Sculpture of the descent of the Ganges, Mamallapuram
Medium: Pen and ink on paper
Pen and ink drawing of the sculpture of the descent of the Ganges at Mamallapuram, from the Mackenzie Collection, c. 1780-1820. Inscribed on front in ink: 'Ancient Sculptures on the Rocks at Mavelliporum'; on back in ink: 'No.' '7. Mavellepoorum.'
Colin MacKenzie (1754-1821) joined the East India Company as an engineer at the age of 28 and spent the majority of his career in India. He used the salary he earned from his military career as a captain, major and finally a colonel to finance his research into the history and religion of Indian culture. During his surveys he collected and recorded details concerning every aspect of Indian architecture, language and religion, resulting in thousands of drawings and copies of inscriptions. 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 group of temples, a series of rock-cut caves and monolithic sculptures that were most likely created in the 7th century reign of Narasimhavarman Mahamalla. This remarkable relief is carved with great naturalism on two large boulders. The scene has been interpreted as Arjuna's Penance. Arjuna can be seen standing on one foot while Shiva is holding the magic weapon he hopes to obtain. The cleft in the rock covered with nagas (serpent deities) over which water used to flow could also represent the myth of the descent of the celestial river Ganga to the earth, flowing through the matted hair of Shiva with all the animals and beings watching the miracle.