5 Rathas

Last on the list of Mamallapuram historical sites that I will share with you are the 5 Rathas. “Ratha” is a word meaning chariot, and this group of monoliths (each was carved from a single boulder) is known as the five chariots of the Pandavas. Dating from the 7th century AD, carving was always executed from top to bottom so that the artists could work without fear of damaging anything below. The general consensus amongst historians is that these structures were never used for worship, but were a kind of showcase for the local artists. Keep in mind that Mamallapuram was a major seaport in its day; the stone artisans of the village had an abundant customer base from around the world to sell their crafts.

Note the life-sized elephant between the rathas. Behind the elephant is Draupadi, which is unique in terms of rock-cut architecture because of a roof that appears to based on a straw-thatched hut.5R1

The farthest and tallest ratha is the pyramidal Dharmaraja, named after the eldest Pandava. Next to it, in the middle of the photo, is the Bhima ratha. The largest of the group, it is the least complete. Devoid of carved figures, the upper stories (like the Dharmaraja) feature false windows and repeated pavilion-type ornamentation.5R25R35R4

This is an unfinished sculpture of Shiva’s bull Nandi.5R5


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