Sittanavasal Cave (also, Arivar Koil) is a 2nd-century
Jain complex of
Sittanavasal village in
Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu,
India. Its name is a distorted form of Sit-tan-na-va-yil, a
Tamil word which means "the abode of great saints" (Tamil:
The monument is a rock-cut monastery or temple. Created by Jains, it
is called the Arivar Koil, and is a rock cut cave temple of the
Arihants. It contains remnants of notable frescoes from the 7th
century. The murals have been painted with vegetable and mineral dyes
in black, green, yellow, orange, blue, and white. Paintings have been
created by applying colours over a thin wet surface of lime
Ancient structures such as Gol Gumbaz, Talagirishvara temple and this
one are claimed to be relatively unappreciated.
2 Architectural features
4 See also
6 External links
Sittanavasal village is dated from 1st century BC to 10th
century AD when
Jainism flourished here, the Temple-cave was initially
Mahendravarman I (580–630 AD) prior to his
Hinduism as a Shaivite. However, an
inscription attributes its renovation to a Pandyan king probably Maran
Sendan (654–670 AD) or
Arikesari Maravarman (670–700 AD).
Jain beds on the hill top is attributed to the
Jain era pilgrimage
centre which lasted till the 9th century AD. However, in the
Pudukkottai region, where the monuments are located, there are many
archaeological finds of the megalithic burial sites from much
Seventh-century painting in
Caves in the hill of Sittanavasal
There are two publications in the 20th century which brought to light
these monuments in particular: one in 1916, in the book "General
History of the
Pudukkottai State" by S. Radhakrishna Iyer, a
historian, but only known regionally; and the other by
Jouveau-Dubreuil and Gopinatha Rao, iconographers who worked together
and brought out a "Monograph on Sittannavasal", in 1920, which brought
it to limelight among archaeologists worldwide. The cleaning of the
painting was undertaken in 1942 by Dr. S. Paramasivan and K. R.
Srinivasan when they observed a patch of old painting of conventional
carpet design superimposed by a new layer of painting. The
superimposed layer of painting has been surmised as that done
Ilan-Gautaman, whose name is also inscribed. The temple is
maintained and administered by the Archaeological Survey of
India as a
Sittanavasal is a rock-cut cave, situated on the western side of
central part of a hill, which runs in a north-south direction. The
hill measures approximately 70 metres (230 ft) in height, and
sits above the surrounding plain which has some archaeological
Jain natural caverns, called Ezhadippattam are
approached from the foothills. The cave is approached by climbing a
few 100 steps.
The architectural features of the Sittanvasal Cave include the
painting and sculptures found within its precincts.
Archaeological Survey of
India is responsible for the maintenance of
the cave and the
Sittanvasal Cave temple or Arivar Kovil
The paintings have been painted in fresco-secco technique with many
mineral colours. The painting depict beautiful lotus pond with lotus
flowers, people collecting lotuses from the pond, two dancing figures,
lilies, fish, geese, buffaloes and elephants. Mulk Raj Anand said
of the paintings, "
Pallava craftsmen used greens and browns and
puqiles, with a genuine ability and a lyrical flow of line. Lotuses
spring up from imaginary ponds amid variegated greenery, under a
bluish sheen." In addition, inscriptions of the 9th and 10th
century are also seen. The ceiling of the Ardhamandapam is decorated
with murals from the 7th century. The cave temple has simple
pillars and sculptures of
Jain Tirthankaras. However, most of the
frescoes which were covered fully in plaster have been severely
defaced or not clearly visible due to inadequate security and
maintenance resulting in vandalism in the past five or six decades.
Originally, the entire cave temple, including the sculptures, was
covered with plaster and painted. The paintings are with theme of Jain
Samavasarana, the "most attractive heavenly pavilion" (it means the
attainment of nirvana), and Khatika bhumi.
The layout of the west facing cave is the same as adopted in other
rock-cut cave temples in the country during the 7th Century. As
originally built, it had only a garbha-griha (sanctum sanctorum) and
an ardhamandapam (semi hall). However, the mukha-mandapa (front hall)
was an addition made in the frontage built during the
which collapsed. Subsequently, a pillared veranda with a facade was
added in front of the cave during the 20th century; the Maharaja of
Pudukkottai added this part of structure at the suggestion of
Tottenham, the British administrator. It has two pillars and two
pilasters and a square base entrance to a hexagonal portico, which
were brought from the ruins of mantapas at Kudimiyanmalai.
Tirthanakar image on wall
The Ardhamantapam, after the front entrance, is rectangular in plan of
20.5 metres (67 ft) long, 2.28 metres (7 ft 6 in) wide
and 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) high, and the cubical cell of2.89
metres (9 ft 6 in) width, (a little higher than the
garbha-griha) with a facade which has two pillars and two pilasters at
both ends. The pillars as well as pilasters are hexagonal in shape in
the middle section while the top and bottom sections are square. Rock
beam is sculpted above them as if supporting them; provided with large
corbels (potikai in Tamil) with ornamentation or fluting, with an
intervening plain band. The pillars which support this mandapam are
typical of Mahendra-order. The entry into the garbha-griha is
flanked by two niches, which also have smaller size pilasters, similar
to the pillar design, with bold relief of lotus medallions carved on
them. In the southern and northern sides of the ardhamantapam, niches
are provided where the 23rd tirthankara
Parsvanatha and a
(teacher) are respectively carved in bas-relief.
Parsvanatha is shown
seated in "the dhyana (meditative) pose, cross-legged, with the hands
placed one over the other, palms upwards, resting on the folded legs",
a five-hooded serpent sheltering his head. An inscription on a pillar
to the niche reads [Ulo]kaditan ("ruler of the world"), indicating
Parsvanatha's divinity. The acharya is in a similar posture as
Parsvanatha but with an umbrella over his head. The inscription below
this niche reads Tiruvasiriyan ("great teacher").
A door way of 5.5 feet (1.7 m) height and 2.5 feet (0.76 m)
width from the ardhamantapa leads to the sanctum sanctorum (through a
flight of steps), which has three bas-relief sculptures. The entrance
has surul-vyalis (balustrades sculptured with the mythical form of
vyalis with twisted trunks). The sanctum sanctorum has a square plan
of 2.89 feet (0.88 m) wide and height of 7.5 feet (2.3 m),
and at the back wall there are three bas-reliefs, two are of Jain
Tirthankaras (as evidenced by the triple umbrellas (chatris) over
them) and the third relief is of an acharya (teacher). The ceiling of
the garbha-griha which is painted shows a carved wheel with hub and
axle that denotes the
Dharma-chakra ("Wheel-of-the-Law"). Above the
three images in
Lotus position (seated posture), paintings are also
seen which are surmised to represent a canopy which is carved with
carpet designs with striped borders and squares and circles of
different sizes with louts flower designs inscribed within the
squares. The circles depict crosses with bulbous ends; the horizontal
arm of the cross has depictions of human and lion figures. In the
other areas, the ceiling has similar paintings as the lotus pond in
the ardhamantapam. Plastered walls of the
have varying thickness of 1–8 millimetres (0.039–0.315 in).
The pigmentation used for the paintings is over 1000 years old. Echo
effect is clearly heard, if "om" is recited, only if inaudibly, in the
Painting on the roof of the Sittanvasal Cave
Painting on the roof of the Sittanvasal Cave
The decorative paintings in the ceiling of the sanctum and
ardha-mandapam of Aravirkovil though compared to the classical cave
painting styles used in the
Ajanta Caves but have minor variations in
use of the materials for creating the paintings and also reported to
provide a link between the Ajanta paintings (4th–6th century AD) and
the Chola paintings of 11th century at Thanjavur. The ceilings have
depiction of a lotus tank with natural looking images of men, animals,
flowers, birds and fishes representing the
Samavasarana faith of
Jainism. The pillars are also carved with dancing girl and the king
and the queen.
Paintings in the roof of the Ardhamnatapa are the mural paintings with
Samavasarana theme. The mural exhibits a water tank or khatika-bhumi
which is shown with the tank made of tiles filled with lotus flowers
and surrounded by bhavyas ("the faithful"), elephants, fishes, one
fish shown as jumping out of water, pillars with figurines of Pandya
king Srimara Srivallabha (9th century AD) and his queen offering
reverence to Ilam Gautaman, an acharya of
Madura who created these
paintings. While cleaning the paintings, one more layer of
Samavasarana themed painting was revealed in the ceiling of the
Garbha-griha, but in a carpet-design.
The study done by an artist on the depictions of the roof painting
panel reveals: 3 birds, a man in loin cloth plucking flowers and the
man is shown with a lily on right hand and lotuses on left hand, an
elephant and fishes swimming, bird’s eye on the top left corner.
Though severely damaged due to vandalism, remaining Frescoes have been
preserved on the top parts of columns and ceilings inside the temple.
Many of them are typical of the 9th century Pandyan period and include
detailed pictures of elephants, buffaloes, fish, geese, Jains
gathering lotuses from a pond and dancing girls. These frescoes
are considered to be some of the best frescoes of medieval
to frescoes of
Ajanta Caves and Bagh Caves. Not so well
planned is the arrangement of panels of the Sittanvassal cave temple;
the idea of an ensemble has not been adopted but arranged in a
Painting of the Sittanvasal Caves were analysed to establish the
technique and the material used to make the. Analysing a painting of a
lotus pond in the ardhamantpam, it has been inferred that they are
made with Fresco-secco, techniques made over rough stone using rough
plaster of 2.5 millimetres (0.098 in) thickness made of lime
mortar and sand with minor impurities, applying 0.5 millimetres
(0.020 in) thick lime wash of fine lime water when the rough lime
plaster is still rough. The pigments used are composed of white made
from lime, black made from wood charcoal or lamp black, yellow from
yellow ochre, red from red ochre, blue from ultramarinelapis lazuli,
and green from terre verte.
Pigments of permanent mineral colours (not
vegetable colours as reported on the display plaque at the site by
ASI) were applied over dry plaster surfaces without any adhesive
grove; the process involved a chemical reaction of lime water which
absorbed oxygenin the air and getting converted by a carbonisation
process into insoluble calcium carbonate, which enabled the pigments
to adhere to the surface. At the initiative of Pudukkottai
State, during 1937–39, the paintings were cleaned, and then given a
preservative coating. Also, the damaged portions of the plastering
were injected with cementing material and the paintings were also
The condition of paintings are deteriorating.
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