ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY soaks in the silence and architecture of a rock cut Pallava temple at Mandagapattu

There is a certain serenity attached to the small village of Mandagapattu, just a little outside Gingee. Little boys frolick by a small stream with rocks in dramatic piles. A small pond by the temple teems with flowers and benches offer panoramic views. But that’s not all, Mandagapattu is home to one of the earliest stone temples in existence in the state and you can find this rock-cut Pallava shrine as you walk through paths between towering mounds.

The open book-like information plaque at the entrance of the ASI-protected monument, is broken with the letters fading. Unlike at some other places, the metal gate isn’t closed here.

As soon as we enter its sheltered premises, the temple’s story unfurls. The inscription in Sanskrit on the front pillar, suggests that this temple, called Lakshita Yathanam was built by King Mahendravarman I in the early 7th Century A.D. It also says that this was a “brick-less, timber-less, metal-less and mortar-less” temple. This cave temple predates the sculpted wonders of Mahabalipuram.

While it does not specify whether this was the first of its kind, the very mention of it in the inscription allows us to observe that it was an experiment that was successful. The temple is situated at a height, with stone steps on its left and is said to be dedicated to the trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). Inside are three empty cells about three feet deep, perhaps to signify this. These dark, bare rooms have circular pits at the bottom, where the statues would have been placed.

There are two pillars in the front with dvarapalas with head gear and in tribhanga pose. They also sport earrings and necklaces. While the eastern carving leans forward a bit, the western dvarapala stands upright, its hands resting on a club. The club itself is entwined with a snake.

The top and bottom of the pillars are cubed while the middle is a hexagon. Another set of pillars stand behind this. The area between the two is the mukha mandapa while the one behind the second is the ardha mandapa behind which are the cells.

There’s hardly anyone around. We sit on the benches nearby and soak in the silence.

Getting there

Mandagapattu is located around 162 km from Chennai, 60 km from Puducherry and 17 km from Gingee.

Where to stay

Accommodation is available in Villupuram, Gingee and Puducherry.

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