How did they manage to cut into rock?

We have seen quite a few rock cut structures, in order to truly understand the beauty and appreciate the effort that has gone into these creations one has to study how they were sculpted.

Lets take the monuments of Mahabalipuram for instance. These magnificent creations are cut out of living rock – how did the ancients manage this. To envision and conceptualise such works of art is one thing but what to execute them in the hardest rock is another and with what kind of implements, tools.

We look at a few tell tale marks of the sculptor ( will lead to another question – as to why these beautiful structures are half finished or rather unfinished – leads again to the question of authorship of these monuments, who, when – how long did he rule, were there interruptions /enemy incursions etc )

First off all, once a boulder is chosen – how do you sculpt away bulk of mass. The Pallava sculptor used a very simple technique. Take a look at these row of holes chiseled into many rocks ( you see them almost everywhere in mallai) – we expect them to have had hammers and chisels. Now once they chose a rockface, they would roughly draw a line with these holes.
Once done, they would use wooden plugs driven into the holes into a tight fit, and then water it. The wood would absorb the water and expand – the pressure created by this uniform expansion of all the pegs would make the stone crack. What ingenuity ( recently i was watching a channel showing a modern quarry in Italy – and they used basically the same principle to crack marble!)
OK, this is fine for breaking a boulder. How did they manage to cut the amazing caves into the rock face. Again very simple, this picture should give you a clue of both the techniques in one shot.

The rock face to be sculpted into, would be marked into kind of a grid, and then slowly divided into smaller squares and chiseled – which would eventually chip off the smallest piece of rock. If you can imagine this, then you can appreciate the effort that would have been taken to create these.

5 thoughts on “How did they manage to cut into rock?

  1. Extraordinary effort. You have taken same amount of trouble as the sculptors might have taken. May God bless you and keep you for doing more of this work!
    Suggest reading Early Chola Temples by Balasubramania nd Rajrajeswaram by his son Venkatraman – Narasiah

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