SITTANAVASAL CAVE (also, ARIVAR KOIL) is a 2nd-century
of caves in
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 plaster.
Ancient structures such as
Gol Gumbaz , Talagirishvara temple and
this one are claimed to be relatively unappreciated.
* 1 History
* 2 Architectural features
* 3 Paintings
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 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). The
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 earlier.
Seventh-century painting in
Sittanavasal Cave Caves in the
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 ticketed
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 monuments.
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
India is responsible for the maintenance of the cave and the
Jain beds. 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
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
Parsvanatha and a
Jain acharya (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 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
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
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
Sittanavasal Cave 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 small shrine.
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
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
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
India next to
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 haphazard way.
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
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 ultramarine lapis 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 retouched.
The condition of paintings are deteriorating.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to SITTANAVASAL CAVE .
* ^ "Rocky retreat".
The Hindu . 25 October 2012.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q "S u d h a r s a n a m:A
centre for Arts and Culture" (pdf). Indian Heritage Organization.
Retrieved 26 October 2012.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K "
Sittanavasal – A passage to the Indian
History and Monuments". Puratattva: The Legacy of Chitrasutra, Indian
History and Architecture. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
* ^ "The Ajanta of TamilNadu". The Tribune. Tribune, India. 27
* ^ Behl, Benoy K. (7 March 2014). "Appreciate the ancient". The
Hindu. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
* ^ A B C "Rock-cut Jaina temple, Sittannavasal". Archaeological
Survey of India. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
* ^ "Alphabetical List of Monuments – Tamil Nadu". Archaeological
Survey of India. 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
* ^ "List of ticketed monuments – Tamil Nadu". Archaeological
Survey of India. 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
* ^ A B "Poetry in Stone". Poetry in Stone. Retrieved 26 October
* ^ "Pudukottai: Treasure trove of archaeology". Official web site
of Tamilnadu Tourism. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
* ^ Anand, Mulk Raj (1973). Album of Indian paintings. National
Book Trust, India;
Sittanavasal Cave and Eladipattam by Wondermondo
* Article on Indian Murals
* Appreciation of the Ancient The Hindu
* Later Pandyas
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