Friends, it gives me immense pleasure in presenting one of very first discoveries which sees the light of day today. Though this occurred more by chance and had found this about two years ago, at that time i had nurtured hopes of publishing it as a research paper in some academic journal. Its only later that i realised how complicated such pursuits are and also the fact that but for the emotional high such a recognition would garner, its reach would be very much limited to a select few. However,today thanks to you all, my dearest extended family and the internet, poetryinstone shall deliver this baby after a gestation of over two years.

I had wanted to write about the Pallava’s contribution to evolution of iconography as a series - and started with the Mahendra trail. We did see some interesting developments in cave architecture, like the nataraja icon. But as we study later Pallava structures, we cant but miss some of their signature contributions, namely the Somaskanda, Gangadhara and Mahishasura Mardhini. The Pallava Somaskanda is such a signature piece occupying almost every rear wall of their main shrines, that its hard to miss them.

But this article is not about the normal Somaskanda panel in the rear of the Garba Graham ( sanctum sanctorum ) but a very unique puzzle of not one but three panels in the Atiranachanda Mandabam cave of the Saluvankuppam complex. The cave itself is a puzzle of gigantic proportions and many scholars have discussed it.

the atiranchanda mandabam as it stands today

Just to run through it would mean to point out to viewers that the basic cave and pillar designs are very early Pallava period, while inscriptionally ( on both the sides there are running verses which you can touch and feel the passing of time in front of you) Rajasimha Pallava claims to have constructed this temple for Siva. He calls it Atiranacanda Pallavesvaragram, after one of his many fancy titles Atiranacanda ( Ati - great, rana - battlefield, chanda - expert - thanks to swaminathan sir))

inscriptions on left wall
inscriptions on right wall

Would suggest below article of Dr. Nagaswamy for readers who want to see the sheer labour of such geniuses.


It would be worthwhile for readers to compare the facade of the Atiranachanda with earlier structures we saw on the Mahendra trail. But that is the subject for another post and study.

We come back to what is to me a very great discovery, the subject of this post. To bring you upto date with the basics, what exactly is this Somaskanda. Literally it means ` with Uma and Skanda’ meaning ( Sou - with, Uma - Parvathi and skanda - Muruga) Shiva with his consort and son. ( why only one son!!, well that is another controversy which we briefly touched upon in the post ` There are no Ganesha images in mallai’.

Since Pallava’s ` claim’ to have been the first to start building temples of stone ( or atleast without using lime, mortar, metal , brick or wood - mandagapttu [post! )...the early structures had predominantly an empty central shrine with the diety crafted in wood in a panel at the back. But slowly they realised that the wooden deities perished in no time, they tried crafting them in lime and mortar. But then as their confidence in working in stone grew, they graduated slowly to reliefs and then to sculpture. They replicated the wooden panels in stone sculpting them directly onto the rear wall. Thus was born one of the cutest forms of the divine family, with shiva seated ( sometimes on Nandhi) on the right and Parvathi on the left with baby skanda initially on her lap (There are many variants to this form and Dr Gift Siromomony paper below postulates a new theory !!)


The cholas later went on with the theme to craft some beautiful bronze somaskandas.

Back to Atiranacanda Pallavesvaragram, not many realise that the structures we see today in Mallai, were submerged if not totally in sand before they were escavated in the late 18th C. ( by this I mean even the popular five rathas complex), but to understand this better take a look at this print ( thanks to the British Library Archives)

as it was escavated

Compare to how it looks today.

a closer look at the cave

Now, look closer, am highlighting the main areas for us to view.

highlights where we are going to focus

We take quick peek into its corridor - on closer inspection you see two beautiful somaskanda panels on the walls. This is a great anomally since the somaskanda panel is almost always found inside the main scanctum sanctorum.

the somasskanda panel on the left
the somasskanda panel on the right

To understand this better, lets peep into the central shrine of the same cave. Do you notice the Shiva Linga and then the rear wall adorned with the Somaskanda panel.

the central shrine
somaskanda in the main shrine
the prismatic lingam and somaskanda
closer look at the somaskanda
the closest

Why then would the sculptors sculpt two additional panels in the outer corridor?

the somaskanda in outer wall right side
the somaskanda in the outerwall leftside

A chance photograph of the freshly escavated mandabam in the late 18th C, thanks again to the British Library Archives, provides us the vital clues.

a late 18thC photo offering vital clues

There were two additional Shiva Lingas on the corridor and hence the sculptors had sculpted the panels on the walls behind them. This my friends is my first discovery!! call me an armchair or desktop archaeologist for that.

the clues

What happened to these lingas now?, even their bases don’t exist now. There are two free standing statues in the foreground, one a headless trunk of a seated deity and another a beautiful sculpture. They are not to be found now, just this small rubble on the outside!!

ruined sculptures
ruined sculptures lying uncared for

So now you know the answer to the puzzle of the 3 somaskandas, but throws lot more questions. If the structure was intact in the late 18th C, when and why the susequent vandalism.

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25 Comments so far


Super VJ!!!
Better start working for a paper..Though the reach is wide for blogs, a paper still has its value!

August 6th, 2009 at 18:44

அருமை விஜய். மண்ணில் புதையுண்டிருந்த சாளுவன்குப்பம் அதிரணசண்ட மண்டபத்தில் வெளியில் இரண்டு இடங்களில் உள்ள சோமஸ்கந்தர் வடிவங்களுக்கான காரணத்தை உரிய சான்றுகளுடன் காட்டி உள்ளீர்கள். புதியன கண்ட ஆராய்ச்சியாளரின் ‘யுரேகா’ என்ற உற்சாகக் கூவலை உங்கள் விவரிப்பில் கண்டு மகிழ்ந்தேன். அரிதான இந்தத் தேடல், பாராட்டுக்கு உரியது. அந்த லிங்கங்கள் இப்போது எங்கே போயின? என்ற கேள்விக்கு யாரால் பதில் சொல்ல முடியும்?

August 6th, 2009 at 19:54

thanks vijai. cholas folowwed pallava’s ideas and developed it later.But first credits goes to Pallavas.
First Ganapati was vathapi ganapati brought by Paranjothi senathipathi of narashima pallava is in his village Thiruchenkaatankudi near thiruvar

August 6th, 2009 at 20:31
Kathie B.

Dear VJ, so 3 sanctums w both SivaLingams, & Somaskandas. Great sleuthing! Interesting that there’s no Ganapati anywhere here. I’ll try to dig one up ? ? Love your website, always.

August 6th, 2009 at 20:38

Excellent VJ. Your are doing a great job.

August 6th, 2009 at 20:42
Kathie B.

Another question : Why would the Pallavas
carve a shrine with 3 nearly identical murthis
& SivaLingams? What, I wonder did each signify?

August 6th, 2009 at 20:51

wow..that solves my question ..amazing ..u must be an armchair archaeologist :)

August 7th, 2009 at 8:34

Came here thanks to Lakshmi and wow, am stumped.. the kind of information, details… have blogrolled you!!

August 7th, 2009 at 9:13

Really a Hard work and rich harvest my dear Vijay! In Saluvan Kuppam, still many more such to identify and the most important one is Muruga Termple. Let us hope for bright feature.

கலைஞன் விஜய்க்கு மனமார்ந்த பாராட்டுகளும் வாழ்த்துகளும்!


August 7th, 2009 at 10:13

You are the latest indiana jones….. continue your discoveries !!!

August 7th, 2009 at 12:50

அன்பு நண்பர் விஜய் அவர்களுக்கு,

வாழ்த்துக்கள் !!

இதற்கு முன்பு -”சிவாஜி படத்தின் பாட்டில் பல்லவ சிற்பத்தின் சாயல் ! “- பதிவின் பின்னூட்டத்தில் “வரலாற்றுச் சின்னங்களை ஆராய்வது ஒரு புதிரை விடுவிப்பதை போல் சுவாரஸ்யமானது” என்று எழுதினேன். இன்று மீண்டும் ஒருமுறை அதை நீங்கள் நிரூபித்து விட்டீர்கள். மீண்டும் வாழ்த்துக்கள்.
அதன் மறுமொழியாக நீங்கள் “சிற்பம் என்பது மக்களுக்கு சென்று அடைந்தால் போதும்” என்று சொல்லி இருந்தீர்கள். இன்று அதைத் தாண்டி “இங்கே ஒரு சிலை இருந்திருக்கணும் அந்த சிலை எங்கப்பா ” என்று எல்லோரையும் அலற விட்டு விட்டீர்கள்.
மிகச் சிறந்த வளர்ச்சி !

பொக்கிஷம் திரும்பக் கிடைத்த ஒரு சந்தோஷம் கூடவே அதை சிதைந்த நிலையில் காணும் சோகம். என்ன செய்வது ? வரலாற்றுப் பாடம் என்றாலோ வரலாற்றுச் சின்னம் என்றாலோ அசிரத்தையுடன் பார்க்கும் சமூகம்,அரசாங்கம். இதுவே அமெரிக்காவிலோ, இங்கிலாந்திலோ, இஸ்ரேலிலோ என்றால், இந்தக் கண்டுபிடிப்புக்கு அரசாங்கம் பாராட்டு விழா எடுத்திருக்கும். மேலும் காணமல் போயுள்ள சிலைகளை கண்டுபிடிக்க ஏற்பாடுகளும் மேற்கொள்ளப் பட்டிருக்கும்.

தடுக்கி விழுந்தால் ஒரு குடைவரை கோவில், நிமிர்ந்து பார்த்தால் கோபுரம் என்று ஊர் முழுக்க கோவில்களாக நிறைந்து இருக்கும் நம்ம ஊரில், உங்களைப் போல் யாராவது வந்து புகைப்படம் எடுத்து இப்படி எல்லாம் இருந்தது இப்போது இதெல்லாம் இல்லை என்று சொன்னால் தான் தெரிகிறது.

தாராசுரத்தில் உள்ள மினியேச்சர் சிற்பங்களில் உள்ள பெரிய புராணக் கதைகளை வெளிக்கொணர்வதில் இருந்து உங்கள் ஆராய்ச்சி துவங்குவதாகக் கொள்ளலாம். இது வேறு வகையான வெளிப்பாடு. வெறுமனே கல் - கலை - வண்ணம் என்று காட்டி -” ஆஹா என்னமா செதுக்கி இருக்கான் பாரு” என்று கூறுவதோடு நிறுத்தி விடாமல், ஏன்-எதற்கு-எப்படி என்று நீங்கள் கேட்டு தெளிவு படுத்திக் கொண்டு எங்களுக்கும் தெளிவு படுத்தியமைக்கு மிக்க நன்றி !!

மீண்டும் உங்களுக்கு வாழ்த்துக்கள் உரித்தாகுக !!


August 7th, 2009 at 15:56
Satish Kumar A

Wonderful Vijay. Great to see the old photos…really a great discovery. Where the hell are those siva lingams now?
A good point that there are not ganapathi anywhere…but, I think I pointed to you once that there is a ganapathy in the shore temple, as one among the gana’s in the vimanam.

Good work and thanks for such wonderful posts.


August 7th, 2009 at 21:30

அனூர் செங்கல்பட்டு அருகே உள்ளது. 5-6 நூற்றாண்டு பிள்ளையார் relief சுவற்றில் உள்ளது. அதேபோல், திருவல்லரை கோயிலில், கண்க்களோடு கணங்கலாய், பூத ரேகையில் கணபதியைப் பார்த்து, புகைப்படமெடுத்துள்ளேன்.

August 7th, 2009 at 23:24

british library photos are eye opener to me.

thanks vijay !

August 8th, 2009 at 9:24

tks vairam…. papers take too long and need lot of patience, maybe once i retire…

dear anna kannan, you always amaze me with your detailed study of articles and comments. tks for the same.

dear ms anandhinatarajan, while i do agree about the vatapi ganapthy legend, dating of pillayar patti ( possible early pandyan cave) is 3rd C. so …

August 8th, 2009 at 15:11

hi kathie

well its not 3 shrines. actually designwise its just one shrine cut into the main rock - the outer corridor has been converted into two more shrines. this cave is a big puzzle. the styling is very very mahendra like - the pillars and all, but none of mahendra’s caves have somaskanda panels cut into the stone. and the inscription!!

August 8th, 2009 at 15:14

hi aarthi

Thanks for the nice words and lakshmi, hope you can now do the pallava and chola trails. viewers watch out for lakshmi’s upcoming tours.http://travelwise.in/

August 8th, 2009 at 15:17

dhivakar sir, thanks for your continued support. you are as much a pillar of poetryinstone as are thiru, satheesh and all the other contributors

mani, neenga arasiyal vaadhiya irukkanum, ehtukkeduhtaalum pattam koduthadareenga

August 8th, 2009 at 15:18

நண்பர் திருநாவுக்கரசு,

மிகவும் ரசித்து எழுதின பதிவு இது. அதனை ரசித்து படித்து நீங்கள் இட்ட மறுமொழி படிக்க இன்பமாக உள்ளது.

நன்றி விஜய்

August 8th, 2009 at 15:21

hi sathish, chandra


I meant there are no main shrines for Ganesha in mallai. read above.

Chandra, very interesting 5 -6th C - eager to see. Btw, have read that even in the aadhi varaha cave there is one such bootha regai with a gana with an elephant head, but not seen yet. anyone can help getting a picture??

August 8th, 2009 at 15:25

hi thiru<

at last, got u to comment


August 8th, 2009 at 18:59

Congratulations on this discovery.

August 11th, 2009 at 23:01

It is Isaac Newton, not Einstein, who is credited with that quote.

October 5th, 2009 at 10:54

Somaskanda is Sa: + Uma + Skanda. “Sa:” means “He” அவன், a reference to Siva. “A” + “u” becomes “O” in sanskrit.

Also, there’s an elephant headed Gana in the ganavarisai in Ramanuja Mandapam also.

Some of us were very lucky, being in Madras and learning about Mallai at the site seminar in 2010 by Prof Swaminathan.

May 15th, 2013 at 9:52

HI Gopu - The term “Somaskanda” (sa-Uma-Skanda), translated into English, literally means, “with Uma and Skanda”. http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Archeaology/arch_somaskanda.htm

May 15th, 2013 at 16:20

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