Friday 7 December 2012

Prelude to Tour of Tamilnadu 2012 Heritage- Day 7

Auroville - Mahabalipuram 100km

The final day of the tour and what an awesome tour it has been,woken up by these mesmerizing memories and the chirping of the birds December mornings in Auroville is a thing of beauty and joy forever. Soon assembling at the start point for the last time we set of for the final destination Mahabalipuram. Riding past theinner roads a revisit to the Workshop of Pallava's becomes inevitable. To the early European Travelers this place was something mystical,this port town was known as "Land of Seven Pagodas" it was William Chambers first to write about Mahabalipuram in 1772 & 1776 (Asiatic Research Vol 1,Calcutta) followed by James Golidingham in 1778 . The first major study on inscriptions here was done by Benjamin Guy Babington in 1828 and presented to Royal Asiatic Society,the first major guide on these monuments was written by Lieutenant John Braddock and Reverend William Taylor but it was E. Hultsch 1892 who published whole of Mahabalipuram Inscriptions.There are many great scholars who contributed to understanding of the Wonder that is Mahabalipuram but they are divided on the opinion and its generally conclude that Narasimhavarman 1 (630-668 AD) constructed most of the monuments and later was followed by his successors till Rajasimha Narasimhavarman (700-728 AD). The monuments can be divided into four different categories which is also based on the chronology they are Rock Cut Shrines,Monolith Structures,Bas Reliefs and Structural Temples. Lets get a bit into some little details as we pedal. 
Rock Cut Shrines

In this type a rock face is excavated to make place for Temple Elements like Sanctum and Mandapa. The Adhi Varaha Cave Temple also called (Tiruvalandhai) is the most famous,this is under continuous worship till date and here is the earliest images of Pallava King with his queens most probably the oldest Royal family portrait in India,once again fixing the King's name is confusing exercise was it Narasimhavarman or Mahendravarman scholars are divided.The Mahishaswaramardini Cave Temple contains exquisite structures of Pallava Art depicting Durga as Mahishaswaramardini and Vishnu in Anathasayana pose.The other Mandapa's include Ramanuja Mandapa, Koneri Mandapa, Kotikal Mandapa, Trimurthi Cave Mandapa, Pancha Pandava Cave Mandapa, Dharmaraja Mandapa, Atiranchanda Mandapa and finally Yali Mandapa (Tiger's Cave) which was a Festival Pavilion.

Monolith Structures or Ratha's
These are free standing Temples cut out of solid rocks,around 10 in number and possibly attributed to Narasimhavarman 1 the Pancha Pandava Ratha's are the most generally known, but they are in no way connected to Pandavas of Mahabharatha. Out of the five Rathas the Dharmaraja Ratha is the biggest and the most iconic of all,it also contains inscription in which a Pallava King is attributed as "Atyantakama" , the Ganesha Ratha is possibly the oldest and most complete of Rathas others include Pidari Ratha and Valaiyankuttai Ratha.
Bas Reliefs
A Mahabalipuram special its where a rock face is carved extensively with figures and other plastic art,elements usually depicting some mythological scenes, The pinnacle of Pallava's glory and a monument of great interest is the Arjuna Penance,its a 90 feet by 30 feet monument lets call it a canvas. It is where the amalgamation of chisels and expressions of artists started to take shape in crude stone and what resulted is one the best and unparalleled piece of fine art never tried in the history of Indian Architecture. There are many theories about its theme but two emerge consolidated they are Arjuna's penance to obtain Pasupatha from Shiva and the other Ganga's descent from heaven to earth. There are about 146 figures to some only 90 in this panel,the magnificent relief has few important events depicted in the upper part of the panel,middle fissure and two side but most outstanding is the movement of various figures to the middle of the cleft. The Krishna Mandapa nearby is also noteworthy a lot of celestial figures,Krishna lifting the Govardhana Hill and milking of the cow are the most appreciated part in this panel.
Structural Temples
These are built up masonry temples and were the last additions to Mahabalipuram monuments in the same period of King Rajasimhavaraman in this group comes the world renowned Shore Temple, located very near the sea this super structure modeled on the Dharmaraja Ratha style the octagonal shikara puts it into Dravidian style of architecture, it contains three shrines and made of finely cut granite the main shrine is dedicated to Shiva,it forms the part of UNESO World Heritage Site this temple also contains some inscriptions. The other structural temples include Olakkanneshvara Temple and Mukkunda Nayanar Temple.
    The 7th Day ride nostalgically brings us to Mahabalipuram and thus we come to the end of 865 km Ride,the tour had been an amazing journey of the past on a bicycle, relishing on the ride moments I take leave and seek your intelligent apologies for the errors committed during my write up on this tour since to error is human. If not for the works by great scholars of Tamilnadu History this write up would not have been possible I am ever grateful to them and I would like to whole heartily thank Tamilnadu Cycling Club especially Mr. Vasanth Ramaswamy for providing me an opportunity to explore the treasures of this land and share it with you all ... till we meet again its Adios Amigos.

References: Nagaswamy.R "Mahabalipuram", Srinivasan K.R "Temples of South India", Indian History and Architecture (e-publications)

Arjuna Penance, Mahabalipuram