Vallam Cave Temples, Kanchipuram
Vallam Cave Temples are located in Vallam, a small village near Chengalpattu in Kanchipuram District of Tamilnadu. These Temples are dedicated to Vedhaantheeswarar & Giri Varadharaja Perumal. Vallam has a beautiful small hillock on which three rock-cut shrines are carved on the eastern face of the hill. Two caves are on same boulder one above the other cave, while the third is located little north of the previous ones.
There are steps leading to the temples. According to the inscriptions found, these temples are said to have been built during the period of Mahendra Varma Pallava. Inscriptions also reveal the ancient name of the place as Valla Naadu under Kalathur Kottam. The top of the hill provides a wonderful view of Chengalpattu and Kolavai Lake, particularly during sunset. The site is called as 'Malai Kovil' by the locals.
On the left hand side there is a temple for Shiva called Vedhaantheeswarar. Goddess here is Sri Gnanambikai. This is perhaps the only place where one can have Dharshan of Sri Vinayagar, Sri Subramanyar, Lord Shiva, Sri Ambaal and Sri Sandikeswarar from the same place where we stand. Lord Muruga here is called as Sri Muthukumaraswami.
Unlike other Shiva temples, here Goddess Sri Gnanambikai is facing the east. Sri Gnanambikai looks like a very new idol with clear details and is beautifully decorated with silk saree. The face has so much of Thejas and benevolence. The Dwarapalakas are so exquisitely sculpted in life size. The Soolam and Mazhu, which are the weapons of Lord Shiva, are carried by the Dwarapalakas here.
It is said that, in this temple, during Pradoshams, the Abishegams are first performed to Dwarapalakas and then to Sri Vedhaantheeswarar and finally to Sri Nandikeswarar. Now a concrete structure is built around this temple for convenience. It is said that during the sunrise, the rays from the Sun fall directly on the Lord like a garland.On the right hand side there is a temple for Giri Varadharaja Perumal. Perumal is seen here with his consorts Devi and Bhu Devi. Dwarapalakas are found outside the sanctum. Unusually, Durgai is found in the Perumal temple facing south instead of north as found in Shiva temples. According to the inscriptions, it is found that a lady called Kommai, daughter of a Pallava King has installed Sri Durgai in this temple 1300 years back.
The temple pond is called as Sivaganga Pushkarani, the water from which is used for Abishegams to the Gods. Pradoshams and all other Saivite and Vaishnavite festivals are done here at these temples. On usual days, priest visits the temple once a day for daily rituals. But one can have Dharshan even in the absence of the priest.
Details of the Cave temples are briefed as below;
Cave No 1:
This is the uppermost rock of this hill. It has been closed on all sides with iron grills as the cave is still in use as a live temple. The front façade of the cave is supported in two pillars and two pilasters. This arrangement divides the cave into three openings as seen in many earlier caves like Mandagapatu, Dalavanur, Kuranganilmuttam, Mahendravadi, Mamandur Cave 1 and Seeyamangalam. Both pillars and pilasters are differentiating into cubical top and bottom (saduram) and octagonal middle part (kattu).
There are two inscriptions on the front top cubical faces of the pillars. The corbels are curved; however curve is not very prominent so this looks like in angular profile. As also seen in other caves of the same period, this cave also has two rows of pillars and pilasters, hence partitioning this into ardha-mandapa and mukha-mandapa. There are two small niches, beyond the pilasters of the front row. These niches are not aligned with the cave, so it looks that these were excavated later after excavation of the cave.
The niche of southern side has an image of Ganesha. As his trunk is turned to his right so it is Valampuri Ganesha. He is seated in simhasana, and his one hand is resting on a small platform on his left side. He is depicted with four hands; in upper left is a broken lotus stalk while the upper right hand attribute is not very clear. His lower right hand is resting on his thigh. The overall sculpture is graceful with good proportional ratios.
On northern niche is a much worn out image of Jyestha. She is shown seated on a platform with her legs down on the ground. She is wearing conical makuta. Her usual two companions are missing in this image. On the back wall of the cave is cut a cell in the center. There is a pair of dvarpalas at the entrance, while inside the cell is placed a Shiva lingam. The top and bottom part of the lingam is made of separate stones, and it is assumed that perhaps this was placed after excavations.
The door jambs of the cell are plane cubical throughout. There is a Nandi, installed opposite to this shrine, facing it. This Nandi, out of single stone, would have been placed as a later addition only. The most of the cave is painted; hence many of the original features are hidden below this paint surface.
The dvarapalas of the shrine can be rated as the best among all the contemporary caves of Mahendra’s time. They clearly show the characteristics of the Shiva Ayudha – purusha, trisula and parasu. The dvarapalas are carved in relief in the niche, formed by pilasters, at the entrance of the central cell. The Dvarpala on southern side is shown standing in tribhanga posture, with one hand on his waist and other one is resting over his club.
The massive club is on his left side; its handle is almost into his left armpit. The club is entwined with a serpent. Dvarapala is wearing huge patra-kundalas, keyuras, valayas, necklace, and yajnopavita. He is standing slightly turned towards the shrine with cross-legged. Behind his makuta are two protruding prongs of trisula, which suggests that this dvarpala is ayudha-purusha representing trisula of Shiva.
The dvarpala on northern side is similar in posture as of the previous one. Instead of entwining around his club, the serpent is seen entwined around his body. The interesting feature to notice is the protruding axe-blade out of his makuta, which represents the ayudha-purusha character of parasu, a weapon (Ayudha) of Shiva. So both ayudha-purusha of Shiva are guarding the shrine.
There are three inscriptions in this cave. Two inscriptions are in early Tamil Pallava and third one is later Tamil probably of the Cholas time.
Inscription 1 – This single line inscription on the south pillar upper cubical face gives two titles of Mahendravarman. This inscription is written in early Tamil, engraved in Pallava Grantha script.
Inscription 2 – This four line inscription, written in early Tamil, engraved in Pallava Grantha script, is on the upper face of the north pillar.
Inscription 3 – This inscription, in Tamil, is engraved on the lower face of the southern pillar. This is a thirteenth century inscription of Kopperunjinga Deva.
Cave No 2:
This small cave is excavated below the first cave, on the same boulder. The present cave is not under worship, this simple cave has no pillars to form a mandapa. A cell is directly cut into the back wall, and the wall is used to form niches to carve out dvarpalas. The oblong entrance led into the cell which has a Shiva lingam installed. The dvarpalas are very much worn out, and as no care has been taken up so it ruining further.
There is a Ganesha image, on southern side, beyond the dvarpala. Ganesha is shown seated over a lotus; his trunk is turned to right so depicts Valampuri Ganesha. A similar Ganesha is also seen in the above cave.
The excavation of this cave seems to have been carried out quite later compared to the above cave.
There is a pair of dvarpalas at the entrance of the shrine. Both are similar in many attributes, standing in tribhanga posture, slightly turned towards the shrine. One hand is on waist and another hand is hanging sideway to the club. The handle of the club is into their armpits.
No inscriptions are found in this cave.
Cave No 3:
This is the northern most caves among the three caves at Vallam. This cave is dedicated to Vishnu and locally known as Karivaradaraja Perumal temple. A simple creation, without any mandapa, a cell is cut into the vertical farce of the rock. This vertical farce allows provisions for dvarpalas on side. Though there are no pillars and pilasters, however we see a simulation of corbel style though without any support of the pillars. The corbels are angular here.
Central cell has an image of Vishnu with his two consorts, a later addition of course. On the northern end, beyond the dvarpala, is a relief sculpture of Durga. She is totally blackened with continuous anointment of oil; hence her original features are not very clear. She is standing in sambhaga posture. In her four hands, she carries a shankha and chakra in upper two hands. One lower hand is on her waist and other lower hand is in abhaya mudra. Durga images are an unusual feature of a Vishnu Temple but you can see Durga images in other Vishnu temples of the Pallavas, such as in Singavaram Cave Temple , Adi – Varaha Cave Temple , Mahishasuramardhini Cave, Trimurti Cave, Varaha Cave all at Mahabalipuram.
In most of these places, Durga is shown as Mahishasuramardhini, except at Varaha Cave and Draupadi Ratha where the theme is Kotavarai. This image here looks similar to the Draupadi Ratha in appearance, however one in Draupadi Ratha is quite elaborate and ornamented and the theme is also different. This cave has been excavated probably after the time of Rajasimha (700-728 CE).
The dvarapalas here are somewhat similar to the dvarapalas of the inner shrine of Dalavanur Cave Temple. However where Dalavanur is a Shiva temple, this cave here is dedicated to Vishnu. Both the dvarapalas here are similar in appearance, standing in tribhanga posture, slightly turned towards the shrine. One hand is on their waist and one hand is raised in adoration. They are wearing a patra-kundala and a makara-kundala in their ears. Both are standing on slightly raised platform.
There is no inscription found in this cave.
Vallam is about 3 kms from Chengalpattu, located on Chengalpattu –Mahabalipuram road. There is a small board, on your left side, where is a road going inside to the rock-cut shrines. On this road, Vallam Church is also located. Chengalpattu is a big town, which can be easily reached from Kanchi or Chennai. While going from Chennai, one has to take left from Chengalpattu on the Mahabalipuram Road and Vallam is located on the 3rd Km from Chengalpattu. A small pathway from the main road leads to the village.