Pancharatha – Pallava dynasty (7th century AD)


Indian art. In such a rich culture, how can I choose a specific artwork? But I had to, at least a first one, so here I am with the Pancharatha of Mahabalipuram.

The Pallava’s architecture joins the two kind of Indian architecture: excavated and built. The râtha, or the five chariots, have different styles of architecture and it is difficult to imagine them next to each other because of those differences (going from the most simple temple to the most complicated prototype dravidian temple). Those enormous granite blocs were carved there, no one moved them. This explains their proximity but no one can explain their differences. One hypothesis is that those blocs were used as models by architects. However, wooden models seem more practical. One possible explanation is that Mahabalipuram was the religious center of the Pallava. Their kings wanted to reunite in one place all the temples built on their territory but which were in perishable materials.

The ratha belong to several architecture types, and all of them are very well defined. We can conclude that these are not experiments, but copies of existing temples. People gave them the names of the five Pandava’s brothers from the Mahabharat, and of their wide Draupadi. There are also animals carved in the granite. Usually, Indian temples open on the East but here four of the temples open on the West and one on the South (associated with death). All the ratha are small and unfinished. Two temples seem closer to completion than the others, and they are the ones on the North.

The Draupadi temple was made for Durga, and behind it a lion was carved since the lion is her animal. The second one was probably made for Shiva. Next to the temple, we can find the bull Nandin, Shiva’s animal. The third temple was not completed, because there is fault in the rock.  It might be for Vishnu, as its dimensions would have allowed the god to be shown lying down on the snake Ananta. The fourth temple is the Paramadia’s ratha and is a shivaite temple. The fifth and last temple is the Nakula and Sahadeva’s ratha. There is an elephant not far away, and it is the animal of Indra. But no other clues, not even iconographic, allow us to say that this ratha was dedicated to Indra.

As you can see, those ratha raise a lot of question and no one knows if we’ll find answer to them, but that’s also the beauty of it. I just think they are beautiful and they are technically impressive, even if Indians are really good in excavated architecture. Here are some closer pictures to give you a better idea of all the work behind this.

                      a b c

                         d e


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