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Updated: Sep 30

Durga Puja is one of the grandest festivals celebrated in India, especially in the state of West Bengal with Goddess Mahishasuramardini as the chief deity of the ceremony. But is the notion of Mahishasuramardini confined to the land of Bengal? Let us go back to the 7th century when this avataar of Durga was a very prominent figure in South India.


Mahabalipuram has 14 temples equally rich in architecture and sculpture. One of these is ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ช ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ฑ๐˜ข (locally called Yamapuri) โ€” aย UNESCOย World Heritage Siteย since 1984.


๐‘ณ๐’๐’„๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’:

The rock-cut cave temple positioned on a hill, is at Mahabalipuram (dist.ย Kanchipuram), a few kilometers to the south ofย Chennai in Tamil Nadu. This east facing temple is one of the finest examples of the architecture of the Pallava times.

Other tourist attractions nearby include ๐˜š๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜›๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ,ย ๐˜Š๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ ๐˜‰๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ, ๐˜’๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข'๐˜ด ๐˜‰๐˜ถ๐˜ต๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฃ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ and ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฉ๐˜ข ๐˜Š๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜›๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ..


๐‘ฏ๐’Š๐’”๐’•๐’๐’“๐’š:

The cave dates back to the period of king ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜ข (630โ€”668) of the Pallava dynasty, after whom the town of Mahabalipuram gets its other nameโ€” Mamallapuram. Historians suggest that most of the sculptures of this area are attributed to his reign and were built around the year 650 AD.

The cave-temple is dedicated to Goddess Mahishasuramardini (the Slayer of the Buffalo-demon). Legend has it that Durga killed the notorious Mahishasura, who was considered unconquerable. Following his slaying, the goddess was given the titleย "๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ช".

The sculptors of the Pallava period chose to portray on the walls of the cave the mythological battle fought between Durga and Mahishasura. The cave's interior relief depicts the goddess riding a lion, her eight arms holding different weapons, pursuing the retreating ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ข with his followers.


๐‘จ๐’“๐’„๐’‰๐’Š๐’•๐’†๐’„๐’•๐’–๐’“๐’† ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘บ๐’„๐’–๐’๐’‘๐’•๐’–๐’“๐’†:

The temple is built in the uniqueย ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜ข style of architecture introduced by King ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ. It is carved from an enormous boulder and is open in the east withย four widely spaced columns, allowing light to enter. The columns have diverse designs and the panels depict different stories related to divine figures. The cave-temple has many interesting architectural features of which three exquisitely carved reliefs on the cave walls are very prominent.

The exquisiteย bas-relief panel on the north side of the cave, depicting the battle, is more than eight feet tall and nearly fifteen feet long. It shows Goddess Durga drawing her bow as she steadies an implied arrow at Mahisha, the buffalo-headed asura at the right of the niche. Durga is shown wearing aย dhoti and adorned with a crown, large earrings, necklaces, bangles, armlets, belt, and anklets. She is surrounded by an entourage of severa male and female attendants.

The panel on the south of the cave is not so detailed and shows Godย Vishnu resting on the giant serpentย Shesha.

The third sanctum has a sculpture of Shiva.


The walls also have sculptures of other gods and goddesses including Brahma, Surya and Parvati. However, the dominance of Shiva panels point at an inclination towards Shavisim among the Pallavas during this time.

Like most monuments at Mamallapuram, the Mahishasuramardiniย mandapaย was left unfinished with an incomplete roof and unbuilt stairs.


๐‘จ๐’•๐’•๐’‚๐’„๐’Œ๐’” ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ฝ๐’‚๐’๐’…๐’‚๐’๐’Š๐’”๐’Ž:

Research reveals that the temple had undergone vandalism twice in its lifespan. The first one, most probably during the period of the Pallava king Parameshvaravarman I, was when its Vishnu shrine was converted into a Shiva shrine in the late seventh century CE.

The next attack was during the Vijayanagara period in fourteenth-fifteenth century CE, when its Shiva character was changed to Vaishnava.


๐‘ช๐’๐’๐’„๐’๐’–๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’:

From the carved walls of Hindu temples, to manuscript paintings, murals, and contemporary art, Durgaโ€™s encounter with Mahishasura has been a popular subject among artists in South Asia and Southeast Asia for centuries. In temples and religious sculpture, she is often depicted as either calmly victorious standing on a decapitated buffalo head or in the act of killing a buffalo-headed figure from whose cut neck a demon in the form of a man emerges. And one of the oldest depictions of Mahishasuramardini is seen in the cave-temple at Mahabalipuram. With intricate designs and detailed engravings of mythological events, this structure is undoubtedly a marvel in rock!



ยฉ2020 PicturePenner.

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