CHENNAI: Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram, the port-town of the Pallavas is home to two Vishnu temples. One is the Sthalasayana Perumal temple, which is one of the 108 divya desams, praised in the hymns of Bhudat Azhvar and Thirumangai Azhvar. Close by is the Adivaraha cave-temple, a 7th century shrine dedicated to Varaha, the third incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu.
The Adivaraha temple was created by the Pallava architects by scooping out the rock from the base of a granite hillock. It consists of a hall supported by a front row of four pillars with the squatting lion base characteristic of the Pallava era. The main sanctum enshrines the grand stucco image of Varahasvami lifting Goddess Earth or Bhumadevi. The processional image of this temple is a four-armed Vishnu worshipped as Jnanapiran, with Sridevi and Bhudevi.
This cave-temple has exquisite Pallava sculptures on the walls. One of these is a beautiful panel of Gajalakshmi, seated on a lotus, bathed by elephants. The other sculptures include Durga as Mahishasuramardini, Vishnu, Harihara, Brahma and Gangadhara. Of immense interest are large stone sculptures of two Pallava kings with their queens. Pallava epigraphs record their names as ‘Sri Simhavinna Potradhirajan’ and ‘Sri Mahendra-potradhirajan’ which indicate that they are possibly Narasimhavarman I and Mahendravarman II respectively.
In front of the main sanctum are two mandapas, one closed and the other open, built at later times, which hide the facade of the cave-temple. A Sanskrit inscription of the 7-8th century gives a list of the ten avataras of Vishnu, mentioning Buddha as one of the incarnations. (The writer is a historian who focuses on temple architecture)