Arjuna's Penance

Arjuna's Penance Mahabalipuram

Arjuna’s Penance is one of the magnificent monuments of Mahabalipuram. This wonderful bas air relief dates back to the mid-seventh century. Standing tall at a height of 43 feet, the monolith was carved on the face of two huge adjoining boulders, making its length around 96 feet. The majestic structure cannot be made out in photographs, it deserves to be praised by one’s own eyes. The subject of the massive structure is either Arjuna's Penance or the Descent of the Ganges, or possibly both. Historians and experts of archeology have never settled on one account as there are not sufficient sources or records.

‘Arjuna's Penance’ is an extract from the Mahabharata, of how Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, performed severe austerities in order to obtain Shiva's weapon. The concept of the story encompasses Hindu philosophy where it is believed that one could by penance, self-mortification, attain miraculous blessings from the Gods. The ‘Descent of Ganges’ story narrates the penance of Bhagirathi who performed austerities in order to bring Goddess Ganges down to earth. Lord Shiva consented to break the force of the descent of the river his hair, because otherwise the force would be too great for the earth to contain. The representation of the megalith relief supports either legend.

The composition of the relief includes scenes of the natural and celestial worlds. A natural cleft populated by Nagas (snakes) separates the two halves of the relief. Water pours down this fissure imitating a waterfall or the Ganges' descent. Just above the shrine, Arjuna or Bhagiratha is carved standing on one leg, his arms upraised, in a yoga posture. Behind him appears Lord Shiva, holding a weapon and attended by celestial beings. In the natural world life-sized elephants are shown protect their young. There are also numerous other animals. The entire presentation is done with utmost skill.

Entry Timings:6.00 am to 6.00 pm

Entry Fee:INR 10 for Indian citizens; INR 250 for other, no fee for visitors below age 15.

No fee for still photography, INR 25 for videography

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