Pallava period (Social and Cultural History)

by S. Krishnamurthy | 2017 | 143,765 words

This study examines the Social and Cultural History of the Pallava period (as gleaned through the Sculptural Art). The Pallavas (6th-9th century A.D.) mainly ruled over the Tondaimandalam (Tondai Nadu) region in the Northern part of Tamil Nadu (South-India). The Pallava dynasty ensured a golden age of architecture, arts, and spirituality and while ...

Conclusion (Material Culture)

Sculptures of Pallava period provide much cultural data regarding the kind of dwelling places like houses and palaces, forts, dress used by the people, different type of arranging the hair, variety of ornaments, furniture, household items, musical instruments and weapons used by the people. Apart from this, they also hint into the existing condition of some of the intangible cultural factors like those of the performing arts viz., music, dance, drama and martial arts. Fauna and flora forms an integral part of any culture and are found represented in the sculptural art of this period, either directly in their natural form or as a part of ornamentation or religious belief.

In the sculptural art of this period, only very rarely is found representation of the houses of the common people. The panels in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram give much insight into the form of a palace and fortress. Houses of common people are very rarely depicted in these panels. In a panel (upper row) on the northern cloister wall, a man and a woman are seen seated perhaps, in the pillared portico of their house and witnessing the marching of elephants and horses. From this, it can be assumed that a typical house of this period has portico at its entrance (fig. 89). Fine example of a palace can also be known from these panels. A panel (lower row) on the northern cloister wall, gives a picture of two palatial buildings having sala type of sikhara (fig. 90) and another panel (upper row) on the eastern cloister wall has a vivid representation of interiors of a palace (fig. 91), comprising of a three storied mansion having balconies with a gopura type gate-way built with massive pillars. Similar type of balconies of a mansion can be noticed in another panel on the same wall. One such panel depicts gates of a palace (fig. 92). Portrayal of fort in Pallava art is also found for the first time in these panels. A panel (lower row) on the eastern cloister wall portrays a battalion of foot-soldiers, standing on the walls of a fortress and defending it from the attack of the enemy army of elephantry (fig. 93). Another panel (lower row) on the southern cloister wall similarly depicts the scene of attacking a fort, surrounded by high ramparts (fig. 94).

Regarding the dress used by the people not much differentiation could be noticed among the different occupational groups and between men and women. A typical dress of this period consiste of a lower garment (antariya), which was either worn in the fashion of a skirt (fig. 103) or tied in the kachchha (fig. 95) method. The length of the garment differs and it may reach up to the ankles (purvoruka) or thigh region (ardoruka). Some of the later type resembles the shorts (jhangia, fig. 107). Normally the garment appears plain without any designs, except in few cases. One such ornamental garment can be noticed in a panel in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram, in which the king (fig. 100) worn a special type of antariya having vertical stripes with circular bead like decorations on it. Occasionally, kaupina like garment was worn by both men and women irrespective of class differentiation (fig. 5, 99 and 110). Probably the type of garment worn by people differs based on the activity in which they are involved. The upper portion of the body was usually left undraped and the upper garment (uttariya) was often tied around the waist. Among women, a breast-band (kuchabandha), with or without shoulder straps could be seen especially worn by warrior women (fig. 115) and those belonging to the upper class (fig. 112). Common women may have covered their upper part of their body with a simple cloth, which may be an extension of the lower garment. It seems that in order to meet the requirements of sculptural aesthetics, the sculptors preferred to carve the upper portion of women with diaphanous clothing, so as to reveal the beauty of female form and the various ornaments which they wear. It has to be mentioned here that in the sculptural art of this period complete nudity was absent and the modesty of female figures was protected by means of a kati-vastra or kati-bandha or even by an uttariya around the waist, which indicates the existence of a dress. In some cases a short garment in the form of a kaupina is also be noticed (fig. 117).

Generally, paduka in Pallava sculptures is not noticed, except in the case of Bhikshatanamurti form of Siva (fig. 122). The paduka in these cases has a raised heel and a flat sole with a post and a knob. The circular knob was held in between the big and second toe. The shape of the foot-wear is similar to the one seen even at present, especially kept in religious institutions like matha or temple, where the religious head used to wear it mostly in conformity with the traditional practices.

Head-dress of men in this period can be broadly categorized into three styles: -crowns, tiara and turban. In many cases a simple fore-head band (agrapatta) with an ornamental jewel attached to it can also be seen. There are also cases, where differentiating a tiara, from a forehead band becomes a difficult task, as a forehead band itself transforms into a tiara, as a result of exuberant jeweled appendages attached to it.

Two types of crowns namely kirita-makuta (fig. 123 to 129) and karanda-makuta (fig. 130 to 137) are known in this period. Among them the kirita-makuta is found in two forms i.e., Broad–cylindrical and Narrow–conical. The karanda-makuta is also found either in the form of an elongated makuta with a flat rim or short conical makuta with a siro-mala55 adorning it at the base. Both kirita-makuta and karanda-makuta are seen embellished with ornamentation, which may be formed of inlay work or molded designs, in the form of creepers, floral and mythical animals like kirtimukha or yali and makara motifs. A tiara or ardhamakuta (fig. 188 to 142) can be explained as a type, which covers only half part of the head and is mainly ornamental in purpose, though its functional value in holding the head-dress as well as the coiffure cannot be ruled out. It can also be described as a type of forehead band (agrapatta) having more ornamental flourishes. Turban as a head-dress had its origin out of a functional necessity, primarily as a protective measure against the extreme heat caused by the rays emitting from the Sun. Whereas, the rich or upper-class had probably worn turbans made of silk or fine muslin embellished with various ornamental flourishes, the common people perhaps used simple cotton cloth without any decorations. The Govardhanadhari panel at Mamallapuram and the historical panels adorning the wall of the cloister mandapa in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram portray various methods of tying a turban and consequently its shape also differs (fig. 143 to 150). A special type of head-gear worn especially by the warriors, which covered their head completely, including the sides and extending over the neck portion, can be found depicted in several panels in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. Probably, these were metal head-gears or helmets (sirastrana) with protective shields for the neck below (fig. 151 and 152). Women, especially of the upper-class and warrior-women can be seen wearing two types of head-dress viz., the karanda-makuta (fig. 153 to 156) and the tiara (fig. 159 and 160) with varied ornamental flourishes and tassels. A few rare varieties like the short cylindrical cap can also be noticed (fig. 157 and 158). Rarely a kiritamakuta was also used and is noticed especially adorning Durga (fig. 162).

Various kinds of coiffure were adopted by both men and women in this period. Among men, three types of hair i.e. straight, curly and matted are noticed and they were arranged in different styles. Those, who had straight hairs allowed them to fall at the back either with (fig. 178) or without a parting line (kesavithi) in the middle (fig. 176). Men also let their hair grow at length and was arranged in the form of sikhanda (fig. 177) by gathering them at the top and fastening it with a band in the form of a bun. Sometimes, the long hair was just combed backwards and knotted loosely at the end (fig. 188) or arranged as a bun to the back of the head (fig.190). These two types of hair-do can be seen even today among the priestly community. There are also cases, where the locks can be seen knotted to the side of the head (fig. 189). In the sculptural art of this period, this type of hair-do, popularly known as kudumi in Tamil, is seen especially worn by the warriors depicted in the historical panels adorning the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. Another type of hair-do normally worn by the priests even in the present day is the tonsured head with an sikha noticeable in a sculpture of a priest (fig. 3) in the Dharamaraja-ratha at Mamallapuram. A peculiar type of fashioning the lengthy hair by twisting them in either spiral locks (fig. 164) or in the form of concentric curls (fig. 187) was noticed among the dancers of this period. In both the cases, the hair was combed backwards and its ends, which fall on the shoulders, were modeled in a spring like or concentric-ring like fashion. In some cases, the long tresses are combed upwards and arranged in the form of peacock feathers (fig. 186). The contemporary literature, Dasakumaracharita, authored Dandin describes a coiffure of this style as “lila-mayura-barhya-kesapasam” i.e. resembling the peacock feathers. The curly hairs are normally seen tied into a knot at the top of the head (fig. 174 and 175). The matted hair is especially seen among the sages, ascetics and Saivite figurines. It is either allowed to fall loosely behind the head (fig. 179) or arranged in receding tiers in the form of makuta (fig. 165 to 173) or tied to resemble a turban (fig. 183 to 185). Sometimes, the locks of hair were let loose forming a halo like appearance (jatabhara fig. 180 and 181). A combination of jatabhara cum jatamakuta type (fig. 182) can also be seen, in which few locks of hair are arranged to form a jatamakuta and the remaining are let loose to form a jatabhara.

Women generally grew their hair at length and it can be straight, curly or matted. The hair was either allowed let loose at the back of the head (fig. 194) or knotted loosely (fig. 199) or even plaited (fig. 160). Sometimes, the hair was also combed upwards and knotted in oval (fig. 192) or bun form, either at the top of the head (fig. 201) or to the side (fig. 196) or resembling a dome (fig. 193). There are cases, where the hair was combed backwards with a parting line (kesavithi) in the middle (fig. 198) or combed sideward (fig. 195) and the tresses are knotted in the form of a bun, either at the back of the head or to a side. Alternatively, instead of a single bun shaped knot, double bun can

also be noticed (fig. 204). A peculiar type of hair-do especially popular among the women of the upper classes is the type resembling a karanda-maukta, in which the locks of hair are combed upwards and twisted into receding tiers (fig. 197). A type of hair-do especially seen popularly in some forms of goddess like Bhairavi and Chamund`i is the jatabhara and jatamakuta type (fig. 202). Probably such a hair-do was popular among the female Saiva ascetics as well. An unique one, especially seen in an image of Jaya in the Mahishasuramardhini cave temple at Mamallapuram, is the curly type with the tresses arranged in the form of spiral roll above the head (fig. 200). It is known from the panels in the Thantontrisvara temple at Kanchipuram that similar to male dancers, female dancers also used to fashion their hair in the form of a spring (fig. 191). An interesting type of hair-do, with the tresses arranged in trifoliate form is noticed in the sculpture of a chamara-dhari in the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram (fig. 203).

Various types of personal ornaments are worn by both men and women of this period, bedecking different parts of the body like head, fore-head, ears, neck, chest, shoulders, arms, fingers, hips, waist and legs.

Among the head ornaments (mastakabhushana) two types can be seen worn by both men and women. They are the forehead band (agrapatta or lalatapatta) and the kesapatta. In its most simple form an agrapatta is a strip of cloth (fig. 174) tied around the tresses near the forehead as a means of keeping the hair unruffled. It may be made of either an ornamental cloth or a strip of metal inset with gems of various shapes and designs or even a metal strip with embossed designs (fig. 180). Additionally, sometimes a medallion (fig. 168, 170) can also be seen attached to it. Primarily a kesapatta is a string or band used to bind the tuft of hair and can be seen as a simple cord without any ornamental additions (fig. 174) or with a flower attached to it (fig. 165 and 175) or even more ornamental with medallions (fig. 170 and 207) and beaded tassels fixed to it (fig. 177 and 203).

Various forms of ear-ornaments can be noticed like: patra-kundala (fig. 46, 117, 138, 139, 161 and 209), makara-kundala (fig. 13, 208, 210 to 212 and 235), bali or circular ear-ring (fig 132, 213 and 214), mani-kundala (fig. 216) , bell shaped (fig. 217 and 218), sarpa-kundala (fig. 130, 196 and 219), sroni-sutra (fig. 220), ring with a pendant formed of cluster of kinkinis (fig. 192 and 221), pushpa-kundala (fig. 222 and 226), kumbha-kundala (fig. 224) and preta-kundala (fig. 202). A unique type of ear-ornament, which resembles a patra-kundala, but probably made of metal and etched with semi-circular designs on its rim can be seen worn by a man depicted on a panel (north-western wall) in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. Sometimes, just a piece of wood was also worn by inserting it into the ear-lobe (fig. 223). It is interesting to see that it was fashionable in those days to wear two different kinds of ear-ornament on each ear. Thus, in one ear was worn a patra-kundala and the other has either a makara-kundala (fig. 157) or kinkinis (fig. 192) or a bali (fig. 215) or even without any. Similarly, a bali was also worn in combination with a makara-kundala (fig. 125). Apart from the above mentioned ornaments which are suspended from the ear-lobes, few sculptures also reveal the practise of wearing small ringlets on the upper lobe of the ear (fig. 257).

A variety of ornaments adorning the neck (kanthabhushana) is noticed and they can be broadly grouped as necklets (kanthi) and necklaces (haras). Of the necklets, three types can be seen viz., (1) A string formed of metal or fibre with or without a pendent or an amulet (fig. 114, 191 and 200). (2) A single or multiple strands of beads or pearls (fig. 220) and (3) Broad crescent shaped necklet, probably made of metal having various designs formed of either embossed patterns or by inlaying gems and pearls (fig. 210, 213, 227 to 236). Necklaces in this period can be broadly grouped under two types (1) a string formed of beads or pearls or rudraksha and (2) a string formed of metal. Those formed of beads or pearls can be of either a single row (fig. 114, 180, 200, 202, 237 and 238) or multiple rows (fig. 240) and it can be either with (fig. 114 and 239) or without a pendant. Sometimes, a single rudraksha can also be seen hanging from a string, which could be made of thread (fig. 168). The last mentioned type can be compared with the similar practice that continues to the present day, especially among the priestly classes. An ornamental type known as muktavali, formed of pearls, floral medallions and tassels is found adorning an image of dvarapalaka from Kaverippakkam (fig. 130). A necklace formed of a metallic string can also be either with a pendant (fig. 241 to 243) or devoid of it (fig. 112, 117, 219 and 241). Instead of a pendant, a cast medallion in the form of a floral badge can also be seen soldered to the string (fig. 230, 235 and 244). A variant of this type, in the form of a pair of metallic string with a rhombus shaped badge in the middle was worn by the kings and courtiers in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram (fig. 246 and 247). A unique type of necklace formed of metal pieces resembling jaji kusuma flowers adorns the image of Surya from Satyamangalam (fig. 248). Such necklaces of gold known as jajikusumahara are popular even now in Andhra Pradesh[1]. A variant of this type, with a row of beads hanging from the string was also in usage.

Ornaments adorning the shoulder and arm are found in the form of the keyura or angada adorning the upper arm, the bangles (valayas or kankanas) and the wristlets (prakoshtha valayas) adorning the wrists and forearms and rarely, rings for the fingers. However, in sculptural art of this period the exact difference between a valaya and prakoshtha-valaya is difficult to ascertain. So both the types are treated together under bracelets.

Keyuras of various designs were worn by both men and women belonging to different classes. But few are also without any keyura. For example, in the panels of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram, apart from the courtiers and chieftains, even the king is shown many times, without any armlet. This may show that the armlet was worn only as an optional ornament. There are also cases, where only the upper-class and especially the men among them are depicted with keyuras, while the common folk do not wear. This can be seen in the Govardhanadhari panel at Mamallapuram, where only Krishna and Balarama, who can be identified with the upper-class wear a coiled armlet, where as the common people are devoid of it. Various types of armlets are noticed in the sculptural art of this period. Among them coiled armlets (fig. 251, 252 and 380) is the most popular one with varying number of coils from one to three. Similar coiled armlets, however terminated by the head and tail of a makara or sarpa was also worn and they can be rightly termed as makara-keyura (fig. 253 to 255) and sarpa-keyura (fig. 256 to 260) respectively. Similar keyura with a convoluted creeper design at the apex adorns an image of Vishnu from Perangur (Villupuram district)[2] (fig. 261). Armlets in the form of a strip, attached with a medallion in the middle, were also used in this period. The medallion can be of different shapes like disc (fig. 262), pentagon (fig. 263) or oval (fig. 264) and was further beautified with gems, tassels and finials (fig. 265 and 266). Additionally sometimes, the base of the medallion rests on a band comprised of a central rectangular gem, flanked by makara heads (fig. 267 to 269). An interesting type of armlet with the medallion modeled as a kirti-mukha embellishes an image of dvarapalaka from Kaverippakkam[3] (fig. 270). Another variant that can be seen is the valaya shaped armlet studded with circular gems (fig. 271).

Bracelets are worn regularly by both the genders and they can be broadly classified into three types–(1) Separate bangles around each wrist (2) A metal spiral formed of multiple coils (3) A circular sheet of metal with prominent rims. Both the second and the third, span the entire forearm. These three types can be further divided into many sub-types, based on its shape, formation and kind of ornamental designs on them. The first type can be either plain (fig. 254, 272 to 275) or bejeweled by inlaying round or ovoid gems (fig. 276 to 278?). They are worn individually or as a set of two or three. Another variant of this type, especially worn by the women of upper-class and their retinue, is always seen as a set of three bangles worn tightly around the forearm, with one positioned around the wrist, another a little above and a third one near the elbow (fig. 279 and 280). Valayas formed of string of beads or rudraksha was also worn (fig. 282 and 283). Often a bejeweled valaya was also worn in combination with a plain one (fig. 261, 266 and 281). Some of the ornaments adoring the wrists, can be clearly identified as wristlets (prakoshtha valayas) having a broad middle portion flanked by thick rims. The broader middle portion is either plain (fig. 76 and 251) or bedecked with embossed beaded designs or inlaid with similarly shaped gems (fig. 59, 284 and 285). The second type of bracelet in the form of a metal spiral formed of multiple coils can be either plain or bejeweled. The number of coils varies from two to three and rarely in the case of Durga (fig. 262) in the Mahishasuramardini cave temple at Mamallapuram, it increases to six, flanked by thick prominent jeweled bangles. The third type i.e. a circular sheet of metal with prominent rims, can be better regarded as a kind of armor covering the entire forearm, especially when worn by goddesses like Durga and her attendants. The sheet of metal can be either plain or embossed with patterns (fig. 262, 263, 287 and 288).

Shoulder ornaments are rarely noticed in this period in the form of a looped string (fig. 112) or a loop with several tassels hanging from it (fig. 250 and 305). The presence of rings for the fingers in the sculptural art of the Pallava period is noticed only from about 8th –9th century A.D. Fine examples of rings can be noticed in a sculpture representing king Hiranyavarman (fig. 518), in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram, dvarapalaka from Kaveripakkam (Kanchipuram district)[4] (fig. 130), Surya and Vishnu (fig. 517) from Satyamangalam (Villupuram district)[5], Gana from the Sundaravaradaperumal temple at Uttiramerur (fig. 527) and an image of Durga from Jalanathesvara temple at Thakkolam (fig. 113).

Four types of ornaments can be seen adorning the upper portion of the body, viz., yajnopavita, a diagonal band similar to yajnopavita, channavira and udarabandha.

From a study of the early sculptures of this period, it can be noticed that a yajnopavita was worn mostly by men belonging to the upper class as represented by the gods, demi-gods, celestials, brahmanas and sages. Those who are employed under the kings like door-keepers and chauri bearers also wear them. The common folk representing the hunting and pastoral class carved respectively in the panels of Govardhanadhari and Bhagiratha penance at Mamallapuram, as well as the sculptures indicative of the warrior class portrayed in the cave temple at Siyamangalam and Mahishasuramardini mandapa at Mamallapuram do not display a yajnopavita. This hints at the fact that this privilege was continued to be denied to the lower strata of the society in this period also. From about 8th century A.D. onwards, a yajnopavita can also be noticed across the body of women, especially belonging to upper-class and their retinue (fig. 290). In the sculptural art of this period, it is worn either in the upavita (flowing over the left shoulder) or nivita (flowing over the right shoulder) fashion and was made of either cloth or thread, beads or rudraksha or pearls and flowers. Three more mythical varieties made of serpent, skin of a deer and human-skulls can also be found especially worn by Siva and His ganas or dvarapalakas, Brahma and His dvarapalakas and Chamundi respectively. In some sculptures the brahmagranthi part of the yajnopvita is well defined and was often adorned with an ornamental clasp. From about 8th century A.D. a pair of thin strands can be seen flowing out from either side of the clasp. Of the two strands, one goes across the right side of the chest and the other descends down over the abdomen (fig. 291).

Of all the varieties, the vastra-yajnopavita was popular in this period. It can be further divided into four types based on its appearance: (1) Ribbon shaped (fig. 78) (2) Plain strip of cloth (fig. 289) (3) Strip of cloth demarcated by series of circular clasps (fig. 292 to 294) and (4) Resembling a twisted cord (fig. 296). Other types can be listed as sutra-yajnopavita formed of threads (fig. 298 and 299), bijayajnopavita formed of beads or rudraksha (fig. 295), sarpa-yajnopavita formed of Snake (fig. 297), kapala-yajnopavita formed of human skull (fig. 300), ajina-yajnopavita formed of Deer skin especially worn by Brahma (fig. 301), mukta-yajnopavita formed of pearls (fig. 302 to 304) and pushpa-yajnopavita, formed of flowers (fig. 305). The sutra-yajnopavita seems to be most popular among the upper-class, as can be noticed from several panels in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. In majority of cases, the kings are seen wearing a sacred thread formed of two or three strands, with a prominent floral clasp adorning it. It is most likely that those belonging to the rich-class used to wear an expensive and flamboyant one such as the mukta-yajnopavita on special occasions. This view gains support from the portrayal of a king (fig. 304) wearing a mukta-yajnopavita formed of two strands of pearls in a panel (upper row) on the northern cloister wall of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram.

Often, in the sculptures executed from the time of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha (circa 690 A.D.–728 A.D.), a diagonal band, similar to a yajnopavita was worn by both male and female figures. This band as a rule was much lengthier than the yajnopavita and often reaches the knees. It is either plain or ornamented with pearls (fig. 308) or beads (fig. 306) or bells (fig. 307) or flowers (fig. 309). Occasionally, it also bears a clasp. The band formed of series of bells was especially noticed in those sculptures in dancing posture and by the dvarapalakas.

The chhannavira in the sculptural art of this period adorns not only gods and goddesses like Skanda, Durga and Sri =(fig. 310), but also by the kings as can be seen in the various coronation scenes depicted in the historical panels of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. It is interesting to note that in all the sculptural representations, wherever a chhannavira was shown, yajnopavita is conspicuous by its absence. This is more evident in the depiction of the kings in the panels of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram (fig. 311). Here they are shown wearing a chhannavira only at the time of coronation and in all other cases, it was replaced by a yajnopavita. Such a selective portrayal of this ornament on specific occasion itself indicates its association with chivalry and warfare. Just like the yajnopavita symbolizes the wearer as initiated into Vedic studies and made them eligible for the performance of religious obligations, a chhannavira was perhaps worn by the Pallava monarchs as a ritualistic or symbolic ornament worn while getting initiated into the responsibilities of ruling the kingdom. The chhannavira appears either in the form of intersecting ribbons or straps (fig. 310), with or without ornamental clasps and tassels. A different type of chhannavira formed of beads or rudraksha, perhaps intended to convey the meaning that the wearer was both a warrior and a preceptor can be seen as adorned on the image of Brahmasasta (fig. 312).

Udara-bandha in the sculptural art of this period can be noticed both as a simple cloth, folded and tied around the belly (fig. 316) or as a plain (fig. 305) or ornamental metallic band inlaid with various semi-precious stones or embossed with such chequered (fig. 315) or beaded (fig. 299 and 317) or floral (fig. 303) or alternatively square and circular (fig. 291) patterns.

Of the ornaments that adorn the waist, two kinds are seen -one is the kati-sutra or waist-band, which was tied around the waist as a means of fastening the lower garment and the other was the mekhala or girdle. Of these two a kati-sutra was worn at the hip region, supporting the lower garment and a mekhala is seen as an ornamental accessory below the kati-sutra.

The usage of kati-sutra can be regarded as born out of a functional necessity. In its simplest variety it was in the form of an ordinary cloth, arranged in pleats and tied around the waist so as to provide support to the lower garment (fig. 318). It’s next development can be seen in its transformation as a plain band worn around the waist with a central knot (fig. 319). Occasionally the central knot is provided with a floral clasp (fig. 327 and 328). This simple practice with origins in functional necessity got transformed into an ornamental type. Study further gleans that, probably the rich-class got specially made kati-sutra having decorative designs on it, with a prominent buckle at the centre and ribbon like tassels dangling at the sides (fig. 320 to 324). Rarely in the sculptures that belong to the transition phase of late Pallava to early Chola period, from about last decades of 8th century A.D., the buckle also assumes the shape of a kirti-mukha (fig. 325 and 326) . These bands are probably made of either cloth or string of beads or pearls or metal.

There is not much variety in the mekhala or girdles worn in this period. It was worn both by men and women as an ornament just below the kati-bandha in the form of a string, with a floral medallion in the centre (fig. 319, 326 and 328). Sometimes, it also assumed the form of a strip with ornamental medallion in the middle (fig. 321, 323 and 329). A mekhala formed of beads known as mani-mekhala can be seen around the waist of Bhudevi (fig. 116) in the Anantasayi-Vishnu panel of the Mahishasuramardini cave temple at Mamallapuram.

In general, leg ornaments visible in the sculptures of this period can be classified into various groups like silambu, kinkini and padagam or a combination of all the three.

It can be said that in the early period (600 A.D. to 670 A.D.) men very rarely worn an anklet. Mostly it would be of the kinkini type comprising of series of globular metal bells attached to a string and that too worn only by the dancers. By the time of Narasimhvarman II Rajasimha (690 A.D. to 725 A.D.) dancers as well as door-keepers used to popularly wear anklets of the kinkini type. However, from the sculptures belonging to late-Pallava period (750 A.D. to 900 A.D.), is noticed that men, especially of the upper-class, began to wear anklets resembling a silambu but having more ornamental mouldings on it. Even among women, only those belonging to the upper-class and the artisans used to wear anklets. This can be seen clearly in the Govardhanadhari panel from Mamallapuram. A silambu can be either plain in design (fig. 116 and 330) or may consist of beaded patterns engraved over it. Silambu of beaded pattern begin to appear especially in the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram (fig. 331). An altogether different type of anklet resembling the spiral bracelets (fig. 333) known as padagam in Tamil, can be seen especially in the sculptural creations from the time of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha and his successors. At times, silambu was worn along with kinkini and padagam (fig. 333) or only kinkini (fig. 334). A combination of only kinkini and padagam (fig. 335) is seen.

Apart from men and women, animals are also adorned with ornaments of various types, especially in the sculptures assignable to the time of Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha and his successors. It is seen embellishing different parts of the body like head, neck, trunk and hind. Head ornaments in the form of a nettipattam (caparison) can be noticed especially on the elephants depicted in the historical panels in the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram (fig. 337). Neck ornaments can be found in the form of either series of beads (fig. 338) or bells and kinkinis (fig. 340 to 343). Another ornament, especially noticed on the lions (fig. 339) in rearing posture is the diagonal band composed of series of bells, across its trunk.

Sculptures of this period also give insight into the various household articles, which were in usage in those times. Vessels of various shapes meant for different purposes are noticed. They can be listed as storage pots and jars of different types (fig. 345 to 353), miniature pots (fig. 354), vases in the form of a bottle-gourd (fig. 355 to 357), vessels or jars for keeping drinking water (fig. 358 and 359), bowls (fig. 360 and 361), dishes (fig. 362), dish-on-stands (fig. 363 and 364) and tray (fig. 365). It is interesting to note that the Govardhanadhari panel at Mamallapuram also depicts a rope-sling by means of which, set of three pots are carried. A rare portrayal of ladle can be seen held by Brahma in the Varaha panel of the Varaha-mandapa at Mamallapuram (fig. 366). The usage of baskets especially meant for carrying flowers are also depicted in the sculptural art of this period. A unique portrayal of a flower basket resembling in shape to those seen in the modern times, having vertical sides, rounded rim and a flat base, with a curved handle is depicted in a panel (fig. 367) on the northern cloister wall of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. It is certainly an interesting and rare depiction and it can be claimed that the idea of a flower-basket and that too with a handle existed even in the Pallava period. Depiction of umbrella in the sculptural art of this period is limited to few personals like gods and goddesses, royal persons and brahmanas (fig. 4). It was in the form of a simple shaft made mostly of wood fixed into a semi-circular portion at the top, which was most likely made of palm-leaves or wooden planks. The shape of these umbrellas can be very well compared with similar ones still in usage among the tribes and traditional communities of this country. Lamps in Pallava sculptures are very rarely depicted. In a panel of Gajalakshmi, found from Kaverippakkam (fig. 368), a pair of lamps flanking the central image of Srivatsa can be seen.

Not much sculptural evidence is found regarding the kind of furniture used by the common people, except for the various kinds of pedestals on which the gods and goddesses are found either in seated or in standing posture. In the Avanibhajanapallavesvara-griham at Siyamangalam, depiction of a low stool (fig. 46) can be seen. A similar small stool (fig. 369) functioning as a pedestal for the portable Siva linga is depicted in the Airavatesvara temple at Kanchipuram.

Apart from the above mentioned household articles, the sculptures depicted on the panels carved on the cloister walls of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram, give insight into various articles related to royal court like the royal umbrella (fig. 370 and 371), fly-whisk (fig. 372 and 373), throne (fig. 374 to 379), foot-rest (fig. 380), couch (fig. 381), cot (fig. 382), howdah (fig. 383 and 384) and litter (fig. 385). The royal umbrellas are different from the one described supra in having a taller shaft, wider circumference of the hood portion and are probably manufactured by using special variety of cloth embellished with festoons and decorative motifs. They resemble the umbrellas, which are currently in usage in the temples accompanying the processional deities. Among the royal household items, of particular interest is the grandeur of a Pallava throne, which can be best seen in the panels from the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. From these panels (fig. 377), it can be noticed that a typical throne of the Pallava kings was modeled having a back-rest with makara head terminals and legs are well shaped as circular logs with curled moldings. From the gaping mouths of the makaras, tassels can be seen hanging from scroll like pattern. These thrones do not always have arm-rests and if present they are shaped in the form of rearing lions facing outwards (fig. 378). A fine example of a Pallava throne without arm-rests and provided with cushions for the back and seat can be seen in a panel (lower row) on the eastern wall (fig. 379). Here, additionally the rim of the seat also has minute floral designs. Another type with a triangular back rest is noticed in another panel (fig. 380).

Various types of musical instruments are found depicted in the sculptural art of this period like chordophones, membrophones, aerophones and autophones. Three kinds of chordophones or stringed musical instruments are noticed viz., Ekatantri vi+na, = with hemispherical resonator resembling a cup (fig. 386 and 387), Drone or yal, with a bottle-gourd shaped resonator at the tip (fig. 5) and Vina, with pear shaped resonator (fig. 389). Of these three types, the Ekatantri-vina was to be more popular as can be known from the large number of depiction of this instrument. Among the membrophones or percussion instruments, three kinds can be noticed viz., Mrdanga, Ghata (fig/. 396 and 397) and Damaru (fig. 395). Again within Mrdanga, three varieties can be found, as distinguished by its size and position while playing i.e., long drums played vertically (fig. 46, 390 and 391), comparatively short drums also played vertically (fig. 392) and short drums hung in the neck and played horizontally (fig. 393 and 394). Of the wind instruments or aerophones, the most popular is the conch (fig. 398). Other such instruments are the flute (fig. 392, 396 and 399) and trumpet (fig. 400). Solid instruments or autophones like cymbals and hand-bell (fig. 403) can also be seen. The cymbals can be either small (fig. 401) in size or large (fig. 402). It is interesting to note that, the depiction of large sized cymbals in the context of warfare shows its usage in announcing the commencement of war.

The existence of performing arts like dance (fig. 24 to 29), street drama (Theru kuthu) (fig. 25), wrestling (fig. 26), fighting with sword (fig. 31) and cudgel (fig. 30) by footmen and horsemen is also used.

The usage of variety of weapons and its accessories like mace (fig. 404 to 407), swords of straight double-edged type (fig. 409 to 411) and curved single-edged variety (fig. 413), dagger (fig. 377 and 411), shield of rectangular and circular type (fig. 414), disc (fig. 415 to 417), bow, arrow and quiver (fig. 418 to 423), trident (fig. 420), axe (fig. 424 to 426), spear (fig. 427 and 428), noose (fig. 429) and cudgel (fig. 30) can be seen in this period. Most of the depictions are associated with religious figures like gods and goddesses or those persons engaged in religious ceremonies like cutting one’s head with a sword. The panels adorning the walls of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram gives for the first time in the art of Tamil Nadu, a graphical glimpse into not only the various weapons and its accessories used in warfare, but also the composition of the army and the combat system that was in usage in those times. The study of these panels reveals that the Pallava army comprised of infantry, cavalry and elephantry. They used various weapons in warfare like bow and arrow (fig. 421 and 422), swords (fig. 412), dagger (fig. 377) and spears or javelins (fig. 427 and 428). Well caparisoned elephants and horses with horse-bits and saddle on horses and howdahs on elephants are used. Even some of the soldiers seem to have used protective head-gear with a shield attached at its lower part for protecting the neck portion. The system of attacking the enemy from tree tops (southern wall, lower row) (fig. 430) and from atop the fortification wall (eastern wall, lower row) (fig. 422) is also noticed in these panels. The injured persons in the army are carried by means of a litter.

Apart from the socio-religious life and material culture of the people, a variety of flora and fauna are also depicted in the sculptural art of this period. When compared to fauna, depiction of flora is very limited. Only two kinds of trees viz., the Banyan (fig. 431) and the Jackfruit (fig. 432) can be seen. Depiction of lotus is more popularly seen either in association with a deity or a devotee or even as an ornamental feature on the architectural members of a temple. A beautiful representation of lotus plant is noticed on a panel in the adhisthana portion of the Sundaravaradapermal temple at Uttiramerur (fig. 434). Ornamental foliage in general without any specific identification can be noticed adorning several architectural and sculptural members of this period (fig. 435 to 439).

Various kinds of animals and birds are found represented in the sculptural art of the period under study, like Elephant, Lion, Lioness, Deer, Antelope, Monkey, Cat, Rat, Dog, Boar, Horse, Bear, Cow, Bull, Buffalo, Goat, Lizard, Snake, Tortoise, Swan or Goose, Cock and Hen, Peacock and Peahen, Crane, Eagle, Parrot and Crow. Apart from these animals which exist in reality, some of the mythical creatures like the Yali and Makara are also represented.

Thus the study of sculptural art of the Pallava period provides a fascinating glimpse into the various aspects of the then society, religious beliefs, customs and provides a valuable visual data to the cultural matrix of the past society.

Footnotes and references:


K. Krishna Murthy, Nolamba Sculptures –A Cultural Study, Delhi, 1987, p. 37 and fig. XV, 25.


This image was discovered by Sri V. M. Narasimhan and a short note on it was given by him in Lalita Kala, no. 7, (April 1960), p. 28 and pl. X. figs. 10–11. Now this image is kept in National Museum, New Delhi, Acc. no. 61.1157.


Now preserved in Govt. Museum, Chennai, Acc. no. 71-7/37.


Now in Govt. Museum, Chennai, Acc. No. 71-7/37.


Now in Govt. Museum, Chennai, Acc. No. 2558 and 2608.

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