We have seen quite a few rock cut structures, in order to truly understand the beauty and appreciate the effort that has gone into these creations one has to study how they were sculpted.

Lets take the monuments of Mahabalipuram for instance. These magnificent creations are cut out of living rock - how did the ancients manage this. To envision and conceptualise such works of art is one thing but what to execute them in the hardest rock is another and with what kind of implements, tools.

We look at a few tell tale marks of the sculptor ( will lead to another question - as to why these beautiful structures are half finished or rather unfinished - leads again to the question of authorship of these monuments, who, when - how long did he rule, were there interruptions /enemy incursions etc )

First off all, once a boulder is chosen - how do you sculpt away bulk of mass. The Pallava sculptor used a very simple technique. Take a look at these row of holes chiseled into many rocks ( you see them almost everywhere in mallai) - we expect them to have had hammers and chisels. Now once they chose a rockface, they would roughly draw a line with these holes.

chiseled holes.JPG
neat row of chiselled holes.jpg
breaking a boulder.jpg

Once done, they would use wooden plugs driven into the holes into a tight fit, and then water it. The wood would absorb the water and expand - the pressure created by this uniform expansion of all the pegs would make the stone crack. What ingenuity ( recently i was watching a channel showing a modern quarry in Italy - and they used basically the same principle to crack marble!)

broken boulder.jpg

OK, this is fine for breaking a boulder. How did they manage to cut the amazing caves into the rock face. Again very simple, this picture should give you a clue of both the techniques in one shot.

Mallai two types of working with rock.jpg
carving into rockface via grids.jpg
hmm wip again.jpg
just started 2.jpg
just started.jpg
was work in progress.jpg
work that was in progress.jpg

The rock face to be sculpted into, would be marked into kind of a grid, and then slowly divided into smaller squares and chiseled - which would eventually chip off the smallest piece of rock. If you can imagine this, then you can appreciate the effort that would have been taken to create these.

the early end product.jpg
The refined  finished product.jpg
early cave adhivaraha.jpg
early cave kodikkal.jpg
mahisa suramardhini cave  pillar.jpg

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Category: Sculpture

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This entry was posted on Sunday, September 14th, 2008 at 5:37 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.

5 Comments so far


Extraordinary effort. You have taken same amount of trouble as the sculptors might have taken. May God bless you and keep you for doing more of this work!
Suggest reading Early Chola Temples by Balasubramania nd Rajrajeswaram by his son Venkatraman - Narasiah

September 17th, 2008 at 15:59
Raju Rajendran

உடல் பேருக்கும்= உடல் பெருக்கும்

September 17th, 2008 at 22:38

very interesting post ..by the way, thanks for being a guest blogger on backpacker.It has certainly turned the interest of my readers towards sculptiures

September 18th, 2008 at 9:40

fascinating post and a fantastic blog! sheer poetry in stone indeed, thanx for sharing!! :)

September 18th, 2008 at 22:21

stunning indeed…. infinte times tougher than my toughest of impositions i wrote in my school days!

November 17th, 2008 at 18:58

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