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Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram). Bas-relief of Arjuna's Penance (Descent of the Ganges)

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CollectionsArthur Llewellyn Basham
Title: Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram). Bas-relief of Arjuna's Penance (Descent of the Ganges)
Author(s): Photographer: Arthur Llewellyn Basham
Keywords: Pallava-- Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) - Pallava;architecture;stone sculpture;slide set
Series/Report no.: Basham Collection
Description: This particular monument is perhaps the most often published of all Indian sculpture and dates to about the middle of the Pallava Period (Southern Dynasties), or 625-674 A.D. Like the Pandava Raths, also located at Mahabalipuram, the sculpture is carved from a huge granite boulder some twenty feet high but cut so as to take advantage of a natural cleft in the rock. This cleft catches and holds the spring rains, and when the rainy season begins, the collected water overflows and ripples down the face of the rock into a low-walled pool in front of it. These hydraulics are essential to the interpretation and character of the sculpture, for as the water runs down from the collecting pond, it shimmers over the individual figures and causes the entire surface to come alive with their movements. The effect suggests movement in the stone itself. A very important myth stands behind the program of decoration on the Mahabalipuram sculpture, usually identified as the Penance of Arjuna or the Descent of the Ganges. The myth is important in the first place because it expresses beautifully the aims of the Hindu sculptor in service to his religion, and in the second place for the specific story told: A petitioner, who by his austerity had gained wondrous powers, asked a favor from the Great Lord Siva
namely, to cause the waters of the Ganges, which only flowed over the heavens, to come down to earth in order to wash away the ashes of the dead that had made the earth unclean. Siva, knowing that the great river was too powerful to allow its descent all at once, invited the river to first fall on his head, whereafter it divided itself into seven tributaries formed by the locks of the god's hair and could safely descend to earth and wash away its impurities. There is a close correspondence between the purifying Ganges, which according to Hindu belief circulates in the universe of blood within every man, and the Great Lord Siva himself who, like a man's heart, circulates and gives rhythm to the life-source, purifying the very being of man. -- General view from left. 7th Century A.D.
Other Identifiers: ANUA 682-1789


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