Skip navigation
Skip navigation

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

This item is provided for research purposes. Contact the Australian National University Archives at for permission to use.

Download (16.58 MB)

dc.contributor.authorPhotographer: Basham, Arthur Llewellyn
dc.coverage.spatialIndia (Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu) 1970s
dc.identifierANUA 682-1789
dc.descriptionThis 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
dc.descriptionnamely, 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.
dc.format.mediummounted transparency
dc.relation.ispartofseriesBasham Collection
dc.subjectPallava-- Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) - Pallava
dc.subjectstone sculpture
dc.subjectslide set
dc.titleMahabalipuram (Mamallapuram). Bas-relief of Arjuna's Penance (Descent of the Ganges)
dc.provenanceDigitised by the Australian National University in 2019
dc.rights.licenseThis item is provided for research purposes. Contact the Australian National University Archives at for permission to use.
CollectionsArthur Llewellyn Basham


File Description SizeFormat Image
ANUA_682_1789.tif16.58 MBTIFFThumbnail

Items in Open Research are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.

Updated:  19 May 2020/ Responsible Officer:  University Librarian/ Page Contact:  Library Systems & Web Coordinator