Part of the Pancha Ratha complex at Mamallapuram, the Bhima Ratha is adjacent to the Draupadi Ratha and the Arjuna Ratha. It is an oblong two-storied shrine with a barrel-vaulted roof decorated with shalas and chandrashalas. It is 14.6 metres long, 7.6 metres wide and 8 metres tall with a central cell approximately 9 metres long and 3 metres wide. Around the cell runs a colonnade 1.5 metres wide throughout, shrinking to 1 metre at the corners.
The colonnade includes several ornate pillars with lions and yalis carved on their bases. The barrel-shaped roof has drawn comparisons to Buddhist architecture, though there is debate over whether the structure was inspired by Buddhist buildings or whether both drew from a common architectural ancestor. The pillars on the eastern side of the structure are unfinished, suggesting that it was abandoned after the excavation of the lower storey. The lower storey also lacks sculptures, unlike other shrines in the complex. It has been suggested that the structure’s oblong shape was meant to prepare it to house a central carved image of the reclining Vishnu Anantasayana.
Though the structure is today named after the Pandava Bhima from the Mahabharata epic, there is no evidence from its original construction attesting to this.
Archaeological Survey of India. “Monolithic Temples of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.” 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20130312100940/http://www.asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_mahabalipuram_monolithic.asp.
Fergusson, James, and James Burgess. The Cave Temples of India. London: W.H. Allen & Company, 1880.
Huntington, Susan. The Art and Architecture of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. New York: Weatherhill, 1985.