It was late afternoon when we reached the Rockfort and hurried up the first tier of stairs. Being Aiyappan season, there were a swarm of hands and legs - draped in various shades of black. Being forced to buy tickets for our cameras by the devasthanam guard even though we explained to him that we were here to just visit the two ASI sites ( which by the way do not levy any fee or need any prior written permission for shooting with a still camera - you cant use a tripod though !!!). As we reached the first level and the tar road, we turned left - the auto guy gave us that typical ` look’ ( must have thought we were looking for a spot to relieve ourselves) and pointed to his ‘ correct ‘ direction - uphill. We tried to explain to him saying we were going to the cave and the look turned even more weird -” There is nothing there, don’t waste your time” for good measure. By the time, we spotted the high camouflaged ASI direction sign - so typical of them to have it painted on the side from which you are walking up ( meaning as you emerge from the gate, the sign is already at your back - someone needs to tell these geniuses that our eyes are in front and hence they should have the sign in the wall side facing the entering visitor). Anyway, the sign screamed that it was a Pallava cave !! adding to the confusion and our disgust. Experts have long been at loggerheads to the authorship of this rock cut cave as well.
Finally, after a 100 meter walk, we managed to find a small walking path inbetween the rows of small houses that led towards the parent rock. And there she stood in all her majesty - cut deep into mother rock, the bare rock face accentuating her asymmetry right at the bottom.
But, then lets frame the cave facade to see the symmetry.
When I said carved deep, take into account that even the row of pillars are cut inside the face.
Compared to the mad rush at the entrance, there was not a single tourist or visitor around. A few kids were playing cricket - the stumps being the sculpture’s leg and a couple of ASI staff.
A cursory glance at the pillar itself got us going. This is not a standard Pallava pillar, doesn’t even come close. And here we have the mandatory ASI board proclaiming it to be Mamalla style and period 640 to 670 AD.
The rectangular cave has two sanctums, cut into separate ardha mandabams ( mini halls) at its two extremities - one for Shiva and one for Vishnu. What’s unique about this cave,is that its got two sets of door guardians for the mandabam and two sets for the Sanctum as well - first time we see 8 door guardians in a cave ( we will examine these door guardians and other sculptures in part 2 of this post)
The facing wall too has lent its length to the sculptor - in fashioning a Ganesha ( well well, yes - Mamalla and Ganesha ), Brahma, Muruga, Surya and Durga.
We shall study all these at depth in the coming posts. An ASI artist was meticulously copying the images - to our delight.
Really sad, that this imposing edifice suffers the ignominy of being “not worth seeing” !!