15.04.2014 - 16.04.2014
Our last stop turned out to be one of the best in terms of ruins, particularly the almost 3D reliefs carved out of rock.
"Founded in the 7th century by the Pallavas sovereigns south of Madras, the harbour of Mahabalipuram traded with the distant kingdoms of South-East Asia: Kambuja (Cambodia) and Shrivijaya (Malaysia, Sumatra, Java) and with the empire of Champa (Annam). But the fame of its role as a harbour has been transferred to its rock sanctuaries and Brahmin temples which were constructed or decorated at Mahabalipuram between 630 and 728." http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/249
Our original intent was to go to the ruins yesterday after we arrived, but the heat acted as a soporific, and we fell asleep until 6 PM. By then, it was too dark. We awoke early the next morning, and got there before the heat of mid-day. Considering their age, they are in pristine condition, and in many respects, they are the equal of anything we have seen thus far. The shallow caves are carved out of solid rock, as are the relief figures of Hindu Gods, animals, demons, etc. And to think that they did it all with hammers and chisels.
Arjuna's penance, was the most incredible of the lot. It is described as follows:
"This magnificent relief, carved in the mid-seventh century, measures approximately 30m (100ft) long by 15m (45ft) high. The subject is either Arjuna's Penance or the Descent of the Ganges, or possibly both. In additive cultures like India's, logical alternatives are often conceptualized as "both-and" rather than "either-or."
Arjuna's Penance is a story from the Mahabharata of how Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, performed severe austerities in order to obtain Shiva's weapon. The idea, which pervades Hindu philosophy, is that one could obtain, by self-mortification, enough power even to overcome the gods. In order to protect themselves, the gods would grant the petition of any ascetic who threatened their supremacy in this way - a kind of spiritual blackmail, or "give to get." (This meaning of the word "penance," by the way, is specific to Hinduism. Unlike the Catholic rite of penance, it is performed to gain power, not to expiate sin.)" (www.art-and-archaeology.com/india/mamallapuram/ap01.html)
I found this explanation quite interesting, assuming you can believe the internet
"The Ganges story is of the same kind, in which the sage Bhagiratha performs austerities in order to bring the Ganges down to earth. Shiva had to consent to break her fall in his hair, because otherwise its force would be too great for the earth to contain.
The symbolism of the relief supports either story. Furthermore, both stories were interpreted in a manner flattering to the Pallavas; the heroic Arjuna as a symbol of the rulers, and the Ganges as a symbol of their purifying power."
It was impossible to capture the whole relief with my camera. Here are some details.
The rock sanctuaries were also impressive. And they too had intricate bas reliefs.
There were still other temples and statues.
As well as Krishna's butterball.
Mahabalipuram is still home to many rock carvers, who sell ornate, and often huge rock statues. Of course they have the benefit of electric tools, but perhaps they are related to the ancient Pallavas? The shopkeepers on the other hand, all seem to be Kashmiris. Like the Chinese, they are the businessmen. They come down for the winter and spring months, and most will head back up in the next few weeks, as will I. We considered buying a large statue of Shiva and Parvati dancing together, but we don't really have a place to put it, and so we opted for a much smaller one of Parvati.
The town at sunset, from a rooftop beer garden
Our trip is rapidly winding to a close, at least Nanette's portion of it. Tomorrow we taxi to Madras (Chennai), and then fly to Mumbai, where Nanette flies back home after lunch with Pramilla. I will stay the night and then fly on to Srinigar in Kashmir, to meet Tashi. The next part of the journey promises to be very different than the first half, as well as much cooler, which I am really looking forward to.