The contribution of Pallavas to Rock-cut architecture

Perhaps no other empire has garnered appreciation for their contribution to rock-cut architecture as Pallavas. Some of the monuments created by Pallavas during their rule through rock excavation have garnered the worldwide admiration for its beauty and the skills displayed by the artists

The Pallavas were a powerful ancient dynasty that ruled a huge part of Southern India, including present day Tamil Nadu, between the 6th and 9th centuries AD, with Kanchipuram as their capital. They are credited with introducing the Dravidian style of temple architecture.

The first Pallava shrines were rock-cut cave temples. Gradually, these evolved to monolithic shrines carved out of huge rocks, and finally culminated in “structural temples” built from scratch.

Their contribution in realm of rock-cut architecture could be seen in Mahabalipuram. Some of these are highlighted below:

  • There are multiple rock cut shrines, they consist of cave-like verandahs or mandapas with rows of pillars.
  • Most of the pillars are embellished with carved lions at their bases, a signature feature found in almost all of Pallava architecture.
  • Detailed panels depict episodes from Hindu mythology, and niches inside the caves often house sculpted deities. The Varaha Mandapa in Mahabalipuram has stunning carvings that tell stories of Varaha, the avatar of Lord Vishnu in the form of a boar.
  • The Mahishamardini Mandapa is dedicated to Mahishamardini, a form of Goddess Durga, and the Trimurti Mandapa to the trinity of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.
  • The Krishna Mandapa is known for a magnificent panel called Govardhanadhari, portraying Lord Krishna holding up the mythical Govardhana hill to protect the people of his village from torrential rains.
A panel in Varaha mandapa, Mahabalipuram
Monolithic shrines, Mahabalipuram