Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Arjuna's Penance, Mamallapuram

This is one of the most important sites in Mamallapuram (State: Tamil Nadu). This amazing relief, carved sometime in the 7th century, measures approximately 30m (100ft) long by 15m (45ft) high. This beautiful work symbolizes either "Arjuna's Penance" or "the Descent of the Ganges", or possibly both.

Arjuna's Penance: According to the story in the epic Mahabharata, Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, offers prayers in extreme conditions in order to obtain Lord Shiva's weapon.

Descent of the Ganges: According to this story, the sage Bhagiratha, offeres prayers in extreme conditions in order to bring the river Ganges down to earth.

On the relief one can can see many scenes being carved out in support of both the stories. The left side has the main elements of the story. Just above the shrine, Arjuna (or Bhagiratha) stands on one leg, his arms upraised, in a yogic posture.

While the right side has scenes of the natural and celestial worlds and the life-sized elephants protect their young. A natural cleft populated by nagas (snakes) separates the two halves of the relief.

We shall explore finer details of this relief soon: 1