Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Five Panch Ratha Temples of Mahabalipuram

Located in a sandy area are the ratha temples. Derived from the word chariots, the rathas were processional chariots – vehicles for the gods. They were named after the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharata and queen Draupadi. Four out of the five rathas were carved out of a single rock, with the last smaller one scooped out of a rock. Each was dedicated to a god or goddess. Like many of the sculptures in Mahabalipuram, these pieces were unfinished. Chisel marks were visible particularly in the wide flat areas. Were these also unfinished or simply a texture the workers decided to leave? The Bhima Ratha and Dharmaraja Ratha buildings were particularly impressive, with imposing multi-storeyed layers, a barrel-vaulted or octagonal domed roof, and sculpted panels. A large sculpture of an elephant, standing lion, and unfinished Nandi (bull) also adorns the grounds. These temples were built from around 630-670 AD. One of the two main sites that required showing an admissions ticket, there were quite a number of people there, both Indian and foreigners. Trying to get a photo shot without people was extremely difficult, so I took advantage and used them to provide a sense of scale against these ancient sculptures.

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