Krishna Cave Temple

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Krishna Cave Temple
Krishna Mandapam
Entrance to the Krishna Mandapa, 2006
Entrance to the Krishna Mandapa, 2006
Krishna Cave TempleKrishna Mandapam is located in Tamil Nadu
Krishna Cave TempleKrishna Mandapam
Krishna Cave Temple
Krishna Mandapam
Location of
Other names Mandapa of Krishna
Krishna Mandapam
Coordinates 12°37′00″N 80°11′30″E / 12.6167°N 80.1917°E / 12.6167; 80.1917Coordinates: 12°37′00″N 80°11′30″E / 12.6167°N 80.1917°E / 12.6167; 80.1917
Country India
State Tamil Nadu
District Kancheepuram district
Location Mamallapuram
Primary deity Lord Krishna
Number of temples 1
Inscriptions Inscribed in 1984 under Asia-Pacific of UNESCO
History and governance
Date built Mid-7th century
Creator Pallava dynasty

Krishna Cave Temple (also known as Mandapa of Krishna[1] and Krishna Mandapam[2]) is a monument at Mahabalipuram, on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, in the Kancheepuram district of the state of Tamil Nadu, India. It is an artificial rock-cut mandapa, and one of the Cave Temples of Mahabalipuram dedicated to Lord Krishna. Part of the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1984.[1] It is one of the many architecturally distinctive mandapas in Mahabalipuram with a shallow cave portico hewn into the rock face.[3] Dating to the mid-seventh century, its excavated entry is seen with columns leading to a hall. Notable carvings inside are sculpted panels that bring out the myth of Krishna lifting the Govardhana Hill to protect the cowherds and gopis (milk maids) from heavy rains and floods – the "most poetic and endearing" Indian or Angkor sculpture-based representation of this legend[4] – and there are also scenes of Krishna frolicking with the milk maids.[5][6]


The Krishna Cave Temple is located in Mamallpurma (also popularly and officially known as Mahabalipuram), a small village 30 kilometres (19 mi) to the south of Chennai, in Kancheepuram district on the Coromandel Coast of Bay of Bengal in the state of Tamil Nadu.[7] The rock-cut cave is located on a hillock next to the open rock relief of Descent of the Ganges (Mahabalipuram).[8]


General view of the entrance to the Krishna Mandapa, 1885

The Krishna Mandapa is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the mid 7th century, of the Pallava dynasty. This rock-cut cave temple is a testimony to ancient Vishwakarma Sthapathis (sculptors). Originally an open-air bas-relief, it was enclosed within a mandapa or cave during the 16th century during the Vijayanagara Empire.[7]


The Krishna Cave facing east has a length of 29 feet (8.8 m) and height of 12 feet (3.7 m). It is a pillared mandapa.[9]


A relief on the rock face of Krishna lifting Govardhan Hill in the Krishna Mandapa
Krishna Mandapa Bas Relief

The rock-cut cave is simple in design and layout, with minimum decorations. It is one of the ten caves cut out from rock faces and one of the oldest in Mahabalipuram. In creating the cave, the sculptors worked on the rock face to make an outline and polished the rock face to define the outline of a façade. This was followed by the cutting of columns in the polished surface and creating square panels on which frescoes on religious themes of the Hindu pantheon were carved. Chisel was the basic tool used to first draw incised outlines with projections to be carved at the later stage of sculpting. The depth was dictated by the number of chambers to be excavated through the rock. The carving of images was then started after polishing the walls and the columns.[8]

Another view of Krishna Cave Temple adjoining the Arjuna’s Penance bas-relief

The cave has nine reliefs carved on the rock surfaces, all dated to the 7th century but further refurbished with additions made in the 16th century. One prominent relief depicts Krishna lifting the mythical Govardhana Hill on the finger of his left hand to save the people from a deluge caused by rains showered by Indra. People with their cattle are shown taking shelter under the mountain. The myth related to this depiction is linked to Indra. Indra was annoyed with the people of the village (now Mathura) as they had discontinued celebration of a festival in his honour. He created a huge storm with heavy rainshowers, threatening the life of the villagers. Krishna, who was from the same village, lifted the Govardhana Hill (near Mathura), creating an umbrella of protection and saving the village, its people, and the cowherds. In this fresco, Krishna is flanked by three females to his right; one of them is inferred as Radha, his childhood lover, as she is shown wearing a kirita makuta crown, a breast band, and many ornaments. On his right stand two figures, one male and one female. In addition, there are several other images in the panel of animals and village folk.[9][10]

In another fresco, Krishna is shown in a joyous mood with his gopis (milkmaids), a reflection of his double role as a divine being.[10][11][11][12] Other frescoes carved on the walls of the cave depict: an elderly person carrying a child on his shoulders, a village scene of cowherds milking a cow with the cow licking the calf; the gopis with water pots on their heads amidst a cowherd playing a flute; a woodcutter walking with an axe and a lady carrying a milk pot and a rolled mat or bundle of grass; and a child hugging her mother.[10] Krishna's fresco also shows him playing a flute in the fields. The panel further depicts a standing bull, which is perfectly carved by the Pallava artists. In particular, the carvings in the Krishna cave are reported to be very realistic reinterpretations of Hindu mythological themes.[13]


  1. ^ a b "Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram". World Heritage. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  2. ^ Tourist Guide to Tamil Nadu. India: Sura Books. p. 28. 
  3. ^ Kamath, Rina (1 September 2000). Chennai. Orient Blackswan. pp. 124–. ISBN 978-81-250-1378-5. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Jāvīd, ʻAlī; Javeed, Tabassum (2008). World Heritage Monuments and Related Edifices in India (500 B/W illustr.). Algora Publishing. p. 171. ISBN 9780875864846. 
  5. ^ Bruyn, Pippa de; Bain, Keith; Allardice, David; Shonar Joshi (18 February 2010). Frommer's India. John Wiley & Sons. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-470-64580-2. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "General view of the entrance to the Krishna Mandapa, Mamallapuram". Online Gallery of British Library. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "General view of the entrance to the Varaha Cave Temple, Mamallapuram". British Library. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  8. ^ a b Michell, George (1977). The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms. University of Chicago Press. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-226-53230-1. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Mahabalipuram – The Workshop of Pallavas – Part IV". Open Air Bas-Reliefs. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c "World Heritage Sites – Mahabalipuram – Monolithic Temples". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "General view of the entrance to the Krishna Mandapa, Mamallapuram". Online Gallery of British Library. Retrieved 23 October 2012.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Krishna" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  12. ^ "Sights in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)". Lonely planet. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Kapoor, Subodh (2002). The Indian Encyclopaedia: Mahi-Mewat. Cosmo. pp. 4545–. ISBN 978-81-7755-272-0. Retrieved 7 February 2013.