Hi friends, today we are returning to a favorite location of mine. Mahabalipuram..Mallai, for a truly amazing panel. we have seen this panel in the past but from a different perspective. ( six pack Abs!!)

mallai mahisha

Yes, I am referring to the spectacular Mahishasuramardhini panel. To truly appreciate this panel we got to spend atleast 3 or 4 posts. So take this as the first of the series, focusing on main character - Durga.

The Panel is truly mind blowing, but lets first give the story a reading for the uninitiated.

Once upon a time there lived a demon named Mahisha. As usual he wanted to make himself invincible and pleased the easiest of Gods to please - Brahma. Mahisha performed severe penances,fasting for months, standing on one foot. In due course Brahma appeared and asked him what he wanted. The request as usual was for a boon of immortality, which could not be given as every creature that is born had to die as well. So he had to modify his, so in his vain ego, seeing that no man was capable of hurting him, he grew over confident and asked that he may be sent to the netherworld only at the hands of a women. He bet his life on the fact that no women would have the power and courage to defeat him!!

Armed with the boon, he conqueres the whole of the earth and then heads off to the heavens ( hmm, how predictable!!). The Gods are caught in a fix and organise for a urgent meeting. They decide to pass the motion that calls for creation of a lady from the concentration of all their powers. Thus was born Durga. She is said to have a thousand or in other versions eight arms. ( we stick to eight for now as it matches with the sculpture). Thanks to Geetha madam, we have this brilliant verse from Devi Mahamathyam ( sanskrit work) which describes what all she was given by the Gods.

The wielder of the pinaka bow ( shiva) drew out a trident from inside his trident and gave her
The dark complexioned Vishnu drew out a Discus from his discuss and presented to her
Varuna ( Lord of Rain) gave her a Conch, Agni ( Lord of Fire) gave a weapon called shakthi
Vaayu ( Lord of Wind) presented a bow and quiver filled with arrows.
Indira ( Lord of the Lords) drew out the Vajra from his thunder ( Kulisam ?) and also a bell from his Airvatha ( white elephant)
Yama ( Lord of Death) drew out a baton from his baton and presented to her
Brahma presented a garland of rosary beads and his Kamandalu ( vessel for carrying sacred water)
Kaalan ( yama again ) presented a sword and shield.

Now, we come to the sculpture. Such a beautiful scupture, Durga is depicted with Eight hands, striking a very beautiful pose on her majestic lion.

mallai mahisha suramardhini
the majestic pose
what a mahestic pose
does look like she is smiling
the rich onamentation well she does look like smiling
hand stretching the bow string

Lets see if we can spot the above weapons in the arsenal.

The most striking ofcourse is her bow and arrow. so two hands of hers are busy with that. See the perfection in the way, her hands are sculpted - the one holding the bow, with the thumb running perpendicular to the floor along the bamboo. the other hand drawing the string back with force, the open shoulders.

does look like she is smiling
hand stretching the bow string
the hand holding the bow

Next obvious weapon is the Danda - the baton - presented by Lord of Death - Yama. Some doubts if it were a sword.

the baton
the hand weilding the baton

Lets see the sculpture in closeup. Its no ordinary stick, for it definitely has some sort of a handle, but its a rounded weapon. You can clearly see the baseball bat style construction and the rounded edge. if it were a broken off sword, it would have defn chipped or atleast the lion’s mane would have be obstructed by it. Since we can clearly see the designer curls of the lion’s mane and the rounded edge, we can safely confirm that this indeed is the gift of Yama.

Displaying the other hands and what they hold below. Try and see if you can match it to the list above

hand holding the bell
hand holding the discuss
the hand holding the conch

One obvious missing item is the Trident or trishul of Shiva. Maybe since the Goddess used up two of her hands on the bow and bow string, that was left out !!

But a truly amazing composition - just watch this beauty. The right leg of hers, since this is a relief panel, and to give that dimensional imaging, the master sculpture has sculpted the leg almost completely projecting from the panel.

the foot

Please do remember that this is not just panel, but is infact a rock cut cave, carved into live rock, a mountain side - and this panel froms one side of the internal wall ( the other side is the famous Anantha Sayana Panel).

Mahisha suramardhini cave facade
mallai anthasayana panel
mallai mahisha suramardhini panel

Now you can truly enjoy the Pallava carftsmen’s divine art.

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Category: Sculpture

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13 Comments so far


Potetyinstone.in - The Gift of VJ - The God of Art Blog to the World.

Great work VJ .. you increase the inquisitiveness to see the sculptures once more even if we had seen it many times.

Do Continue the same spirit !!!

July 8th, 2009 at 17:55

whenever vijay talks of mallai, there seems to be a touch of grace in it, the minute, intricte things become beautiful in his way of expression. wonder why our gods always smile even at the time of assassination !!! maybe its a lesson to understand that death is also a boon !!!

excellent presentation !!!

July 8th, 2009 at 18:03

excellent!!!!!! VJ your are doing great job.

The structure of amman is really very fantastic!!

July 8th, 2009 at 20:10

Thanks vj. It is a excellent job. woh…………..

July 8th, 2009 at 21:35

it is one of your master-commentry. Thank you.

July 9th, 2009 at 0:46

//மேலும் தண்டத்தின் மேல் பாகம் நன்கு உருண்டு உள்ளதை நாம் தெளிவாக பார்க்க முடிகிறது. தண்டம் சிங்கத்தின் பிடரி பக்கம் முடிவதாலும், அதை அடுத்து சிங்கத்தின் பிடரி ரோமங்களின் வேலைப்பாடு இருப்பதால், சிதைந்த கூரிய கத்தி அல்ல என்று நாம் தெளிவாகவே சொல்லலாம்.//

அருமையான ஆழ்ந்த கவனிப்பு. சும்மா சிற்பத்தைப் பார்த்து நல்லா இருக்கேனு சொல்லுவதற்கும், உங்கள் கலைக்கண்களின் பார்வைக்கும் உள்ள வேறுபாடு அதிசயமானது. வாழ்த்துகள். வெற்றிகள் தொடரட்டும்.

July 9th, 2009 at 13:48

Extremely beautiful description. If you continue this way, people will seldom come out of the temple complexes. That will be the real enjoyment.

July 9th, 2009 at 22:55
V Dhivakar

பல புதிய மற்றும் அரிய விஷயங்களை அறிந்து கொள்கிறோம். This blog is reference guide for future. அடுத்தடுத்து போடுங்கள். தேவியைப் பற்றி நிறைய விஷயங்கள் தெரிந்து கொள்ள மிகப் பெரிய வாய்ப்பை வழங்குகிறீர்கள்.

கலைஞன் விஜய் க்கு வாழ்த்துகள்.


July 10th, 2009 at 11:35
Srinivasan N.

Yes Vijay, I think this Mallai panel would tend to stand out for its grace, flowing movements, enormous clarity of expression (even now!! mind it!!) despite the antiquity of the panel (almost 1300 years old!!!!!!!) and the weather worn condition of the Shore temple as well as many of the sculptures at Mallai because of salty sea breeze. Now this raises or brings to question an interesting debate:

Which of the sculptures (I mean of the three that come readily to mind, especially with you having so painstakingly and breathtakingly captured two of the three i.e. Mahisha as well as the Anantasyayi panel) i.e. WHICH OF THE THREE i.e. the earlier Trivikrama so beautifully captured by you earlier, this peerless Mahisha panel and indeed the Anantasyayi IS THE MOST COMPLICATED SCULPTURE. of course, Anantasyayi seems the least complicated although there is no denying that it is so full of simplicity and grace, but it looks like Trivkirama and Mahishasuramardini seems to vie with each other for the most complicated and yet most graceful sculptures…. one would tend to favour with Trivikrama simply because graceful sculpting of the feminine figures seems to come easily to the ancient artists, be it from the Pallavas, or the Cholas or Pandiyans… (outside the main discussion, I found remarkable similarities between the Anantasyayi at Thirumayyam and indeed the Namakkal mountain top Ranganatha, with both having similar themes and sculptures but different endings — but it seems the entire Namakkal sculpture including Narasimha, Hanuman, Goddes Lakshmi and indeed the mountain top Ranganatha were the creations of the Adigaimans or Adiyamans — perhaps later may be, VJ will be able to throw more light on this aspect).

July 10th, 2009 at 12:01
Kathie B.

Excellent as usual. Just one query: thought
Yama’s attribute was His noose.
Another thought: Lord Vishnu at Thirumayyam is reaching back to pat Sesha.

July 27th, 2009 at 19:51

Dear Vijay

The Anathasayana here is the miniature of Thirumyam anthasayana. Which is carved first? mallai or meyyam.

December 15th, 2009 at 18:40

Dear Vijay

The Anathasayana here is the miniature of Thirumyam anthasayana. which was carved first?

December 15th, 2009 at 18:40

dear Sankaranarayanan

Mallai for sure predates tirumayam.


January 6th, 2010 at 8:00

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