Pallava Cave Temple at Thiruchirappalli Rockfort – Lalitankura Pallavesvara Griham

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

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.

20 thoughts on “Pallava Cave Temple at Thiruchirappalli Rockfort – Lalitankura Pallavesvara Griham

  1. This was really interesting… I have visited Trichy just once,and visited the ucchi pillayar temple in a hurry… wasnt even aware of these caves… there should be some info at the temple at least so that people come to know of it….. and that will also prevent all those love birds from spoiling the place….

  2. hi anu,

    There are two boards -this cave is more easy, as it is enroute on the climb. the other one is more you start the climb – the first level – you will come to a circular road ( tar road) – the board is actually placed behind you as you come out…so difficult to spot – you need to turn left on the road. then keep looking for a small space between the houses to you right – to reach the lower cave. its much more spectacular than this mahendra cave. will post on that as well shortly


  3. Hi VJ….
    Thanks for the post on Trichy.. 🙂 its nice to read interesting facts about the place which brought me up… I guess you know the reason for the garbha graham to contain one more pit. I dont want to spoil the suspense of the bloggers but disclosing it now. will wait for your post..

  4. River Cauvery must have been very wide without any proper bounds and the hilling range also must have been wider than what we saw now.

    Thanks Vijay for inserting my book also.

    And no doubt, Mahendra was always my favourite, because, he the King who brought out the Map of Cultural South India. His confession at this cave temple through inscription, was so loud.

    Expecting more from you,


  5. Few other interesting facts about Rockfort temple for the readers…
    1. The Shivan in this temple is called thayumana swamy and the speciality about him is that he is west facing
    unlike the deities facing east.There is a cute story behind it. Check the below link for the story..
    2.The main deity here is the Uchi pillaiyar. There is a connection between him and srirangam..
    Happy reading!!

  6. விஜய்,

    அற்புதம், சோழநாட்டில் பல்லவர்களின் குடைவரை!!! அப்படியெனில் சோழர்கள் மகேந்திரவர்மன் காலத்தில் உறையூரோடு அடங்கியிருந்திருக்க வேண்டும். ஒரு மன்னன் தான் மதம் மாறிய தகவலை பதிந்து விட்டுச் சென்றிருக்கிறான். அரியசிற்பம் கங்காதர மூர்த்தி…எவ்வளவோ விஷயங்கள் திருச்சி வாழ் மக்களுக்கே தெரியாதவற்றை பதிவு செய்துள்ளீர்கள், இதன் மூலம் சிறதளவாவது நிச்சயம் விழிப்புணர்வு ஏற்படும்.

    இந்த துவாரபாலகர்கள் அப்படியே மண்டகப்பட்டை பிரதிபலிக்கின்றன தாங்கள் குறிப்பிட்டுள்ளது போல், அந்த தூண்களின் cornice அமைப்பை பார்த்தால் அப்படியே சீயமங்கலத்தில் உள்ள தூண்கள் போலவே உள்ளன!

  7. நன்றி சதீஷ்

    கீழ் குடவரை அமைப்பு இன்னும் அழகு. விரைவில் அதனையும் பார்ப்போம்.


  8. It tried visiting once. but it was around 1830hrs and there are no lights and also admission was restricted to that part of the place after 1800hrs however the temple is open till 2100hrs. thanks for the virtual tour

  9. மண்டபம் என்பதில் இவ்வளவு விஷயம் இருக்கா ?

    I also remember seeing a tunnel (சுரங்கம் ) closed which also looked like the emty one you have mentioned.

    making a place garbage is not by mistake. People take things for granted. Thats how many treasures are damaged physically and now thru literature.

    I wonder how much care you take for minute things which many a time I just give a glance and pass away

  10. dear virutcham,

    These are shallow pits for installing deities. though there are some opinions that this could have been a much later effort, there are some puzzles in this cave. we will see them when we see the ganghadhara.


  11. dear VJ
    I’ve gotten the dvarapalaka murthis in the two caves mixed up.
    Your article will give me the info to sort them out. Thank you.

  12. I came across of our own rock fort temple and the mysterious tunnels. there seem to be a lot of stories or legends behind it. it is said that the kings of yore used to visit the pillayar temple without knowledge of their enemies and the tunnel extended to pudukottai?? and so on.
    the mysteries are stranger but the truth is more stranger isnt it???

  13. There is no surangam in the cave temple of trichy. the bigger pit was for the linga and the smaller pit for collection of abishega thirtha. these are later day attempts.
    there is no necessity to imagine rock fort without thayumanava swamy temple. in my opinion, thayumanava swamy must have existed at the time of excavation of this temple, since this lord had been sung by both appar and gnanasambandhar, who are contemporaries of mahendra. for them to have sung this temple it should have been in existance at their time and must have already been popular

  14. Dear Karthik, Thanks for the feedback – first of all none of mahendra’s caves have two pits. This is with the view that the early caves had movable main dieties or were made of wood. Second there is never a provision for flow of Abhisega water out of the cave ( in such early period ) – infact the presence of a drain is taken to indicate a 8th C onward period. If you notice the depth of the pit and the circumference and its placement – means that it would have been trenched to allow for placing a devi – which is a rarity in the pallava period and Mahendra himself says he worships the Linga – so we can be certain that the main one is for the Linga – so when the Linga itself is placed there where is the question of devi alongside is the riddle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *