A memorable trip

August 8, 2010

It is about 6 months since I joined Ponniyinselvan group at yahoogroups. Kalki’s “Ponniyinselvan” is an excellent historical novel. It has inspired thousands of people to take keen interest in history of Cholas. This group was formed by such people, to discuss anything and everything about the novel. However, it has grown to  discuss everything about history,culture and architecture  of Tamil Nadu. The  discussions are scholarly and very informative .

On 19th June 2010, on behalf of this group a tour was arranged  – mainly to learn how cave temples have evolved in Tamil Nadu – specificaly Pallava.   Unlike normal visits, with people from this group, I had to look differently at the temples – look for sculpture, architecture and history. We visited four places Singavarm,Dhalavanur,Mandagapattu and Panamalai in that order. To understand how sculpting was evolved, we should look  in this order -Mandagapattu,Dhalavanur,Singavaram and Panamalai – being the chronological order of excavation.


Mandagapattu is the first cave temple excavated by Mahendravarman. It is about 15kms from Villupuram. Amidst beautiful surrounding overlooking a small lake this cave is excavated. It is named Laksitayatna. Here is an inscription by Mahendravarman stating that he exacavated this without using brick,mortar,wood or metal – probably meaning first usage of stones. The fact that it is the first experiment is very clearly visible in the finish. It is a temple for trinity- Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Here we see that pillars are very thick, lack ornamentation. Pilasters are also big. The learning of a new thing is clearly visible, especially on the dwarapalakas. The one on the right (of the temple) is left unfinished – the foot not sculpted. The head is slightly disproportinate, headgear little out of place. Similarly the left dwarapalaka also has unfinished foot. Inspite of this, the dwarapalakas are very lively, especially the one on the left. He stands cheerfully, with a pose something similar to some modern day ads featuring kids. A snap I took

Here is the link to Shaswath photo gallery featuring the dwarapalakas – Click here.


Dhalavanur is also situated near Senji and Villupuram. This is again a cave temple excavated by Mahendravarman-I. It is situated amidst a picturesque location. Unlike other cave temples, here we have to turn left on entering to see the main deity – here Shiva. This place is called Shatrumalleswaraalayam. We can clearly see the experimentation that was going on in building cave temples. The new technology being mastered, with experience. The vast improvent over Mandagapattu. The thing I liked most about this place is the dwarapalakas-door guardians. They are very jovial and friendly- unlike later days one, where they were mostly strict,enormous and frightening. Look here how cheerful they are, simply waving their hand.

Dhalavanur also has a ‘Samanar padugai’ atop this cave temple.  Here it is


The first place we visited was Singapuram which is about 10km away from Senji .  This cave temple signifies next stage in learning. Here Lord Ranganatha resides on a hill temple. The image of Lord  Ranganatha  here is the largest – bigger than Thirumayyam and Srirangam.

The temple is atop a slightly steep hill with recently laid good steps.  It is indeed a pictureque place.  This temple has too many later date addition which masks cave temple nature. Many of the later day additions are really poor work compared with original. Looking for actual rock-cut images we should see the Kottravai and Ranganathaswamy. Kottravai is unfortunately partly hidden behind later day addition of thayar sannidhi. However, inspite of this, she is exceedingly beautiful. Here is the link from Arvind’s album.

The main deity Lord Ranganatha is enormous and imposing. Largest of all Ranganathas. Lakshmi at vatsathala, unlike other places is sculputed as a full image.  It is said the urchava murthi of Srirangam was kept here for sometime during invasion of Malikkapur. A snap I took is


Panamalai is again in the Senji-Villupuram belt. Here is a stone temple – stated to be the first- built by Rajasimha. This temple is atop a hill surrounded by scenic paddy fields. The shrine known as Talagirisvara is for Lord Shiva. It has Pallava trade mark ‘Somaskantha panel’. It has serveral ornamentally written sanskrit inscription.  It still retains a small piece of original mural on one of the smaller shrine on the left. Even after 1300 years, the paintings – however vandalised – are beautiful. Unfortunately I do not have a worthy camera to capture them. The beautiful eyes of the women tell a tale. The design pattern on the dress is excellent. Have a look at Shswath and Arvind album. Some snaps from me

One curse of this nation is – lack of maintenance of heritage sites. Vandalisation of the sites – by writing names, telephone numbers etc is a criminal act, should be punished immediately. We need to inculcate pride in ourselves about the rich heritage we have.

The trip was very informative to newbies like me. I could understand lot about our architectural heritage. Mr.Vijay who blogs at poetryinstone.in and Mr.Arvind Venkaraman (whose album I have linked above) has helped us a lot to learn. Many thank to PSVP. If interested visit the groups public site here.