Depicting in stone everyday life

indiafrank

Parkside, Australia

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Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
This group of sanctuaries, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous ‘Descent of the Ganges’, and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.

There are five categories of monuments, this one being one of the rock reliefs in the open air which illustrate a popular episode in the iconography of Siva, that of the Descent of the Ganges. The wise King Baghirata having begged him to do so, Siva ordered the Ganges to descend to Earth and to nourish the world. The sculptors used the natural fissure dividing the cliff to suggest this cosmic event to which a swarming crowd of gods, goddesses, mythical beings (Kinnara, Gandherya, Apsara, Gana, Naga and Nagini), wild and domestic animals bear witness.

The other four categories are:
- ratha temples in the form of processional chariots, monolithic constructions cut into the residual blocks of diorite which emerge from the sand;
- mandapa, or rock sanctuaries modelled as rooms covered with bas-reliefs;
- temples built from cut stone; and
- monolithic rathas, from single- to triple-storeyed.

Mahabalipuram is pre-eminently testimony to the Pallavas civilization of south-east India.The sanctuary, known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), and giant open-air reliefs, is one of the major centres of the cult of Siva. The influence of the sculptures of Mahabalipuram, characterized by the softness and supple mass of their modelling, spread widely (Cambodia, Annam, Java).

Founded in the 7th century by the Pallavas sovereigns south of Madras, the harbour of Mahabalipuram traded with the distant kingdoms of South-East Asia: Kambuja (Cambodia) and Shrivijaya (Malaysia, Sumatra, Java) and with the empire of Champa (Annam). But the fame of its role as a harbour has been transferred to its rock sanctuaries and Brahmin temples which were constructed or decorated at Mahabalipuram between 630 and 728.

Most of the monuments, like the rock-cut rathas, sculptured scenes on open rocks like Arjuna’s penance, the caves of Govardhanadhari and Ahishasuramardini, and the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple (the sleeping Mahavishnu or Chakrin at the rear part of the Shore temple complex) are attributed to the period of Narasimhavarman I Mamalla.

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