The Pallava Sculpture

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Item Code: NAH074
Author: Dr. D.R. Rajeshwari
Publisher: Intellectual Publishing House, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 1988
ISBN: 8170760100
Pages: 185 (217 B/W Illustrations With 1 Map)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.0 inch X 9.0 inch
Weight 760 gm
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Book Description

About The Book

This book is an attempt to show the historical evolution and to give an aesthetic analysis of the Pallava Sculpture covering the period from the first-half of the seventh century A.D. to the first half of the tenth century A.D. This period marks the revival of Hinduism in South India. The Hindu temple architecture and sculpture received an impetus under the Pallavas of Kanchipuram who introduced a new chapter to the annals of the art movement of the South.

This study is divided into four phases. The first phase covers from 610 to 630 A.D., and starts with the accession of Mahendravarman I. He introduced the rock-cut technique in the Pallava territory. The second phase started from 630 A.D., with the arrival of Narasim-havarman on the scene. It is in this period that the Pallava style fully attained its individuality. Various mythological stories were illustrated on the Mandapas and the Rathas. This portion attempts to identify certain sculptural panels from the Dharmaraja Ratha and certain figures of Mahishasuramardini Durga, Anantasayi, Varaha and Trivikrama have been discussed. In the third phase, the emphasis has been laid on the iconography of Siva. For this purpose the sculptural panels from the Shore Temple, The Kailasanath Temple and the VAikantha Perumal Temple have been discussed. The last phase is represented by the Aparajita period whose inscription has been found at Virattamesvara Temple at Tiruttani. He turned to revive the past glory. In the end of the first-half of the tenth century A.D., the Pallava power declined, their sculpture lost its independent existence and merged in the Chola style.


About The Author

Dr D.R. Rajeswari was awarded Doctorate in Art and Architecture by the Banaras Hindu University and started her career as a lecturer in Fine Arts in the department of Indian Culture, in the Poompuhar College of Indian Culture in Tanjore District. For same time she served the Banaras Hindu University as a lecturer in Sculpture. Later she become Reader in Indian Culture at A.P. College of Indian Culture, Palani, the extension centre of Madurai Kamaraj University and now she is working as Professor and Head of the Department of History, I.C.C and C.E., Madurai Kamaraj University. She is devoted to the research work in Indian Culture and many of her works are under preparation.



This work was undertaken at the suggestion of my teacher Dr. Ananda Krishna, Professor and Head of the Deptt. of Art and Architecture and Dy. Director of Bharat Kalabhavan, Banaras Hindu University and has been completed under his scholarly guidance. I do not have enough words to express my deep sense of gratitude to him. I have to express my thanks to Prof. S.K. Saraswati for his kind patronage. I extend my thanks to the authorities and the staff of American Academy and Government Museum, Madras who supplied me necessary photographs. Finally I feel indebted to all concerned for their valuable help in connection with this research work.



The period between the latter half of the sixth and first half of the tenth century A.D., an interval of four hundred years, marks an important epoch in the history of South India and its culture. Three important dynasties viz., the Chalukyas of Badami, Pallavas of Kanchi and the Pandyas of Madurai rose to power. Alongwith their paramount authority the revival of Hinduism was also heralded. These dynasties were the great contributors to the development of art and architecture in their respective regions. In fact they were also rivals in the realm of art, not as the destroyers of each other’s art productions but as patrons. Their keen competition paved the way to the affluent output of permanent artistic monuments in stone. The Pallavas of Kanchi became the central power geographically, politically and culturally. They developed for the first time architecture and sculpture in the hard rock, in this area. The Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas continued the pre-existing tradition of rock-cut art. The Pallava art stood distinct in contemporary styles in material and technique.

The Pallava sculptures are scattered in various places in Tamilnadu’ (Madras state) viz., Mandagapattu, Trichinapalli, Siyamangalam, Singavaram, Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram, Kaveripakam, Tiruttani etc. Most of these places are in South and North Arcot districts. But most interesting places of sculptural importance are Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram where the Pallava artists deliberately and significantly carved the figures by singular concentration and inspiration. Especially Mamallapuram is a source of perennial inspiration to the artists and a place of pilgrimage to the art lovers. The rich patronage and encouragement of the cultured kings as well as revival of Saivism and Vaishnavism created an atmosphere where art could thrive. The inspirational surge would have swept over the artists like a tidal wave and their process of creation would have been an intense delight. The result is highly remarkable. Not only were the unknown selfless artists perfect in transmitting their inspiration into effective expression with mastery of technique, but they were well versed in the language and had a keen sense of observation also. The Mamallapuram sculptor reveals the man’s attempts to unveil the secrets of the spirit with the chisel and he left behind his discoveries ingrained in rock that is born in his soul which is an outflowering of the eternal rhythm.

This sea port city is variously called Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram, seven pagodas etc. It is said that the mythical legend of Balichakravarti took place here, hence this place is called Mahabalipuram. Another name Mamallapuram or Mahamallapuram is mentioned in the Avanti Sundarikatha of Dandi. Probably this place is famous for great fighters which is the meaning of the word. Mamalla is the corrupted form of Mahamalla. Another version says that this city was constructed by the great warrior Narasimhavarman I with the title Mamalla and hence it was named, Mamallapuram. But it is proved by the Avanti Sundari katha written by Dandi during the reign of Simhavishnu that this port city is pre-Narasimhavarman I but it acquired fame during his reign by his indomitable and creditable performances. Now both names i.e. Mamallapuram and Mahabalipuram are in practice.

The phrase ‘seven pagodas’ was probably used by the foreigners who came by the sea. According to some people the shore temple is one of the seven, the remaining six are under sea level. But no one has seen them. Others say that the five Rathas plus the monolithic lion and elephant constitute the seven pagodas. Anyway it is a somewhat vague term. There is a cluster of prominent buildings. Probably these buildings were seen as a landmark from off shore and that is perhaps how the phrase originated during the days of the early European navigators; this place now is generally called Mahabalipuram.

A number of sculptures were executed in relief on the Rathas, in the caves and Mandapas and also on the open boulders. All the figures are in situ. Nearly thirty or thirty five figures are on Dharmaraja Ratha and Arjuna Ratha and others are in caves and the Mandapas, i.e., Mahishasuramardini cave, Adivaraha cave, Tirmurti cave, Krishna Mandapa and the shore temple exhibit a number of beautiful figures.

Kanchipuram had been the capital city of the Pallavas throughout their hegemony, situated forty miles from Madras in South Arcot district and is one of the holy places of India. It has always been a great seat of learning. This is a meeting place of various religious creeds; the Vedic professors lived side by side with Jain and Buddhist priests. It is praised by Kalidasa as Nagareshu Kanchi.’ The great position was attained by the Kanchi under the orthodox rule of the Pallavas and mainly through Saivism which they propagated and favoured. The later Pallavas since Rajasimha started to embellish their capital city by a number of temples. Rajasimha constructed the Kailasanath temple, according to the inscriptions inscribe on the walls of the temple, It is the repository of the Saiva iconography. The walls of the main temple and the prakara also are filled with reliefs showing Siva and his forms. Another important edifice is the Vaikuntha Perumal temple which is dedicated to Vishnu whose sponsorship is attributed to Nandivarman Pallavamalla. This is a three storied building showing a further advanced step in the temple architecture. On the walls of the Garbhagriha certain Vaishnava legends are illustrated as, the boar incarnation. Narasimha, Samudramanthan, the distribution of Nectar by Vishnu in the guise of Mohini, etc. In the cloisterry some important episodes of the Pallava genealogical history viz., the coronations of the various kings, the death of Mahendravarman III, the coronation of Nandivarman, the war with Chalukyas etc., are inscribed. Dance scenes, wrestling matches, etc. are also illustrated.

Mandagapattu, Dalvanur, Mamandur, Siyamangalam, Trichunapalli etc. exhibit the early Pallava sculptures i.e., the Mahendravarman period. These rockcut caves and Mandapas are examples of Mahendravarman’s ambitious desire to gain esteem by some extravagant device to create something new. These caves contain very few sculptures, viz., certain Dvarapala figures, the Gangavatarana scene in Trichunapalli, Durga in Singavaram. Certain later Pallava figures of the Aparajita period, are available from Kaveripakkam and Tiruttani where Brahma, Vishnu, Surya and Saptamatrika group are sculptured.

Number of scholars like Jouvean Dubreuil in his Pallava Antiquities: Longhurst in his Archaeological Memoirs; O.C. Gangooly and Goswamy in his Pallava Art; K.R. Srinivasan, in his The Cave Temples of the Pallavas; Alexander Ray, in the Imperial Series about the temples of Kanchi, C. Minakshi in her Historical Sculptures of Vaikuntha Perumal Temple, discussed variously. Later K. Nilakantha Sastri, C. Sivaramamurti, H. Zimmer, Father Heras, T.N. Ramachandran, J. Ph. Vogel, Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Hultzsch etc., contributed in the field of Pallava architecture and sculpture. Most of these scholars have taken much interest to allot the Pallava monuments among the rulers of the Pallava dynasty mainly based on the epigraphical grounds, i.e., the titles which the rulers adopted like Atiranachanda, Atyantakama etc., adopted equally by Paramesvaravarman, Rajasimha etc.

Dubreuil tried to assign the Rathas and the Mandapas of Mahabalipuram to the period anterior to that of Rajasimha posterior to that of Mahendravarman I. He stated that the Atiranachanda Mandapa at Saluvankuppam belongs to Rajasimha and he also ascribed the shore temple, Olakkanath temple and Mukundanayanar to Rajasimha. He accepts the great bas relief as the descent of the Ganges. He says about the art of Mahendravarman I (610-630 A.D.), that it had the origin from the Telugu country i.e., the Undavalli caves of Vishnukundins. He also enumerates the style in four phases as follws:-
Mahendra 600-630 A.D., Mamalla 630-668 A.D.
Rajasimha 690-715 A.D., Aparajita 870-890 A.D.

Longhurst has also shown much interest in architecture. He stresses the similarity between the great bas relief and the Isurumiya reliefs at Anurathapura and identifies it as Brahma Kapal in the Himalayas. However, he is not sure about the Telegu origin. He expressed his doubt about attributing the Undavalli caves to Vishnukundins. O.c. Gangooly and Goswamy attribute most of Mahendravarman works to Narasimhavarman I Mamalla and there is a possibility that Mahendravarman and Simhavishnu may have had a hand in it. They identify the portraits in the Varaha cave temple as those of Simhavishnu and Mahendravarman I and the great bas relief as the descent of the Ganges.

Alexander Ray discussed only the architecture of the temples of Kanchipuram. K.R. Srinivasan’s book The Cave Temples of the Pallavas is somewhat comprehensive as he has given equal importance to architecture and sculptures. He deals with the origin from Mahendravarman I and the evolution upto Narasimhavarman. He remarks that the Pallavas are the first extensive initiators of granite stone for sculptural cum architectural purposes and he identifies, the portraits as Narasimhavarman I and Mahendravarman I. He attributes the Atiranachanda Mandapa to Rajasimha on stylistic grounds.

A.K. Coomaraswami, Nilakanthasastri, Zimmer Rowland and Stella Kramrisch agree that the great relief is the descent of the Ganges. Sivaramamurti, T.N. Ramachandran identify it as Arjuna’s penance and Sivaramamurti ascribes of the monuments, of Mahabalipuram to Narasimhavarman I whose image he says is sculptured on the Dharmarja Ratha and the royal figures in Varaha cave temple he identifies with Simhavishnu and Mahendravarman I.

Father Heras says that Mahendravarman I built Varaha cave I and he identified the two portraits as Simhavishnu and Mahendravarman I, he also attributed Dharmaraja Mandap, Kotikal Mandap at Mahabalipuram to Mahendravarman I. In conclusion he says that the monuments started by Mahendravarman and Narasimhavarman finished by Paramesvaravarman I who inscribed his name as Atyantakama Paramesvaravishnu griham and he also attributed Ramanuja Mandap and Ganesh Ratha to Paramesvaravarman I. Very few books are available on the art of the later Pallavas i.e., the works at Kanchipuram. C. Minakshi took pains to identify the figures engraved in the cloister of Vaikuntha Perumal temple.

With the help of the works of all these great scholars I have tried to give a stylistic analysis of the Pallava sculpture, its aesthetics technique and the themes. This study covers the span of the Pallava period. The originator of Pallava art is Mahendravarman I. This is the first phase of Pallava art dating from 610 A.D. to 630 A.D. The second phase which attains maturity falls in Narasimhavarman I's period. Since 630 to 700 A.D. During this period three kings ruled: Narasimhavarman, Paramesvaravarman I and Mahendravarman II. Paramesvaravarman I also followed the same style and he brought about completion in some of the unfinished works of his predecessors while he caused to be executed the Ramanuja Mandapa and Ganesh Ratha. The third phase started with Rajasimha from 700 and lasted upto 790 A.D. that is the reign of Nandivarman. Rajasimha's son Mahendravarman III who died before winning the throne and probably ruled along with his father, constructed the Mahendravarmesvara temple. Then came andivarman the next important king. He ruled for a long time but his rule was full of wars and internal unrest. Nevertheless, he paid attention towards art and huilt the Vaikuntha Peru mal temple.

Rajasimha changed the traditional rock-cut technique and initiated a new structural style in architecture and sculpture. This period is famous for its enormous output of sculpture on the walls of the temples but it lost the virility and lyrical qualities of the previous phase. The decline in sculptural quality which started in this period reached its final stage in the Aparajitavarman period. This is the last stage of the Pallava sculpture when it- was gradually overwhelmed by the Chola traditions at the end of the eighth century and lost its own identity.

The Pallava sculptura started from Mandagapattu Lakshitayatana cave temple where Mahendravarman anounced that he had constructed without mortar. He had taken the idea of hewing out of rock boulders from Undavalli the Vishnukundin caves. His carvings are scattered in various places including Mahabalipuram. The Pallava sculptural style was started and developed by him. However very few examples were sculptured during this period. The Gangadhara panel of Lalitankura cave temple from TrichinapalIi, the Durga from Singavaram and the portraits of Simhavishnu and Mahendravarman are remarkable instances of the period. Started from Lakshitayatana cave temple the style progressed from cave to cave. Till the style reached Kuranganilmuttam the figures became slim and so that some of the dvarapala figures resembled the Padmapani Bodhisatva of Ajanta in its articulation, and gesture. This style reached maturity in Trichinapalli which became a proto-type for Narasimhavarman's large compositions. The Mahendravarman's style is simple, vigorous and ingenious. The delineation of the figure is natural and realistic. They derived simplicity of Vishnukundin sculpture and also some of other motifs like the horns of the dvarapalas and the standing position etc. In the Avanibhajana cave temple the figures are carved on the pillars like in the Undavalli cave where certain figures appear on the pillars. Some of the architectural decorations like the Makara Torana on the niche and lotus blossoms on the pillars derived from Amaravati and the pillars, brackets and the Kudus on the facade were derived from Mughalrajapuram caves.

In the Narasimhavarman period the Vengi idioms are closely followed. The articulation of the figure, female as well as the male that is, their elongated limbs, their thin legs and the hands, the tapering thighs, the narrow waist etc. show progenity in style with carvings at Amaravati and Nagarjunikunda. Just as his father was impressed very much by the Vishnukundin caves he admired the imposing beauty of the sculptures of the Badami caves of the western Chalukyas. Though he was impressed by their ideas his work is not a case of pure imitation. Narasimhavar- man's artists poured their originality and maintained sanctity of the pristine stories from mythology which they handled with command. The same scenes like Trivikrama, Varaha etc., were carved in Badami Undavalli as well as at Mamallapuram. Similarly this period shows architectural forms especially certain ornamentation of the pillars derived from Badami only that these are less decorative than their originals at Badami. Here the Pallava sculptural style reached its maturity and determined a style peculiar of its own. Another problem which we have to deal in connection with the sculpture during the Narasimhavarman period is the sponsorship of Mahabalipuram whether Mahendravarman or Narasimhavarman 1. Evidences based on Dandis Avantisundari Katha prove that this is pre-Narasimhavarman site while the extent architectural evidences suggest that most of the examples were Mahendravarman's work as stated above.

Then comes Rajasimha, who started structural style in architecture and the figures extended over several courses of masonary, plastered to hide the joints and then were painted. This plastering is very inapt, because it was applied indiscriminately so that the original modelling is replaced by a flat and thick coat of mortar. Possibly several layers of plaster were applied in later times and therefore it is hard to judge the effects of the original plaster. Any way, application of plaster on the carved stone shows the decline of the Pallava sculptural glory.

After Rajasimha, confusion and unrest prevailed in the Pallava dominions. Mahendravar- man III died as the heir apparent. Next came Paramesvaravarman who died without any issue having barely ruled for three years. A collateral branch succeeded him but soon anarchy prevailed. Nandivarman among the later Pallavas had a long rule; He constructed the Vaikuntha Perumal temple. Architecturally it is the final stage of the Pallava style but sculpturally it is not so important. The sculptural panels in the cloisters are devoted to illustrate the Pallava geneological table and historical events connected with them. Incarnations of Vishnu are shown on the walls of the main temple but at present they are all white-washed and are not clear.

Once again after Nandivarman confusion and anarchy prevailed. Internal unrest was created by the dynastic wars. Powerful neighbours took advantage of the internal disturbances. Aparajita had to face all these troubles. In spite of all this he tried to revive the past glory. He constructed a few temples; the Virattanesvara at Tiruttani shows his best attempts to regenerate the Pallava sculptural style, which at that stage was much influenced by the western Chalukya, eastern Chalukya, and Rashtrakuta styles. This style shows approximity with the Chola tradition with which it finally merged along with the Pallava dominions.




  Preface vii
  List of Abbreviations viii
  Scheme of Transliteration  
  List of Plates ix
  List of Sketches xiv
  Introduction xvi
  Political Map xxi
Chapter I The Political Background 1-12
Chapter II Background of the Pallava Sculpture 13-22
Chapter III The Origin and the Beginning of the Pallava Sculpture 23-37
Chapter IV The Mature Pallava Style 38-63
Chapter V The Late Pallava Style 64-80
Chapter VI The Late Phase of Pallava Sculpture 81-88
Chapter VII The Themes and the Treatment of the Pallava Sculpture 89-96
  A- Metal Images of the Pallava Period 97-102
  B- The Technique of the Pallava Art 103-106
  Select Bibliography 107-109
  Index 110

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