Places of interest in Tamilnadu

Trip to Mahabalipuram on December 5, 2007
The Great penance (Arjuna / Bhagiratha)- a bas-relief

It is an open air bas-relief, 100 ft long and 40 ft high with carvings on a rock face. A vertical cleft in the centre divides the boulder into 2 sections.

In the cleft, the nagas depicted in different styles, signify water - a naga king (man's face with a seven headed snake hood and snake body below the waist), a naga queen (woman's face with a three headed snake hood and snake body below the waist), a naga. On either side of the naga queen are a pair of nagas with human body and a naga hood. The man on the right has a three headed hood and the man on the left has a five headed hood. The women on both sides have a tiny single headed hood.

Several Gods, rishis, gandharvas, ganas, kinnaras (creatures with human body with bird legs and wings), animals and birds have been depicted. The figures on both boulders are facing the cleft, moving towards the descending Ganga.

A man (either Arjuna or Bhagiratha) can be seen doing penance standing on one leg & Siva is granting him darshan. There are several ganas around him, kinnaras, the sun or the moon (a figure with a halo) just above him and a few gandharvas.

Behind the ganas, to the left is a forest scene depicting several (five) hunters with bow and other weapons and animals such as deers, lions. The lion with its two suckling cubs can be seen at the extreme right of the forest scene immediately after the two ganas beside Siva. There is a huge outsized lizard between the second hunter and the seated deer. The lions and the deers have been depicted side by side.

Just below Siva, is a Vishnu shrine and a rishi offering worship in front. The heads of three hermits in front of the shrine are broken.

The lower section of the rock to the left, is plain without even a rough etching.

To the right of the cleft is another figure with a halo, several gandharvas, kinnaras & ganas. On the lower portion of the right section, there is a wonderful scene of elephants with several baby elephants under the mother’s belly.

Just in front of the elephant is an old cunning cat that is pretending to be doing tapas so that it can suddenly pounce on the gullible mice.

There are several stylized yali faced lions, deers, swans distributed throughout the panel.

It is believed that there was a reservoir at the top feeding water through the cleft to create a flow – the descent of the Ganges.

There was a short spell of rain while we were admiring the Penance panel. We took refuge under a tree opposite the panel. This only gave us more time to appreciate the details.

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