Kal Mandakam Cave Temple, Kuranganilmuttam, Thiruvannamalai
Kal Mandakam Cave Temple is located in the middle of the Kuranganilmuttam village in Thiruvannamalai District of Tamilnadu. This cave temple is excavated below the ground level which is very unique among the cave temples. It seems that the original rock was scooped out of the ground to make a vertical shaft for the excavation. Remember to carry good electric torches with you, and wear sturdy shoes, when you visit the cave temple. The temple was cut during Pallava king Mahendra Varman – I. This site is very near to Kuranganilmuttam Shiva Temple about 300 meters inside the village and is being maintained by ASI - Archaeological Survey of India.
The Cave Temple has an interesting layout. Three shrines are excavated from the back wall and four side shrines from its side-walls, two on the side-walls of the ardha and two of the mukha. Thus, it is a rare specimen of a seven-celled rock temple, heralding the elaboration of Dravidian temple plans with numerous subsidiary shrines of future centuries. The Kailasanatha temple with its highly complex architecture in the nearby Pallava capital, Kanchipuram, erected barely one hundred years later, would be one example.
The rock-cut temple here, facing east, has been carved on the once-buried eastern side of a low outcrop. There is no Pallava inscription in the cave, but it has a strong resemblance to the larger one at Narasamangalam and has many archaic features of the Pallavas. This rock cut temple is an unfinished one with 3 sanctums for Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. Idols are not installed and provisions are made to install the same.
Located in middle of the village, this cave temple is excavated below the ground level. This characteristic perhaps makes this cave temple unique among the group. It seems that the original rock was scooped out of the ground to make prepare a vertical scarp for the excavation. The front façade of this east facing cave is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are carved in characteristic style of Mahendravarman having cubical blocks on top and bottom with octagonal shaft in between, while the pilasters are tetragonal throughout.
The corbels above the pillars are in curved profile; however this curve is very sharp. There is another row of pillars and pilasters behind this front row, thus marking the ardha-mandapa and mukha-mandapa of the cave temple. This double bay arrangement of ardha-mandapa and mukha-mandapa is mostly seen in many of the cave temples of Mahendravarman. On the back wall of the cave are carved ten pilasters. These ten pilasters accommodate three cells and three pairs of dvarpalas.
As there are three cells carved at the back wall, so it can be assumed that this cave temple was dedicated to Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These cells are constructed above a platform which shows various elements of architecture as per shilpa texts. This platform is consisted to upana, jagati, tripatta-kumuda, kantha and kampa molding above it and below it. The central cell seems to be dedicated to Shiva as seen from the style of its dvarpalas.
The southern dvarpala is standing half turned towards the shrine. His makuta above jata-bhara show two prongs of trisula, one coming from his left side and one above the makuta. Northern dvarpala is standing facing front. His makuta are almost worn out. Both the dvarpalas are standing on support of their massive clubs which is entwined with a serpent. Both dvarpalas are shown wearing sarpa-yajnopavita with other various ornaments. There is a worn out image placed inside the cell. Whether this image could be of Shiva is not very certain.
The southern shrine is composed of a cell and two dvarpalas on the entrance. Both the dvarpalas are similar in style and attitude as both are shown standing facing front in tribhanga posture. There one hand is resting on waist (katyavalambita mudra) and other hand is raised in kataka mudra, probably to hold a flower. The style of the dvarpala suggests that this cell was dedicated to Vishnu, if the cave was meant for Hindu Trinity. Inside the cell is placed a stone image of Vishnu, which seems to be a later addition.
The northern shrine is also consisted to a cell and two dvarpalas at the entrance of the shrine. Both the dvarpalas are similar in style and posture, standing in tribhanga posture facing front. One hand is in katyavalambita mudra and another hand is raised in abhaya mudra. They are shown wearing jata-makuta and yajnopavita with other various ornaments. It seems that this shrine would have been dedicated to Brahma. The cell is empty now, however there is whole sunk in to support a stone/metal or wooden image of the deity.
There are two cells excavated on the side walls of the mukha-mandapa. Both the cells are empty; however there is a whole sunk in to support images. There are two cells like structure on lateral walls of ardha-mandapa as well. Hence there are total of seven cells in this cave. To whom these four cells are for is not very clear. There are few inscriptions found in this cave.
Kuranganilmuttam is located at about 8 Kms to the South West of Kanchipuram on the Vandavasi road on the banks of River Palar. After crossing the Palar bridge in the Vandavasi/ Cheyyar route, you will see Dusi village at around 4 Kms. There is a road diversion to Kuranganilmuttam there and the temple is around 2 Kms from there. As there is no bus facility to the temple, the visitor has to hire an auto. Nearest Railway Station is located at Kanchipuram and Nearest Airport is located at Chennai.