GR Travels

Arjuna Penance

This magnificent relief, carved in the mid-seventh century, measures approximately 30m (100ft) long by 15m (45ft) high. Its huge size and scale is difficult to imagine just from photographs; a person standing on the ground in front of it could barely touch the elephant’s feet. The subject is either Arjunas Penance or the Descent of the Ganges, or possibly both. In additive cultures like India’s, logical alternatives are often conceptualized as both-and rather than either-or. Arjunas Penance is a story from the Mahabharata of how Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, performed severe austerities in order to obtain Shivas weapon. The idea, which pervades Hindu philosophy, is that one could obtain, by self-mortification, enough power even to overcome the gods. In order to protect themselves, the gods would grant the petition of any ascetic who threatened their supremacy in this way - a kind of spiritual blackmail, or give to get. (This meaning of the word penance, by the way, is specific to Hinduism. Unlike the Catholic rite of penance, it is performed to gain power, not to expiate sin.) The Ganges story is of the same kind, in which the sage Bhagiratha performs austerities in order to bring the Ganges down to earth. Shiva had to consent to break her fall in his hair, because otherwise its force would be too great for the earth to contain. The symbolism of the relief supports either story. Furthermore, both stories were interpreted in a manner flattering to the Pallavas; the heroic Arjuna as a symbol of the rulers, and the Ganges as a symbol of their purifying power. The composition of the relief includes the main elements of the story (left) and scenes of the natural and celestial worlds (right). A natural cleft populated by nagas separates the two halves of the relief. Water was poured down this cleft in order to simulate a natural waterfall (the Ganges descent). To the left, just above the shrine, Arjuna (or Bhagiratha) stands on one leg, his arms upraised, in a yoga posture. Behind him appears Shiva, holding a weapon and attended by ganas. To the right of the cleft, life-sized elephants protect their young below a scene of numerous other animals and flying celestials, all carved with the greatest vivacity, skill, naturalism, and joyousness.      Book Now



Pancha Rathas

These 7th century shrines (or temples; either term is appropriate) were carved during the reign of King Mamalla (Narasimhavarman I, c. 630 - 670), after whom the site (Mamallapuram, also called Mahabalipuram) is named. Each temple is a monolith, carved whole from an outcropping of rock. (The number of separate formations is a matter of debate; the four north-south temples may have been carved from a single mass.) The temples are unfinished, and so were never consecrated or used for worship. The buildings are called rathas (pancha rathas means "five chariots"), and named individually after Draupadi and the Pandava brothers, although they have nothing to do with temple carts or the Mahabharata. It would be better to call them vimanas and just number them 1 through 5, but the popular names have stuck. The view in this photo is from the northwest. In the foreground is a carved lion. Behind the lion, from left to right in the photo, are the Draupadi, Arjuna, and Bhima Rathas (Dharmaraja Ratha is hidden in this photo behind the other structures). To the right is the Nakula Sahadeva Ratha. The site gives the delightful impression of a city of life-size model buildings, whose variety of roofs, floor plans, and columniation defines a veritable source-book of South Indian temple forms. The architectural elements seen here will appear repeatedly, and with remarkably little variation, over the next 1,000 years of temple building in South India. The ultimate origin of these forms traces back to wood construction, but opinions differ about whether their direct antecedents were secular or sacred, wooden or stone, buildings. It is likely, due to the advanced design of the Mamallapuram shrines, that temple building had previously undergone a substantial process of development, and that the shrines mark a rapid transition from the earlier wooden temples to later structural monuments in stone.      Book Now



Shore Temple

Shore Temple is a standing testimonial to the regal heritage of India. Located at Mahabalipuram, Shore Temples can easily be reached by taking regular buses or by hiring taxis from anywhere in Tamil Nadu. The nearest airport is located at Chennai that lies at a distance of 60 kms from Mahabalipuram. One of the most photographed monuments in India, Shore Temple is a structural monument on the shores of Bay of Bengal. Built in the 7th century, Shore Temple depicts the royal taste of Pallava dynasty. During the reign of Rajasimha, the temple saw its construction when Pallava art was at its apex. Ravaged by wind and sea, the temple has witnessed the historical events of India. This work of genius was recognized and listed amongst the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO The Shore Temple is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD.      Book Now



Varaha Cave Temple

Varaha Cave Temple. Varaha Cave Temple (also Adivaraha Cave Temple) is a rock-cut cave temple located at Mamallapuram, on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal in Kancheepuram District in Tamil Nadu, India. ... It is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century.The mandapa in the front has two lion- pillars and two pilasters, and beyond this in the centre, the cell is guarded by two dwarapalas. There are four panels on the walls of front mandapare presenting Varaha raising goddess earth from the ocean. (Bhuvaraha panel), Gajalakshmi seated on lotus and bathed by elephants, Durga with four arms and Trivikrama overcoming the demon king Bali. The delineation and modeling of the figures are remarkable.      Book Now


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