History & Culture

Study uncovers interesting details of cave temple architecture

The Pallava cave at Rockfort Sri Thayumanaswamy temple in Tiruchi. File Photo  

An archaeological study in Tamil Nadu has thrown light on interesting facets of cave temple architecture during the Pandyas-Pallavas reign, besides uncovering musical inscriptions engraved on some temples.

The study has revealed that cave temples of the Pandyas and the feudatories exhibited several cult images of Ananthasayi (Lord Vishnu), Lord Ganesh and Durga, which were not seen in the Pallava corpus of cave art, D Dayalan, Superintending Archaeologist, Temple Research project, said.

The cave temples in non-pallava region contained inscriptions that facilitated a workable chronological sequence.The inscriptions provided additional clue to cross check the the sequence of cave temples.

He said a majority of the cave temples in non-Pallava region were the handiwork of laymen and only few showed the royal patronage, whereas it was not so in Pallava cave temples.

The study revealed interesting details about rock cut cave temples. The rock-cut cave temple at Tiruchirappalli and unfinished rock cut cave at Tiruvellarai near Tiruchi, and Pechipalai cave temple had the same layout.

The concept of common group of Pantheistic nexus, the Shanmata (Sanskrit, meaning six opinions -- in this six major deities are worshipped) was again an inimitable feature found in some cave temples in south Tamil Nadu.

The pantheistic concept was perhaps a unique synchronism and amalgamation of various cult worship at one centre.

The lower cave temple of Tiruchirappalli, cave temple at Tiruparankunram and the unfinished cave temple at Tiruvellarai had two principal shrines, one for Lord Shiva in the east, and one for Vishnu in the west and a central bay.

The reliefs of Lord Brahma, Skanda, Surya, Ganesh, and Durga were found on the hind wall of the Central bay, he said.

The grouping of many Gods and Goddesses in single panel was found in bas-relief panels and plaques of Tiruttani, Uthiramerur,and other places in Pallava region, he said.

An interesting feature of cave temples at Kudumiyanmalai, Tirumayam and Malaykoil was that they had .

“musical” inscriptions engraved on or near the temple.

Large musical notations had been engraved on an almost all vertical scarps of rock. The musical epigraph at Thirumayam had been badly chiselled off, he said.

All three places contain a code word “Parvardiniye” inscribed in rectangular and similar character, he said.

According to the musical inscription, the person who codified ‘svaragamas’ was a great devotee of Maheswara (Shiva) and disciple of Rudhracharya. The person who systematised the music potentialities was Gunasena. “Perhaps, the first music books were in the form of inscriptions,” he said.

The cave temples in South Tamil Nadu were unique in another way--they show a diagnostic stylistic feature of its own, perhaps amalgamating various idioms and tracts, Dayalan said.

The lower rock cut temple at Tiruchirappalli and Kudumiyanmalai temple exhibited novel pillar forms not generally found in Tamil Nadu.

The Narasimha cave temple in Madurai district and Tiruttangal cave temple had been built with ideas borrowed from outside, reflecting mobility of art use, he said.

Use of ‘monolithic nandhi’ was also unknown in Pallava cave temples.Though paintings were executed in the Pallava cave temples, it was limited and not as abundant as in the non-Pallava cave temples located in lower Tamil Nadu, he said.

Regarding sangam period (third century BC-third century AD), he said there was practically not much material evidence at present vouching for existence of structures of that period.The reason was use of perishable materials like wood and brick for construction of secular and religious edifices.

Both the Pallavas and Pandya rulers had patronised art and architecture.

The earliest architectural activity in Tamil Nadu was associated with the induction of iron technology in this region. The megalithic monuments must have required considerable time and labour, he said.

Their construction was a well organised feat of engineering and coordination of manpower.The stones had been levered from one place to another using simple engineering techniques such as wooden levers, props and stone supports.The stones were secured in position by means of interlocking system without use of mortar, he said.

As per records, the Pallavas emerged as a powerful force during the rule of Mahendravarman I (571-630 AD) and Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) and dominated the Telugu and northern parts of the Tamil region for about 600 years until the end of the 9th century.

They are believed to have established the foundations of medieval south Indian architecture.

The Pandyan Empire, an ancient Tamil dynasty, is said to have had their golden phase under Maravman Sundara Pandiyan and Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251 AD), but became extinct after the establishment of the Madurai Sultanate in the 16th century.

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