October 1, 2011

Pallava era Cave Temples of Vallam - South India

Vallam, a small village near Chenglepet in South India, has three rock-cut shrines belonging to the Pallava era. Although these cave shrines have some of the best sculptures, they remain unknown to the public. All the three rock-cut shrines are excavated in a hillock.

Cave #1:

Vallam Cave Shrines
This is the uppermost rock of the hill. You can reach this cave temple by climbing around 100+ steep steps. As this temple is still used for the purpose of worship, the entire cave is covered by iron grill from all the sides. Also, there are some structures built in front of the cave shrine as well as on the right side of the shrine, which hinder the beauty of this ancient site.

This cave shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is named as Vedanteeswarar in this temple. The Goddess of the temple is Gnanambikai who is facing the eastern direction. Although Shiv Linga is placed in the small sanctum sanctorum, all other idols including Gnanambikai are found in a separate shrine outside the sanctum sanctorum. The other idols that are found in the temple are Selva Vinayak (Ganesh), Muthukumaraswami along with his consorts Valli and Devasena, Dakshinamurti, Chandikeswarar, Nagaraja and Bhuvaneswari. There is a Nandi idol facing the main shrine. All these idols would have been installed at a later period and they do not belong to the period of this cave shrine.


Ganesha sculpture at Cave #1

The highlight of this cave is two rock-cut relief images of Dwarapalaks standing on either side of the entrance of the main shrine. Both the dwarapalaks have different postures and one carries trishul whereas the other carries a weapon called 'mazhu'. There are three inscriptions found in the shrine - two belong to the Pallava period and the last one probably belongs to the later Chola period.

Outside to this cave shrine, there is a big rock cut image of Ganesh is found. This image is very beautiful and displays some of the rare features. As the trunk of Ganesha (the elephant God) is turned towards right, he is called as 'Valampuri Vinayak'. He has four arms and is seated in simhasana (royal throne). His left arm is resting on a small platform whereas his other arm is resting on his thigh. His upper arms hold a broken lotus stalk and another unclear material. The overall posture of Ganesha is rare and cannot be found anywhere else.

The other side of the cave has a small relief image of Jyestha. She is shown seated on a platform with her legs down on the ground. She is generally found along with two companions. They are missing here.

Cave #2:

Dwarapalak - Cave #1

This cave is located below the upper cave and is found on the same boulder. This cave temple doesn't have any pillar or mandapa. Moreover, this is not under worship nowadays. This shrine is poorly maintained and full of dust. This shrine has two relief images of Dwarapalaks. The main shrine has a damaged Shiv Linga idol. Two small relief images of Jyestha and Ganesha are also found here. Ganesha has his trunk turned towards right and hence named as 'Valampuri Vinayak'. He is seated on a lotus flower. All the sculptures in this shrine are poorly maintained and not very clearly visible.

Cave #3:

This is the northern most cave and is found on the way to the other two caves. This cave shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This shrine doesn't have any pillar or mandap. It is a small cell carved vertically on the rock. The shrine has Vishnu along with his two consorts, Sridevi and Bhoodevi. He is named as 'Karivaradaraja Perumal'. These three idols appear to be later addition. There are two Dwarapalaks relief images outside the cave shrine which date back to the original period. The relief image of Vishnu Durga is also found outside the shrine. She is totally blackened with continuous anointment of oil. Hence, the original features of the idol are not clearly visible.


Dwarapalak - Cave #1

History:

Even though it is not clearly known who built these cave shrines, it is clear that they were built during the period of Mahendravarma Pallava (580-630 CE). It is believed that some chiefs under the rule of Mahnedra Pallava would have built these shrines. The period could be either the end of the 6th century AD or the beginning of the 7th century AD.

Location:

The site is located at a distance of 3 kms from Chenglepet city. It is a small village. The nearest landmark is Vallam church. The site is called as 'Malai Kovil' by the locals. It can be reached by road easily from Chenglepet.

If you get a chance to visit Chenglepet, spend an additional one hour to visit this beautiful Pallava rock-cut shrine.

Happy travelling.


Vallam Cave #3

Fast Facts:

Site Name: Cave Temples of Vallam
Site Type: Rock-cut sculptures, cave temple, Pallava architecture, Hindu temple
Location:  Vallam, 3 km from railway station, Chenglepet city, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: 1300 years old Pallava era cave temples
Nearest Railway Station: Chenglepet
Nearest Airport: Chennai
How to reach: Train from Chennai and nearby towns; Easily reachable by road

Vishnu Durga, Cave #3

Hotel: Mostly budget hotels; star hotels are available in Chennai 
Restaurants: It's difficult to find good restaurants

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