Arjuna's Penance Bas-Reliefs (carved 7th century)
These bas-reliefs, carved in the 7th century, are among the largest in the world. Completely covering two huge boulders 27 meters long and 9 meters high, the reliefs depict the flow of the Ganges down from the Himalaya mountains as described in the Panchatantra. The story is a flood myth like the tale of Noah, but differs in its cast of characters. Legend says that King Bhagirath brought down the Ganges from Heaven to purify the souls of his ancestors. His plan went awry when he realized that the flood would innundate the earth, so he had to undergo a penance to convince Shiva to intervene, who came down to earth and let the flood trickle through his hair, dispersing the waters safely in innumerable streams all over the world. This strange sight aroused the curiousity of the world's animals, who gathered round the soaking God.
The cleft in the two rocks is perhaps the most famous part of the mural. It depicts the descent of Shiva from heaven through the colossal waterfall. The ruins of a stone water tank above the rocks support this interpretation. As for the rest of the mural, it depicts Indian village life in the 7th century, with carvings of scenes from daily life.
To the left of the bas-relief is a small cave temple called Pancha Pandava Mandapa.
The approximate location of the temple is 12.617807' N, 80.192618' E (WGS 84 map datum).
All images copyright 2001 Robert D. Fiala, Professor at Concordia University, Nebraska; John Merrill; April Clark
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Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977. New York
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Phaidon Press, Limited, 1990. Singapore