Arjuna's Penance

Arjuna's Penance is also known as the Descent of the Ganges. It is a monument located in Mamallapuram, near the Coromandel Coast. Arjuna's Penance has a history that hails from the 7th century. This was when the Pallava Dynasty built several monuments and temples. Arjuna's Penance is a huge structure that spans across 96 feet by 43 feet in size. The open air monument comprises of two co-joined rock boulders. It is famous for its mythical connections and legendary stories. Many believe that water from the Descent of Ganges has super natural powers. The beautiful stone scupltures have a history that traces back to early Pallava Dynasty. Currently, the Arjuna's Penance is recorded in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Monuments in Mamallapuram


Location of Arjuna's Penance


The beautiful Arjuna's Penance faces the sea and is extremely close to the Shore Temple. It is around 32 km from Chengalpat and 58 km from Chennai. The place is well connected with various cities and towns via road.

Fables of Arjuna's Penance


Many stories revolve round the rock which describes the great acts of many Mahabharat characters. One of the most important characters of Mahaharat is Arjuna. He was third of the Pandavas and known to be very skilled and powerful. He destroyed his enemies to get Shiva's weapon. The story behind this battle is described neatly in the Arjuna's Penance.

Secondly, the monument has inscription to show how King Bhagiratha did a penance to bring down waters from heaven to cleanse the souls of his long lost ancestors. History states that King Bhagiratha's prayers were answered by Lord Shiva and the Ganges was sent down. Moving on, it is believed that waters trickled slowly through his hair to reduce its impact on earth. Lots of animals gathered around the place to witness this miraculous occasion. Carvings on Arjuna's Penance describes both these stories in a flawless and interesting manner. Apart from these two major stories, there are carvings to describe many other fables from the Panchatantra books.

Arjuna's penance


Architecture of Arjuna's Penance


There are many sculpted figures in Arjuna's Penance. The natural and lively nature of the monument is proved by these sculptures. There are more than 100 different images, animals and creatures in the giant structure. This mainly includes elephants, saints and human beings. The figures in Arjuna's penance would either have its hands folded or would be facing one another.

There are many snakes (Nagas) held together and worshiping Lord Shiva in an adorable manner. The lower left portion of the Arjuna's Penance is more or less uncarved. The portion showcases a mountain that represents the adobe of Himalayas.

Another interesting portion of Arjuna's Penance is the carvings of Lord Vishnu. The lower side of the temple has close resemblance to Draupadi Ratha. Nevertheless, the corners are decorated beautifully with flowers and human faces. On the floor you will see lion motifs being carved.

One of the most impressive and interesting carvings in Arjuna's Penance is the life sized elephants taking care of its little ones. The elephant hails from the Hindu Panchathatra fables. You will need a day or two to analyze all these stories completely.

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