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Posts Tagged ‘dhalavanur ’

Many thanks to Sri Dhivakar for visiting this amazing cave and sharing his experiences and photographs with us. We need to do some more study of the sculptures and would be grateful if readers near Vijaywada can assist in some closeup, high resolution images of the same. Now over to the author for a wonderful guest post:

Its hard to separate Vijayawada from Kanaka Durga, even in our dreams, but today we are not going to see the famous Kanakadurga seated on the sacred abode of Indrakilaadhri, but a 1400 year old sculpted stone Durga and the rock cut caves of Mogalrajapuram (situated in the center of the city only). Some scholars account this to early 5th Century which is quite mind blowing.

In the midst of the sprawling town of Vijayawada, there are two caves which have barely survived, carved into a low hillock not higher than 10 feet. These caves which are under the upkeep of ASI, hold these surprising treasures.

the cave
the cave entrance

The sculptors have cut into live rock and created a small room to host the main sculpture. The sculpture is much worn out and we have hardly make out the features. We can clearly make out a tail and an animal - a lion behind the sculpture.

durga or kotravai
closeup of the sculpture

As per the ASI board this is Durga.

asi board

Can a mere lion mount characterise a sculpture as Durga, the posture and the body proportions create enough doubts in our minds.

durga outline

Taking the ASI stand that this is indeed Durga, this could be earliest depiction of Her in South India. Dr Kalaikkovan in his lovely work ` Mahendra Kudavaraigal’ lists the vallam ( near chengalpattu) Kotravai sculpted by Gommai as the oldest depiction of Her in South India. The above could make a strong contention to that stand.

The next hillock have some interesting sculptures and designs. The pillar designs are very familiar and the kudus on top contain some very advanced sculptures apparently of the Trinity.

is this natraja or durgai
the cave entrance
the pillar design
the row of elephants and lions
the three kudus

There is a wonderful row of alternating lions and elephants above them and then there is a very badly worn sculpture right on top of this row. You can see the Demon being pressed down by a foot and then only the top portion with only 6 hands wielding various weapons n attributes. The posture and the silhouette of the weapons seem to suggest that this could be a depiction of Mahishasuramardhini but the popular contention is that this is Nataraja. Will present the early chalukya sculptures of Aihole, Badami - natraja ( is he depicted with the asura underneath Shiva as Nataraja) and Mahishasuramardhini ( with Mahisha being trampled ..) later on.

We might need some very detailed closeups of the weapons held in the hands to come to a clear verdict. But the technique is quite advanced and these could be dated to late 6th or 7th Centuries. Compare the kudus with those of Mahendra’s Dhalavanur.

another koodu
the external makara thorana and koodu

Sadly these unique caves have not quite got the publicity they deserve and hardly anyone visits them. When will people realise the greatness of these treasures and give them the respect that is due to them.

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Since the site is dedicated to sculpture and its easy to fall in love with Pallava sculpture, it was very difficult for me to do this post. Quite often we get so obsessed with our favorites to the point of becoming fanatics. I am one such proclaimed Pallava fanatic. Quite often Kathie would drag me back to ground zero with interesting questions and photos from the middle kingdom. One such fanatical quest was that of Mahendra Pallava and his sculptural quest. A King hitherto unparalleled in his pursuit for artistic excellence in my eyes. But a chance glance at a collection of photos of Dr. Mohammed Tajuddin KHAN of an impressive cave in Andra Pradesh - the Undavalli Caves (Guntur District about 6km south west of Vijayawada, 22km north west of Guntur City and about 280 km from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh - thanks wiki) propped up some interesting questions.

mahendra mandagapattu cave
undavalli caves

I tried to check with Sri Dhivakar, who had done much research on the early life for Mahendra Pallava for his book - vichitracithan. Two interesting informations came out of the interaction - one - these caves were excavated between the 4th and 6th C.E (The caves are associated with the Vishnukundina kings of 420 to 620 A.D), definitely predating Mahendra Pallava’s famous excavation in Mandagapattu and two - Mahendra spent a good part of his early life in and around these parts. ( Simha Vishnu had a Vishnukundin Wife !!)

Before we start inferring anything from above, lets compare the sculpture styles under question. without burdening you with two many, am just throwing in one door guardian from both sites and a pillar each.

madagapattu door guardian
undavalli door guardian
seeyamangalam lion on pillar (1)
undavalli lion sculpture

The pillar design, fluting, styling - the stance of the door guardian, the flexing of his hips down to his mace, the way he places his hands on his hips - the the lion banner on the pillar.

On the other extreme side, we can argue as to if Mahendra was responsible for carving the Undavalli caves - but then the time frame sets us back by atleast 50 to 100 years.

One more clue - is again the main argument proposed for Mahendra as the originator of cave or rock cut architecture is the famous Mandagapattu inscription. Let us see it once more now.

I quote Dr Nagaswamy’s words below

http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/books/mamallai/new-light.xml


Let us study the inscription itself. What does the inscription say? It says that this temple, dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva was caused to be made by Vicitracitta, without the use of brick, mortar, wood or metal. It does not mention that this was being excavated for the first time in South India. Nor in any of his subsequent inscriptions Mahendra assumed a title, commemorating this great achievement of his life. He was certainly fond of titles and could have assumed a title like “the first excavator of cave” Adyaguhayatanakari or some such thing. We do not come across any such titles in his inscription.
None of the epigraphical records, both lithic and copper plates, which were issued after him, refer to Mahendra’s achievement in excavating caves for the first time.”

But whatever we infer from the above, one thing is for sure - this was the first excavation of Pallavas.

The theory is not without speculation - as door guardians could have been carved later ( especially the ones in Mandagapattu door guardians seem to be slightly advanced in styling when compared to its own pillar designs !!)

Keeping these aside, what we infer is a logical progression. Both the styles are dramatically similar and one definitely predates the other. So, was Undavallai the inspiration behind Mahendra Pallava’s sculptural quest, heralding a golden age in south Indian cave / temple / sculpture / architecture.

For those who are still not convinced about the remarkable similarity in styles, presenting to you more parallels from other Mahendra caves and Undavalli. Believe me, this is not any trick photography - just placing them side by side for you to make your judgements.

floral designs on the pillars.jpg
undavalli pillar design
mahendra pillar floral design dhalavanur
mandagapattu pillar alignment
undavalli pillar alignments
undavalli pillar - notice the fluting on top
the design of the fluted pillar.jpg

Now, do you agree?

Another cave which offers some clues is Bhairavakonda, which we will see shortly.

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