The Mahabalipuram penance panel which we saw in the last post is the largest open air bas relief sculpture. Just prior to embarking on such a massive sculpt, the sculptors seem to have tested the concept nearby…the little known test panel - but does it give any clues to the mystery of whether the Penace panel depicts - Arjuna’s penance ( to get the pasupatha astra from shiva) or Bagiratha’s penance to bring the ganges down to resurrect his ancestors!!

mallai test panel
testpanel a long shot

Lets analyse the test panel - the depiction of the lighthouse will give you a rough idea on its location. Similar to the Main penance panel, the artist chose a cleft in a boulder to depict his theme - but here the two boulders are split into two.

test panel boulders
testpanel location

Why we call it  a test panel is the story is carved in low relief.

testpanel location lighthouse
testpanel low relief
testpanel other characters

The majestic elephants have not yet been obviously brought into the theme, though a few heads do appear.

elephants testpanel

The flying celestials are all these, but seem to be moving away form the boon giving area towards the descending ganges - to witness this great spectacle. So its a definite give away as to the main story of the test panel - thankfully the boon giver and seeker are much farther away from the cleft ( infact their positions are transposed - left to right)

The most important clue is the absence of the weapon in Shiva’s hands!

shiva test panel

So if this were to be seen in isolation, its a pure story of the descending ganges and thus bagiratha’s penance. This story has been delightfully mixed with Arjuna’s penance in the main panel to come up with a puzzling combo…or is it just two in one or is there another twist to the plot….is it three in one..!!

mallai test panel boon giving
Mallai penance Panel- boon Giving

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Category: Sculpture

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2008 at 10:19 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Comments so far

Kathie B.

There’s no doubt the last image is Bhagiratha,
same pose as Ravanaphadi Cave at Aihole.
But why can’t the main ‘Descent’ show both
Arjuna’s & Bhagiratha’s stories simultaneously?

January 5th, 2010 at 16:40

hi kathie

Yes, that is what is the inference. But it could also have a third dimension - bagiratha+arjuna+pallava ( ascent of the Pallava)..


January 6th, 2010 at 7:47

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