How They Carved Temple in a Rock?

Fig. 1 A Rock Cut Temple in Mamallapuram
Fig. 1 A Rock Cut Temple in Mamallapuram

Rock Cut Temples

The first examples of stone temples in India are Rock Cut. These are created by carving large rocks. Carving rocks are harder than working with wood, the material used for building temples prior to the introduction of stones for the purpose. Rock cut temples were introduced in Tamilnadu in 7th century AD. During the initial period, the sculptors were not experienced working with stone and at many instances the work had to be abondoned halfway due to mistakes. These incomplete works give us clues to understand the techniques the ancient sculptors used. Fig. 2 shows a rock where a temple carving work had been abondoned at a very early stage. This shows the techniqe used for carving out rocks to form space in the rock.

Fig.2 Left abondoned carving work. Right: Enlarged carved area.
Fig.2 Left abondoned carving work. Right: Enlarged carved area.

In Mamallapuram there are several examples of incomplete works. These are at different levels of completeness. One can see columns cut to rough form which were to be refined later, but the work had to be abondoned due to unknown reason. Fig. 3 shows two rock cut examples where the work had stoped at a rough cut stage. In the right side example the columns are seen at a higher level of completion than the left hand side ones. However, the bases and the top portions are still incomplete. Note the back side walls in both these photographs, the techniques employed to cut and remove the unwanted portions of the rock is clearly visible.

Fig.3 Columns and other incomplete elemets.
Fig.3 Columns and other incomplete elemets.

Fig. 4 shows two examples of incomplete lion columns. The final forms have been acheived to a large extend, but the final bit of work is still to be completed. Lion columns are Typical to Dravidian architecture during Pallava rule in Tamilnadu.

Fig.4 Incomplete columns.
Fig.4 Incomplete columns.

Mamallapuram has number of good specimens of completed works. The examples in the pictures below (fig.5) are showing elaborately carved columns of rock cut temples found there. These columns belongs to early Dravidian style.

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Comments 1 comment

catala 7 years ago

i visted a stone quarry in sicily where they had abandoned around thirty unfinished sections of column for a greek temple, still attached to the rock face they were @ 4 metres diameter and 3.5 in height, cut by slaves around 40,000 of them building the temple over a period of three years..it was never finished.

I hope the unfinished rock cut temple you show was built by artisans who went on strike as its a lot of work to walk away from!

on the subject of unfinished temples have a look at josep jujol, a modernista catalan architect, two churches of his that might interest you are vistabella and montferri completly different to your indian buildings but unique in quality and form

kind regards

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