Monday, November 20, 2017

Pallava Cave Temples, Rockfort – Lower Cave Temple

Pallava Cave Temples, Rockfort – Lower Cave Temple
This cave temple is locally called as Lower Cave Temple and is located near the entrance to the Rockfort complex. The lower cave temple is located at around 200 meters from the second entrance of the Rockfort complex. Unlike the upper cave temple, this has many relief images. The front facade is supported by four pillars and two pilasters. Above the pillars, a lot of small sized gana faces are carved. Among them, the monkey faced gana is unique one. The hall has two shrines on either side walls. The main wall is divided into five niches.

The life-sized relief images of Ganesha, Subramanya, Brahma, Surya and Durga are found in those niches. Ganesh is depicted in the standing posture with four arms. This image and Subramanya's image are slightly damaged. All the deities except Durga are surrounded by two flying Vidhyadharas at the top and two devotees near the feet. The sculpture of Durga is not so beautiful and it remains incomplete. In this panel, one devotee is trying to sacrifice his head near the Goddess' feet.

Both the shrines in the temple has a small pillared mandapas in their front sides. The either sides of shrines have two Dwarapalas; additionally, another pair of Dwarapalas are found in both the shrines. One shrine doesn't have any deity. Based on the features of Dwarapalas it is assumed that the shrine belongs to Shiva. The other shrine has the bas relief sculpture of Lord Vishnu. He is also surrounded by two devotees (one male and female) at his feet and two Vidhyadharas at the top. It is possible that the female could be Bhoo Devi.

Unlike the upper cave, there is no solid proof about who built this cave temple. Although ASI claims that it was built during the reign of the Pallava king Mammallan, there are some scholars who claim that it might have been built by the Pandyan kings. The style of pillars and the life-sized reliefs probably lead them to believe so. Whatever it is, whoever built this, it is true that this is not as good as the other creations by the Pallava kings.

This cave temple is excavated on an almost vertical scarp of the rock. Due to its almost vertical alignment, there would have been very less cutting to prepare it for excavation. The front façade is supported on four pillars and two pilasters. The pillar is constituted of cubical saduram, octagonal kattu, padma-bandha, kalasa, tadi, kumbha and virakantha. This pillar style seems to be the transitional design from cubical saduram and octagonal kattu pillar style of Mahendra to slender padmasana based on an octagonal shaft with other design elements. Lotus medallions on cubical base are missing, except on one phase of the pillar.

The potika (corbel) above the pillar is curved but without roll and median patta. In the kapota (space under the cornice) we see a horizontal frieze of Bhuta-gana. Among these we find a monkey faced gana. The pillars and the pilaster are of similar design. The hall inside is of 25.5 feet in length and 12 feet wide. There are two shrines on two side walls. The back wall is divided into five niches. The shrine on side wall has an extended mandapa supported on two pillars. The platform has a horizontal frieze of elephants on the topmost band. The platform is reached by three flights of steps; however, the last step is not a chandrashila (moonstone).

The front of the shrine has three niches formed between three pilasters. The middle niche is turned into the entrance while the other two niches have dvarpalas. Above the pilasters, on the cornice, we see two kudus. Though we did not find kudus on front façade of the cave but on the inner shrine this design element is found. Inside the shrine is a hole in the floor, perhaps to enshrine a Shivalinga. However, the hole for water outlet is perhaps done later as its position is quite awkward, near the left dvarpala. In such a case, the plan to put Shivalinga was not originally in but this arrangement was done in later times.

Dvarapalas of this shrine are carved in semi-front profile, turned towards the shrine. Both are standing is similar tribhanga posture over the support of their club. They are wearing long crown with jata-bhara behind the head. Both are wearing a necklace, bahu-valaya, bracelet, yajnopavita. The features of the figures are not very clear due to much damage they suffered as well as they were not completely finished it seem. The club of the left dvarpala is resting above his feet, feet firmly resting on the ground. Hence, he is not standing on the support of his club which is seen from his stance as well.

The club of right dvarpala is firmly resting on the ground. The stance of this dvarpala is very similar to the dvarpalas seen at Mahendra’s caves. His one leg is bent at knee. The club handle is almost in his right arm-pit while the palm of another hand is above the handle. Another hand is stretched along the club. Both the dvarpala’s clubs are entwined by a serpent. The features of dvarpalas suggest that the shrine is dedicated to Shiva.

There are two dvarpalas on the side wall, on either side of the shrine. However, these dvarpalas do not look like dedicatory guardians of a deity that’s why their position is also not proper. They are carved in front profile without any weapon. They are with two hands, one of which is rested on their waist. One hand of left dvarpala is raised in adoration while one hand of right dvarpala is in kataka mudra. They are shown wearing yajnopavita, necklace, bahu-valaya, keyuras. One dvarpala is wearing long crown and another seems to be having a karanta-makuta.

On the back wall of the hall are carved five niches. The first niche is carved an image of Ganesha. This could be taken as the first such representation of Ganesha in Pallava art during Mahendra and Mamalla period. Another smaller representation is found in Ramanuja Mandapa at Mahabalipuram where Ganesha is seen in bhuta-vali under the cornice. Ganesha is shown standing in sambhaga posture with two attending ganas near his feat. The sculpture is much damaged hence not all attributes of that can be explained.

Ganesha is seen with four hands, in upper left hand is perhaps a noose, while the upper right hand might be having ankusa (elephant goad). The lower hands were perhaps above the gana heads. The ganas are carved in very crude proportions as can be seen from their body parts. The same applies to the figure of Ganesha as well. One gana is holding a snake in his hand. Ganesha is shown wearing a necklace, bahu-valayas, keyura, yajno pavita and a karanda-makuta. There are two flying Vidhyadharas above in the panel. Their one hand is on waist and another is raised in adoration.

Next niche has an image of Subramanya. In one upper hand, he is holding an akshamala, the other upper hand attribute is not very clear. One lower hand is on waist (katyavalambita) and another lower hand is in Abayamudra. He is shown with a karanda-makuta, necklace, bracelets, valayas and yajno pavita. Tangles of his lower garments are flowing on either side in folds. There are two attendants on either side of him. There are two Vidhyadharas above on the panel with one hand raised in adoration. Second hand of left vidhyadara is on his waist while of the right vidhyadara is holding a flower. The execution of the sculpture is not very good in comparison with other magnificent pieces of arts from same dynasty, the Pallavas.

The next niche has a sculpture of Brahma. Brahma is shown standing in sambhaga posture while two devotes are shown near his feet on the ground. In his four hands, the upper left hand has rosary and upper right hand is akshamala. Lower right hand is in abhaya mudra and lower left hand is on waist. He is wearing a karanda makuta above his head where as his three heads are visible in the sculpture. A yajnopavita, necklace and valayas are also worn by him. His lower garment reaches till his ankles in folds. One devotee is shown seated in Yogaasana.

He is wearing a jata-makuta and a yajnopavita. His one hand is resting on his thigh and another hand is in vyakhana mudra. His features depict the saintly character. Another devotee is seated with one bent leg at knee. He is offering something to Brahma, as seen from his posture. He is also wearing a jata-makuta and a yajnopavita. There are two flying vidhyadara above in this panel, with their one hand raised in adoration. Second hand of left vidhyadara is on his waist while of the right vidhyadara is holding a flower.

The next niche has a sculpture of Surya. He is standing in sambhaga posture and there is a large halo behind his head. Above the head is a long makuta and a jata-bhara behind his head. He is wearing makara-kundala, hara in his neck, bahu-valaya in his arms and keyuras in his wrists. There is a yajnopavita worn across his waist. In his four arms, upper left arm is having a rosary while upper right hand is holding a akshamala. Lower left hand is on waist and lower right hand is in abhaya mudra. He is standing on a slightly raised platform. Near his feet are two devotees. Both are seated in similar fashion, with one leg bent at knee.

It looks as though they are holding something in their hands to offer to the deity. They are wearing similar ornamentation as of Surya. One devotee is wearing a coiled bracelet however another one is with flat bracelet. They wear patra-kundala, necklace and a yajnopavita. There are two vidhyadara on top of the panel, in similar fashion as seen in previous niches. One hand of theirs is raised in adoration and in another hand, both are holding a flower.

Next and the last niche has an image of Durga as Kottavarai, goddess of war. She is standing in sambhaga posture above a raised platform. She is wearing a karanda-makuta, patra kundala, three necklaces, bracelets and bangles. She is shown with four hands; upper right hand is holding a chakra (discus) and upper left hand is not carved completely. Lower left hand is on waist and lower right hand is in abhaya mudra. Compared to her slender waist, her hip portion is quite broad in measurement. She is wearing a breast-band. There are two devotees sitting near her feat.

One on proper left is offering a flower while one on proper right is trying to offer his head by cutting it with some sword like weapon. He has held his hair by one of his hand to make the head stable while slitting it through. This kind of self-sacrifice was in practice during those days, especially during the worship just before the start of a war. One such practice was nava-khanda where a devotee to the king offers nine parts of his body to the goddess for victory of the king over his enemies. These devotee figures are not completed hence many of their attributes are not visible, such as ornamentation on their body.

There is only one vidhyadara in this panel, other one was left unfinished. This vidhyadara on left side has raised one hand in adoration and another hand is having a flower. A similar representation can be seen in Mahabalipuram, in Varaha Cave and in Draupadi Ratha. On the adjacent side wall of this last niche is another inner shrine of this cave. The arrangement of this inner shrine is similar as the other shrine which is on opposite wall of this shrine as have been discussed earlier in this article. There is a mandapa in front of this shrine which is supported on two pillars in front.

The mandapa is constructed over a raised platform which can be accessed via three step stair case constructed in front. The uppermost band of this platform has a horizontal frieze of elephants and lion all around the three sides. There are two kudus (horse shoe window) on the front cornice of this mandapa. The front of the shrine is divided into three niches by four pilasters. The middle niche is turned into the entrance while the other two niches have dvarpalas. The corner pilasters are almost like pillars the only difference is that those are not cut completely on all sides.

Similar to the first inner shrine, here also we find two dvarpalas on either side of the shrine. They are similar to the side Dvarapalas of opposite wall, one hand on waist and one raised above in adoration. Inside the shrine is bas-relief of Vishnu. He is standing in sambhaga posture with two devotees near his feet. He is depicted with four hands, upper right hand holding chakra, upper left hand holding sankha, lower right hand is in Varada mudra and lower left hand is in katyavalambita mudra. He is wearing a long krita-makuta, makara kundala, necklace, bracelets, keyuras, valaya and a yajnopavita.
His lower garment is reaching till his ankles with many folds, it is tied at his waist and two tangles are on either side. Two devotees, one male one female, on either side are sitting with one leg bent at knee. Male devotee is wearing jata-makuta, makara kundala, sutra-yajnopavita. Female devotee is with karanda-makuta, patra kundala, bracelets, bangles and necklace. Both are holding a flower in one of the hand to offer to the God, while the other hand is resting on their thigh. There are two flying ganas on top of the panel, on either side of Vishnu. Both are wearing jata-makuta and yajnopavita. One hand of theirs are raised in adoration and another hand is on near their waist.
Dvarpalas of this shrine are Vaishnava in features as they do not have any club with them. Proper right dvarpala is more finished as compared to proper left one. The right dvarpala is standing on one feet above the ground and one feet is bent at knee and placed above the head of a gana. He is wearing yajnopavita, bracelets, valaya, necklace and jata-makuta with jata-bhara. One hand is holding a snake and another hand is near his mouth. The left dvarpala is standing turned towards the shrine. He also wearing similar ornaments as of his right counterpart. His one hand is raised in adoration and another hand is on his waist. The sculptures are not completely finished as seen the left work near their feet.