The vanishing wonders of Mogalrajapuram caves- Vijayawada

Many thanks to Sri Dhivakar for visiting this amazing cave and sharing his experiences and photographs with us. We need to do some more study of the sculptures and would be grateful if readers near Vijaywada can assist in some closeup, high resolution images of the same. Now over to the author for a wonderful guest post:

Its hard to separate Vijayawada from Kanaka Durga, even in our dreams, but today we are not going to see the famous Kanakadurga seated on the sacred abode of Indrakilaadhri, but a 1400 year old sculpted stone Durga and the rock cut caves of Mogalrajapuram (situated in the center of the city only). Some scholars account this to early 5th Century which is quite mind blowing.

In the midst of the sprawling town of Vijayawada, there are two caves which have barely survived, carved into a low hillock not higher than 10 feet. These caves which are under the upkeep of ASI, hold these surprising treasures.

The sculptors have cut into live rock and created a small room to host the main sculpture. The sculpture is much worn out and we have hardly make out the features. We can clearly make out a tail and an animal – a lion behind the sculpture.

As per the ASI board this is Durga.


Can a mere lion mount characterise a sculpture as Durga, the posture and the body proportions create enough doubts in our minds.

Taking the ASI stand that this is indeed Durga, this could be earliest depiction of Her in South India. Dr Kalaikkovan in his lovely work ` Mahendra Kudavaraigal’ lists the vallam ( near chengalpattu) Kotravai sculpted by Gommai as the oldest depiction of Her in South India. The above could make a strong contention to that stand.

The next hillock have some interesting sculptures and designs. The pillar designs are very familiar and the kudus on top contain some very advanced sculptures apparently of the Trinity.

There is a wonderful row of alternating lions and elephants above them and then there is a very badly worn sculpture right on top of this row. You can see the Demon being pressed down by a foot and then only the top portion with only 6 hands wielding various weapons n attributes. The posture and the silhouette of the weapons seem to suggest that this could be a depiction of Mahishasuramardhini but the popular contention is that this is Nataraja. Will present the early chalukya sculptures of Aihole, Badami – natraja ( is he depicted with the asura underneath Shiva as Nataraja) and Mahishasuramardhini ( with Mahisha being trampled ..) later on.

We might need some very detailed closeups of the weapons held in the hands to come to a clear verdict. But the technique is quite advanced and these could be dated to late 6th or 7th Centuries. Compare the kudus with those of Mahendra’s Dhalavanur.

Sadly these unique caves have not quite got the publicity they deserve and hardly anyone visits them. When will people realise the greatness of these treasures and give them the respect that is due to them.

Was this the inspiration behind Mahendra Pallava’s sculptural quest

Since the site is dedicated to sculpture and its easy to fall in love with Pallava sculpture, it was very difficult for me to do this post. Quite often we get so obsessed with our favorites to the point of becoming fanatics. I am one such proclaimed Pallava fanatic. Quite often Kathie would drag me back to ground zero with interesting questions and photos from the middle kingdom. One such fanatical quest was that of Mahendra Pallava and his sculptural quest. A King hitherto unparalleled in his pursuit for artistic excellence in my eyes. But a chance glance at a collection of photos of Dr. Mohammed Tajuddin KHAN of an impressive cave in Andra Pradesh – the Undavalli Caves (Guntur District about 6km south west of Vijayawada, 22km north west of Guntur City and about 280 km from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh – thanks wiki) propped up some interesting questions.

I tried to check with Sri Dhivakar, who had done much research on the early life for Mahendra Pallava for his book – vichitracithan. Two interesting informations came out of the interaction – one – these caves were excavated between the 4th and 6th C.E (The caves are associated with the Vishnukundina kings of 420 to 620 A.D), definitely predating Mahendra Pallava’s famous excavation in Mandagapattu and two – Mahendra spent a good part of his early life in and around these parts. ( Simha Vishnu had a Vishnukundin Wife !!)

Before we start inferring anything from above, lets compare the sculpture styles under question. without burdening you with two many, am just throwing in one door guardian from both sites and a pillar each.


The pillar design, fluting, styling – the stance of the door guardian, the flexing of his hips down to his mace, the way he places his hands on his hips – the the lion banner on the pillar.

On the other extreme side, we can argue as to if Mahendra was responsible for carving the Undavalli caves – but then the time frame sets us back by atleast 50 to 100 years.

One more clue – is again the main argument proposed for Mahendra as the originator of cave or rock cut architecture is the famous Mandagapattu inscription. Let us see it once more now.

I quote Dr Nagaswamy’s words below

http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/books/mamallai/new-light.xml


Let us study the inscription itself. What does the inscription say? It says that this temple, dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva was caused to be made by Vicitracitta, without the use of brick, mortar, wood or metal. It does not mention that this was being excavated for the first time in South India. Nor in any of his subsequent inscriptions Mahendra assumed a title, commemorating this great achievement of his life. He was certainly fond of titles and could have assumed a title like “the first excavator of cave” Adyaguhayatanakari or some such thing. We do not come across any such titles in his inscription.
None of the epigraphical records, both lithic and copper plates, which were issued after him, refer to Mahendra’s achievement in excavating caves for the first time.”

But whatever we infer from the above, one thing is for sure – this was the first excavation of Pallavas.

The theory is not without speculation – as door guardians could have been carved later ( especially the ones in Mandagapattu door guardians seem to be slightly advanced in styling when compared to its own pillar designs !!)

Keeping these aside, what we infer is a logical progression. Both the styles are dramatically similar and one definitely predates the other. So, was Undavallai the inspiration behind Mahendra Pallava’s sculptural quest, heralding a golden age in south Indian cave / temple / sculpture / architecture.

For those who are still not convinced about the remarkable similarity in styles, presenting to you more parallels from other Mahendra caves and Undavalli. Believe me, this is not any trick photography – just placing them side by side for you to make your judgements.

Now, do you agree?

Another cave which offers some clues is Bhairavakonda, which we will see shortly.

Makara Thoranas an interesting link between Pallavas and Cambodia

I had loaned a book on Funan last week and found a very interesting sculpture. It reminded me of something we saw earlier in Dhalavanur. As i scrambled for the closeups and compared the two, i was stumped. Such a remarkable likeness is hard to achieve by pure chance. Oh, sorry forgot to put the pictures, so that you can all see the same – these are Makhara Thoranas ( The Crocodile Arches). Initially they just looked like some decorative motif, but then slowly a pattern emerged.


Many thanks to Mr. Andy Brouwer for readily giving me the permission to use his amazing snaps .

www.andybrouwer.co.uk/blog/

Do you see the amazing similarity between these two sculptures. lets see them a bit closer

So, it got me thinking of why and how – an imaginary creature adorning an early Pallava cave in late 630 AD could find such a twin parallel in far off Cambodia – Sambor Prei Kuk. Was this just a decorative motiff or is there more into this. When i searched the scriptures, a few references popped up here and there. But mostly were passing references to decorative stuff.

For eg, this 12th Tirumurai

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1228&padhi=72&startLimit=1071&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

He had makara-toranas, beautiful bunches of areca-nuts
And severed banana-trees, peerless streamers
And garlands arranged in beauteous rows
And thus had the whole city with its long streets
Beautified with auspicious decorations;
It looked as though, the flawless, ethereal city itself
Had come down to the earth.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

Similar references come in the Ramayana as well. But what in essence is this creature, its sure an auspicious sign – denoting the higher heavens – so whenever a mighty city or godly dwelling was implied, the sculptor threw in the makara – the design elements have evolved into similar structures in most later Chola temples.

We miss these beauties in many later temples as well – Take a look at this decorative hand rail in Darasuram.

And this amazing Gyana Saraswathi from Rajendra’s Gangaikondacholapuram ( thanks to Mohandass for the photos) – the last dnap indicates the two wonderful makaras where the arch starts.


This pursuit led me to seek the guidance of hereditary architect and master sculptor Mr. K.P. Umapathy Stapathi. He was kind enough to explain the nuances of the makara thorana, its design elements combining 6 different species into one and integrating all of them into one confluence of fluid art, the variety of creepers at the base complementing the delightful curves of the front piece. He was kind enough to send us this illustrated photo to identify them.

It will be interesting to compile and study similar thoranas from various places.

Shatrumalleswaraalayam – a splendid creation of Mahendra Pallava

Vilupuram Sengi Road. around 11.30 noon

Ragothaman: Hey, its getting really hot. we have been driving for almost an hour, how far did we come 30 kms
Chandru: Just under 30 kms, we need to turn right before that
Narayanaswamy: Oh, how far have we come as of now
Driver: 27 kms done sir
Satheesh: Hey, there is the ASI board, road to Pallava cave Dhalavanur
Vj: Atlast, we are there. Is it that hillock
Chandru: No, we need to go another 6 kms from the main road.
Venkatesh: ok, then it can’t be this chain of hills
Chandru: This cave is very easy to spot. You can see it from the road,but cant drive near. You got to park and walk for say 200 mtrs.

Venkatesh: There, there, can see it from here itself. What a wonderful location. Mahendra’s choice is indeed spell binding. amidst rolling green farms, the rock outcrop offers a spectacular setting.

Chandru: Park the vehicle, by the side of the road, we need to walk up from here.
Farmer: Hey, don’t walk on the field, walk on the raised boundaries. we have just sown.
Vj: sorry we didn’t know. Wow, you got a pump set going, the cool water is inviting…

Ashok: What a setting. Its more a giant boulder than a hill
Venkatesh: Super spot
Vj: Hi chandru sir, the cave’s got an iron gate and is locked.
Chandru: The guard must be around here somewhere.

Farmer: Hi, i have the keys. They gave it to me , i only take care. They dont pay me any Salary !! if we don’t lock it the spoilt brats from the city come and …

Vj: ok, ok, we understand. We are not like that. Chandru sir, what pathetic work, how could they put these door frames on these stone pillars. and the blue paint, what a disgrace. they guy couldn’t even be careful enough not to spill on the pillar. and that too right over the superb pillar carvings…!! senseless brain dead @@@@@@

Ashok: Hi vj, see up.what is that

Satheesh: Hey vj, see this beautiful set of Makara thoranas – facing each other. there are small ganas riding them as well

Vj: Hey that is a kapota – kind of decorative arch with a face just peeping out. Reminds me of a cave in the Ellora group. need to check. Yes, satheesh wonderful stone work. reminds me of a similar one from Cambodia. will check !!!

Ashok: the door guardians are splendid. Look at their relaxed poses. They are majestic

vj: yes, the clothing styles and the left hand side guardians mace are very similar to Mandagapattu. See there are another set of them inside guarding the main shrine as well.
satheesh: see the inside structure, very different
Venkatesh: see that large crack running right across !!
Ragothaman: as we enter we seem to be inside a hall and then turn left to see the main shrine. very different perspective

Vj: yes ragu, another set of mahendra pillars and two pillasters form a mini shrine inside the structure. The door guardians here are also in low relief, sculpted in profile, slightly turned in, classic pallava style. See the detailing on their dress and ornaments

Farmer: Can i show the camphor
All: Here we are all here, wonderful darshan of shiva
Vj: Satheesh, what is the name of the Lord.
Satheesh: Let me check in the book, Satrumalleshwaraaalayam
Vj: any inscriptions
Chandru: Yes, Pallava grantam of Mahendra again

Satheesh: Let me read

This rock cut cave shrine on top of the hillock called sathrumalleswaraalayam was excavated by the one who humbled many kings by the might of his army, the one titled narendra shatrumallan.

vj: Shatrumallan – lovely name. Ashok, see here, they have started putting floral designs on the pillars here as well. But the top is not fluted.

Venkatesh: Come lets go on to the top and see the Jaina beds.
Narayanswamy: Is it very steep
Vj: Not that steep, they have cut steps in the stone like a ladder. so its easier. Ashok, you come as well

Venktesh: Oh, what a view, what a location. Its breezy and cool depsite the sun at noon.

Ashok: must have brought our lunch from the car, we could have finished it here
Venkatesh: you are saying now, it would have been great
vj: From here you get an excellent view of all surrounding areas
Venkatesh: yep, but those coming up cant see, but the guys here can. Excellent location to hide and live in seclusion – foolproof safety precautions

But why did they have to hide and live in seclusion !!

Vj: This jaina bed is too comfortable, didn’t realise it will be so. My eyes are drooping.
Chandru: comes on guys, lets move on
The pump set – cool wash…hmm am hungry

Next on the agenda – Lakshithayanam, Mandagapattu Mahendra cave.