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New interpretation to bas-relief sculptures

Wednesday 1 June 2005, by SUBRAMANIAN*T.S.

Carvings on two monolithic rocks near Shore Temple at Mamallapuram continue to fascinate

- Carvings depict Yoga Narasimha, Varaha, Vamana, Siva and Mahishamardini

- They were created under Narasimhavarman I (Mamalla), a Vaishnavite and Narasimhavarman II, who was a Saivite

CHENNAI: A new interpretation has been given to the bas-relief sculptures found on two adjacent monolithic rocks on the southern side of the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram, about 50 km from Chennai.

While the smaller rock has carvings only on the side facing west, the bigger rock has carvings on both the western and eastern sides.

The lower portion of these carvings was covered with sand till tsunami struck and exposed them fully.

K.T. Narasimhan, Superintending Archaeologist, Temple Survey Project, Southern Region, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who has interpreted what these bas-relief stand for, said the west-facing carving inside a socket on the smaller rock was that of Yoga Narasimha. This beautiful carving depicted the Yoga Narasimha squatting and doing penance.

Lion’s carving

The socket is framed by a lion’s carving, typical of the Pallava dynasty, which built the monuments at Mamallapuram. On the socket’s right side on the rock face is a carving, depicting a Varaha (Boar) lifting Boodevi (earth). Varaha is visible but not Boodevi.

On the left side is Vamana (dwarf) holding a "chchatri", that is, an umbrella. Both the Varaha and Vamana are in a moving posture.

Mr. Narasimhan said these carvings were the creation of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (Mamalla), who ruled from 630 to 666 A.D. Narasimhavarman I was a Vaishnavite, and Yoga Narasimha, Varaha and Vamana were incarnations of Vishnu.

The adjacent bigger rock has carvings on both sides. On the western side is a socket with a carving of seated Siva.

This socket is also framed by a lion’s sculpture. On the rock face are Siva ganas such as Singhi and Bringhi. There is also a carving of Mahishamardini, riding a lioness and slaying a buffalo. On the eastern face (that is towards the sea) are carved an elephant and a horse.

Above the elephant’s head is a socket with a carving of Siva depicted as Gajasamharamurthy - the elephant is shown in a posture of surrender with its trunk bent towards its left side and embedded in the earth. "This clearly indicates surrender. This is called `atmaarpanam’. The elephant has totally surrendered to Siva. The elephant is called Gajasuran. That is why Siva is called Gajantakamurthy or Gajasamharamurthy, that is destroying his enemies," said Mr. Narasimhan. Near the elephant are a few soldiers. The adjacent bas relief shows an imported horse. These carvings were the creation of Narasimhavarman II (690 - 728 A.D.), who was a Saivite. Narasimhavarman II was also called Rajasimha and he was the grandson of Narasimhavarman I. The nearby Shore Temple was built by Narasimhavarman II. In all, he built 14 temples dedicated to Siva, Mr. Narasimhan said. The Siva temples that Narasimhavarman II built include the Kailasanatha temple, the Piravaatheneesvara temple, and the Iravaatheneesvara temple, all at Kanchipuram, which was the capital of the Pallavas.

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