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arjuna's penance overview

#3 of 25 Places To Visit in Mahabalipuram
arjuna's penance
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Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
All days of the week
9:00 AM - 8:00 PM

about arjuna's penance

Quintessentially an Indian aspect, there is a 96 feet long and 43 feet wide humongous open air relief in Mahabalipuram, classified a World Heritage site, with every millimetre of the monolithic rock carved intricately with scenes and characters that no one has been able to make up their mind about. Believed by some to narrate the tale of river Ganges descent from heavens, the other interpretation leans more towards the story of Arjuna’s Penance in Mahabalipuram in order to seek a boon from Lord Shiva.

Made on a scale of grandeur and symbolic significance that immediately points to its Pallavan origins, the relief is divided into two halves by a natural cleft. To the left is the disputed figure of a man standing on one leg, arms upraised and standing behind him is Lord Shiva. Considered to be either King Bhagiratha doing tapasya to bring River Ganges to Earth or Arjuna doing penance in order to seek Pasupata, Lord Shiva’s most powerful weapon, to fight the epic war of Mahabharata.

Surrounding the figure are scenes and depictions of mythological characters, creatures, celestial world with practically life-sized bas-reliefs of elephants and their calves lyrically carved into the monolithic rock in immortalized narration.

Arjuna’s Penance in Mahabalipuram is considered the largest open-air bas-relief in the world. Carved on the side of a cliff is an elaborate depiction of one of the scenes from the Mahabharata — Arjuna doing penance to obtain a special weapon for the Kurukshetra war. The 30m x 12m carved area is split into two by a fissure that depicts a river. It is also believed to be Bhagirath’s Penance, depicting how the sage’s austerities made the divine river Ganges descend to earth. It is believed that in the Pallava times, water flowed down this crack into the tank below. Animals and supernatural creatures are carved around Arjuna, and sculptures of gods Shiva and Vishnu.

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Arjuna's Penance traveller reviews

2 Arjuna's Penance reviews
Vani Boppana
Vani Boppana
Different kind of beauty
Jun 22 2014
This is a part of the UNESCO site, Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram different from the others. Unlike the "Five Rathas," here you find rock reliefs that illustrate the Descent of the Ganges. Apparently a wise king begged Siva to force th ...... read more
Bhaskar Bhargav
Bhaskar Bhargav
Arjuna's Penance
Jun 19 2014
This bas-relief with life-size images from a mythical story adorns a huge rock. I am stunned by the art and theme. The carving has figures of Gods, semi divine creatures, beasts, birds and animals like elephants and monkeys. The figures engraved on t ...... read more