Places of interest in Tamilnadu

Trip to Mahabalipuram on December 5, 2007

Saluvakuppam village is situated a few kms north of Mamallapuram. Here we visited three structures – the Tigers cave, the Atiranachandesvara Mandapam and the Saptamatrikas temple.

Tigers cave
It is also known as the Yali mandapam. There is a huge boulder on which there are eleven yali faces. The faces at the base are in profile, progressing to straight posture at the top. All the yalis are facing a central stage which is 8ft by 3ft depth, about 6 ft from the ground with a flight of steps to reach the stage. Since there are no dwarapalakas or carving on the rear wall, this may not have been a temple. Various guesses have been made – it could have been the spot from which the king witnessed a festival, or it could have been a spot where they rested a processional deity. There are two soaring lions with riders on either side of the entrance, beside which can be seen two niches .

On the left, on a shorter projection of the boulder, are 2 elephant faces with a cell carved above their head. This looks like the ambari (howdah or decorated seat) on the elephant. In the cells, can be seen deities with four hands, but since the weapons are not clear, it is difficult to identify the deities. We can only guess that it could be Indra or Muruga for they both have elephants as their vehicle. To the left of the elephants is a galloping horse. A cleft runs between the yali faces and the elephant cells.

On the sideface, to the right of the yalis, a huge lion face has been carved with a niche cut into its belly, perhaps to engrave a Mahishasuramardhini panel, but it is unfinished.

There is a similar but smaller structure like the Tigers cave near the shore temple, which is unfinished. It could have been an experiment, a trial run before they excavated this masterpiece. A similar lion structure with a Mahishasuramardhini panel in the centre can also be seen near the shore temple.

Atiranachanda Mandapam
It is a cave mandapam situated a few hundred feet to the North of Tigers’ cave - an Iswara temple with a lingam in the main sanctum, an elongated lingam in the open pavilion in front and a nandi. The two lingams and the nandi are in a straight line. To the left of the Nandi is a Mahishasuramardini panel.

The space (raised portion) in front of the pillars is the Maha mandapam and the section beyond the pillars is the Ardha Mandapam.

There are two wall inscriptions of the same sloka on either side of the mahamandapam – in Pallava Grantham on the left wall (southern wall) and in Devanagiri on the right wall (northern wall). The inscription says that Atiranachanda raised this temple for Somaskanda (Siva, Uma and Skanda). Similar inscriptions are also seen in the Dharmaraja mandapam (a cave temple) and Ganesha Ratham (a monolith). There is a Chola inscription on the floor, indicating that the temple was under worship in the Chola times.

There are two whole pillars and two pilasters (half pillars - one half protruding and the other merging into the wall). The pillars here indicate that this mandapam must be of an early origin, for there is no ornamentation – square base & eight sided in the middle. There is a kapotam (the roof top) with 24 small niches.

In the ardha mandapam are three Somaskanda panels – two on the walls on either side of the garbagriham and one inside the garbagriham on the rear wall behind the lingam. The somaskanda panel in the grabagriham shows Shiva & Uma sitting with Skanda, with Brahma and Vishnu standing on either side. The lingam in front is of a highly polished stone with sixteen sides. It is believed that there were no lingams in the garba griham of the cave temples of the Pallavas. Prayers were offered only to the panel in the rear wall. The lingams must be later addition.

The dwarapalakas guarding the garbagriha are male with wide rounded eyes – the dwarapalakas are holding a club -one on the left in his right hand and the one on the right in his left hand.

Mahishasuramardini panel
In front of the cave, to the left of the nandi is the Mahishasuramardhini panel. It measures about 6ft by 3ft, much smaller than the panel in the Mahishasuramardhini cave, but displays the mood and action as effectively. The devi is seated sideways on the lion (both her legs are visible), left leg resting on a lotus. She is ready to pull the string of her bow. The demon is running away with a few ganas chasing him. Joyous ganas can be seen around the devi.

In the mahishasuramardini cave, the Devi is sitting astride on the lion with eight arms & the demon is in a striking posture, swinging his mace with an umbrella over his head indicating that the fight is still on. There are a yoginis and female attendants also around the devi.

Saptamatrika shrine
Further north is a shrine under worship for the Saptamatrikas. It is a construction retaining the traditional tile roof. Only six devis are seen and there is no explanation about the missing idol. It could have been established by a later Pallava, Nandivarma or Dandivarma.

Inscriptions near Atiranachanda Cave
To the north of the Atiranachanda Cave, within 100 metres, is a hill where is found an inscription of Kulottunga III. From the inscriptions it becomes evident that there existed a temple for Subrahmanya here and that the Chozha king was titled Tribhuvana Vira Thevan, and that the place was known as Thiruvizhichchalur, a Brahmadeyam, belonging to Amur Kottam in the Jayamkonda Chozhamandalam. It carries the message that the devotees of the temple sold a plot of land for 300 coins to Andar Karpudaiyar Nambi.

In the recent Tsunami of 2004, a brick structure close to this rock was uncovered, and excavations are going on at the site. Very important discoveries are expected out of the excavation.

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