“Before it, all the powers, even nature, must bow down, succumb, and become its servants- the strong, gigantic, infinite will in man.” It is this capacity of the human will praised in this quote by Swami Vivekananda that manifests itself in the awe-inspiring granite statues of Mahabalipuram, an ancient site that witnessed the strife of man and his chisel against one of the toughest naturally occurring materials that ended in the victory of humans, but more importantly the victory of art.
Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram gets its name from the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman I who was titled Mamalla or the great wrestler for his might on the battlefield. As the home of Pallavas who envisioned monolithic art and Shilpis who materialized their visions, Mahabalipuram grew into an open-air museum and a pinnacle in Indian art tradition.
Located in the land of temples- Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram is famed the world over for its behemoth monoliths- Ratha (chariots), Mandapam (pavilion), Shore temple, and carved rocks that display handpicked gems from the Hindu epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata. The history of Mahabalipuram and structural art goes back to the Sangam Age, but its rise to fame occurred under the great seafaring dynasty- the Pallavas.
Four Pallava rulers- Mahendravarman I (580-630 CE), Narasimhavarman I or Mahamalla (the great wrestler, 630-668 CE), Parameshvaravarman I (672-700 CE), and Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (700-728 CE) stand out from their royal lineage as capable administrators as well as patrons of arts and literature. The first out of these four, Mahendravarman I- a great poet, dramatist, and ruler, also known as “Vichitra Chitta” (he who has a curious or Vichitra mind or Chitta) pioneered the Pallava style of architecture and sculpture, experimenting with rock-cutting that marked a paradigm shift from brick and mortar to humongous monoliths as the basic material for art and architecture. While brick, wood, and metals were weather-beaten in the humid and rainy bouts around seashores, granite stood the test of time and brought us the infinite godliness of Hindu art.
Mahabalipuram granite statues are monolithic sculptures created after cutting in (where the image is attached to the base rock) and cutting out (where the icon is free-standing, removed from the base rock) from large granite slabs. The first stage requires choosing a suitable granite slab devoid of fissures and cracks with a surface to support sculpting. Shilpashastras, ancient treatises on iconography dictate that the Shilpi must find a fitting rock and purify it before commencing the task of sculpting. From the artist, the granite slab has to be fine-looking with the ability to take a good polish and strikes of chisels. The rock for sculpting a Mahabalipuram granite statue is obtained after mining- usually manually, with the help of chisels, hammers, drills, and sometimes by producing heat around the rock using grass, charcoal, and wood that causes it to split easily.
Once a workable slab of granite is acquired by dressing (breaking stone to give it a flat surface), cutting, polishing, and trimming, the skilled Shilpi employs various tools from blades to hammers and chisel to bring life to the hardest carving stone. Finer details are added with precision using small tools, and the entire process for one Mahabalipuram granite statute can take months to complete, even after the arrival of modern technology, because the artists continue to put faith in traditional techniques for creating their marvels in stone.
The capital of the Pallavas, Kanchi embraced all faiths, from Hinduism to Jainism and Buddhism, structures dedicated to those sprawled parallel to the Pallava coastline and were appreciated by foreign seafarers as “Seven Pagodas”. In modern times, life-size granite Buddha icons, resplendent with the serenity of the Enlightened One are produced by the Mahabalipuram Shilpis, but the best examples of their talents come in the copious icons of Hindu divinities, each one more stunning than the other. The credit for establishing the vocabulary of these granite Hindu sculptures goes to Mahendravarman I as well, who though a Jain, converted to Shaivism and as a symbol of his devotion saw to the construction of massive monolithic structures that continue to stand on the shores of Tamil Nadu, inspiring the modern Shilpi to recreate their allure.
The Mahabalipuram artists come from a long line of Shilpis that have lived since the Pallavas and produced mesmeric granite icons of Hindu gods and goddesses. Imposing granite statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Dashavatara, Krishna, Devi, and Ganesha are ceaselessly sculpted in the workshops of these artists, who take pride in following the ancient rules of iconography. Besides the murtis of Hindu gods and goddesses, the makers also fashion impressive door guardians, Garuda, Apsaras, and Yalis that can transform any space into an ancient Hindu shrine.
Exotic India Art prides itself in bringing to you the industrious efforts and mastered skills of Mahabalipuram stone artists with its expanding online collection of granite stone statues, which with their timeless resilience are the best expression of the enduring influence of Hinduism and Indian art.
type of rock is granite?
Granite is an igneous
rock containing mica or amphibole minerals and is mostly composed of
coarse-grained quartz and alkali feldspar. It forms from silica-rich magmas and
its properties are that it lacks any internal structure and is very hard. Due
to its highly durable nature, it is used by sculptors to make a statue that
would last for many years.
granite good for sculptures?
Granite is the hardest
and one of the most durable stones. This property makes it good for sculptural
work. It is highly durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions and is,
therefore, best suited to sculpt exquisite outdoor figures statues, or sculptures.
However, it’s extremely hard nature usually makes it difficult for sculptors to
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