devotees, Both are carrying a flower and looking towards the Surya niche. In style and theme, they are very similar to other devotees found at this floor.
The easternmost niche of the southern wall also has a devotee holding a flower. The next niche has another devotee who is also holding a flower. This devotee is given due attention, as such he carries a very interesting headdress, of flat turban style.
The middle niche on the southern wall has Shiva. Both his upper hands are in kataka-mudra, in a manner to hold his attributes. His one lower hand is in abhaya-mudra while another is in kataka-mudra. As he faces south, therefore he could be identified with Dakshinamurti.
The next two niches, west of Shiva, has devotees, one holding a flower and another in suchi-mudra, pointing towards the central niche where Shiva is present. Nagaswamy2 mentions that if Shiva’s manifestation as Chandra is on north, Surya on east and Somaskanda on the east, then the Shiva in the central niche of the southern face should be identified with Bhairava or Kalagnirudra.
1 Srinivasan, K R (1975). The Dharmaraja Ratha and its Sculptures. Abhinav Publications. New Delhi.
2 Nagaswamy, R (2008). Mahabalipuram. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. ISBN 9780198071273. p 55