Monday, November 20, 2017

Pallava Cave Temples, Rockfort – Upper Cave Temple

Pallava Cave Temples, Rockfort – Upper Cave Temple
The upper cave temple called as Lalitankura cave temple is located at a height of about 200 meters from the ground level. It can be reached by steep flight of steps. The Rockfort consists of three temples - a small Manicka Vinayakar temple at the foothill, the big Thayumanavar (Shiva) temple at half way to hill top and Uchchi Pillaiyar temple at the top of the hill. The upper cave temple is located near Thayumanavar temple on the way to Uchchi Pillaiyar temple. It is unfortunate that the site remains closed nowadays and you can view the temple only from outside the grilled gates.

As per the inscriptions found in this temple, it was built by Mahendravarman Pallava. It looks like this would have been his latest work. The front facade of the south facing cave temple is supported by four pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are cubical at top and bottom whereas octagonal in the middle. The hall has an east facing shrine. The entrance of the shrine has two bas-relief images of Dwarapalas. Both the Dwarapalas hold clubs. There is no deity inside the shrine. It is believed that the shrine would have had Shiva Linga and Parvati originally.

This south facing cave temple shows various advancements over the first such attempt in Mandagapattu. From its style and design, this would have been the latest construction from Mahendravarman I. The front façade is supported on four pillars and two pilasters, thus forming five openings. The pillars are in usual Mahendra style, cubical top and bottom with intermediate octagonal shaft. The lower cubical parts of the pillars are adorned with lotus medallions. However, the upper cubical parts are having various designs in circles, instead of lotus medallions. This feature is seen only in this cave temple of Mahendra. The potikas (corbel) above the pillars are molded with a median patta (band). This corbel style is seen in later Pallava constructions.

Also, this feature resembles with the cave temples of Pandya origin, as in Tirumalapuram cave temple. This façade has been cut inwards of the cave, resulting in overhanging cornice. The cornice is devoid of any architectural element such as kudu or mini-shrines etc. This deep cutting in on the rock face gave space to construct a three-step staircase in middle front of the cave so reach the platform of the shrine. The stair case is flanked with makara parapets on either side. The oblong hall inside is of 30 feet in length, 15 feet in width and 9 feet in height.

There is another row of pillars behind the front row. This row also has four pillars and two pilasters. The faces of lower cubical part have lotus medallions while the faces of upper cubical part have various designs in circles. In these designs we find females, animals like elephant, swan etc. The arrangement of this inner row is same as of the façade row of pillars. As the cave is facing south, hence an inner shrine, of 8 feet square and 7 feet high, is cut on the eastern wall of the mandapa (hall). The shrine has a three-step stair case in front to reach over to the platform.

The platform (adhisthana) is comprised of, from below to top, jagati (in red color), tripatta-kumuda (in orange color), recessed kampa (in violet color), recessed kantha (in sky-blue color), another recessed kampa (in violet color) and projecting pattika (in light green color). Above the platform are four pilasters, forming three niches. The middle one is made into an entrance and the side niches have dvarpalas. The pilasters of the door show pretty good advancement in architectural style as we observe various components of the pillars found on these pilasters, features which were not seen earlier in Mahendra’s time. These features include various components as suggested by earlier shilpa-Sastras i.e. Mayamatam.

Above the cornice are characteristic arrangement of three kudus, the middle one is in exact middle of the main entrance and others are in middle of respective niches. Inside the cell are two cavities made in the floor. One hole, about 2 feet square and 2.5 feet deep, would have been for Shiva Lingam. Another cavity, north of the first hole, is of about 2 feet by 1 feet and 9 inches deep. This would have been for an image of Parvati, as suggested by an inscription of this cave. From the arrangement of the holes, it seems that Parvati would have been facing the central deity, in posture of worship perhaps.

Major feature and attraction of this cave temple is a huge bas-relief carved on its western wall. Below the platform we see a design similar to the rails seen in Buddhist stupas. This rail design is similar to Amaravati stupa, it may be that Mahendravarman or some of the artist/architect have seen such a design and implemented here. However, this is just an assumption on the basis of similarity over the design pattern. The main attraction of the cave temple is the huge bas-relief carved on the western wall. The bas-relief depicts Lord Shiva as Gangadhara - one who is carrying the river Ganges.

Shiva is shown standing in tribhanga posture, with one leg firmly set upon the ground while the other leg is resting above the head of a gana. The left hand of the gana supports the ankle of Shiva’s leg while his right hand is carrying a snake. Shiva is shown with four hands, upper right hand is holding a tress of his hair, upper left hand is holding an akshamala, lower right hand is carrying a snake and lower left hand is on waist. On his right, Ganga, depicted in a female form, in Anjali posture is shown descending over to his tress. Shiva is shown wearing a long jata-makuta, makara kundala in his ears, valayas and keyuras (bracelets). On his jata-makuta, left side is shown Chandra (moon) and right side is a skull. He is also wearing a yajnopavita. His lower garment is hanging till his ankles with many folds. Corresponding to Ganga, on left of Shiva, is a Deer.

There are two flying Vidhyadharas which are wearing similar ornaments as Shiva. Their one hand is raised in adoration while other hand is on their waists. Below at the base are shown two devotes kneeling on their feet. Both the devotees are almost similar except the yajnopavita they are wearing. The left one is wearing four strands of sutra-yajnopavita while the right one is shown wearing vastra-yajnopavita. Their one hand is raised in adoration while the other hand is on waist. They both are shown wearing folded long lower garments.

Behind these two kneeling devotes are two rishis, as evident from their beard and jata. Their one hand is raised in adoration. Many scholars agree that this is one of the best representation of Gangadhara, and one of the most magnificent piece of art of the Pallavas. This is taken as precursor to the bas-relief panels of Mahabalipuram. There are no dvarpalas on the front façade. But the inner shrine has a set of dvarpalas. Both the dvarpalas are identical in style and posture. They are almost facing front but slightly turned towards the shrine.

Shown in tribhanga posture with one leg on the ground and another is bent at the knee joint. They are standing over the support of their club where palm of one hand is above the handle of the club, which is almost inside the armpit. Another hand is stretched along the side of the club. Top of the club, at the joint of the handle and the heavy base, is a snake entwining over that part. Both are shown wearing yajnopavita, valayas, keyuras, patra-kundalas and necklace. Above the head is jata-makuta, with jata-bhara behind their head.

There are many inscriptions found in this cave shrine. They are inscribed on the pillar faces, over the beam and on the walls. There are inscriptions on the top, middle and bottom part of the first pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight. There are inscriptions on the top, middle and bottom part of the second pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight. There are inscriptions on the top, middle and bottom part of the third pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight.

There are inscriptions on the top, middle and bottom part of the fourth pillar. The inscriptions on middle octagonal shaft are engraved on three faces out of the eight. There are very few inscriptions, found on inner row of the pillars, as compared to the front row. There is a verse inscription found on the beam of the inner row of the pillars which gives the name of the cave shrine. There are two long verse inscriptions found on the pilasters on either side of the bas-relief of Gangadhara. This inscription is very important as it gives the explanation of the relief and few birudas (titles) of king Mahendravarman I which are also found in his other cave temples.

Unique and interesting inscription is a poem of eight couplets encircling the Gangadhara panel - possibly composed by the king himself and describing the Gangadhara panel. Some consider that this poem is also an early example of dhvani - very sophisticated trend in Indian poetry where for proper understanding of the verses both the poet and hearer should be on the same emotional "wavelength".

Like many other monuments of Pallava period, Lalitankura Pallavesvara Griham is rich both with artistic and intellectual qualities. Visit to this temple is a meeting with ancient culture which in many respects surpassed the achievements of present-day civilization. Most of present-day visitors spend no effort to appreciate this - they just make a short stop here during their ascent to the top of Rockfort hill.