30 April, 2007

Shore Temple -- Mamallapura

The Shore Temple on the Bay of Bengal was constructed in the 7th century during the rule of King Narsimha-Varman II Rajasimha (c. 690-728). It consists of two sanctuaries dedicated to Shiva. There exists a popular belief in south India that the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram is the last of a series of seven temples, six of which have been submerged.

Mahabalipuram, the famous centre of Pallava art andarchitecture, is situated on the coast of Tamil Nadu.The local traditions and the foreign accounts vividly refer to the submergence of six temples out of seven that existed here. Recent underwater archaeological explorations in the area have revealed many structural remains including fallen walls, scattered dressed stone blocks, a few steps leading to a platform and many other structural remains. The structures were badly damaged and scattered owing to strong underwater currents and swells. Due to thick biological growth,engravings on the stone blocks, if any, could not be noticed. Based on its alignment and form, they are considered to be man-made. Based on the archaeological evidences on land, the earliest possible date of these structures is estimated to be around 1500 years. The major cause of the submergence of these structures is severe coastal erosion prevailing in the region.

Mamallapuram was developed as flourishing seaport by the great Pallava monarch, Narasimhavaraman I, and has ever since remained important in the history of south India. A naval fleet was despatched from here, by the same king, to Sri Lanka which was conquered and his vassal, Manavarman, installed on the throne.

The Shore Temple was built on bed rock. So it survived all these years. This temple is the most complex group of all the temples of south India, having two shrines placed one behind the other, one facing east and the other west. These two shrines are separated by a rectangular shrine sandwiched in between and having its entrance from the side. This shrine is dedicated to Vishnu, who is represented as lying on his serpent couch and known as Talasayana Perumal. The other two shrines are dedicated to Siva. There is a large open court at the western end.

A little to the south of the sancta and within the compound is a majestic lion which carries a miniature Mahishasuramardini carved inside a square cavity cut in the neck of the animal. Two attendant deities of the Goddess are shown as mounted on either side of the animal. A little to north of this, in the platform, is an exquisitely carved deer with its head mutilated.

The ASI, which took over the preservation of the monument in 1900, had built a small wall between the sea and the temple to prevent sea waves, especially during high tides, from lashing the structure. It was further strengthened by piling up boulders in 1940. It was in the 1970s that a "groyne wall" was built further away into the sea with boulders piled and packed closely together.

Casuarina trees were planted around to lessen the salt content in sea breezes.

These measures were immensely effective during the December 2004 tsunami. The giant waves could not enter into the temple as they were blocked by the groyne wall. The water encircled the wall and could only sweep in through the southern side, leaving large quantities of slush inside without being able to erase the great artistical excellence.

The ASI, for the past few years, has been trying paper pulp treatment to remove the salt content in the rock structure. Paper is made into pulp using distilled water and is applied to the surface, which has been cleaned using de- mineralised water. The ASI has a plant here producing 500 litres of de-mineralised water daily for this. The pulp peels off in a few days after absorbing the salt content from rocks. This is the most widely used method for such a purpose and has 80 per cent effectiveness.

Moreover, the structure is made of low-grade granite, which contributes to the withering away of particles. ASI are using stone strengthener containing silica to help in the binding of rock particles. Silicone water repellent is also used in the process.

Five Rathas -- Mahabalipuram

The monolithic temples built during the reign of King Mamalla (Narasimhavarman I) are regarded as the transition point between the rock-cut cave temples and freestanding stone temples. They were carved out from a single rock almost 1,300 years ago and have been preserved very well.

The Rathas at Mahabalipuram are constructed in the style of the Buddhist viharas and chaityas. The architectural elements seen here appeared repeatedly, and with remarkably little variation, over the next 1,000 years of temple building in South India. The temples are unfinished and hence were never used for worship.

Five of the eight monolithic temples in Mahabalipuram have been named after the five Pandava brothers and are known as "Panch Pandava Ratha" (the five chariots of the Pandavas). The five Pandava rathas are -- Dharma raja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha and Nakul Sahadev Ratha.

The first Ratha is named after Draupadi. It is the smallest and the simplest of all the rathas. The square shrine has a simple roof, similar to a thatched hut, with decorated corners. Makara arch is carved above the doorway. This roof design was never used again in southern Indian architecture. Shalabhanjikas guard the doorway.

Draupadi Ratha
Goddess Durga in Draupadi Ratha

Goddess Durga is the occupant of this ratha who stands surrounded by attendants. Below her, a devotee prepares to cut off his own head as a sacrifice to the goddess. It is thought that this horrible rite actually took place (not too often, one hopes) in Durga temples. Durga's association with decapitation is attested by scenes like this, and also by ritual texts and myth (Mahishasuramardini).

Draupadi and Arjuna Ratha

Arjuna Ratha Nakula Sahadeva Ratha

Arjuna Ratha dedicated to Shiva, seems to resemble a small palace or pavillion, with sculpted pilasters, miniature roof shrines, and an octagonal dome, all characteristic features of later South Indian temples.A life-size sculpture of Shiva's mount Nandi kneels behind Arjuna Ratha, on the shrine's east side.

Nakula Sahadeva ratha has a barrel roof and is apsidal in shape.

Bhima Ratha

Bhima Ratha is a large shrine that echoes palace architecture with its barrel vaulting and long columned porch. Seated lions are carved in front of the columns. The lower part of the shrine is unfinished.

The unfinished Dharmaraja Ratha a larger version of the Arjuna ratha, is three storied and is the largest. The temple roof, like most in India, is covered with repeating elements. Like any other typical south Indian temple, Dharmaraja Ratha has false windows, horseshoe-shaped arches, and little "rooflets" that are barrel-shaped when placed on the side of the roof and squared-off when placed on the corner of the roof. The building is topped by an octagonal-shaped dome, the shikhara.

Base of the three-storey Dharmaraja Ratha is supported by figures of lions. The base of the Dharmaraja Ratha is square and it rises to 13 meters as a pyramid.

Walking along Marina Beach the previous evening in my sandles that were not suited for the long walk caused my feet to swell. But with M's real good massage :) I was all set to walk to the shore temple to continue our sightseeing.

28 April, 2007

Mahishasuramardini Mantapa -- Mahabalipuram

Unfinished Vijaya Gopura

Mahishasuramardini cave was built in mid-seventh century. The cave has two impressive friezes at each end of its long hallway.

The mythological story of Goddess Durga's fight with the demon, form the basis of this beautiful panel. Durga, the mother of the universe, is shown seated on her lion fighting the buffalo-headed demon, Mahisha.

At the opposite end of the veranda, is depicted Lord Vishnu lying under the protective hood of the seven-headed serpent Adishesha.

25 April, 2007

Varaha mantapa -- Mahabalipuram

A little beyond Krishna's Butterball is the Varaha mandapa. Heraldic lions support the ornamental pillars. These are perhaps the earliest to display a motif that became the signature of southern architecture-the lion pilaster.

Varaha mantapa is a small rock-cut hall. It has two incarnations of Vishnu-Varaha (boar) and Vamana (dwarf). Particularly noteworthy here are four panels of the famous Pallava doorkeepers. The hall was built during the time of Narasimhavarman I. Varaha Cave has four impressive carvings of Vishnu, Gajalakshmi, Trivikrama and Durga.

22 April, 2007

Trimurthi Cave -- Mamallapuram

The name "Mamallapuram" was used as Mamalla is an honorific for the Pallava king, Narasimha Varman I in 630-668 A.D, who created the earliest of its monuments. But it is popularly known as "Mahabalipuram", or "The city of Bali", whom Lord Vishnu chastised for his pride.

The history of Mahabalipuram dates back to 2000 years, and there are nearly 40 monuments of different types including an "open air bas relief" which is the largest in the world. The ancient town of Mahabalipuram was a flourishing seaport during the days of Periplus (1st century A.D.) and Ptolemy (140 A.D.). Many Indian colonists travelled to South-East Asia from this port town.

According to historical facts, initially though the Pallava kings followed Jainism, after the conversion of King Mahendra Varman (600-630 AD) to Shaivism, the monuments related themselves mostly with Shiva and Vishnu. Most of the rock carvings and temples of Mahabalipuram are believed to have been built during the periods of Narasimha Varman I (630-668 AD) and Narasimha Varman II (700-728 AD).

Butter ball rock -- Mahabalipuram

Krishna's Butter Ball is a huge, spherical monolith near the Ganesha Ratha. It rests precariously on a narrow rock base and seems to defy the rules of gravity. It is fifteen feet in diameter and could have probably been the raw material for the temples around.

I read somewhere that it was probably one of Krishna's pranks to leave the rock there. Wonder what Krishna could have been doing there playing with this huge rock?

It is believed that several Pallava kings have attempted to move the stone, but legend is that neither the kings nor their elephants could shift the boulder even by an inch.