Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas
Annotated Bibliography of Two Millenniums
From 1901 CE to Present
By the start of the twentieth century, various aspects of Mamallapuram and the Pallavas, which were shrouded in mystery, were cleared up. Within next two decades, the remaining things started falling in place. The Pallavas were well established in the chorological list of the south Indian dynasties. Their rulers were known and their internal chronology was defined. The Pallava architectural style got a distinctive definition with characteristic features. With these foundations in place, scholars started focusing on individual problems, such as the theme behind the Great Penance relief, Pallava portrait sculptures in the Adi-Varaha temple, mystery behind the title (birud) Atyantakama and its identification with the Pallava king, signs and vestiges of religious conversions within Mamallapuram monuments etc. These studies open up new dimensions for Mamallapuram while solving old puzzles and simultaneously opening new ones.
The below bibliography includes only those important accounts and articles where we find some new theories, discoveries and interpretations. The accounts and articles merely describing the place and monuments are ignored in the below list.
Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1903, Winter India) – Scidmore was an American writer and geographer. She was the first female board member of the prestigious National Geographic Society. She visited Mamallapuram in December during Christmas period. She took a boat from Buckingham Canal in Chennai to reach Mamallapuram.
About the Shore Temple, she writes, “We came out on the hard sand beach where the ocean lapped in soft, creamy wavelets, and the terrible Coromandel surges we had heard and read of only splashed gently on a steps of a quaint little pyramidal temple carved, course upon course, to its final bell-cap. Posts and columns stand far out in the water, and a line of breakers, a mile still further out, mark where the legend says other pagodas stand intact beneath the waves. Southey had imagined it in “The Curse of Kehama,” but prosaic surveyors say that there is only a reef of needle-rocks below the surface.”1
Though she has access to all the available guide books, she mentions that the image inside one of the cell is of Buddha, ninth avatar of Vishnu. Once again in her account, we find the story of cat stealing the butter and getting fixed at the Great Penance panel. She was very much disturbed by the heat and mentions that by nine in the morning, the Sun was scorching high overhead, that killed the enthusiasm to visit any cave further.
William Hunter Workman and Fanny Bullock (1904, Through Town and Jungle) – The Workman couples traveled the world across Europe, North Africa and Asia. Fannu Bullock was a multi-faceted personality being a geographer, cartographer, explorer, travel writer and mountaineer. She was one of the first female professional mountaineer. The selected route by Workman for Mamallapuram was from Chennai via Chingleput and Sadras. It was not a direct route however it was best suited for their purpose as they both traveled on a bicycle till Sadras. On the advice of the Sadras postmaster they hired boats from Sadras to Mamallapuram.
On the name of Seven Pagodas, they write, “It is also known among Anglo-Indians by the name of “Seven Pagodas”, the origin of which is not clear. Some think this name was given by mariners, who thought they saw seven temples when passing by sea; others that it was taken from the temples scattered among the rocks”2.
The Vishnu image of the Shore Temple was identified as that of Bali on the basis of the local information. They were also told, by the natives, that other sculptured towers grander than those of Bali lie buried in the sea. They visited few other temples and returned back, passing one day at the site.
T C Venkataraman Iyer (1906, Viveka Chintamani) – Viveka Chintamani was a Tamil magazine and this article was published in its fifteenth volume3. The author did not improve upon what was already known about these monuments or town, however, he provides valuable information on conveyance, food and lodging etc. The author tells that it is best to travel from Madras to Chingleput by a train and from Chingleput one can travel on road using bullock-carts or jutka (horse cart) till before a mile from Mamallapuram town. The last mile has to be done on foot, traversing through muddy area and crossing the canal. During the summers, water level in the canal goes very low that travelling via boat is not advisable. Author also mentions a legend about sage Pundarika who came here for darshan however his way was obstructed by the sea. The sage spent a year sprinkling away the ocean water. Being satisfied with his devotion, the Lord gave darshan to him. When asked for a boon, the sage requested the Lord to remain where he appeared, in the reclining posture in order for the great yogis not to see him. The Lord agreed and remain there till day.
V Venkayya (1909, The Pallavas) – This article was published in the annual report of Archaeological Survey of India. The article was focused on the origins, genealogy and chronology of the Pallavas, however the author also touches upon monuments belonging to the dynasty. Mamallapuram is also featured however with very few information. The author mentions that as the name of the town was Mamallapuram as seen in Chola inscriptions therefore it can be safely taken that this name is after the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, also known as Mamalla in his inscriptions. And thus it is not unlikely that the town was founded by the same Pallava king4.
Alexander Rea (1909, Pallava Architecture) – This work was focussed on the Pallava temple of Kanchi, however Rea mentions the rathas of Mamallapuram stating, “Among the earliest monuments of the South, the most ancient and best known are those at Mamallapuram; and, as the rathas there, are unmistkable monolithic reproductions of what must have been earlier structural building, it became a question whether any examples of these earlier buildings might still exist.”5 Rea tells that based upon the available inscriptions, it appears that Mamallapuram was an important seaport in the days of the Pallavas. He provides few explanations to the doubts raised by Fergusson that there were no traces of any city near Mamallapuram that could have been inhabited.
James Burgess (1910, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture) – This second edition of a previous book of James Fergusson has additional editing from James Burgess6. Burgess improves upon the previous observations of Fergusson as by this time there was much clarity on various Pallava inscriptions of Mamallapuram. Based upon the latest discoveries in epigraphical context, Burgess reasserts Fergusson’s dating of monuments, mean date as 700 CE, which the latter arrived in his book Cave Temples of India in 1880.
Burgess takes cognizance of all the inscriptions or titles found at Dharmaraja Ratha, Ganesha Ratha and Atiranachandra Cave and concludes that all these titles or birudas refer to the same Pallava king, Rajasimha or Narasimhavarman II and all these were executed in the short timeframe between 670-700 CE. His various titles are also found in other inscriptions scattered at different places supporting the above conclusion.
Anonymous (1913, Illustrated Guide to the South Indian Railway) – This railway guidebook7 contains few plates and a brief descriptions of the monuments at Mamallapuram. Chingleput Junction was the railway station for tourists intended to reach Mamallapuram. The guide explains the road and boat conveyances to reach the town. It also provides brief description from the early accounts such as from Fergusson and Hunter.
Edgar Thurston (1913, The Madras presidency, with Mysore, Coorg and the associated states) – Thurston was a well-known ethnologist and served as a Superintendent of the Madras Government Museum. This book was part of the geography series of various provinces of India under the British empire. The author takes up Mamallapuram in the archaeology and architecture sections of the book. On amalgamation of the Buddhist art to Hindu art, the author writes, “The process of transformation can be seen in the group of monolithic temples carved in granite at Mamallapuram near Madras, known as Seven Pagodas. The unfinished Dharmaraja rath is a sculptured model of a Saiva shrine, the design of which is directly derived from a four-storied pyramidal Buddhist vihara or monastery.”8 On the reasons behind the name Seven Pagodas, Thurston states, “Of these pagodas two are situated on the sea-shore, and, according to tradition, five are buried beneath the sea”.
Robert Palmer (1913, Little Tour in India) – A very brief mention of Mamallapuram is found here. The author was on a five months tour of India and he sent letters back to his relatives which were later published as a book. On Mamallapuram, Palmer writes, “It is an extremely curious place. There is a shore of sandy waste with big granite boulders and two granite ridges. The inhabitants apparently had a craze for live-rock-carving about A. D. 500, and proceeded first to cut the smaller ridge entirely up into five temples, four in a row and the fifth in front. They are all elaborately carved and look just as if they had been built; but in fact they are just carved out, like a statue.”9
Victor Goloubew (1914, La Falaise d’Arjuna de Mavalipuram et la Descente de la Ganga sur la Terre, selon le Ramayana et le Mahabharata) – This article was published in the Journal Asiatique10. Goloubew was the first scholar to suggest that the central fissure in the bas-relief, popularly known as Arjuna’s Penance, was the main character of the panel and therefore it must play the most important role in identification of the theme. As this fissure represents a river, therefore the theme of the panel is more suitable to be identified with the penance of Bhagiratha in order to bring Ganga down to the earth. He argues that strong evidences in support of this theme are the presence of the Nagas as they are associated with water and netherworld and movement of all the figures towards the central fissure in order to witness this grand event.
J Ph. Vogel (1914, Iconographical Notes on the Seven Pagodas) – This article was published in the Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India11. Vogel kept his focus on the iconography of the various images as he felt that proper attention was not given to this aspect of these monuments. Vogel visited Mamallapuram for a day and prepared his observations which were published in this paper.
It was the first time when we find description of images on the first and second tiers of the Dharmaraja Ratha. Vogel tells that taking photograph of these would be very difficult due to lack of space. The main figure inside the Draupadi Ratha, earlier identified as Lakshmi or Draupadi, was identified with Durga or Parvati rightly by Vogel. He also notices the peculiar sacrificial pose of one of the devotee on this relief. Surprisingly, he identifies another devotee as a female figure though it is clearly a male figure.
Vogel suggests that the Arjuna Ratha was probably a shrine dedicated to Indra, as he is present on its external walls and there is an elephant, mount of Indra, standing nearby. He did not offer any suggestion for Bhima and Sahadeva Ratha. Vogel also identified the figures of Madhu and Kaitabha in the relief of the Mahishasuramardini cave where Vishnu is shown reclining over Shesha.
As Goloubew, Vogel also suggests that the identification of the theme of the Great Penance with Arjuna’s Tapas is not correct. He tells that the cleft in the center of the relief plays a central part as all the figures are moving towards it. The ascetic and Shiva are somewhat drifted to a side from the center. Vogel suggests a possibility of a natural spring filling up this cleft with water thus realizing the river Ganga. He also notices figures of ascetics performing daily activities as they would have done near a bank of a river. Vogel left the task and possibility to find a natural spring to future geologists.
J W Coombes (1914, The Seven Pagodas) – By the time of Coombes, ample material was available on Mamallapuram. Coombes was among the line of scholars favoring that these monuments at Mamallapuram were excavated by the Chalukyan artisans under the auspices of the Pallava king. The argument placed in favor of this was their similarity with the shrines of Ellora and Elephanta. Apart from this, there is nothing significant new study or theory in this book12.
E B Havell (1915, The Ancient and Medieval Architecture of India) – Havell is the proponent of the theory of Buddhist influence over Hindu architecture. He points out the importance of the Mamallapuram monoliths, telling that though many early period Buddhist buildings described by various Chinese pilgrims are no more existing, “Fortunately, however, there exists a very fine model of such a building, one of the so-called Ratha at Mamallapuram, near Madras, carved out of a large granite boulder. There is every reason to believe that it closely resembles the pyramidal monasteries of ancient India in north as well as in the south.”13 On the incomplete nature of these monuments, Havell opines that this happened owing to the sculptors having gone too far in imitating the details of a structural building.
G Jouveau-Dubreuil (1916, Pallava Antiquities) – Dubreuil may be considered as the father of the Pallava researches during the early twentieth century. His work on the Pallava history and architecture hold a very important place in the scholarly world. Dubreuil studied the Pallava monuments with comparative architectural approach. He disagrees with Hultzsch where the latter mentions that to answer the question of authorship and date, careful study of inscriptions is the only way forward. Dubreuil adds that comparative architectural study is also very much necessary to answer these questions.
He studied the Pallava monuments across Tamil Nadu state and outside. He asserts that the town of Mamallapuram was founded by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I who named it after his surname Mamalla. He suggests that the monuments here are of an intermediate state, posterior to the Mahendravarman I period and interior or contemporary to the Rajasimha period. The caves and rathas are anterior to the Rajasimha period, and the reasons are, missing single arched over the niches, missing rearing lion pillars and chakra (discus) and shankha (conch) of Vishnu are not shown with flames. All these three characteristics are the features of the Rajasimha period14.
The caves and rathas are posterior to the Mahendra period, and the reasons are, presence of squatting lion pillars, bulbous abacus above the pillars, slender dvarpalas (door guardians) and presence of Soma-Skanda icon. These four features were not encountered in the caves of the Mahendra period. Based upon these evidences, Dubreuil writes that the execution of the caves and rathas here were started during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (625-650 CE) and finished and consecrated during the reign of Parameshvaravarman I (about 675 CE). Dubreuil seems to agree with Victor Goloubew on the identification of the theme of the popular Arjuna’s Penance with that of Descent of Ganga. About the Shore Temple, Dubreuil goes with others in assigning the monument to the period of Rajasimha.
S Krishnaswami Aiyangar (1917, The Antiquities of Mahabalipur) – Aiyangar chaired the Department of Indian History and Archaeology at the University of Madras from 1914 to 1929. This article was published in the Indian Antiquary15. The author tells that the town, Mavalivaram, is of little consequence apart from an old light house and the bungalow of the Zamindar. However the town is very important for its archaeological remains which have been described in details in various accounts.
Aiyangar explains the reason of his attempt, he writes, “…so far no one has succeeded in expounding what actually this signifies in South Indian History. Even in respect of some of the details that have been examined by archaeological specialists there has not been the coordination of evidence leading to conclusions for historical purposes. This it is proposed to attempt, with just the necessary amount of examination of various archaeological details for coordination with a view to the historical significances of the antiquities of Mahabalipuram.”
On the name of the town, Aiyangar tells that evidences are in wanting to connect it to the story of Bali. He suggests that the name Mahabalipuram became familiar during the rule of the Mahabali (or Bana) dynasty, who ruled form there capital at Tiruvallam. Before this, the place was known as Mamallapuram, derived from Mamalla, the title of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I.
For the identification of the theme of the Great Penance, Aiyangar rejects the suggestion of Goloubew and states that this indeed represents the penance of Arjuna to get Pashupata weapon from Shiva. Aiyangar argues that Narasimhavarman I was contemporary of Appar and Sambandar and both these saints have eulogized the incident of Arjuna getting the weapon. This suggests that the theme was contemporary and therefore the artists of Mamallapuram took it for this great bas-relief. He writes, “It seems to be then beyond the possibility of doubt that this bas-relief represents Arjuna’s Penance, not as an incident in the Mahabharata but as a representation of one of Siva’s many acts of beneficence to humans, perhaps because it is so depicted in the hymns of the Tevaram”.
H A Newell (1921, Topee and Turban) – The author, in the preface of his work, praises India for assimilating and making her own, the customs, laws, arts, sciences and religion brought into by foreign invaders. He writes, “These India assimilated and make her own, much in the same way as she frequently assimilated her conquerors themselves, a process whereby she gained very much more than ever they succeeded in despoiling her of.” This travelogue from him was written during his travels within India by road and river, and it provides a passing glimpses of the contrasting and often conflicting civilizations and the transformation those have brought. The author made a trip to the Seven Pagodas on a new year’s eve. He writes, “So it came about that 7:30 a.m., on New Year’s Eve, found me motoring along Mount Road, Madras, en route for Seven Pagodas, and those old gods, who could already boast a hoary antiquity ere ever the star drew the Wise Men of the East of Bethelhem, or Santa Clause became the special Provdence of children born in the western hemisphere (sic).”16 Newell travelled via road from Madras passing through Sadras. Having a glimpse of Pancha Rathas, the author writes, “It was a relief to glance away from the glaring incongruity of the lighthouse to where, through the tall palmyra trees, stood the immortal five Rathas, more eloquent in their eternal silence than the combined clamour of all the modern cities in the world (sic).” Newell tells that the five rathas and the two towers of the shore temple, all together seven in numbers, are referred as the Seven Pagodas.
P V Jagadisa Ayyar (1922, South Indian Shrines) – This compendium on the south Indian temples gives proper attention to the monuments in Mamallapuram. The author derives most of his information from past studies and his remarks on the theme of the Great Penance are very interesting. Ayyar favors that the upper part of the panel depicts the episode of Shiva granting Pashupata-astra to Arjuna, the latter is shown doing penance to the former. The lower portion shows the darbar (court) held by king Bali while he rules from patala-loka (nether world) after being subdued by Lord Vishnu. The serpents in the cleft are Vasuki and his daughter Ulupi, the latter was married to Arjuna17. An English translation of the sthalapurana, as published in the Annual Report of the Madras Archaeological Department for the year of 1901-02, was also provided in this book.
R Gopalan (1924, Notes of the Seven Pagodas) – Gopalan18 provides references of various earlier published articles on the topic. He clarifies the origin of the name Mahabalipuram, stating that this is due to false etymology as the town is referred as Mahamallapuram or Mamallapuram in its inscriptions but never as Mahabalipuram. He also clarifies that the earlier assumption that the town did not exist prior to the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE) is also not correct as the recent discoveries and testimony from Vaishnava religious literature proves that the town was already in existence earlier. His views on the royal portrait sculptures in Adi-Varaha temple is that these represent the Pallava kings Simhavishnu (580-600 CE) and Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE). On the theme of the Great Penance panel, Gopalan rejects the identification of the same with the descent of Ganga and supports that the theme represents the story of Kiratarjuniyam where Shiva is shown granting Pashupata-astra to Arjuna.
F G Pearce (1924, Silence) – Pearce was an English educationist, who served in India and Ceylon. He is regarded as the founder of the Indian public school movement. This article was published in the Modern Review, a reputed monthly journal frequently contributed by Rabindranatha Tagore. The author was perplexed by the facts that almosr every surface of rocks shows signs of having been carved and very few of these works were absolutely complete19. He intends to answer these curious facts stating that the place was a training spot for the architects and sculptors. While the rathas were the work of the master serving the purpose of models for copy, the pupil architects worked on various parts and aspects leaving things incomplete as soon as the purpose of training was accomplished.
H Krishna Sastri (1926, Two Statues of Pallava Kings and Five Pallava Inscriptions in a rock-cut temple at Mahabalipuram) – This short monologues was mainly devoted to the sculptures of Adi-Varaha cave temple, specially to the two royal portraits20. Sastri tells that the shrines here were started during the time period of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I Mamalla, however few shrines were continued till the reign of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE), The only exception of this is the Adi-Varaha cave temple which was started before the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I. He identifies the standing male in one portrait sculpture with the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE), and the sitting male figure in another portrait sculpture with the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE).
Ananda Coomaraswamy (1927, History of Indian and Indonesian Art) – This authoritative volume on the Indian art includes few pages on the Pallava style and the monuments in Mamallapuram. Coomaraswamy goes with Goloubew describing the theme of the popular Great Penance as that of the descent of Ganga. He also brings in a very important aspect, a comparative study of the Mamallapuram sculptures with the early period sculptures of Sri Lanka. It is an accepted theory that the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I helped his Sri Lanka prince Manawanna in installing the latter over his throne. Coomaraswamy21 suggests importance resemblances in the sculptural style on the Great Penance relief and reliefs and elephant pond in Isurumuniya.
R Gopalan (1928, History of the Pallavas of Kanchi) – In this comprehensive book on the history of the Pallavas, Gopalan22 also touches upon the shrines of Mamallapuram. He identifies the portrait sculptures in Adi-Varaha temple with the Pallava kings Simhavishnu and his son Mahendravarman. This led him to suggest that the construction activities at Mamallapuram started during the time period of the Pallava king Simhavishnu (580-600 CE), continued with his son and successor, Mahendravarman I and concluded till the time of the king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE).
A H Longhurst (1928, The Pallava Architecture) – Longhurst, in his capacity of superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India, produced this survey work on the Pallava architecture. He included the monuments from different periods of the Pallava dynasty. Mamallapuram got its due attention in it23. Longhurst describes all the major temples with their measurements and iconographic features. He asserts that the construction activities at Mamallapuram span across the four different Pallava rulers, starting with Narasimhavarman I and ending with Narasimhavarman II, in between ruled Parameshvaravarman I and Mahendravarman II. He is also of opinion that the town was founded and named after the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman I, who bore the title Mamalla or Mahamalla.
Vogel, Goloubew and Dubreuil had already suggested the identification of the Great Penance with the descent of Ganga. However, they did not explain how the water was provided to flow in that fissure. It was Longhurst who took forward this suggestion and found that there are a number of rock-cut channels or footings immediately above the cleft, showing that a brick or masonry cistern was once built on this spot. Longhurst suggests that the water cistern was used to be filled during special occasions and the water was allowed to run down through the fissure.
Longhurst was fascinated with the beauty of the town and monuments, while describing the Mahishasuramardini cave, he writes, “The visitor to Mamallapuram will be struck by the artistic merit, originality of treatment and power of execution displayed in most of the sculptures, particularly with regard to these tableaux of Vishnu and Durga….”
F H Gravely (1928, Mahabalipuram or Seven Pagodas) – F H Gravely was a multi-dimensional personality having expertise in different scientific streams including of archaeology. While his career in India, he worked in the Indian Museum, Calcutta (now Kolkata) and the Government Museum, Madras (now Chennai). Gravely24 agrees with the theory that the Mamallapuram town owed its name to the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE) and he was instrumental in most of the monuments in the town. He also asserts that the town would have served as the main seaport for the Pallavas and it may be identified with the Malanga of Ptolemy. While describing the rathas (monoliths) at the site, Gravely brings out comparison of the same with the Buddhist architecture suggesting that these are the derivatives of the early period Buddhist monuments. On the theme of the Great Penance, Gravely suggests that evidences are more in favor of Arjuna’s Penance rather than the descent of Ganga.
M Raghava Iyengar (1929, Alvargal Kaala Nilai ஆழ்வார்கள் கால நிலை) – M Raghava Iyengar was an erudite Tamil scholar who extensively worked on the history of the Alvars. Iyengar’s attempt was one of the first in understanding the religious importance of Mamallapuram in the Tamil literature of early period. He brings out various references of Mamallapuram found in the Alvar poetry. Iyengar tells that Bhoothath Alvar was born in Tirukkadalmallai, the town identifiable with the present Mamallapuram, and he also sung about this place in his poetry. Iyengar further tells that Thirumangai Alvar in his Periya Tirumoli mentions the Mamallapuram town as an old and celebrated sea-port. Iyengar does not agree with the theory that the town was founded by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE), and he says that town was an existing and important sea-port prior to the Pallavas period as the town was glorified in the Sangam period poem Cirupanarrupatai (சிறுபாணாற்றுப்படை) taking its antiquity back to the Sanga period. About the Vishnu shrine in the Shore Temple, Iyengar suggests that it predates the two Shiva shrines erected by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE). In argument of the same, Iyengar quotes Avantisundarikatha of Dandin which mentions on the Vishnu image being dashed by the sea. This situation was later changed when Rajasimha erected a Shiva temple in front of the image and now the sea waves dash against the Shiva shrine but not the Vishnu image. Iyengar also suggests that the seaport town Nirpeyarru of Perumpanarrupadai can be identified with the present Mamallapuram as the town was said in vicinity of Kanchipuram. The author also brings out the theory that the Shore temple was known as Jalasayana, it being near the sea, and the present cave temple of Adi-Varaha having a sayana (reclining) image of Vishnu was known as Thalasayana, it being away from sea, and both the temples were pre-existing before the Pallavas25.
Srinivasa Raghava Ayyangar (1931, Vishnu’s Paradevata Paramarthya Sculptured at Mahabalipur) – This article was published in Indian Antiquary26. The article was focused on interpretation of the theme of the Great Penance. The author tries to explain the religious environs during the Pallava period when the bas-relief was executed. Ayyangar tells that traditionally the place was an important Vaishnava tirtha however in between it got Shaiva characters as evident from its Shaiva inscriptions found at various monuments. However, the Vaishnavas again regained their previous status and this continues till now as at present the town is a celebrated Vaishnava center. The author claims that this scene represents the theme propounded in the Padmottara-Purana which says that Shiva holding a red hot axe in his hand proclaimed to the whole world that Vishnu was the supreme deity. Ayyangar also explains that the five rathas in Pancharatha complex were dedicated to the five aspects of the Shaiva pantheon namely Shiva, Parvati, Subramanya, Ganesha and Chandikesvara.
T G Aravamuthan (1931, Portrait Sculpture in South India) – Following H Krishna Sastri, Aravamuthan also identifies the portrait sculptures of Adi-Varaha temple, the seated figure with that of the Pallava king Simhavishnu (580-600 CE) and the standing figure with that of Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE)27. In argument of his identification, he suggests that there is no concrete evidence that the town was founded by Narasimhavarman I therefore the assumption that no monument or temple in town predates his period is invalid. He mentions that based upon the inscriptions under the portrait niches and the available well-known titles of the Pallava kings, the identification of the portrait sculptures as done by him seems most favorable.
Henry Heras (1933, Studies in Pallava History) – Heras dedicated a full chapter on the builders of Mahabalipuram28. He is of opinion that the construction activities in Mamallapuram started with the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE) and therefore he identifies the portrait sculptures in the Adi-Varaha cave temple with that of Simhavishnu (580-600 CE) and Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE). To substantiate his claims for Mahendravarman I to be involved in Mamallapura, he tells that the Kotikal Mandapa and Dharmaraja Mandapa were executed by the Pallava king. He further tells that the construction activities in Mamallapuram continued till the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE).
Stella Kramrisch (1933, Indian Sculpture) – In this compendium from the erudite scholar, Kramrisch provides ample references of Mamallapuram and its style. Drawing parallels from Amaravati and Bhairavakonda, She suggests that Mamallapuram style shows that the slender figure of the Vengi (Amaravati) school becomes aggrandized and simplified, and at the same time subjected to the heavy impress of the Dekkhani form (Bhairavakonda). About the Great Penance panel, she writes, “Most conspicuous amongst the Mamallapuram reliefs is that of the Ganga. Here the rock itself becomes material as well as theme. A cosmical event is visualised on a large scale, transcending shape and size of any regular frame.”29
M K Venkataswami (1947, A Jain Sculpture at Mahabalipuram) – This article was published in the Notices and Proceedings of the Archaeological Society of South India30. The author explains that literary evidences have led scholars to think that Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE) was originally a Jain. He tells that as the Great Penance bad-relief is a work of this Pallava king, therefore it would be apt if the theme is Jain in nature. He tells that the theme represents the story of Sagara and his sons, a legend mentioned in Jain texts.
D R Fyson (1949, Mahabalipuram or Seven Pagodas) – This guide book from Fyson31 provides concise information from past researches and was intended for a general visitor who does not want to go deep into history but would like to understand the theme and legends behind the place. He was successful in his attempt, and covers majority of the monuments at the place, few in details and few with cursory glances.
He also narrates legends and anecdotes connected with the place and the temples. Additionally, he also draw the comparison of these monuments with the earlier Buddhist monuments and architectural elements. Overall, this guide book serves its purpose and is very helpful for an inquisitive visitor. We did not expect any new theories or idea in this guidebook and Fyson clearly mentioned it stating that this guidebook is intended as an introduction to a fascinating place and makes no claim to the original research.
T N Ramachandran (1951, Kiratarjuniyam in Indian Art) – This article was published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art32. In his earlier work, published in 1933, titled “The Royal Artist, Mahendravarman I”, Ramachandran lays the foundation by providing ample arguments for the identification of the theme of the Great Penance with that of Arjuna’s penance to obtain Pashupata-astra and the episode of duel between Shiva as kirata (hunter) and Arjuna. In this dedicated work on the theme of this duel depicted in art across India, Ramachandran studies the kirata story as mentioned in Mahabharata and Sanskrit play Kiratarjuniyam. He concludes that the theme of the Great Penance bas-relief at Mamallapuram is a depiction of the kirata story where Arjuna is shown in penance and Shiva is shown granting him the Pashupata weapon.
C Sivaramamurti (1952, Mahabalipuram) – This guide book on the monuments of Mamallapuram was published by the Archaeological Survey of India33. Sivaramamurti, in his simple but scholarly language, was successful to bring out the important features and aspects of the town and its monuments. Additionally, this guide books also includes the sculptures found on the upper stories of the Dharmaraja Ratha, as these were not described in details in any other earlier work, except an article from Vogel. The author identifies the royal portraits in Adi-Varaha temple as that of Simhavishnu (580-600 CE) and Mahendravarman I (600-630), following few earlier scholars having the same view. He also mentions another royal portrait, sculpted on the Dharmaraja Ratha as that of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE).
Benjamin Rowland (1953, The Art and Architecture of India) – Rowland discusses the Great Penance theme and says that this is a perfect illustration of dualism, which is persistent in Indian art, between an intensive naturalism and the conception of divine forms according to the principles of an appropriately abstract canon of proportions34.
Stella Kramrisch (1954, The Art of India) – In the explanation text of a plate on the Great Penance panel, Kramrisch35 explains the theme with that of the penance of Arjuna for the Pashupata weapon.
S J Leop. Bazou (1955, A Sculptor’s Paradise in South India: Mamallapuram) – This article was published in Tamil Culture magazine36. Bazou suggests that Mamallapuram was built as a summer residence by the Pallava kings, Narasimhavarman I by building a palace on the summit of a huge gneiss rocks. He brings back the Naga cult worship theme, calling it as “The ‘Ascent of the Nagas'”, for the Great Penance, something similar as suggested by Fergusson in his Cave Temples of India.
J T Cornelius (1955, The Dravidian Question Answered) – This article was published in the Tamil Culture magazine37. The author makes an effort to equate Libyans with Dravidians by giving a fresh interpretations to the scenes portrayed in the Mahabalipuram sculptures. The author claims that the forms represented on the Great Penance, the Krishna mandapa are various forms of the Egyptian gods and divinities.
Henrich Zimmer (1955, The Art of Indian Asia) – In this corpus of Indian art, Mamallapuram finds its place and appropriate attention. In praise of the Pallava style Zimmer writes, “At Mamallapuram the art of the Pallava dynasty developed an ideal of the human form that was unique, something quite its own when compared with the works of the rest of the Indian mainland. ….In a different spirit from that of the Chalukya works, the substantiality of the stone was here preserved.”38 Zimmer identifies the portrait sculpture of the Adi-Varaha temple with the Pallava king Mahendravarman I and the theme of the Great Penance with the descent of Ganga. About the latter he writes, “Here we behold the greatest monument of the Pallavas. A Prodigious rock wall, in the broad sunshine, has been turned into a single relief, representing the mythical descent of the river Ganges from heaven to the earth at an early period of the legendary history of the world.”
Percy Brown (1956, Indian Architecture – Buddhist and Hindu Periods) – In this iconic work, Brown gives proper attention to the Pallava monuments, specially the ones at Mamallapuram39. He was of strong opinion that all these shrines had influence from the early Buddhist architecture. He praises the skills and ingenuity of the Pallava builders and at the same time he is amazed at their zeal and variety shown in these monuments. He is of opinion that the town was founded by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE) and therefore he was the main sponsor of the construction activities in the town. He goes for the descent of Ganga as the theme of the Great Penance panel.
Shanti Swarup (1957, Arts and Crafts of India and Pakistan) – The author touches upon Mamallapuram while he discusses the sculptural art in the 6th to 8th century CE. He writes, “Mahabalipuram, further south, offers some of the most robust sculptures executed in India. Carved in the middle of the 7th century, under the Pallavas, they include seven monolith shrines and a magnificent open-air bas-relief known as “Arjuna’s Penance”.”40 He tells that this open-air bas-relief is the most conspicuous and perhaps the finest piece of bar-relief to be seen anywhere. He says that it is wrongly called as Arjuna’s Penance and it actually is a visualization in stone of the austere penance of Bhagiratha and the descent of Ganga.
S K Saraswati (1957, A Survey of Indian Sculpture) – Saraswati appears influenced by Kramrisch in suggesting that the Pallava art imbibed and carried on the traditions of the earlier Vengi school on the argument that their dominion included the parts of Andhra country41. He favors the theory that the Mamallapuram town was founded by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I and he was also responsible for various monuments in the town. The authors explains that though the Pallavas inherited the later phase of the Vengi style, they could not entirely ignore the rock-cut idiom of the Deccan and reliefs of Bhairavakonda distinguished each by a heavy physiognomical form. About the theme of the Great Penance relief, Saraswati favors the kiratarjuniyam subject or Arjuna’s Penance.
K R Srinivasan (1958, The Pallava Architecture of South India) – This article was published in the Ancient India42. This authoritative work from Srinivasan proves that stylistic criteria for the monuments is as important as the paleographic studies in attempt to put those in a chronological sequence. He categorized the Pallava rock-cut monuments into different categories, starting with the reign of the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600-630 CE) going till the reign of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE). As the span is very short of around 130 years, he tells that all the styles were prevalent in all the periods as none become wholly obsolete, all must have been au courant.
R Nagaswamy (1962, New Light on Mamallapuram) – This article was published in the Transactions of the Archaeological Society of South India43. Nagaswamy is of the opinion that all the monuments at Mamallapuram belong to the reign of a single Pallava king, Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE). His main argument is based upon epigraphy. He tells that sixteen titles (birudas) out of thirty such odd titles carved on the Dharmaraja Ratha are also found in the Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchi. As the latter is a construction of Rajasimha, this suggests that Dharmaraja Ratha should also be attributed to the same king. The title Atyantakama found on the Atiranachanda cave, the Ganesha Ratha, the Ramanuja Mandapa, the Dharmaraja Mandapa, the Shore Temple, the Varaha cave is exclusive title of the Pallava king Rajasimha as evident from his inscriptions at Vayalur and Tirupporur. This suggests that all these monuments belong to the reign of this Pallava king. Presence of Somaskanda panel in various monuments in Mamallapuram is credited to Rajasimha. For the royal portraits in Adi-Varaha cave, Nagaswamy suggests that the seated king is the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha and the standing king is his son Mahendravarman III. Nagswamy favors Arjuna’s penance as the theme of the Great Penance.
S R Balasubrahmanyam (1962, The Dharmaraja Ratha at Mamallapuram) – This article was published in Lalit Kala journal44. Balasubrahmanyam mentions that the biruda (title) Atyantakama belongs to the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE) but not to any other Pallava king. For the presence of this biruda on the Dharmaraja Ratha, the author explains that the it was Narasimhavarman I who started the work however the work was not completed in his times. And it was Narasimhavarman II who carved a Somaskanda panel in the shrine of the thord story and appropriated the monument to himself by inscribing his birudas. In similar manner, the king also engraved his birudas on many older monuments such as Ganesha Ratha, Dharmaraja Mandapa, Ramanuja Mandapa and others. He tells that Rajasimha took up the monuments created by his ancestors, carved the Somaskanda panel, inscribed his name and birudas on them and appropriated them to himself by naming them after his surnames Atyantakama and Atiranachanda.
Sherman E Lee (1964, A History of Far Eastern Art) – Sherman Emery Lee served as the Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1958 to 1983. He was an expert on Asian art. Following Stella Kramrisch, Lee also favors that the Pallava style was derived from Amaravati style, however it developed into its own character. To support this, Lee tells that the five rathas represent five different South India or Dravidian styles in its early form. The first style, as shown by Draupadi Ratha, is the simplest and earliest shrine, representing the stage one in development, with a thatched roof supported on four pilasters. The next is Arjuna Ratha representing an elaborated development of the cell type. The shrine remains square at base, however the tower shows development into different stories. The further and fuller development of this cell type is see in Dharmaraja Ratha. The Bhima Ratha represents a special type, a communal hall modelled on the chaitya hall. Lee also touches upon the theme of the Great Penance, telling that its iconography is much debated but the current opinion inclines to its identification as the Penance of Arjuna45.
K R Srinivasan (1964, The Cave Temples of the Pallavas) – This is the culmination of ideas the author started with his earlier article of 1958. This is the first authoritative work on the Pallava rock-cut architecture46. Srinivasan studies all the cave temples lying within the Pallava dominion and categorizes them within the chronology sequence of two Pallava kings, starting with Mahendravarman I and ending with his son and successor Narasimhavarman I. The cave temples at Mamallapuram were mainly assigned to Narasimhavarman I or Mamalla style except few which are put under the Mahendra style. The ones put under the Mahendra style, the author differentiates these by assigning these to Period II of Mahendra style. For the creation of these different styles and period, Srinivasan mainly focuses on the style and components of pillars supporting the cave facade.
William Willetts (1966, An Illustrated Annotated Annual Bibliography of Mahabalipuram) – In this bibliography, Willetts47 includes 154 different entries, the first available European reference to Mamallapuram occurs in the Catalan map of 1375 and the first European written reference to the site comes from Gasparo Balbi in 1582.
Andreas Vohlwasen (1969, Living Architecture – Indian) – The author is of opinion that the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I chose the site of Mamallapuram to allow his architects and sculptors, native as well as the ones brought from the conquered Chalukyan territory, to run through the various possible forms that a cella could take. Thus, Mamallapuram models decided the form the monumental temple in South India was to assume during the centuries that followed. About the Shore Temple the author tells that the principal shrine has its entrance on the east and in the circuit wall of the temple an opening was left at a point that could not be reached from the shore, through which mariners could catch direct glimpse of the cella. About the western shrine, the author tells that it was required as the traditions assert that at least one divine image must face towards the city. The author also highlights the intricate water mechanism of the temple where its courtyard can be partially flooded with fresh water and the excess water was let out into the sea. In his opinion, the tall tower of the temple also served the purpose of a landmark far visible in the sea, and to serve the same purpose in the night, a light was lit on one of the stone pillars to the east of the temple48.
T V Mahalingam (1969, Kanchipuram in Early South Indian History) – Padma Shri T V Mahalingam is an authority on the Pallavas and Tamil history. He served as the Head of Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of the University of Madras till his retirement in 1971. Mahalingam talks about the Mahalingam takes up the topic of the origin of name Mamallapuram. He tells that Mahabalipuram was well known as Mallai from very early times, as it was sung by Bhootham Alvar, and was not founded by any particular Pallava ruler49. On the authorship of these monuments, Mahalingam appears titled towards the theory proposed by Nagaswamy that all these monuments were creation of the single Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE). He writes, “This theory of the evolution of Pallava architecture with new innovation being introduced during every succeeding reign is indeed intelligible and appealing. But the new view of Nagaswamy that Rajasimha is the sole author of all the Mamallapuram momuments strikes at the root of it and dismisses the evolutionary theory as baseless, as the very monuments of Rajasimha show variety in structure.” He further writes that suggestion of single authorship is indeed bold however there still are a few difficulties in accepting this new view prime facie. The biggest hurdle he sees that though Rajasimha rules for a long and peaceful reign however it is too short a period for making of so many monuments, which also includes his other monuments at Kanchi and other places. He also points that with all available epigraphical sources, we know that biruda (title) Atyantamaka was solely used by Rajasimha, however we have only two inscriptions of Narasimhavarman I and Parameshvara I, therefore paucity renders definite conclusions difficult. Another argument is given from iconographic perspective. It is found that Ganesha and Sapta-matrikas, which as absent in early Pallava shrines, is present in Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi constructed by Rajasimha. However, as these icons are also absent in Mamallapuram therefore can Rajasimha be taken as the sole author of all Mamallapuram monuments.
J E Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw (1971, The Rock-reliefs at Isurumuni) – Professor Leeuw was a Lecturer at Cambridge and then a Professor at the University of Amsterdam, the post she held till her sad demise in 1982. She was an expert on Indian and South Asian art studies. This paper was published in Acta Orientalia Neerlandica50. The author studies the famous reliefs of Isurumuniya and brings in comparison with the Great Penance relief of Mamallapuram. While comparing both the sites, she mentions similarities such as a temple at the foot of the boulder and a cistern on the top of the rock to regulate the water supply to the cleft. She writes, “Not only the technical arrangements at Isurumuni remind us of the famous rock-relief at Mamallapuram, which is usually dated to the middle of the 7th century, but the representations of elephants with their calves and the way in which they are depicted are also reminiscent of the great Pallava relief.” She also brings in the subject of the Pallava help in the Sri Lankan political scene during the 7th and 8th century CE, where the Pallava armies helped king Manavamma and his three sons, who together ruled from 684 to 733, in their rule over Sri Lanka. This suggests that there was some Pallava influence over the sculptures at Isurumuniya.
M Lockwood, Gift Siromoney and P Dayanandan (1974, Mahabalipuram Studies) – This trio from Madras Christian College made some very significant studies around the various puzzles and mysteries associated with Mamallapuram and its monuments. One significant study was the characteristics of dvarapalas and identifying the dedication of the shrine from the same. With this the authors conclude that there are evidences of re-work on various shrines at the site. They find that the Mahishasuramardini Cave temple was originally planned as a Vaishnava shrine with the central shrine dedicated to Vishnu however it was later reworked and a Somaskanda panel was carved inside the central shrine. The other two subsidiary shrines have dvarpalas very characteristics and suiting shrines for Shiva and Brahma respectively51. In chapter five, “Authorship of Mahabalipuram’s Monuments”, the authors take up the study of Nagaswamy of sole authorship and provides arguments against it. They put up many arguments, some valid and some discountable, however they are successful in providing some missing gaps in the sole authorship theory proposed by Nagaswamy in his paper read in 1962.
Jacques Dumarcay (1975, Temples Pallava Construits) – This book was published originally in French. The author takes up the study of Shore Temple and its various phases of constructions. He concludes that the whole complex was not built at the same but in different stages. The earliest was the rock-cut recumbent Vishnu image with its supporting shrine, the latter has disappeared now. The next was the structures in the west followed by the smaller Shiva shrine, also in the west. The next was the periphery walls on the north and south of the Vishnu shrine. After this was the bigger Shiva shrine in the east which was followed by its mandapa52.
P L Samy (1975, Water Cult at Mahabalipuram) – This article was published in the Journal of Tamail Studies53. The author opines that the sea-port Nirpeyar (Nirappayal/Nirppeyal) mentioned in the Tamil Sangam period poem Perumpanarruppatai (பெரும்பாணாற்றுப்படை) should be identified with the present Mamallapuram. He suggests that this name, Nirpeyar, arose due to something specially connected with water. Samy refers to the studies of Percy Brown where the latter mentions that the Shore Temples served as a water temple when its ground floor of the rectangular outer enclosure could be flooded using a system of shallow cisterns. The water also play an important part of the Great Penance bas-relief where the central cavity can be flooded with water from the top in order to make it a river flowing top to down. This extensive use of water was something peculiar and therefore should be taken note of. The author claims that Mamallapuram was called Nirpeyar as there was a constant water flow in the natural fissure of the rock depicting Arjuna’s Penance. He suggests that this natural fissure existed before the Pallavas, and a Pallava king ingeniously utilized this water cascade for depicting the water and naga cults. The poem also mentions a Vishnu shrine and Samy claims that the shrine should be identified with the rock-cut image of Vishnu in the Shore Temple complex.
Stephen Markel (1980, An Iconographical Assessment of the Great Relief at Mamallapuram) – This paper was a master’s essay by Merkel during his studies in the University of Michigan54. Merkel tells that details revealed in a fresh translation of the Southern Recension of Mahabharata supports the theme of the relief as descent of Ganga. He further tells that the relief does not represent any single act, specific place, or particular time but it is a short-hand depiction of the entire myth. Merkel divides the whole relief into three different portion, representing three different worlds. The lower or subterranean region of the relief shows the hermitage of Kapila with its eight ascetics, the serpents of patala (netherworld) and world-supporting elephants who live in the center of the earth. The middle or terrestrial region shows Bhagiratha, Shiva and various animals inhabiting the forest region. The upper or atmospheric region represents gandharvas, vidyadharas, siddhas, kinnaras and risis.
N S Ramaswami (1980, Mamallapuram: An Annotated Bibliography) – This is the second bibliography on the topic, published within the 15 years of gap, the first one appeared in 1966 by William Willetts. Ramaswami55 provided many new references which were missing in the earlier work, and new references from 1966 onwards till 1980. Ramaswamy’s association with Mamallapuram goes well before 1980 and he had also publsihed a guide book on the site in 1969. This annotated bibliography is a great resource in the hands of scholars who want to work on the various puzzles and issues posed by the site in interpretations and chronology of its monuments.
Kenneth R Hall (1980, Trade and Statecraft in the Age of the Colas) – Hall studies the position of Mamallapuram during the Chola regime as few Chola inscriptions are found in Mamallapuram. Hall tells that inscriptions of the Chola king Rajaraja I found in Mamallapuram suggest that it was important for him to establish a relationship with this port town. Not only the port was placed under the control of one of his subordinates, but the local assembly was also called upon to reorganize the administrative structure of the city. By bringing Mamallapuram under the royal control and shifting the status of the official port of Nagapattinam, the Cholas doomed Mamallapuram to become a secondary port56.
Mary-Ann Lutzker (1981, A Reinterpretation of the Relief Panel at Mamallapuram) – This article was pubished in Chhavi-II57. Lutzker reassesses the topic suggesting that the relief represents an expression of king’s protective function. She concludes in favor of the descent of Ganga as the main theme of the relief.
Marilyn Hirsch (1983, Royal Implications of the Unique Subject Matter, Scale and Formative in the Narrative Reliefs at Mamallapuram) – This article was published in South Asian Religious Art Studies (SARAS) Bulletin58. Hirsch points out that Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniyam was very famous during the Pallava period and Dandin, a court poet of the Pallavas, traces his lineage to a brahman poet Damodara, the latter had met Bharavi in the Chalukyan court. She tells that with the support of the references at the end of the Mattavilasa Prahasana, authored by Mahendravarman I, a convincing argument can be made for the importance of the Kiratarjuniyam at the Pallava court of Mahendravarman I. Therefore she suggests a political interpretation of the themes of the great narrative panels at Mamallapuram. The relief of Krishna lifting up Govardhana hill is a perfect allegory for promoting the concept of security under the protection of a local king with god-like attributes. The Great Penance relief, otherwise known as Arjuna’s Penance, the patron utilized the theme of Kiratarjuniyam to become a vehicle for calling the three worlds and all who live in them to witness the empowerment of the king by the great god Shiva. With this the author suggests that a great deal of evidences supports the theory that this innovative, confident, grandiose ruler must have been the myriad-minded Mahendravarman I.
Joanna Williams (1986, Unfinished Images) – This article was published in India International Center Quarterly59. In this general survey to identify causes of incompleteness in various Indian monuments, Buddhist or Hindu, Williams also take up the case of Mamallapuram. While a common explanation for incomplete shrine is generally taken as the death of sponsor or patron, Williams says that another explanation must be sought at least in case of Mamallapuram. She takes up the two bas-reliefs at the site, one is the Great Penance and another its smaller copy. As per Williams, the latter was abandoned as at some time the natural central cleft and the uneven pictorial surface was considered unsatisfactory leading the artisans to look for another rock-face for the enterprise. As the whole design was taken to a new surface, this also led the changes in the visualization and ideas. She concludes that technical and artistic factors provide a better explanation than the death of the patron for the abandonment of the first relief in favor of a second version of the same subject.
Padma Kaimal (1994, Playful Ambiguity and Political Authority in the Large Relief at Mamallapuram) – This article was published in Ars Orientalis60. Kaimal takes up the theme of the Great Penance relief as the focus of her paper. She tells that the two exclusive alternatives proposed for the theme, Arjuna’s penance to obtain pashupata weapon and Bhagiratha’s penance to bring Ganga down to earth, none has won universal acceptance. Both stories correlate with many of the figures on this rock, and yet elements of the composition resist each narrative with equal stubbornness. Kaimal says that her purpose for the article was to pursue the suggestion forwarded by Michael Lockwood and Susan Huntington, that the relief means to tell both of these stories. She believes that, along with these two narratives, audiences were meant to perceive in this frieze a collection of metaphors, cosmic illusions, and political promises and that these multiple elements do more than coexist peacefully. They interact, as voices in a dialog, working in cooperation rather than competition. Kaimal opines that many of the themes articulated in this relief converge upon a set of ideas about kingship around the theme of royal protection of his people and land from all dangers- human, climatic and divine.
Kaimal also touches upon the viewers of this relief stating, “Who would contemporary viewers of this relief have been, and would they have percieved the purposeful ambiguities, parodic humor, and royal aspirations that I read there?” She tells two modes through which that contemporary audiance could have perceived the ambuguity of this work, one of interactions between individuals and another in which multiple voices interact within the thoughts of a single viewer. In conclusion Kaimal explains that her purpose of this article was not to close debate about the theme but to provide her voices and hope that others will continue discovering new voices. She concludes, “These conclusions emerge only if the process of reading remains as open as possible and the separate voices of the work are permitted to reverberate and even conflict.”
Walter Smith (1996, The Vishnu Image in the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram) – This article was published in Artibus Asiae61. The objective of the article is to propose that the rock-cut Vishnu image in the Shore Temple was created as a vivid evocation of Vishnu on the cosmic ocean, and specifically, that element of nature itself were used consciously as artistic materials. The ocean may have been considered as a kind of extension of the image, evoking the cosmic sea upon which Vishnu sleeps. Smith says that such an integrated synthesis of nature and art exists not only with this image but also a major factor in the aesthetic of the entire site of Mamallapuram.
Michael D Rabe (1997, The Mamallapuram Prasasti: A Panegyric in Figures) – This article was published in Artibus Asiae62. In his first paper, titled “The Great Relief at Mahabalipuram: Arjuna’s Penance After All” and read during the College Art Association Convention in Washington D.C. in 1979, Rabe was very much inclined towards the identification of the theme with that of Arjuna’s Penance. However with time and more research, Rabe provides new meanings and dimensions into the theme of this bas relief. Rabe tells that Mamallapuram was setup as a memorial to commemorate his victory over the Chalukyas by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE). Rabe argues that this commemoration content is most visible in the Great Penance bas-relief among all the monuments at the site. Rabe tells that both the commonly identified themes for this Great Penance, Arjuna’s Penance and Descent of Ganga, are subordinate as the relief primarily depict a Pallava royal panegyric that incorporates several additional myths as well. Taking note of the Kasakudi grant, Rabe suggests that the language in the grant, referring the Pallava race as Ganga’s descent on the earth, is a poetic encapsulation of the Great Relief’s essential proclamation. Rabe concludes that both the myths, Arjuna’s penance and Ganga’s descent, are not the primary subject of this relief, but these both are among the other numerous metaphoric praises in the prasasti of Mahamalla Narasimhavarman, the latter is the main subject of this relief.
Samuel K Parker (2001, Unfinished Work at Mamallapuram or, What Is an Indian Art Object) – This article was published in Artibus Asiae63. Parker studies the nature of the unfinished work and the reasons behind the same. He writes, “The simultaneous appearance of virtually the entire range of tool treatment on the monuments at Mamallapuram, form the deep furrows of blunt roughing-in tools to the delicate refinements of surface and shape produced by fine, finishing chisels, visible on adjacent parts of the same monument generate a dynamic sense of form, nor only as a product, but as deictic signifiers of the process of their production. A continuum of indexical traces in the stone mask human labor at the most fully differentiated extreme of their refinements and clearly expose it as the other extreme. Consequently these signifying traces are able to function simultaneously as both aesthetic signifier and conceptual signified.”
While he points to the contemporary practices of Tamil masons and practitioners in leaving some unfinished work before starting a new phase in house constructions but not with temple construction, he agrees that one problem with this line of interpretation is lack of support from vastu texts for such a practice. He also points out that such a practice is also alien to the contemporary stone workers of Tamil Nadu. He writes, “How can one reconcile the evidence of our senses, which respond to the deictic traces of what ancient stone carvers actually did, with the silence of ancient texts and the ostensible disapproval of contemporary practitioners? One line of approach would be to situate the visible, rough-refined continuum in relation to other evident distinction, explicit and implied, and a number of other, similar phenomena, fit together as aspects of a larger, more or less coherent, picture.”
He concludes the subject, “We may now return of the initial question: why do the monuments at Mamallapuram seem to display varying degrees of completion? Specific cases may have something to do with the death or defeat of patrons, flaws in the stone, or other such technical difficulties. However, a more fundamental answer can be offered in two closely related observations. First, the concept of completion itself, in ordinary English usage, entails finishing, or putting an end to something, and thus, the question itself is intriguingly misplace. Second, in addition to the remarks that Williams and other have made about unfinished images in South Asia, I would include the observation that they display varying degrees of finish partly because they are the remnants of sacrificial processes.”
Elisabeth Beck (2006, Pallava Rock Architecture and Sculpture) – This work from Beck64 can be taken as a consolidation effort on the latest studies on the Pallava rock cut architecture. She talked about almost all the Pallava cave temples with recent photographs. She also touched upon the evolution and authorship, however she did not draw any new hypothesis etc. on these points.
R Nagaswamy (2008, Mahabalipuram) – This guide book was published under the Monumental Legacy series of the Oxford Press65. Being a guide book, mention is made for all the monuments and shrines at Mamallapuram. It also touches on authorship, architecture, iconography and inscriptions. The material is largely drawn from the previous studies of Nagaswamy where he mentions that that all of these monuments were the construction of the same Pallava king, Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE).
Vidya Dehejia & Richard Davis (2010, Addition, Erasure, and Adaptation: Interventions in the Rock-Cut Monuments of Māmallapuram) – This article was published in the Archives of Asian Art66. Dehejia and Davis invoke the past studies carried out by Lockwood and others towards the Mamallapuram structures that show signs of alteration, erasure, and adaptations. The authors point to two scenarios, one where Vaishnava resurgence was witnessed during the Vijayanagara period resulting in erasures of original and erection of additional structures to benefit the cause, the second is during the Pallava period where Shaivite curse was inscribed on Vishnu shrines and the primary affiliation of the shrine was changed from Vaishnava to Shaiva. The cases during the Pallava period include engraving of a Shaivite curse in Adi-varaha cave temple and change of affiliation, from Vaishnava to Shaiva, of the central shrine of the Mahishasuramardini cave. Cases during the Vijayanagara regime include the erasure of the Shaivite symbols such as the dvarapalas, Somaskanda panel and Durga relief on lateral walls etc. in the Ramanuja Mandapa as well as similar erasures in the Dharmaraja Mandapa and Koneri Cave and erection of a Vishnu shrine in front of the Great Penance relief.
S Swaminathan (2010, Mahabalipuram – Unfinished Poetry in Stone) – This is the latest reference available on the Mamallapuram. This is in form of a coffee table book with excellent photographs. The text is therefore kept at minimum however it deals with all essential aspects of the monuments.
Vidya Dehejia & Peter Rockwell (2011, A Flexible Concept of Finish: Rock-Cut Shrines in Premodern India) – This article was published in the Archives of Asian Art68. Dehejia and Rockwell focuses on the unfinished nature of the rock-cut shrines and their objective was to demonstrate that the concept of “finish” was flexible. They writes, “The patron’s prime aim was to create a monument that was usable and functional, with a fully carved-out sanctum and a complementary iconographic program. Once the sanctum was ready for consecration and worship, many, if not most, patrons appear to have been unconcerned with the finish of the overall structure.” As there can be various reasons behind this unfinished nature, and the obvious ones are some technical defect in the rock selected for work, sudden demise of the patron or sponsor, war or civil unrest etc. However such events would result in abandonment of the work, leaving them unusable. The authors excluded such instances and focused their studies on those structures which appear usable, presumably consecrated shrines whose architectural details and sculptures certainly appear unfinished. They considered Draupadi Ratha for their study where the sanctum shows completeness and readiness for consecration while the images in external niches were left in different phases of incompleteness. This variety of incompleteness, some places in architectural details and in some cases within the image itself, in niche images two possibilities. First, there were two set of carvers, one responsible for architectural aspects such as pilasters and torana, and other for the sculpture. Second, there was only one carver working on overall niche however he had all the freedom to carry out his tasks, whether to start with architectural aspects or with the image or both simultaneously.
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