Travel

A well-carved-out weekend plan

For those who keep scouring the Internet for interesting and lesser-known places to satisfy the wanderlust in them, Mamandur can work wonders. This one-day trip back to history can become a story to tell, for years to come.

Mamandur is a small village located on the Kanchipuram-Vandavasi road in Tiruvannamalai district in Tamil Nadu. Once a hub of royal patronage and the capital of the Pallavas, it is a seventh-century attraction, with its four rock-cut cave temples. Except for the board that reads, ‘The Archaeological Survey of India considers it as monuments of national importance’, one cannot conjecture the importance of the place, so bare and dry. The caves contain Tamil Brahmi inscriptions and cave paintings of their time.

A tapering muddy pathway guides one to the caves, which are located one after another, and overlook the rising sun. The caves have a typical Mahendravarman style, with a cubical top and bottom, and an octagonal middle. The top and the bottom have lotus medallions. Behind the first row of pillars is another row of pillars and pilasters, which gives it an ardha mandapa and mukha mandapa structure. The cell inside is empty. The platform constructed for the deity is empty and has a square cavity, suggesting that its work remains unfinished.

A flight of rocky boulders and stones, coupled with bunches of brown and parched grasses, take one to the second cave marked as the Rudravalisvaram, owing its name to the shrine of Shiva (shiva linga), that remains seated even after 1300 years. Since there are two other chambers, with distinct characteristics of the trinity, archaeologists believe they might have been of Brahma and Vishnu. Limited traces of painting have been found in these chambers.

It was a peak summer afternoon. I was sitting on the cool, volcanic basaltic stones, with not a single human soul around me. Around 200 metres away were two cows, oblivious to my presence. I started climbing the boulders, hoping to figure out the entrance of the other two caves. Solitude gives rise to thoughts; unstoppable and infinite. “What if a snake glided its way through the rocks? As a consequence, what if I rolled down? How would anyone trace me up here? Would I be found by someone, who like me, would want to flip through the pages of history some day and reach Mamandur?” I put aside all these thoughts and continued climbing, looking back and forth at the ground and the cows. When I reached a considerable height, I saw a cave-like structure to my right below. This meant I would have to go down again and the climb had been futile. The calm and serene atmosphere superseded the debilitating heat of the sun, and I chose to sit back for a while before I headed down again for cave number three.

The largest of the four is cave number three, which stands on five pillars and two pilasters. Staircases in front of the platforms lead one to the paintings on the back wall of the cave. All the cells are empty, and asymmetrical works suggest its incomplete nature. A well-defined boulder staircase leads to cave number four, which is the southern-most cave on the hill and the smallest. The pillars are left unfinished. The front façade is cut almost three feet deep inside. Perhaps, the plan was to excavate a three-shrine cave, as the left cubical blocks on the back wall reflect such ideas. But cracks on the roof give evidence of the heavy load and why the work might have been stopped.

The charm of the site is that the caves are unfinished, and therefore, give ample scope for imagination. . I thought of king Mahendravarman on his chariot driven by majestic horses, passing by, with his minister reporting to him on the progress of the work and I pictured the labourers being rewarded for their work that's well done.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 7:13:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/a-wellcarvedout-weekend-plan/article7665020.ece

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