Tuesday, May 03, 2005


A newly revealed Tamil inscription confirms the origins of an unearthed Mamallapuram temple


April 29, 2005

With the Shore Temple in the distance, the excavated garbha griha.

CHENNAI: In a significant development in archaeological terms, a fragmented stone inscription in Tamil, from the eighth century A.D., was this week found in the excavated depth of the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) of a collapsed temple close to the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram, not far from here. In February 2005, in the wake of the tsunami-driven waves that hit the coast on December 26, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had discovered the remains of a massive temple on the beach, a few hundred metres south of the Shore Temple. The inscription in Tamil with eight characters reads cika malla eti... ma. It evidently formed part of a larger inscription but the stone is broken.

T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, called the discovery of the inscription "an encouraging find.'' He said: "The inscription puts the final stamp that it was a Pallava temple.'' Besides, it has Pallava palaeography.

The Tamil word malla was an oft-repeated title used by Pallava kings, said S. Rajavelu, Epigraphist, ASI. It meant a great warrior. For instance, the Pallava king Mahendravarman had the title " Chatru malla" (the warrior who defeats enemies). Narasimhavarman I was called "Mamalla," that is, the great wrestler. "Eti" was also a title used by the Pallavas, added Mr. Rajavelu.

In this instance, the words "cika malla eti" could be an individual's name, he said.

According to Mr. Satyamurthy, "what is interesting is that there are no inscriptions in Tamil from the 8th century in the Shore Temple.'' But there was an inscription in Tamil, belonging to Raja Raja Chola, on the floor just outside the Shore Temple. That Tamil inscription was from the 11th century A.D. (by which time Pallava rule had ended). The majestic monuments at Mamallapuram including the Shore Temple and the long bas-relief structures were built during the 7th and 8th century by the Pallava kings.

A lion in sandstone, proving that the temple belonged to the Pallava period. — Photos: R. Ragu

The Pallavas ruled from 3rd to 9th century with their capital at Kancheepuram. The monuments at Mamallapuram were authored by Narasimhavarman I, Paramesvaravarman and Narasimhavarman II. Narasimhavarman I is credited with having created the monolithic rathas (stone chariots). The shore temple was built by Narasimhavarman II and UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Monument.

Besides the 8th century Tamil inscription, other artefacts unearthed from the ruins of the collapsed temple point to its having been being built by the Pallava kings. They include a sculpture made of sand-stone, probably depicting Narasimhavarman I; a sitting lion sculpture, typical of the period of Narasimhavarman I; and the carving of a human face on an architectural member of the vimana of the collapsed temple, also belonging to Narasimhavarman I.

K.T. Narasimhan, Superintending Archaeologist, Temple Survey Project, Southern Region, ASI, said the sand-stone sculpture, found broken in two, was probably that of Narasimhavarman I. It depicted a human face, a sacred thread, and a kreeta (crown). There was a similar sculpture in the southwestern corner of the Dharmaraja Ratha at Mamallapuram and it was that of Narasimhavarman I. "The kreeta and the sacred thread show it was Narasimhavarman I," said Mr. Narasimhan.

Why did this temple collapse, while the adjacent Shore Temple, built on a bedrock, survived? Alok Tripathi, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, heading the excavation, said the temple had been built purely on beach sand. "There was subsidence because it was not hard ground and the temple (the vimana above the sanctum) tilted to the south.

That is why you find all architectural members, particularly belonging to the superstructure including kalashas and the shikaras lying on the southern side," Mr. Tripathi said.
The temple had no special provision such as a bed or a flooring to distribute its weight. The heavy structure on the soft ground on the sandy beach was a recipe to its collapse.

The temple was dedicated to Siva, said G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI. A sand-stone sculpture portraying Surya, the sun god, showed it to be so. The sculpture of a sitting lion, the carving of a human face on an architectural member of the vimana, the fallen fluted architectural members and so on, offered evidence that the temple belonged to the Pallava period, Mr. Thirumoorthy asserted. He pointed out that lime paste had been applied on the lion and it was painted too, akin to the lion sculptures found at Kailasanatha temple at Kancheepuram, which is situatued not far from Mamallapuram.


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