April 4, 2012

Mamallapuram Adi Varaha Temple

Site Name: Adi Varaha Temple
Site Type: Pallava architecture, sculpture, Cave Temple
Location:  2 kms from bus stand, near Light house, Mamallapuram, near Chennai (55 kms from Chennai), Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: A little known cave temples with a lot of life size sculptures of Pallava period; believed to be the earliest monument of Mamallapuram
Nearest Railway Station: Chennai
Nearest Airport: Chennai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Chennai
Hotel: A lot of options are available within Mamallapuram and East Coast Road outside the town
Restaurants: Many options and varieties across the town

Any foreign traveller travelling to South India would have heard about Mamallapuram. Any Indian traveller exploring South India would have definitely visited Mamallapuram. The town with full of exceptionally great sculptural works of the Pallava kings is a very popular tourist destination in South India. Some of the monuments such as Arjuna's Penance and Five Rathas are internationally famous. However, it is unfortunate to know that Adi Varaha temple, which is believed to be the earliest monument of this great coastal town, remains unknown and least visited.

If you look at the photograph provided in this article, it might look like any other ordinary temple. However, once you enter inside the temple, you would feel as if you have entered into an entirely different world. Wherever you turn your face, you would find life size stone images. They are unbelievably stunning images.

The temple has a large pillared hall (mandapa). The shrine cut in the center at the back wall of cave is dedicated to Lord Varaha, the boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is unfortunate that we could not sense the original beauty of this idol, as it is completely plastered, painted and covered with stucco. Varaha is shown with four arms and carrying Bhu Devi (the mother Earth).

The north side of the wall has a beautiful idol of Lord Shiva in the form of Gangadhara. This attractive idol of Gangadhara is found with four arms; one arm is resting on his elegantly slanted hip whereas his upper right arm is holding his own plaits so that he can hold the river Ganges. The river Ganges is depicted in the form of female and is shown as falling off.

The north side wall also has another panel of sculptures - Gajalakshmi. Lakshmi is found seated on a lotus flower and holds flower in her arms; two attendants on either sides of her carrying flowers; two other attendants with vessels carrying water. One elephant is pouring water on the Goddess whereas another elephant is trying to pick the vessel from one attendant. The similar depiction is found in Mahisasuramardini cave also.

The south side of the wall has two panels next by next. In one panel the idol of Adi Sesha, the divine serpent is found in the human form. The next panel has Lord Vishnu with four arms; two devotees on his feet. It is notable as Lord Vishnu is generally found lying on the serpent. Here, Sesha is found standing next to Vishnu.

Next to Vishnu, you can find the beautiful idol of Harihara - a form of Shiva and Vishnu. Then, there is an extraordinary sculptural panel of Durga. The Goddess is found standing on the head of buffalo and has eight arms. Two devotees are found at her feet; two dwarapalas, one holding bow and another holding sword are also found. Two dwarfs are found above; besides them an antelope and an elephant are found. The sculpture of Brahma is also found in the south wall.

There are two other important sets of sculptures found in this cave shrine. In one set, you can find a king with two of his queens following him; all are found in the standing posture. Another sculpture has the king in the sitting posture whereas his queens are standing on his either sides. As per the inscriptions, the kings are identified as Simhavishnu and Mahendravarman. Some scholars claim that it is Simha Vishnu and his son Mahendravarman I. There are other scholars who claim differently. There are also few other inscriptions in the cave temple, including the one from Rajendra Chola.

This cave shrine is definitely a monument which should not be missed by any traveller to Mamallapuram. When you go to a trip to the town next time, please ensure that you cover this extraordinary temple.

Happy travelling.

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