Mahendravadi Rock Cut Cave Temple – The Temple
This is a very important cave temple, constructed by Mahendravarman I, as this is the only cave temple which is dedicated to Vishnu. This is a small and east facing rock cut cave temple. This cave was excavated from a free-standing boulder measuring about 3.35-meter-long and 7.62-meter-wide from north to south. The cave comprises a facade, a rectangular Mukhamandapam, Ardhamandapam and the slightly projected cubical sanctum. The facade floor is formed 0.50 meter above the ground level. The facade measures 5.71 meter in north south direction and 0.60 meter in east west direction.
The facade comprises two pillars with the features of square, octagonal kattu and square in the middle and two pilasters one on each side of the corners. There are three wide 'anganas' (bays) are formed between the pillars and pilasters. The lower square and kattu are long when equated with the upper square. While all the upper faces of the square are decorated with circular lotus medallions, all the lower faces except the west face is adorned with flower medallions. The flower medallions appear different from lotus medallions and the square frames also have deep embellishments.
While the upper south and north faces of the pilasters have lotus medallions, the east faces of the pilasters also have only half frame of the medallions and the west face is left blank. The vettu potikas holding the prastara components such as uttira (beam) and vajanam. The mother rock is evenly sculpted and extended in a semi-circular shape. In spite of its appearance as kapota, the structure is not shaped as kapota in its full form. Also, there are two deep grooves above the facade - the lower one is short and the upper one extends up to the entire cave length.
The open rectangular mukha-mandapa is formed between two rows of pillars i.e., row of pillars in the facade and the row of rear pillars with the features of square, octagonal kattu and square in the middle. No medallions noticed on the faces of the square part. Here also the vettu potikas holding the prastara components such as uttira (beam) and vajanam. The floor level is raised above up to 0.05 meter. The side walls, measuring about 5.75 meter in length and 1.15 meter in width, are left blank. The floor and roof are even and there is a band of vajanam running on all four sides.
The space formed between two rows of pillars i.e., row of rear pillars and rear wall is Ardhamandapam. Ardhamandapam measures about 5.87 meter in length and 2.22 meter in width. The floor level is still raised above up to 0.05 meter. The sanctum is formed on the western lateral wall facing east and it is protruding out of the western lateral wall up to 0.39 meter. The sanctum floor level is raised above up to 0.59 meter. The components of adhishtana of the sanctum includes jagadi, kumuda, khanta and pattika flanked by kampa. The moldings are more distinct on the northern wing than the southern wing.
A flight of three steps without balustrades, cut from the mother rock, leads to the sanctum. The doorway is framed by east facing pilasters on either side. There are two niches - one on either side of the sanctum, excavated up to 1.51-meter-high on the western lateral wall. Both south and north niches house two male Dwarapalakas. The niches are framed Patti (band) on all four sides. The roof is supported by uttiram, vajanam and rough kapota. The lateral walls of the sanctum are not even at roof level.
Lord Narasimha appears in padmasana posture in the sanctum and this could be the later addition. The original prime deity 'Murari,' as mentioned in the inscription could not be found. The pilasters at the entrance and the rear row of pillars bear niches for lighting oil lamps. This also could be the lateral additions. Daily pujas are not offered to Lord Narasimha in this cave temple.
Both the Dwarapalakas (door guards) in Mahendravadi appear in parsavakosana, an unusual posture. The Dwarapalaka in the right niche appear in parsavakosana with the left leg in parsva (foot slightly towards right) and the right leg 90 degree.
The left and right heels are aligned and the thighs are firm and the right thigh outward and the center of the kneecap is in line with the center of the right ankle. The left hip slightly forward, towards the right and the upper torso extends back to the left. The face is upright and smiling. The left hand and the broken right hands are resting on his hips. He appears wearing headband, Karandamakutam with chanka motiff and ornaments worn by him includes patra kundala in ears, sarapali in the neck, armlets (tolvalai). The Yagnopavita is worn in niveta fashion. The knots of the waist attire are shown on the right.
The left niche Dwarapalaka also appear in parsavakosana with the left in parsva (foot slightly towards left) and the right foot 90 degree. The left and right heels are aligned and the thighs are firm and the right thigh outward and the center of the kneecap is in line with the center of the right ankle. The left hip slightly forward, towards the right and the upper torso extends back to the left. The face is slightly bent and smiling. The right hand and the broken left hands are resting on his hips. He appears wearing headband, Karandamakutam with chanka motiff and ornaments worn by him includes patra kundala in ears, sarapali in the neck, armlets (tolvalai). The Yagnopavita is worn in niveta fashion. The knots of the waist attire are shown on the left.
The lone four-line inscription of Mahendravarman I in Pallava Grantha script and in Sanskrit language is inscribed on the north face of the southern pilaster just below the lotus medallion. The inscription found in this temple calls this place Mahendra Vishnu Graha.
Inscription is read as;
The wide temple of Murari (Vishnu), named Mahendra-Vishnugriha was caused to be made by splitting the boulder by Gunabhara (Pallava king Mahendravarman I) on the bank of Mahendra Tataka (Mahendra Tank) in the prominent (city of) Mahenthirapura and this is extremely appreciated by estimable citizenry.