Malayadipatti – The Hill of the Holy


Malayadipatti is a small village settlement located in Pudukkottai district of Tamilnadu. This otherwise insignificant village is famous for its two cave temples, excavated on a large low lying hill located in the south-east of the village. Few other excavations were planned or tried out over the same hill as evident from the traces of scooping at many places. The hill was earlier used by Jain recluses as suggested by the presence of rock-cut beds in two natural caverns on the southern façade. A ninth century CE inscription near the beds mentions donation of the beds to Alankari of Karaiyur1.

Pallikonda Perumal Temple (Vishnu cave temple) –  Excavated on the northern face of the rock, this shrine is locally known as Pallikonda-perumal Temple. In its Chola inscription, the temple is referred as Olipathi-vishnu-griham of Tirualattur, the latter is the name of the hill. In later Vijayanagara inscriptions, the temple is referred as Kan-nirainta-perumal of Tiruvaymalai. This cave temple has been later extended with a mandapa and an enclosure compound with a gopuram entrance on the north. We find here a flat roofed gopuram instead of familiar high-rising gopurams. On the external wall of the enclosure, proper left of the gopuram, a Ganesha image is installed. This valampuri Ganesha idol has four hands, carrying a broken tusk, ankusha (elephant goad) and modaka in three of his hands. Inside the complex, in its north-west corner, a later period shrine was constructed for Goddess Nachiar. Passing through bali-pitha, deepa-stambha (lamp-tower), a goddess idol and a Garuda idol, we reach the main cave complex.

Lion Base of pillars

The original cave is consisted of a mandapa with the garbha-grha at its rear wall. The front façade is left plain devoid of any regular decoration of kudu-arches or mini-shrines of kuta or sala types.  Two pillar and two pilasters forms three aisles of the mandapa. The octagonal shaft of the pillars is supported on a lion-base, the animal is shown seated with its front outer limb raised in striking posture. Lion is replaced with yali in case of the based of the pilasters. The posture of these lions and yalis is very different to the regular posture found in the Pallava cave temples, except the lions of the sopana of the Yali-mandapa at Mamallapuram which more or less resemble to what we find in this cave temple. The corbel above the pillars is with angular profile with taranga motif and a median patta.

Western Dvarapala
Eastern Dvarapala

Beyond the pilasters on the front facade are provided niches for dvarpalas. The dvarapalas are shown with two arms, one held at their waist and another holding a padma (lotus). Both the figures are almost identical in ornamentation and posture. A hooded snake is shown over their shoulders. The western dvarapala has shankha (conch) crest in his headdress while the eastern dvarapala has a chakra (discus) crest, suggesting that these dvarapalas represent the respective ayudha-purushas. The entrances of the mandapa are marked with lintel and door jambs which is a feature unique for a cave-temple not witnessed at other places. These kinds of jambs and lintels are seen in the caves excavated for residential purposes.

Vishnu with Sri-devi and Bhu-devi
Vishnu seated with Sri-devi and Bhu-devi

On the eastern and western lateral walls inside the mandapa, provisions are made for shrines. On the eastern wall is carved a bas-relief of standing Vishnu  accompanied with Bhu-devi and Sri-devi.  Vishnu, shown with four arms, is standing over a padma-pitha. He carries a shankha and a chakra in his upper hands, while his one lower hand is on his waist and another in abhaya-mudra. The western wall appears to be devoid of a bas-relief, however it carries an image of seated Vishnu with Bhu-devi and Sri-devi, executed in separate stone. Most of the reliefs of this cave are covered with stucco and later on decorated with paint.


The rear southern wall is projected in the front with its adhisthana (base) consisting of four mouldings. Two circular pillars and pilasters rise above this adhisthana, resulting three entrances. The intercolumniation is not equal, the central entrance is wider than others. Beyond the pilasters, on either sides, are two niches. Eastern niche has an image of four-armed Varaha, seated in sukhasana posture. He is holding chakra and shankha in his upper hands, one of his lower hand is resting over his waist and another lower hand is in abhaya-mudra. Usually Varaha is depicted in alidha-mudra holding Bhu-devi over his tusks, and seated Varaha is rather a rare icon. In the western niche is shown Narasimha, with four hands seated over a platform in maharajalialasana. He holds chakra and shankha in his upper hands. One lower hand is placed over his bent knee and another lower hand is over his waist. He is shown wearing rings in all of his fingers, even in thumbs as well. Ring on the thumbs of the upper hands are very much clear in the stucco. When Narasimha is shown without any attendants and deom Hiranyakshipu, he is referred as kevala-Narasimha. Usually kevala-Narasimha images depict Narasimha in standing posture, seated kevala-Narasimha is rarely found.


On proper right of Varaha niche is a painting of Hanuman. He is shown standing with face turned to the god and holding his both hands in anjali-mudra. He is wearing a checkered lower garment. All the ornaments wore by him are made of flowers. He is shown wearing a garland, bracelets, earrings and wristbands. He is having a protruding tooth coming out of his mouth.

Rama, Balarama, Krishna
Rama & Balarama

The canopy of the mandapa is painted with the ten incarnations of Vishnu. Among these ten avataras, included is that of Krishna and Buddha is excluded. However the paintings have not survived in very good conditions. Much of the damage has been caused due to smoke and oil vapors. Only the starting few figures and ending few figures are clear now, all in between these are gone. On the leftmost is painted Vishnu as Matsya (fish incarnation). On its right is Vishnu as Narasimha (man-lion incarnation). This Narasimha representation is very unique as he is shown with the body of lion and head of a human quite in contrast where in regular representations Narasimha is shown with the body of a human and head of a lion. Among others are seen Rama with a bow, Balarama holding a plough, dancing Krishna and Kalki.

Daksha with ayudha-purushas

The large and elaborate sculpture of Anantasayi Vishnu covers almost all of the rear wall of the mandapa. Shesha is shown with five heads in his hood and three coils forming the bed for Vishnu. Vishnu, facing upwards, reclines over the coils under the canopy made of Shesha’s hood. He is shown with two hands, one stretching backward and another raised up in kataka-mudra. Two figures are shown below the coils, one near Vishnu’s head represents sage Markandeya while one near his feet is Bhu-devi. Brahma, seated on a lotus, emerges from Vishnu’s naval. On Brahma’s right is Narada with lute and Tumburu with vina. On Brahma’s left is shown goat-faced Dakhsa followed by five ayudha-purushas. Among the ayudha-purushas are found, Kaumaudaki (mace/gada) is shown in female form, followed by Shranga (bow/dhanush), Nandaka (sword/khadga), Sudarshana (discus/chakra) and Panchajanya (conch/shankha) shown as a dwarf. Demons Madhu and Kaitabha are shown near the feet of Vishnu. Above Madhu and Kaitabha is shown Chandra (moon). On the eastern later wall is present Garuda and Surya and two other figures in anjali-mudra.

Garuda with other figures

Sayana murthis are categorized into four categories, Yoga-sayana, Bhoga-sayana, Vira-sayana and Abhicharika-sayana. The first is meant to be worshiped for spiritual realization, the second for worldly prospects, the third for military prowess and the last for inflicting defeat and death on the enemies. Abhicharika-murtis are not of auspicious nature, and are setup only in forests, on mountains, or solitary places. These are not fit for installation in temples built in towns and villages2. If head is in the east it causes peace, in the south it results in victory and in the west will give prosperity. The head in the north is considered abicharika3. With his head placed in the east, Anantasayana at Malayadipatti represents the Yoga-sayana aspect of the icon, propitiated and initiated for peace.

No foundation inscription has been found, therefore scholars have divergent views on its origins. In a Chola inscription found in the later period mukha-mandapa, the temple is referred as Olipati Vishnu-griham of Tirualattur. Later Vijayanagara inscriptions refer the temple as Kan-nirainta-perumal of Tiruvaymalai4. As the adjacent Shiva cave-temple has a foundation inscription of the Pallava king Dantivarman (795-846 CE), therefore the comparison is hard to avoid. In the absence of any foundation inscription, it would be hard to tell whether it was constructed prior or after the adjacent Shive cave temple. While scholars are inclined towards crediting this construction to the Pandyas, they are divided on its placement when compared to the Shiva cave. V Latha and D Dayalan are of opinion that this cave was constructed before the Shiva cave. Dayalan suggests that this cave temple might be the work of the Muttaraiyas, when they become independent slightly before Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (731-795 CE). K R Srinivasan thinks that this is a construction of the Later Pandyas.

Shiva Cave Temple

Vahisvaramudayar Temple (Shiva cave temple) – This cave temple is excavated on the northern façade of the hill. The temple has a mandapa with a shrine inside. The mandapa, in the front, is supported on two pillars and two pilasters, all designed with cubical base and top (saduram) with intervening octagonal section (kattu). The cornice over the front façade is decorated with kudu-arches. This results in three aisles, with almost equal intercolumniation. Above these pillars is supported a corbel designed with angular profile. The mandapa is larger than its opening, the lateral walls are scooped in beyond the external terminating pilasters.

Adhisthana of the inner shrine
Inner Shrine

On the eastern lateral wall inside of the mandapa is excavated a shrine facing west.  The shrine shares the southern and eastern wall with that of the mandapa, leavings its western and northern walls exposed to a viewer. Its adhishthana is composed of the regular five moldings, upana, jagati, kumuda, kantha sandwiched between two kampa courses and a pattika. The entrance on the west is flanked with two niches carrying dvarapala images. The northern dvarapala is shown with two arms, one resting over his club and another is raised up in suchi-mudra. Over his headdress is a protrusion suggesting an axe-blade, therefore this dvarapala represents the parashu-ayudha-purusha of Shiva. The dvarapala on the south has his right foot raised above the ground, bent and reaching till his elbow. His one arm is resting over a club and another is raised up in vismaya-mudra. Behind his headdress are shown three prongs of a trishula, suggesting that this dvarapala represents the trishula-ayudha-purusha of Shiva. Inside this shrine is a Shivalinga resting over a circular pitha. The pitha is not rock-cut and appears to be a later addition. It is also not very clear if the linga is rock-cut or a separate piece. Dayalan suggests that originally the linga was rock-cut and it was replaced by the present linga after the original got destroyed or damaged. As the Nandi, opposite to the shrine, is carved from the mother rock, therefore it is very probable that linga was also cut from the same rock. An image of Chandesha is carved on the northern wall. He is shown two-armed carrying his axe. In front of the shrine is a rock-cut Nandi.

Western wall inside mandapa

On the western lateral wall of the mandapa are three bas-relief sculptures. The northmost sculpture represents Durga, standing over a lotus pedestal with one of her leg slightly bent and placed beside her straight leg planted over the pedestal. This standing posture is seen at various places such as the Adi-Varaha cave temple at Mamallapuram and Singavaram cave temple, in some cases her bent leg is shown behind the straight leg. Durga is show with eight arms however many of the attributes held in her hands have worn out beyond recognition except a sword and a shield. Over the top corners are shown her two mounts, a lion and an antelope. Flanking her feet are two devotees.


The central sculpture is that of Hari-Hara, combined form of Vishnu and Shiva. Left side of Hari-Hara represents Vishnu while the right side represents Shiva. He is shown with four arms, holding shankha (conch) and parashu (axe) in his upper arms. One lower arm is resting over waist while another is in abhaya-mudra. Top corners has two flying figures, with halo behind their heads, may represent Chandra (moon) and Surya (Sun).

Subramanya Brahmashashtha

The southernmost sculpture represents Subramanya as Brahmashashta. His warrior aspect is reflected by the channavira (cross-bands) worn over his chest. He is shown with four arms, holding his shakti (spear) and akshamala (rosary) in his upper hands. One lower hand is over his waist and another in abhaya-mudra.

Nandi and Sapta-matrikas inside the mandapa
Sapta-matrikas with Veerabhadra and Ganesha

On the remaining portion of the southern wall is carved a panel depicting Sapta-matrikas (seven mothers) flanked with Ganesha and Veerabhadra. The images in sequence are of Veerabhadra, Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani, Chamunda and Ganesha. All except Veerabhadra are seated in sukhasana with one leg folded and placed on the seat while one leg hanging and resting on the ground. Veerabhadra is seated with both legs placed on the seat and joined with a yogapatta. All the figures are shown with four hands. Each matrika has her dhvaja (flag-staff) placed behind her; hamsa-dhvaja for Brahmi, nandi-dhvaja for Maheshvari, peacock-dhvaja for Kaumari, Garud-dhvaja for Vaishnavi, plough-dhvaja for Varahi, elephant-dhvaja for Indrani and eagle-dhvaja for Chamunda.

Inscriptions – There are few inscriptions found inside the cave, details of these as below:

  1. On the rock on the north-east of this temple5– dated 7th century CE – reads “Sri Kaikkatti”
  2. On a pillar of the mandapa in front of the rock-cut shrine of Vagisvara temple6– Tamil language – refers to the sixteenth regnal year of the Pallava king Dantivarman (795-846 CE), corresponding 812 CE – mentions that Videlvidugu-Muttaraiyan alias Kuvavan Chattan excavated the Tiruvalattur hill as a temple and consecrated the god (bhatarar) in it. Mentions Kilchengali-nattunattar.
  3. On a pillar of the mandapa in front of the rock-cut shrine of Vagisvara temple7– Tamil language – refers to the fortieth regnal year of the Chola king Rajakesarivarman – the inscription is much damaged, nothing much can be made our except the name of hill Tiruvalattur
  4. On a pillar of the mandapa in front of the rock-cut shrine of Vagisvara temple8– Tamil language – Refers to the twenty-forth regnal year of the Chola king Kulothunga III, corresponding 1201-02 CE – records a decision of the nadus of Michengili-nadu and Kilchengili-nadu of Jayasingakulakula-valanadu and the urs of Tiruvalattur and Kalakkudi, fixing the taxes (kadamai) to be levied in kind according to crop and irrigation facilities from the lands of in the village of Kalakkudi in Kilchengili-nadu, a devadana of the temple of Vagisvaramudaiya-Nayanar of Tirulattur-malai in Mechengili-nadu. One-sixth of the paddy of kadamai was to be paid in the temple treasury as ayam. The paddy levied for ulkkani-ilakkai in therate of three kuruni per ma of land was to be measured out in to the temple treasury (tirukkottaram) along with the kadamai dues.
  5. No 904 of the Pudukkottai State Inscriptions – Mentions the story of the donor, Avudaiyan Tevan of Pucchikudi. Once he went to the house of a dancing girl at Tirunedungolam and found her in company of a brahman. He killed both and lost his eyesight in consequence. He regained his eyesight after taking a vow of granting his land property to the god Vagishvara and goddess Vadivullamangai.

1 Dayalan, D (2014). Cave-temples in the regions of the Pandya, Muttaraiya, Atiyaman and Ay Dynasties, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala part I. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 109
2 Shukla, D N (1958). Vastu-sastra – Hindu Canons of Iconography & Painting vol II. Gorakhpur University. Gorakhpur.  pp 78-79
3 Dayalan, D (2014). Cave-temples in the regions of the Pandya, Muttaraiya, Atiyaman and Ay Dynasties, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala part I. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 118
4 Dayalan, D (2014). Cave-temples in the regions of the Pandya, Muttaraiya, Atiyaman and Ay Dynasties, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala part I. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 109
5 Dayalan, D (2014). Cave-temples in the regions of the Pandya, Muttaraiya, Atiyaman and Ay Dynasties, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala part I. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 126
6 Pk:337 in Mahalingam, T V (1991). A Topographical List of Inscriptions in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol VI. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 82-83
7 Pk:338 in Mahalingam, T V (1991). A Topographical List of Inscriptions in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol VI. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 82-83
8 Pk:339 in Mahalingam, T V (1991). A Topographical List of Inscriptions in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala States vol VI. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. pp 82-83


  1. Beautiful!! It is amazing, the kind of details you notice and write about! We just returned from a visit to Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal… and thought of you when our guide was describing some of the panels…. All I could do was appreciate the skills of the unknown artisans and relish the beauty of the sculptures….

  2. Hi Shash,
    I hope that my future articles will meet your expectations as well. Thanks for the kind words.

    When you mentioned that you remembered my articles when a guide was explaining images during your Karnataka trip, I feel that this is the highest recognition someone can get in his lifetime. I am really honored.

  3. Hi saurabh
    kaliyappatti is my village. i am so proude to say this. Very very thanks to u. if u want visit i will help mail me kvr024@gmail .com

  4. sir, can you pls display the article I had find one hidden monument of King pallava period 7 century rock cut siva temple detail. detail are gingee taluk, melachery village, Villupuram dist, Tamilnadu
    [email protected]


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