Mamallapuram – Dharmaraja Mandapa


    Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas

    Dharmaraja Mandapa

    Photograph of the Dharmaraja Cave Temple at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, from the south-west, taken by Alexander Rea in the 1880s | British Library

    Located near the unfinished penance panel, this cave temple falls under the category of the early Pallava cave-temples due to its primitive design and style resembling very much with the early cave-temples of the Mahendravarman I (580-630 CE) period.

    Dharmaraja Mandapa |

    This cave-temple faces east. Its façade has a heavy cornice in front however it is devoid of any decoration such as kudu arches (gable windows) or miniature shrines. The excavation is in form of a hall with three cells at its rear wall. The hall is supported on two rows of pillars, dividing it into two bays. Both the rows have two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars in both the rows are of the same design, with characteristic square at the top and the bottom and an octagonal section in between. The pilasters in both the rows are tetragonal throughout.

    Dharmaraja Mandapa

    Three cells are excavated on the back wall of the hall.  All the cells are raised above the floor and provided with a staircase of three steps. The central cell is given a different treatment, suggesting its importance. It is extended further into the hall in comparison to the other two cells. Its stair case is provided with a parapet differentiating it from other cells. Presence of three cells suggests that the cave-temple was dedicated to the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. As evident from the name of the cave-temple in its inscriptions, the central cell should have been dedicated to Shiva. However, from the remains of its dvarapalas, they appear to lack the Shaivite characteristics as seen in other cave-temples dedicated to Shiva. We miss the characteristic posture and club in these dvarapalas. While Michael Lockwood1 is of opinion that the central shrine was originally dedicated to Vishnu and it was Parameshvaravarman I (672-700 CE) in whose reign these dvarapalas were chiseled off and the character of the cave-temple was changed to Shaiva, Dehejia and Davis2 are of opinion that the cave-temple was original dedicated to Shiva as there was a plan to install linga and these dvarapalas were chiseled off, most probably during the Vaishnava resurgence during the Vijayanagara period of 14th-15th centuries. We would prefer to go with Lockwood as the original dvarapalas lack characteristics Shaivite attributes. Dehejia and Davis are right that there was a conversion of this cave-temple to Vaishnavite character during the Vijayanagara period and as the evidence we have symbols of conch and chakra engraved over the pillars. However, the cave-temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, and was changed to Shaivite character during Parameshvaravarman I and again converted back to Vaishnavite character during the Vijayanagara period.

    Chiseled-off dvarapalas |

    From the outlines of the dvarapalas, it can said that they were two armed, one arm is rested on their waist, and one arm is holding on to some object of no clarity. During the same period of insurgence, a conch and a shell symbols were carved on the outer pillars of the cave. As with other excavations at Mamallapuram, this one is also not bereft of its controversies. The main controversy is with the authorship of this cave, and this topic is dealt in detail below.

    Inscriptions – We have only one inscription3, engraved at a lateral wall at the entrance, details provided below:

    1. (verse 1) Let (Siva), the destroyer of Love, (who is) the cause of production, existence and destruction, (but is himself) without cause, fulfill the boundless desires of man!
    2. (verse 2) let him be victorious, who is (both) without illusion (and) possessed of manifold illusion (Chitramaya), who is (both) without qualities (and) endowed with qualities (Gunabhajana), who is self-existent (Svastha) (and) without superior (Niruttara), who is without lord (and) the highest lord (Paramesvara)
    3. (verse 3) Srinidhi bears on (his) head that Aja (Siva), pressed by the weight of whose great toe, the Kailasa (mountain) together with the ten-faced (Ravana) sank down into Patala
    4. (verse 4) Let that Sribhara be victorious for a long time, who bears Bhava (Siva) in (his) mind which is humbled with devotion, and (who bears) the earth on (his) arm like a coquettish ornament!
    5. (verse 5) King Atyantakama, who has subdued the circle of (his) foes, is famed (by the name of) Ranajaya – he caused to be made this abode of Sambhu (Siva)
    6. (verse 6) Let (Siva) be victorious, who is (both) sentient (and) motionless (Sthanu), who is (both) undivided (and) the moon (Soma), who has (both) the nature of fire (and) a body of air (Pavakatma), who is (both) terrible (Bhima) (and) kind (Siva, who is (both) beneficent (Samkara) (and) the destroyer of Love (Kamasudana)
    7. (verse 7) Let Tarunankura be victorious, who is a king of kings (Rajaraja), (but) is not ugly (like Kuvera), who is an emperor, (but) does not distress people, (while Vishnu is both Chakrabhrit and Janardana), who is the lord of protectors (and) independent (Svastha), while the moon is the lord of stars (tarakadhipati), but is waning in the dark half of month and subject to eclipses!
    8. (verse 8) Just as in a large lake, filled with water (which is fit) for bathing, (and) covered with various lotus-flowers, handsome Samkara (Siva) abides on the massive head – sprinkled with the water of coronation (and) covered with bright jewels – of the glorious Atyantakama, who deprives (his) enemies of (their) pride (Dvisaddarppapaharin), who is a receptacle of wealth (Srinidhi), who possesses the charm of Love (Kamaraga), (and) who assiduously worships Hara (Siva) (Hararadhanasamgin)
    9. (verse 10) He, desiring (to attain) the glory of Samkara (Siva), cased to be made this lofty dwelling-house of Dhurjati (Siva), in order (to procure) the fulfillment of (their) desires to (his) subjects
    10. (verse 11) Six times cursed be those in whose hearts does not dwell Rudra (Siva), the deliverer from the walking on the evil path!
    11. (verse 12) The Isvara (Siva) temple of Atyantakama-Pallava.

    The authoriship of this inscription is shrouded in controversy. The inscription does not carry a proper name for the Pallava king, but his titles. Two Pallava kings, Mahendravarman I and Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha have left their numerous titles in various epigraphs. Let’s study the titles (birudas) found in this inscription.


    Title Analysis
    Srinidhi A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha4
    Sribhara A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha5
    Atyantakama A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha5
    Ranajaya A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha5
    Rajaraja A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha6
    Tarunankura Not a known biruda of any Pallava king, however this is also found in Ganesha Ratha
    Kamaraga A biruda of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha4
    Gunabhajana Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Chitramaya Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Svastha Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Sthanu Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Soma Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Bhima Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Kamasudana Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Chakrabhrit Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Dvisaddarppapaharin Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Hararadhanasamgin Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Tarakadhipati Not a known biruda of any Pallava king
    Pavakatma Not a known biruda of any Pallava king

    From the above we see that out of 19 different birudas persent in the inscriptions, 13 (or 68%) are not found elsewhere among the epigraphs of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha. In this situation, can this inscription be assigned to the reign of Rajasimha? Another challenge with Rajasimha is that in his Reyuru grant7, he is mentioned to be a staunch devotee of Vishnu, Shiva and Subramanya. In a later Udayendiram grant of Nandivarman II8, he is referred as a staunch follower of Shiva. There is, of course, a possibility that Rajasimha was religiously tolerant during his early years but he changed his attitude in his late years and became a parama-maheshvara. A support for this comes as we find that all his known and sponsored temples are dedicated to Shiva and to no one else.

    E Hultzsch, who edited the inscription in Epigraphia Indica, suggests that the proper name of the king should be taken as Paramesvara, corresponding to the Pallava king Paramesvaravarman I, as evident in verse 2 of this inscription. The problem with Paramesvaravarman is that we do not have many of his inscriptions and in none of those enumerate his titles. In the later inscriptions of the Pallavas, Paramesvaravarman I is referred with other titles but not with the ones found in this inscription. Many scholars including Mahaligam9, Srinivasan10 have accepted Hultzsch’s view and assigned the construction to Paramesvaravarman I. However, Dehejia and Nagaswamy11 differ and based upon epigraphical studies, assigns the inscription to Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha.

    Ignoring the resemblances in the titles of Rajasimha and the ones found in this inscription would be very tough except the cases with unknown birudas as mentioned above. However, in Saluvankuppam inscription, which is for sure of Rajasimha, we do not find the imprecatory verse though the excavation is dedicated to Shiva. In such situation, I would go with Paramesvaravarman I, who in his own grant12 is referred as staunch Shaiva and therefore would be a good candidate to be assigned to this imprecatory verse. Therefore, this excavation may be assigned to the reign of Paramesvaravarman based upon below points:

    1. The inscription mentions Parameshvara for Shiva and this may also be taken as a proper-name of the Pallava king Parameshvaravarman I (672-700 CE)
    2. The last verse of the inscription is not found in any other Pallava epigraph except in few shrines of Mamallapuram. Therefore it cannot be assigned to Mahendravarman I or Narasimhavarman II who left many foundation epigraphs of their temples. It fits well with the character and depiction of Parameshvaravarman I as glimpsed from epigraphs.
    3. This inscription is an exact copy of what we found at Ganesha Ratha. Lockwood13 points to few discrepancies within the inscription. This inscription consecrates the temple as Atyantamaka-Pallaveshvara-griham however the cave-temple has three cells, therefore this appropriation does not fit. Another discrepancy is that the inscription mentions that the king caused to be made this lofty dwelling of Durjati (Shiva). The term “lofty dwelling” fits well with the Ganesha Ratha however does not fit to the Dharmaraja Mandapa as the latter is a cave-temple.

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    1 Lockwood, Michael (2001). Pallava Art. Tambaram Research Associates. Chennai. p 110
    2 Dehejia, Vidya & Davis, Richard (2010). Addition, Erasure and Adaptations: Interventions in the Rock-cut Monuments of Mamallapuram published in Archives of Asian Art vol. 60. p 15
    3 Epigraphia Indica vol. X. pp 10-11
    4 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 64
    5 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 54
    6 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 55
    7 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 53
    8 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 76
    9 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 49
    10 Srinivasan, K R (1964). Cave-Temples of the Pallavas. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 125
    11 Nagaswamy, R (2008). Mahabalipuram. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. ISBN 9780198071273.
    12 Mahalingam, T V (1988). Inscriptions of the Pallavas. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi. no 45
    13 Lockwood, Michael (2001). Pallava Art. Tambaram Research Associates. Chennai. p 111