The Rockfort - the first of the two caves.
An imposing natural feature and an integral part of the charming Thiru Seera Palli town, it evokes lot of different emotions - there is something primeval about a stone outcrop that is not easy to explain. Anyway, thanks to Annapoorna, this long sleeping draft sees light. Actually, must have posted this long back - self and Arvind had been there in December, but there were a few visitors - couples and some prospective couples, who chose to park themselves in this cave , mistaking its sculpted steps for a chair and the insides for a cozy lounge chair or bed - oblivious to pains we were taking to take in the beauty of this monument while trying our best to avoid capturing their amorous rendezvous. It was not to be so and their patience cum free time cum pursuits cum utter disregard for any count of decency left us with an unfinished portfolio.
Had to wait for Sriram to fill in the blanks. Sadly, even regular visitors ( not the love birds - mean true visitors) look at this monument as a mere pit stop in their ascent to the shrine on top. Thankfully or otherwise the lower cave ( we will see it in a followup post) has just to suffer the ignominy of total neglect alone.
This pallava period multiplex for the less privileged smitten, is a signature contribution of Mahendra Pallava. Known as Lalitankura Pallavesvara Griham, this is the southernmost Pallava cave temple and is one among the ancient sites in the Rockfort complex. Lalithangura was one of many titles of Mahendra and means ‘charming-scion’. Its unique in many aspects - for it consists of an inscription which confirms or rather proclaims that the great Pallava king returned to the faith of worshiping the Linga from a hostile faith !! in his own words. Not sure if these modern day mozarts and Romeos are aware of the jest and pun in the actual verse we shall see in a subsequent post, as we rush on to the sculpture part of the cave to start with.
Iconograhically, there are two signature contributions of the Pallavas - the Somaskanda icon and the Shiva Gangadhara form ( How about Nataraja - check out the post on Seeyamangalam earliest Nataraja form). We are already studying the evolution of the Pallava Somaskanda as a series, but what we are going to see today is maybe the earliest and magnificent Shiva Gangadhara form.
The Tiruchy cave is the southern most cave of the Pallavas - right into Chola heartland - that he came all the way to Trichy to excavate a cave temple in an inaccessible hill is a puzzle ( there is a jain bed also on the hill !!). I am going to take the help of some references from Dr. R. Nagaswamy and Swaminathan sir to explain this series. ” One must try to imagine how this hill would have looked without the Tayumanavar Koil, Uchichi-p-pillaiyar Koil and all the sundry shrines, to wonder how Mahendra chose the site at a height of 200 feet and how his artisans managed the excavation. Like the other Pallava monuments, this cave temple also holds some puzzles” - says Swami sir.
This is a cave supported by four pillars with two pilasters ( half pillars) on each end . The façade is pretty simple and the chunky pillars are early Mahendra style - rather plain, square in cross section at the bottom and top, but eight-sided in the middle. I think its time for us to graduate to learn more about the technical names of these pillar styles. ( thanks to varalaaru.com)
A simple four sided pillar is called a Brahmmakantha ( Brahma - four faced !!)
A eight sided pillar is called a Vishnukantha
A Sixteen sided pillar is called a Indrakantha
A circular pillar is called a Rudrakantha
A pillar can also be a composite of many styles - like four sides on top and bottom + eight sided in the middle.
There are circular low-reliefs on all the four sides of the pillars.
Very interesting to note the brackets above the pillars - which are fluted. Titles of King Mahendra are inscribed on the faces of these pillars, mostly in Pallava Grantha and a few in the Tamil script.
Beyond the pillars is a mandapa (hall), and in the rear the hall is a series of four pillars very similar to the ones in the front.
As we ascend the small flight of stairs, we are greeted by this majestic panel to our left and to the right ( eastern wall) is a now empty rock cut Garba Graha flanked by two cute door guardians.
We shall study this fantastic bas relief in a detailed post shortly. Its got quite a majestic air associated with it and is very special to me personally - for i met two very important people in my sculptural quest, on the very day i was introduced to this Gangadhara form, Sri Sundar Bharadwaj and Sri Dhivakar, for the pre release of Dhivakar sir’s Vichitracittan - work of historic fiction basing on the life of Mahendra, which incidentally features this magnificent Bas relief on its front cover.
Lets take a look at the two beautiful door guardians - one on each side, they are carved in bold-relief.
Both are in semi-profile ( a specialty of the Pallava sculptor !!) , two armed turned towards the shrine-entrance, standing with one leg bent and raised up and the other planted firmly on the ground, carry a massive club, their palms resting on it - they are less bulky than in Mandagapattu. Their attire is fantastically sculpted, but sadly they are much worn.
The garba graham itself was locked - which was funny in a way, but rather a sign of the times !!! For its empty today ( no bas reliefs or Somaskanda in the back wall - to remind our readers - none of the Mahendra caves have this feature outside of Mallai ) - yet the barred gates are testament to sad plight of such monuments - and the shanty respect shown on it - as a heritage site or at least as a shrine / sanctum. It does hold a puzzle as well - for it has two pits excavated into the floor - one might have held a movable stone Linga ( Pandya caves have as a contrast monolith lingas ) but there is a second pit to its right !! possibly the only cave with this feature.
Some frustrated souls seem to have found a way to tear up the mesh and finding the pits - mistook them for garbage bins and dumped their plastic waste into them. You can see the two pits coming into view towards the bottom of the photo.
We shall continue exploring the beauty of this cave and its spectacles in the next part.