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Arjuna's Penance, Seven Pagodas [Mamallapuram]

Arjuna's Penance, Seven Pagodas [Mamallapuram]

Photographer: Nicholas and Company

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1880

Shelfmark: Photo 472/1(22)

Item number: 472122

Genre: Photograph

Photograph by Nicholas and Co. taken in ca. 1880, showing the sculptural frieze known as Arjuna's Penance at Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) in Tamil Nadu. Mamallapuram derives its name from the title 'Mahamalla' or Great Wrestler of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (ruled 630-about 668 AD). Covering two huge boulders 27 ms long and 9 ms high, this remarkable carving in low relief is alternatively called The Descent of the Ganga. Scholarly analysis allows for both interpretations of the subject-matter of the sculpture which is considered above all to be an eulogy through mythology of Narasimhavarman I, its probable patron. Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers in the Hindu epic Mahabharata underwent penances while praying to receive a magic weapon from the god Shiva. The sage Bhagiratha also underwent penances while praying to Shiva to catch the river Ganga in his matted locks as she descended to earth, all the animals and myriad beings watching the miracle. Originally water flowed along a central cleft with naga figures.

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