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Animals crowding in to admire Arjuna performing Penance [Mamallapuram]

Animals crowding in to admire Arjuna performing Penance [Mamallapuram]

Photographer: Unknown

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1885

Shelfmark: Photo 807/1(20)

Item number: 807120

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of Arjuna's Penance, Mamallapuram, taken by an unknown photographer in the 1880s. This remarkable relief carving dates from the mid- 7th Century in the Pallava period. Mamallapuram derives its name from the title 'Mahamalla' or Great Wrestler of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (r.c.630-668). Covering two huge boulders 27 m long and 9 m high, this remarkable carving in low relief is called Arjuna's Penance or 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. 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. Originally water flowed along a central cleft with naga figures.

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