Mahabalipuram – Unifinished Poetry in Stone – Prof .S. Swaminathan, Photographs Ashok Krishnaswamy

This is possibly the sneakiest of sneak peaks you can get. A chance for me to place on record my heartfelt gratitude to one my Gurus, the man who introduced me to the language of stone, educated me on the need to spread the message of awareness and to do so without expecting any reward or accolade, but to silently go about your task. Its not just him, but the efforts of another dear friend, expert photographer cum digital artist Ashok, which have culminated in this – Yes, this is a book introduction ( am not competent to call it a review ) and is on the still hot of the press coffee table book on Mallai.

Whatever was the boon seeker’s objective, standing there on his one leg, arms raised up, he sure has grabbed the attention of the world – be it the ardent art historian or the rookie backpack hugging tourist. By choosing that very sculpture as their cover illustration, one cannot fail to notice , the allegory to the efforts put in my the master historian and the expert photographer – the confluence of their eclectic styles gives life to the stones in Mamallapuram.

True, many works have already been written and will continue to come out about these fantastic treasure trove of stone work, but few before have attempted to capture the essence of being there. The book opens a door and virtually transports you to Mallai, with just the right amount of scholarly diction, like a subtle background score, Prof Swaminathan’s guiding tone accentuates the rhythms that vibrate in the stones captured brilliantly via Ashok’s lenses.

Its been a long pending wish, to see a coffee table book on the splendors of Mamallapuram, for despite the multitude of scholarly works, there was always space for such a endeavor, for among the thousands who throng the site only a few have been properly initiated into appreciating the beauties that are on offer. This book was conceptualized to bridge that gap, to be a companion, which you could take along with you on your visit to Mallai, or come back home to leisurely relish a visit , look back and reminisce at its glory. Lastly, for the select few who are yet to undertake what is a romance for Pallava art enthusiasts like us, its a honey stick lure, for once immersed into the rocky confines of its pages, its hard not to imagine the magnificent pinnacle of stone sculpting reaching out to you from amidst the lilting splash of the waves and the spray of the salty sea mist.

For us, upstart history buffs, who cherish every interaction with such scholars, the availability of such a unique book on Mallai is a boon, gone are the days of reading the text and then hurriedly rushing to the last portion to view the plates, the text and photos mingle seamless and move from one page to next like a slick pair of Salsa dancers.

Don’t get me wrong, its not picture postcard book, the starting invocation, sternly brings you into focus, this is no less a research paper, as the richly thought out foreword by Sri Narasiah, who has taken much pain to list out the multitudes of people who has worked on dciphering the puzzle that is mallai, but the highlight of this particular work, is the results is sans the long diatribe, its easy on the head as its pleasing to the eye. The wise professor diligently takes you through a formal introduction into Pallava art, while Ashok lets you see, touch, feel the fabric of the stone work , each thoughtful frame competes with the insightful texts for your attention. Must thank the publishers for the effort to showcase the early efforts of the Pallavas from many corners of their wide land, to serve as an eye opener to their pioneering efforts and as a prelude to what is on offer in Mamallapuram.

You can almost feel the glee in the eyes, the cheer in the heart of the narrator as we pass through each chapter, its a wholesome visual treat on offer. Half way into the book, you are almost tempted to stop and restart from the first page, but the best is yet to come. For the first time, we get to see the famed Dharamaraja Ratha upper storey sculptures in their bewitching best, as Ashok combines creative photography with technology, we are able to gasp the original brilliance of the Govardhana Panel without the later pillar additions in front in a 4 page spread, the full splendor and glory of the Penance Panel as a 3 page spread, you cannot but stop to appreciate the thoughtful insights like a site Map and Flora section.

A fitting tribute to the Atyantakama.

Our heartfelt wishes to the team . To book is slated to hit stores near you shortly. For more details contact

[email protected]

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14 thoughts on “Mahabalipuram – Unifinished Poetry in Stone – Prof .S. Swaminathan, Photographs Ashok Krishnaswamy

  1. தங்களது வர்ணனை இப்பொழுதே அந்தப் புத்தகத்தை பார்க்க வேண்டும், படிக்க வேண்டும் என்கிற எண்ணத்தை ஏற்படுத்துகிறது. புத்தகம் எப்பொழுது வெளியிடப்பட உள்ளது? அல்லது ஏற்கனவே வெளியாகி விட்டதா?

  2. இந்த நூல் ஆங்கிலத்தில் வந்துள்ளது. விரைவில் தமிழ் மற்றும் இதர மொழிகளிலும் வரவேண்டும் என்ற கோரிக்கை இங்கே வைக்கிறோம் )

    Yes.. Welcoming that.


  3. I have accompanied several of my Foreign collegues to Kadal Mallai . Even with a very limited knowledge in history , I could realise that the so called ” Authorised Offical Guides” are inventing stories which denigrate the land’s glorius past.( Most of AOGs are thugs and rowdies, thats is a different story to narrate , but not here ) This book , which I had a chance to quickly glance thro , with envy , is a welcome step for seekers of the true story of kadal Mallai.

    when I was looking for miniature sculptures which can be taken away as momentoes ( you get fascinating varieties of them near other world famous monuments elsewhere ) sadly I could find only crudely assembled replica of Tajmahal , ( In Mahabalipuram ! )

    This book could be a valuble carry home pack of Mallai !

  4. I had gone through the book and have astonished to find precision information about Pallava Caves and Pallava Temples. It is meticulously written, compiled and published by the author.

    In addition, it was both interesting and informative to become acquainted with the richness of historical scripts and sculptures presented in this book.

    The photographer has really taken scrupulous efforts to produce the realistic images of (Mahabalpuram) pallava caves and cave temples . My sincere appreciation and congrats to the photographer

    This book is really superb and it could be a real guide for both Indians and Foreigners who wish to visit Mahabalipuram.

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