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Detail from Arjuna’s Penance/Descent of the Ganges sculpture showing seated ascetic next to a shrine. ‘Sculptured figure of Dron Achari at Mahabalipooram

Detail from Arjuna’s Penance/Descent of the Ganges sculpture showing seated ascetic next to a shrine. ‘Sculptured figure of Dron Achari at Mahabalipooram

Artist: Anonymous

Medium: Pen and ink on paper

Date: 1816

Shelfmark: WD.1068

Item number: f.18

Length: 48.2

Width: 28

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Drawing

Pen and ink drawing of a detail of the Arjuna's Penance relief sculpture at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, by an anonymous artist, from an Album of 37 drawings of the temples and sculptures at Mamallapuram, also plans of the site, dated 1816.

Mamallapuram, a tiny village south of Chennai (Madras), was a flourishing port of the Pallava dynasty from the 5th - 8th centuries. The site is famous for a series of rock-cut caves and some monolithic sculptures created in the 7th century reign of Narasimhavarman Mahamalla. This drawing depicts a figure of ascetic from the relief carving of Arjuna's Penance. Covering two huge boulders, 27 m long and 9 m high, is a remarkable carving in low relief where scholarly analysis has allowed for two interpretations of subject-matter. One theory views this as Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers in the Hindu epic Mahabharata who underwent penances while praying to receive a magic weapon from the god Shiva. Another theory views this as the sage Bhagiratha who underwent penances while praying to Shiva to catch the river Ganga in his matted locks as she descended to earth, with all the animals and myriad beings watching the miracle.

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