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Atiranachanda Mandapam

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 12.6579 N 80.2097 E
No:45        (list of all attractions)
Categories:Hindu shrines, Rock-cut architecture
Values:Art, Architecture, History, Archaeology
Address:Asia, India, Tamil Nadu, south of Chennai, Kanchipuram district, 4.6 km north from Mahabalipuram town, in Salurankuppam (Saluvankuppam), just 180 m from the sea;
Alternate names:Rajasimha Mandapa, Atiranachanda-Pallavesvara-griham
Age:The late 7th century BC
Atiranachanda Mandapam near Mahabalipuram
Atiranachanda Mandapam / Liji Jinaraj, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although the somewhat peripheral Atiranachanda Mandapam is overshadowed by many other famous stone cut temples of Mahabalipuram, it has several qualities making this rock-cut Hindu temple unique.

Artwork in diorite

The unique monuments of Mahabalipuram were carved in diorite approximately 1200 - 1300 years ago, in the times of Pallava dynasty. Diorite is one of the hardest rocks - but ancient artisans shaped it with great proficiency. Mistakes were not allowed: work was done in live rock which in a case of unexpected notch could not be replaced with another block. They mastered many techniques, some are well known up to this day but some for sure are long forgotten. This was hard, loud, dusty and sophisticated work - but we may rest assured that these temples will survive for many thousands of years to come.

Three parts

The Atiranachanda Mandapam is rectangular in plan, with comparatively simple planning. It consists of three parts - forecourt (maha mandapam), verandah (artha mandapam) and a smaller garbagriha - sanctum sanctorum.

Forecourt contains sculpture of nandi and elongated lingam. One side of forecourt contains interesting artwork - Mahishasuramardini panel (see description below). Lingam under the open sky is unusual and unexplained feature.

Verandah is divided from the forecourt with two columns and two pilasters. In front of verandah there are two identical inscriptions in different writings - one in Pallava Grantha and another - in Devanagari (the oldest known Devanagari inscription in Indian subcontinent). Calligraphy of inscriptions is delightful. They refer to the temple as Atiranachanda-ishvara griha - some unknown Atiranachanda Pallava devoting this temple to Siva, Uma and Skanda. Name "Atiranachanda Pallava" was attributed both to Paramesvara I and his son Rajasimha. On the floor there is another inscription from Chola (Rajaraja I) times - it records the gift of 90 goats for a perpetual lamp in the temple - in this inscription the town is mentioned as Tiruvizhichchal.

Entrance in garbagriha is symbolically guarded by two dvarapalas with clubs in hands. This small cell houses Shiva-lingam. This sacred symbol os of rare form - this is dhara-linga. Dhara-linga is made of black, polished stone with angular sides and is characterised by impressive play of light. Lingam in Atiranachanda Mandapam has 16 edges.

Wall behind the lingam is adorned with sculpted relief which shows Shiva as Somaskanda, with his consort Uma and child Skanda. This sculptural group was typical in the art of Pallavas. In both sides of family stand Brahma and Vishnu. Depiction of Brahma is especially interesting - he is shown with three faces (Trimurti).

There are two more very similar sculptural groups of the same content in temple, what is an unusual detail. Earlier image from the late 19th century shows that in front of each panel there was standing lingam made of dark stone, nowadays only the central lingam in garbagriha remains. It is considered that all three lingams were added in later times.

Most likely this cave temple was made over a longer period of time, where during the reign of each Pallava were added details characteristic for each time.

Mahishasuramardini panel

This panel is approximately 1.8 m wide and 0.9 m high and shows Goddess Durga sitting on lion and slaying the demon-king Mahishasura. This is smaller than the similar and more famous panel in Mahishasura Mardini Cave.

Defeat of demopn is symbolised by the lack of umbrella over him and jubilant ganas around Durga. Durga herself has been depicted with success as beautiful women with pearl necklace and other adornments. Goddess has six hands.

Demon Mahishasura looks tired and defeated, with open mouth and wide nostrils. Unusual feature of this group is also some human-like figure running away.

Subrahmanya Temple

The terrible tsunami in late 2004 led to discovery of exciting monument - there was washed brick wall of hitherto unknown collapsed monument near Atiranachanda Mandapam. Already earlier there was found an inscription from times of Kulottunga III telling about a temple foor Subrahmanya. Further excavations led to discovery of inscriptions on two granite pillars and thus it was identified as the mentioned Subrahmanya Temple.

Just 150 - 200 m south from Atiranachanda Mandapam there is located another amazing monument of ancient art - Yali Mandapam or Tiger Cave.


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