The Rathas of Mahabalipuram

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Rathas of Mahabalipuram Each rock-cut architecture has two forms - mandapas and rathas. A mandapa is an open pavilion, a hall with cells in the back wall . The exterior presents a fašade formed by a row of pillars, each pillar with an average height of two metres. The mandapa is cut out of a single piece of rock. A rathas normally means a chariot for the conveyance of the deity during a procession. But in this case it refers to a series of monolithic shrines which are modeled after the wooden structure in granite.

The second variety of the rock-cut architecture is found in the rathas of Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is about 60 Kms. south of the city of Madras, in Tamil Nadu. These rathas were built by the Pallava king Narsimha (625-645 A.D.). They are small temples, each of which is carved out of a small piece of rock.

There are eight rathas at Mahabalipuram out of which five are named after the five Pandavas of Mahabharata and one after Draupadi. They are constructed on the style of the Buddhist viharas and chaityas. The Dharmaraja ratha is the largest. The Draupadi ratha is the smallest.

The Dharmaraja ratha can be taken as typical. The base of the ratha is supported by figures of a lion alternating with an elephant. Their attitudes suggest that they are bearers of a heavy burden. Its base is square and it rises to 13 metres as a pyramid. It has three tiers and a small stupa on top of the spire. The columns at the entrance bear sculptures of lions which support the shafts. In brief, special features of the rathas are:

  1. Each of them is carved from a simple rock. They are monolithic in structure.
  2. They are similar to Buddhist viharas and chaityas.
  3. They are pyramidal in shape.
  4. Men and Gods are tastefully carved.

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