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Ratha Temples (built 7th century)

The 'Ratha' cave temples, commonly called the Pancha Pandava ratha (the five chariots of the Pandavas), are a stylistic anomaly marking the point of transition between the earlier tradition of rock-carved cave temples and the later tradition of freestanding stone structures, of the type seen at the nearby Shore Temple. Carved in the 7th century by the Pallava kings, the Ratha temples are an attempt to imitate free-standing stone construction in the living rock, with not unsatisfactory results. The structural detailing of the Ratha temples carefully imitates wooden timber supports, pilasters, beams, and brackets, though of course none are necessary in stone. Because each temple is carved from a single piece of living rock, the Rathas are in a suburb state of preservation and many of their carvings are as fresh today as they were 1,300 years ago.

The Arjuna and Draupadi rathas, facing west, are dedicated to Shiva and Durga respectively. The one-storey Draupadi has an interesting thatch-like roof with imitation posts and beams. The whole looks as if it could be rendered as effortlessly in timber. The largest of the series is the unfinished three-storey Dharmaraja Ratha.

Plan of Ratha temples

Click on any of the red arrows to view that location.
Image adapted from "The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India" by George Michell


The approximate location of the temple is 12.608904' N, 80.189562' E (WGS 84 map datum).


All images copyright 2001 Robert D. Fiala, Professor at Concordia University, Nebraska; John Merrill; April Clark

Michell, George. The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Meaning and Forms
  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977. New York

Tadgell, Christopher The History of Architecture in India
  Phaidon Press, Limited, 1990. Singapore

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