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Mamallapuram – Medieval Indian Art, Architecture and Culture


  • The iconic Shore Temple of Pallavas at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) was constructed during the reign of Rajasimha (CE 700-728).
  • The temple comprises three shrines, where the prominent ones are dedicated to Siva and Vishnu.
  • The exterior wall of the shrine, dedicated to Vishnu, and the interior of the boundary wall are elaborately carved and sculpted.
  • In southern India, this is one amongst the earliest and most important structural temples.
  • Unlike other structures of the region, the Shore Temple is a five-storeyed rock-cut monolith.
  • The monolithic vimanas are peculiar to Mamallapuram.
  • The monolithic rathas are known as the Panchapandava Rathas.
  • The Arjuna Ratha contains artistically carved sculptures of Siva, Vishnu, mithuna and dwarapala.
  • The most exquisite of the five is the Dharmaraja Ratha, with a three-storied vimana and a square base.
  • The Bhima Ratha is rectangular in plan and has beautiful sculptures of Harihara, Brahma, Vishnu, Skanda, Ardhanarisvara and Siva as Gangadhara.
  • The most important piece of carving in Mamallapuram is the Descent of the Ganga (variously described as ‘Bhagirata’s Penance’ or ‘Arjuna’s Penance’).
  • The portrayal of puranic figures with popular local stories reveals the skill of the artists in blending various aspects of human and animal life.
  • The sculptural panel in the Krishna mandapa, where village life with cows and cowherds is depicted with beauty and skill, is yet another artistic wonder to behold.


  • Rock-cut temples were common in the Pallava period.
  • The structural temples and the free-standing temples at Aihole and Badami in the Deccan and at Kanchipuram and Mamallapuram provide testimony to the architectural excellence achieved during the period.
  • The Deccan style of sculpture shows a close affinity to Gupta art.
  • Pallava sculpture owed a lot to the Buddhist tradition.
  • Yet the sculpture and the architecture of the Deccan and Tamil Nadu were not mere offshoots of the northern tradition.
  • They are distinctly recognizable as different and have an originality of their own.
  • The basic form was taken from the older tradition, but the end result unmistakably reflected its own native brilliance.

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