What is the inspiration for a sculptor – Pallava Mallai – my interpretation

I had asked this question in the original post – What is the inspiration for a sculptor ? True Mallai abounds with animals – the great penance panel with its whole forest / zoo of animals, the Govardhana panel with its cows etc, but this is a very unique sculpture, as it depicts no divine legend, no god figures – no puranic myth.

It would have taken the sculptor months of hard work – to sculpt such a realistic natural scene. But why did he do it. Doubt if the King would have commissioned him to do such a work. It is also not a causal fling, like a half hour sketch by a caricature artist.

This line of thought made me try to come up with some other reason, to explain the sculpture.

Here it goes: consider this – the sculptors of mallai were experts, clearly the work in mallai is not that of novices. So it couldn’t be like some finishing school, the degree of perfection in form is much too advanced. Their stone craft could not be mastered by common people and would have called for years of study under expert teachers – most probably, right from childhood, these sculptors would have been exclusively tutored in stone craft, with single minded devotion. Whether there was the system of father teaching son or established gurukulam like – we don’t know. But one thing is clear, to achive this kind of mastery over any art, the heart soul and everything else had to be devoted into the work.

Keeping the above in mind, my interpretation of the panel is :

The sculptor is the monkey

In sculpting the visibly joyous, frolicking , happy elephant family, he depicts what he has missed – loving family life, for he would have had to be in sculpture school at a very young age, missing the years of fun and frolic which a normal
kid would have got, which he is lost when he decided to pursue his passion.
The peacock could be his lady love – again am sure these guys would never had time to lead a normal family live, most probably would have been geeky nerds with single minded approach to sculpture. Even if they married, they wouldn’t have spent much time in the pleasures of it.

Now look at the monkey again in the sculpture, he is visibly sad, has a sense of great loss but is also having a kind of searching / questioning face. He is looking at the viewer,as if asking, if all his sacrifices were worth it. what do you say, was it worth it

10 thoughts on “What is the inspiration for a sculptor – Pallava Mallai – my interpretation

  1. VJ, very creative thinking. The fact that the sculpture moves us to think like this is in itself a tribute to the talent and creativity of the sculptor. The exact theme of the forlorn monkey and a bird was used in the old telugu movie Malleswari to depict a love lorn sculptur and his beloved who are eventually reunited.

  2. சந்தேகமே இல்லாமல் ஈடுதான்.! இன்னும் அவனைப்பத்தி நினைக்கிறோமே!

  3. நன்றி திவா

    அப்படி அவன் தனது பெயரை செதுக்கி விட்டு சென்று இருந்தால் ! அதை செய்யாமல் சென்றது அவன் பெருமையை இன்னும் பன் மடங்கு உயர்த்துகிறது


  4. wow….that is a great interpretation. I am very impressed by the amount of time and effort you put into collecting and deciphering these sculptures. Kudos.

  5. Hi Vijay..
    I just read another very interesting explanations of this panel in the book, “The Great Penance at Mamallapuram” by Michael D Rabe. He places this panel as a representation of a Jataka tale (no.37) -where the supremacy between a partridge, a monkey and elephant is contested. The depiction of the partridge as a peacock is ascribed to local flavour and also to the fact that the Srilankan prince Manavamma who was Mamalla’s friend..and that he belonged to a Moriya clan (moriya having come from the word mora-peacock). Manavamma was Buddhisht and though he was a refugee – he was given high status by Narasimha Mamalla. (all this is elaborately spelled out in the book)

  6. hi rhoda

    Nice answer and thanks for sharing.

    the link to the Jataka tale is here


    Its a possibility, but my guess would be since most the craftsmen were experts ( as seen from the exquisite panels) am sure he would have gone into the details, of atleast depicting the tree ( which is the main object of the debate) and also why throw in the elephants family ?

    On the partridge to peaacock switch, and attributing it to manavamma – the period mentioned was a time of intense war preparations – for the assault on Vatapi and later the expedition into Lanka to reinstate him. Not sure if Mammalla would have had the time and resources to indulge himself or fund such activities. These are my views though and would respect the views of experts.


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