Most of the great stonework in Mamallapuram is monolithic, carved out of one giant stone rather than a construction. Arjuna’s Penance is considered the great masterpiece of Mahabs; it is a giant relief carving also regarded as one of the greatest works of ancient art in India. Carved on a huge boulder, it is full of mythical Hindu scenes and everyday life. This art was formed from the rock in the 7th century during the reign of the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I – his nickname was Mamalla which means Great Westler and give the town its name.
To the left you can see Arjuna performing self-mortification by fasting and standing on one leg, so that the four-armed Shiva will grant him a powerful god-slaying weapon.
Here in the center of the work are nagas (snake-beings) descending a cleft in the rock that was once filled with water, representing the Ganges River. The sun god, with an orb behind his head, looks down from the upper right. The temple on the lower left below Arjuna is a Vishnu temple – the mythical ancestor of the Pallava kings.