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Home / Tamilnadu / Highlights of Tamilnadu / Arjuna's Penance

Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram

Arjuna's Penance in Mamallapuram is also known as Bhagiratha's Penance. This is a massive open air bas-relief monolith which dates back from the 7th century CE. This place is 96 feet long and 43 feet high and known as the descent of Ganga. This place is also known as the biggest open-air rock canvases in the World. The surface of the rock has detailed carvings, showing the most endearing and natural renditions of animals especially the monkeys and elephants. There are around 100 figures of Gods and semi Divine creatures, birds and beasts, man and saint in Arjuna's Penance. There are several tourist attractions near Arjuna's Penance like Shore Temple, Pancha Pandava Rathas, Krishna Mandapa, Varaha Cave and Krishna's Butterball.

History of Arjuna's Penance
Arjuna's Penance is named after the Mahabharatha hero, Arjuna. This place is very famous as Arjuna or one of four his brothers performed here severe austerities so that he could obtain Lord Shiva's weapon to destroy his enemies. There is one more story related to this place. King Bhagiratha brought the River Ganges down to earth so that the souls of his ancestors could rest in peace. This place is also related to some of the famous and popular legends from the Panchatantra books. There are several figures and sculptures in and around Arjuna's Penance which themselves show their vitality and spontaneity.

Architecture of Arjuna's Penance
Arjuna's Penance is well known for its ancient and unique carvings and sculptures. There are main elements of the stories related to this place on the left and scenes of the natural and celestial worlds on the right. There is a natural cleft which is populated by nagas separates the two halves of the relief. Arjuna stands on one leg, his arms upraised in a yoga posture, just above the shrine. Behind Arjuna is Lord Shiva holding a weapon and attended by ganas. To the left of this is life-sized elephants protecting their young below a scene of numerous other animals and flying celestials. All of these pictures are carved with the greatest vivacity, skill, naturalism and joyousness. There are several famous and beautiful relief carved here in Arjuna's Penance. It is very difficult to shoot all the photographs in one shoot as a person can barely reach the elephant's feet. There is also a monkey family depicted in a very exquisite and appealing manner in Arjuna's Penance. In each of these figures one can notice the intense and na´ve love of life that characterizes the Buddhist art at Sanchi.

How to Reach Arjuna's Penance
By Air : Chennai is the nearest airport from Mahabalipuram, located around 60-km away. You can get flights for almost all major destinations in India and abroad.

By Rail : The nearest railway station is Chengalpattu, around 29-km away from Mahabalipuram. You can easily get trains for Chennai and several other major cities in South India.

By Road : Mahabalipuram is well connected by road to Chennai, Kanchipuram, Pondicherry and other towns and cities of Tamilnadu.