Anusha Parthasarathy experiences the beauty of Pallava art at Kilmavilangai’s rock-cut shrine

The first thing to remember if you’re going to Kilmavilangai is to not trust the GPS on your phone. You feel you are on the right track till you end up in the middle of nowhere. I admit, though, that Kilmavilangai itself is a tiny village that suddenly emerges, as you take in the green fields, swaying palms, stacks of hay and the landscapes of the Tindivanam-Vandavasi Road.

We’re head towards State Highway 5, my eyes dart between the road and the GPS, trying to find our way to Melvilangai, since no one seems to have heard of Kilmavilangai. An old man points us towards Villupuram while another points to the way we’ve just come.

Finally, under an old banyan tree, we meet a man who speaks in whispers. “Go under the arch,” he tells us, though not pointing in any direction. “Which way,” we ask expectantly. He shrugs and repeats the magic word; “arch,” his hands carving a crescent in the air.

It takes two men on a motorbike, a couple of U-turns, a sudden right and a left to find the arch, following which we’re in an open field. “If there’s a cave temple, shouldn’t there be mountains or hills?” we think, looking for imaginary mounds, when we cross a rusty signboard. A man passing nearby has heard of the cave temple. “Just walk up there,” he points to the middle of the fields, just outside the village and its cluster of huts.

And like a rabbit out of a hat, a single rock stands in the middle of the plains, under the shade of a large tree. Kilmavilangai’s rock-cut shrine has a standing Vishnu cut out of a single stone. The carving is deep into the stone and a blue iron gate protects this 7th Century Pallava shrine.

At the entrance of the shrine are two dvarapalas. The flat bas relief is an example of the Tondaimandalam Pallava kingdom sculptures and is a single cell with no mandapam in front. There is writing on the rocky surface outside but it has almost faded.

A local tells us that the deity is worshipped regularly by a family in the village. The standing Vishnu has a chakra in one hand, a conch in the other while the other two hands are in the Abhaya mudra. The shrine surrounded by greenery highlights the rural beauty of the area. A light breeze blows as we head back to the car. But this time, we stop by to ask for directions.

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