Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mamandur Cave Temples, Thiruvannamalai

Mamandur Cave Temples, Thiruvannamalai
Mamandur and Narasapalaiyam, twin villages, are famous for their four rock-cut cave temples. The hill in village Narasapalaiyam and Mamandur runs from south to north and quite huge in its size. Four cave temples have been executed on this hill, two lies in the revenue village of Mamandur and other two lies in Narasapalaiyam village. ASI has numbered these shrines from 1 to 4. They are collectively known as the Mamandur cave temples. The caves are situated on the banks of Palar River. A tank named Chitramegha tataka, also known as Dusi-Mamandur tank is located behind the caves, which is believed to be built by Mahendravarman I. 

Narsimha is the principal deity of Cave I, while the Cave II, in the complex, is known from later inscriptions as the Saiva Rudravalisvaram Cave. The caves contain Tamil Brahmi, Pallava Grantha inscriptions and cave paintings. From the inscriptions, found in these rock-cut shrines, that these two villages are under royal patronage of the Pallavas in sixth-seventh century and the Cholas in eleventh century. This suggests that the villages were under continuous royal patronage.

It is also believed that the Pallava king Narasimha Varman I Mamalla (CE 630-668) named the village, Narasapalaiyam, after his name. One of the cave temples has an inscription of the Pallava king Mahendravarman I, which suggests that probably all the four caves would have been excavated during his reign. This is one of the closest cave temple sites from the Pallava capital at Kanchipuram, which also suggests that probably this might be one of the earliest cave temples as well. Pallavas, being ruling over Kanchi, would probably look out for such a nearby rock where they can experiment in rock cut architecture. 

Inscriptions in the rock-cut temples, attribute the temples to 7th-century CE Pallava king, Mahendravarman I, a ruler who delighted in the titles of Vichitra chitta (“curious-minded”) and Chitrakara puli (“tiger among artists”). He was a great patron of the arts and Mamallapuram stands as a testimony to his patronage of art and architecture. He pioneered rock-cut temples in Mamallapuram, Pallavaram (near Madras), Siyamangalam and Singavaram (North Arcot district), Trichy & Mamandur (in Thiruvannamalai district). 

There is also a natural cave with a stone bed in which there is an early 2nd century Tamil Brahmi inscriptions found on the rock. There are no proper steps to reach this natural cave. The cave temples are about 2 km off the main road, in the village of Narasapalaiyam.

Cave Temple 1
This is the north most cave temple among the group of four such temples. This simple rock-cut shrine faces east and its base is about four feet above the ground. There are no steps out of the original rock; hence a separate staircase was constructed. Its façade is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are executed in the characteristics Mahendra style while the pilasters are tetragonal all throughout. The pillars have a cubical top and bottom with and intermediate octagonal shaft.

The cubical top is small than the lower one in its height, also the bottom cubical part is not a perfect cube as its height is 6 inches more than other sides. This different is easily distinguishable in the first look only. There are lotus medallions on the lower and top cubical faces, except on the hind face. The corbel above the pillars is in curved profile. Behind the front row of the pillars, there is another row of pillars and pilasters.

This double bay arrangement creates an ardha-mandapa and a mukha-mandapa, the feature which can be seen in many other caves of Mahendravarman. On the back wall is constructed a shrine in the center. This shrine is protruding about 1 foot in front from the back wall. The shrine basement has various features of shilpa texts such as jagati, tripatta-kumuda, and kantha with two kampa courses.

This cave temple is very similar to the cave temple in Kuranganil Muttam. There are four pilasters on the entrance of this shrine, two on either side of the entrance and two on boundary. There is ample space, between these pilasters, to carve the dvarpalas, however none was attempted. The cell inside is empty, however there is a platform constructed with a square cavity in it, perhaps to support a movable image of a deity. The importance of the Mamandur cave temples is that this arrangement became a standard for subsequent structural temples of the Dravida style.

It is in the simple cave temples of Mamandur that the style of Dravida temple architecture emerges. While the garba griha is empty today, there is a platform with a square cavity which obviously supported an image earlier. On the northern wall of the mukha-mandapa there is an inscription in Pallava Grantha about Mahendravarman’s literary composition Mattavilasa prahasana, along with some titles of the king. The word magavadajjuka in the same line probably refers to Bhagavadajjukam, probably authored by the same king.

Lines 12 and 13 suggest that the king ‘wanted to achieve what was not achieved before in the realm of music’. The cave temple is dedicated to Vishnu and it can be attested by the words like megha-shyama (“colour of the cloud”), and garjita (“roaring”) in the inscriptions. This shows it was Vishnu, whose incarnations Krishna and Narasimha respectively have these qualities. There are no dvarpalas in this shrine.

Cave Temple 2
This cave is located south of the first cave and faces east. The front façade is supported on two pillars and two pilasters where pillars are in typical Mahendra style and the pilasters are tetragonal from top to bottom. The corbels above the pillars are in curved profile; however the curve is so acute that it looks like angular profile. Though there is enough space left beyond the pilasters, however no attempt was made to carve dvarpalas. One reason for not doing this may be that the inner shrines have their own set of dvarpalas.

As seen in other Mahendravarman caves, this cave is also created in two bay schemes, differentiating between ardha-mandapa and mukha-mandapa. For this differentiation, there is another row of two pillars and two pilasters behind the first front row. Above the corbels, on the beam, of the front row, traces of paint is seen which suggests that in those times this cave was painted exquisitely. This kind and style of painting seems to be similar as seen in Sittanavasal cave.

On the back wall of the cave are three shrines, dedicated to Hindu Trinity. As per an inscription of this cave, this cave is referred as Uruttiravalisvaram (Rudravalisvaram), hence the main central shrine should be dedicated to Shiva (Rudra). All the three shrines share the same platform which is consisted of jagati, tripatta-kumuda and kantha with two kampa courses. All the three has a staircase of two steps in front, the parapet of whose is in form of an elephant’s proboscis.

The south-most shrine is perhaps dedicated to Brahma as supported by the appearance of its dvarpalas. Both the dvarpalas are similar in appearance, standing in tribhanga posture, with one hand on their waist and in one hand they are holding lotus flower. They are shown wearing yajnopavita and jata-bhara in form of a bun above the head, as mostly seen with sages of that time. This sagely appearance of the dvarpalas suggests that this shrine should have been dedicated to Brahma.

The central shrine also has a pair of dvarpalas. Both of these are similar in their appearance, standing in tribhanga posture, with one hand on their waist and one hand over the heavy club on which support they both stand. The clubs are entwined with serpents. Both wearing huge jata-bhara and yajnopavita and other ornaments like bahu-valaya. Both are carved slightly turned towards the shrine, however they can be termed to be standing in front profile as full face of these is visible. Their appearance suggests that this central shrine is for Shiva, which is strengthening with the presence of a Shiva lingam inside the cell. However this lingam seems to be installed at later time.

North-most shrine also has two dvarpalas on its entrance. Both are similar in their appearance, standing in tribhanga posture, one hand on their waist and one hand raised in adoration. Wearing long makuta and yajnopavita, their appearance suggests that this shrine was for Vishnu. The cells of the corners two shrines are empty, but traces of paintings can be seen inside, which suggests that at some time the deities were carved in paint. There are no holes found on the base inside the cells.

There are three pairs of dvarpalas, one pair for each shrine. All the three can be termed to be executed in front profile, though two dvarpalas of central shrine are slightly turned towards the shrine.
There are two inscriptions inside this Cave Temple. One Inscription belongs to Parantaka I Chola saying that the caves were called Vruttiravaliswaram and Valiswaram. Another inscription belongs to Mahendravarman I Pallava informs about the irrigation tank, Chitramegha tataka, is assumed to have been excavated on the orders of Mahendravarman I Pallava.
Cave Temple 3
This is the largest among the four on this site, is located south of the previous cave. There was a plan to excavate a circumambulatory path around the Mandapam however it was left unfinished due to instability of the rock. A similar plan was tried in Pancha Pandava Cave at Mahabalipuram. Many cracks can be seen on the pillars and pilasters, which might be reason that the plan was dropped and the work is left unfinished. This cave faces east and its front façade is supported on five pillars and two pilasters. The pilaster on the southern end can be termed as a full pillar as this is shared with the eastern façade and the southern façade.

Some pillars on eastern façade are left unfinished as you do not see differentiation of saduram (cubical top & bottom part) & kattu (intermediate octagonal part), however other pillars are in regular Mahendra style. The corbel above the pillars is in curved profile. The southern façade is with two pillars and two pilasters. Corbels are finished above the pillars; however these are not fully cut in to make the space for circumambulation. The square blocks left inside the wall between these pillars suggests that the work is left unfinished. This cave is differentiated with an ardha-mandapa and a mukha-mandapa with the two bays formed by two rows of pillars and pilasters.

There are five shrines on the back wall of this cave. All of these share the same platform; the platform is consisted of upana, jagati, kumuda, kantha with kampa courses. There are staircases in front of all the shrines, consisting of three steps, the lowest one is in form of a semi-circle (chandrasila). The cells are almost cubical and all are empty. No dvarpalas are there, though there is enough space to carve these for the central cell. As the cave was left unfinished so this is quite expected.

There are two cells on the side walls of mukha-mandapa which shows that the plan was to have the five celled shrine in middle and a circumambulatory path around this. These cells are not carved fully, however their staircases are carved out which suggests that they were carved to house some deity only. So in total seven cells are in this shrine, five on back wall and two on side walls. This cave looks similar to the Pancha Pandava Cave at Mahabalipuram which is assigned to Narasimha Varman I Mamalla. There are no inscriptions in this cave as well as no dvarpalas inside the cave or on front façade.

Cave Temple 4
This is the smallest cave on the hill and it is unfinished. This is the south most cave on the hill and smallest as well. This east facing cave is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are left unfinished as one pillar shows the differentiation of saduram and kattu while the other one square throughout. The corbel is in curved profile. Inside of the cave is not cut in fully as few square boxes left uncut can be seen. The front façade was cut pretty deep inside, about 3 feet. The plan was perhaps to excavate a three shrine cave, as seen from the left cubical blocks on back wall. However the work has been stopped in between due to cracks in the rock and load above the roof.

Mamandur is a small village located very close to Palar River and situated on the road from Kanchipuram to Vandavasi. It is located at about 15 Kms from Kanchipuram. The cave temples are about 2 km inside from the main road, in the village Narasapalaiyam. You need to keep asking the local people to reach the shrines as there are few cross roads inside the village. Nearest Railway Station is located at Kanchipuram and Nearest Airport is located at Chennai.

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