A testing Penance – opps a test penance Panel

The Mahabalipuram penance panel which we saw in the last post is the largest open air bas relief sculpture. Just prior to embarking on such a massive sculpt, the sculptors seem to have tested the concept nearby…the little known test panel – but does it give any clues to the mystery of whether the Penace panel depicts – Arjuna’s penance ( to get the pasupatha astra from shiva) or Bagiratha’s penance to bring the ganges down to resurrect his ancestors!!

Lets analyse the test panel – the depiction of the lighthouse will give you a rough idea on its location. Similar to the Main penance panel, the artist chose a cleft in a boulder to depict his theme – but here the two boulders are split into two.

Why we call it  a test panel is the story is carved in low relief.

The majestic elephants have not yet been obviously brought into the theme, though a few heads do appear.

The flying celestials are all these, but seem to be moving away form the boon giving area towards the descending ganges – to witness this great spectacle. So its a definite give away as to the main story of the test panel – thankfully the boon giver and seeker are much farther away from the cleft ( infact their positions are transposed – left to right)

The most important clue is the absence of the weapon in Shiva’s hands!

So if this were to be seen in isolation, its a pure story of the descending ganges and thus bagiratha’s penance. This story has been delightfully mixed with Arjuna’s penance in the main panel to come up with a puzzling combo…or is it just two in one or is there another twist to the plot….is it three in one..!!777806

2 thoughts on “A testing Penance – opps a test penance Panel

  1. There’s no doubt the last image is Bhagiratha,
    same pose as Ravanaphadi Cave at Aihole.
    But why can’t the main ‘Descent’ show both
    Arjuna’s & Bhagiratha’s stories simultaneously?

  2. hi kathie

    Yes, that is what is the inference. But it could also have a third dimension – bagiratha+arjuna+pallava ( ascent of the Pallava)..


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