Arjuna's Penance and Descent of Ganges


BY: SUN STAFF - 14.10 2021

At Mamallaparuam, in Tamil Nadu stands a remarkable rock sculpture known as "Arjuna's Penance". This massive sculpted relief is carved into two huge boulders, and is one of the biggest open-air rock sculptures in the world.

The rock face is carved in bas-relief panorama along a surface 31 m. long and 9 m. high. The rock surface is richly sculpted with detailed carvings that depict Arjuna's penance. Lord Shiva and the demigods are in attendance, and many dozens of other divine personalities, animals, and creatures standing by.

All of the figures carved into the rock wall are either facing or approaching the large fissure that separates the two boulders. Offering obeisances, they face the great cleft between the rocks, which is understood to represent the descent of the River Ganga, which was beseeched to come to Earth by King Bhagiratha, who wished to redeem the fallen conditioned souls among his ancestors.

To the left side is an austere temple, beside which stands the four-armed Lord Shiva. A prominent Naga is centered in the cleft, and various Nagas, apsaras and gandarvas are flying nearby. Two large elephants dominate the scene.

Arjuna is seen standing on one leg, performing penance in order to obtain a boon from Lord Shiva. Many devotees stand nearby observing, and a family of monkeys is beautifully carved to one side. A delightfully amusing scene is also included of a cat standing in penance, just as Arjuna is doing. At his feet, various rats are playing in an attempt to agitate the cat's mind. The feline tapasvi stands firm.