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Arjunas Penance, Mahabalipuram

Arjunas Penance Overview

Arjuna's Penance, perhaps the world's largest bas-relief, is the universe itself in stone, throbbing with a vastness of conception. Legend has it that King Bhagiratha had to bring down to earth the celestial Ganga to sanctify and redeem the cursed souls of his ancestors. But the river in its torrential spree would deluge the earth, and so he had to undergo a penance to propitiate Shiva who finally received the flood in his matted locks and let it flow down. This was a sight for the world's creatures to see and they gathered round. The cleft in the rock depicts the descent of Ganga, a theory supported by the ruins of a stone water tank on the hill. There is a forest with tribal people and all forms of fauna, just as they would appear in their habitat. Women clothed in an aura of amazing grace, a rich inner beauty transfiguring the plainest of them. The whole scene has a dimension of humor too! Juxtapositioned against the ascetic is a cat doing rigorous penance too, eyes firmly shut, even to the delectable mice scampering around within easy reach. A concord of lexeme on the rocks of history Arjuna's Penance has the magically sculpted scene, which opens the doors of cosmic imagination for man it has over 100 figures of gods and celestial creatures, birds and beasts, man and saint. All these figures are carved either facing or approaching the fissure and generally with hands folded in reverence. Legends associated with the monument The cleft in the rock depicts the descent of River Ganga (also known as Ganges), brought to earth by King Bhagiratha to redeem the cursed souls of his ancestors. On the left side of the fissure can be seen a simple temple which contains a four-armed deity, probably Shiva. The fissure is sculptured with Nagas. Above the fissure and on either side of it are flying figures of Gods and below are some sculptures of animals of which giant elephants are the most impressive and are considered to be the noblest creations of the human mind. Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers and a consummate archer, is shown standing on one leg, doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Shiva. There is a forest with tribal people and all forms of animal life, just as they would appear in their habitat. Women are clothed in an aura of indescribable grace, a rich inner beauty transfiguring the plainest of them. The comic scene in the relief will amuse visitors where a cat is standing doing penance, while big and small rats are freely playing around the feline 'Tapaswi'.

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