Pallava Cave Temples of Trichy

Site Name: Pallava cave temples
Site Type: Cave temples, architecture, heritage, sculpture, temple
Location:  RockFort complex, Trichy, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: Little known cave temples of Pallava period - 7th century rock cut temples
Nearest Railway Station: Trichy
Nearest Airport: Trichy
How to reach: Well connected by road, rail and air
Hotel: A lot of options across the city 
Restaurants: A lot of options across the city 

Upper Cave Temple
Tiruchirappalli is one of the major cities of Tamil Nadu state in South India. The city which is also called as Trichy or Tiruchi is an industrial and educational hub today. This city is very ancient and has a lot of architecturally beautiful temples built by the Tamil kings. The Rockfort temple aka Uchchi Pillaiyar temple is the most important site of the city. Anyone who knows about or visits this city would definitely know the famous rockfort temple. However, only few of them would know about the 7th century Pallava cave temple located here.

Mamallapuram is a popular heritage town located in the northern part of Tamil Nadu state which has many cave temples built mainly by the popular Pallava kings Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman (Mamallan). There are two cave temples in Trichy - the upper cave temple and the lower cave temple. The upper cave temple was built by Mahendravarma Pallavan; the lower one, as per ASI, is believed to have been built by Narasimhavarma Pallavan. However, anyone who has even little bit of knowledge about the Pallava style would definitely deny that. This must be the works of the Pandyas or some local kings in the later period. Unlike the universally popular Mamallapuram sites, the cave temples of Trichy are not very popular. Hardly anyone visits these sites. In fact, even the citizens of this city hardly know about them.

Lower Cave Temple
Upper Cave Temple

The upper cave temple called as Lalitankura cave temple is located at a height of about 200 meters from the ground level. It can be reached by steep flight of steps. The rockfort consists of three temples - a small Manicka Vinayakar temple at the foothill, the big Thayumanavar (Shiva) temple at half way to hill top and Uchchi Pillaiyar temple at the top of the hill. The upper cave temple is located near Thayumanavar temple on the way to Uchchi Pillaiyar temple. It is unfortunate that the site remains closed nowadays and you can view the temple only from outside the grilled gates.

As per the inscriptions found in this temple, it was built by Mahendravarma Pallava. It looks like this would have been his latest work. It is not sure why he chose Trichy, traditionally a Chola city, to build this shrine.

Monkey faced gana 
The front facade of the south facing cave temple is supported by four pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are cubical at top and bottom whereas octagonal in the middle. The hall has an east facing shrine. The entrance of the shrine has two bas-relief images of Dwarapalas. Both the dwarapalas hold clubs.There is no deity inside the shrine. It is believed that the shrine would have had Shiv Linga and Parvati originally.

The main attraction of the cave temple is the huge bas-relief carved on the western wall. The bas-relief depicts Lord Shiva as Gangadhara - one who is carrying the river Ganges. He is standing in tribhanga posture with one leg resting on the ground and the other leg resting on the head of a gana. If you notice carefully, you can find the right hand of gana is holding a snake. The lord is depicted with four arms. The lower right hand is holding a snake whereas his left hand is on his waist. His upper right hand is holding a tress of his hair; the river Ganga is shown descending over to his tress; the river is depicted in the female form. On left of Lord Shiva, an animal, probably a deer, is found. There are two flying Vidyadharas on either sides of the Lord. Below them, there are two devotees on their knees. Behind the devotees two thin images of  rishis (seers) are found.

Ganesha sculpture
Lower Cave Temple

The lower cave temple is located at a distance of around 200 meters from the second entrance of the Rockfort complex. Unlike the upper cave temple, this has many relief images. The front facade is supported by four pillars and two pilasters. Above the pillars, a lot of small sized gana faces are carved. Among them, the monkey faced gana is unique one. The hall has two shrines on either side walls. The main wall is divided into five niches.

The life sized relief images of Ganesha, Subramanya, Brahma, Surya and Durga are found in those niches.  Ganesh is depicted in the standing posture with four arms. This image and Subramanya's image are slightly damaged. All the deities except Durga are surrounded by two flying Vidyadharas at the top and two devotees near the feet. The sculpture of Durga is not so beautiful and it remains incomplete. In this panel, one devotee is trying to sacrifice his head near the Goddess' feet.

Subramanya sculpture
Both the shrines in the temple has a small pillared mandapas in their front sides. The either sides of shrines have two Dwarapalas; additionally another pair of Dwarapalas are found in both the shrines. One shrine doesn't have any deity. Based on the features of Dwarapalas it is assumed that the shrine belongs to Shiva. The other shrine has the bas relief sculpture of Lord Vishnu. He is also surrounded by two devotees (one male and female) at his feet and two Vidyadharas at the top. It is possible that the female could be Bhoo Devi.

When you get a chance to visit Trichy next time, ensure that you do not miss this ancient heritage site.

Unlike the upper cave, there is no solid proof about who built this cave temple. Although ASI claims that it was built during the reign of the Pallava king Mammallan, there are some scholars who claim that it might have been built by the Pandyan kings. The style of pillars and the life sized reliefs probably lead them to believe so. Whatever it is, whoever built this, it is true that this is not as good as the other creations by the Pallava kings.

Happy travelling.

Surya sculpture

Vishnu sculpture
Lower Cave Temple

Durga sculpture

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  1. Monkey faced ganas aren't that rare. Nearly every early bhutamala has one .


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