Nakula Sahadeva Ratha
One among the Pancha Rathas at Mamallapuram, the Nakula Sahadeva Ratha is an unfinished monolithic shrine located a little distance away from the other structures, which are organised in a line sloping in the north-south direction. It faces southward – also unlike the others, which face westward – and is 5.4 metres long, 3.3 metres wide and 4.8 metres tall. The structure is named after the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, the youngest of the Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata epic, although this association is yet to be substantiated by evidence from the original construction.
The structure is apsidal in shape and features pilastered walls, niches, a two-tiered roof decorated with kutas, shalas and chandrasalas, and a projecting portico with an empty square cell. The façade is supported by two pillars with yalis carved at their bases and the square cell has pilastered niches with elephants carved at their bases. Unlike the other shrines in the complex, the niches in this one do not have depictions of any mortal figures or deities. Scholars have argued that it could be inspired by Buddhist chaityas, known for their apsidal halls. Next to the structure is a free-standing monolithic elephant.
Since it has no figures or deities carved into its surface, it is difficult to determine the Nakula Sahadeva ratha’s connection to the rest of the structures in the complex. However, some scholars have suggested that this it might have been intended to be dedicated to Indra, as suggested by the free-standing monolithic elephant near the structure, representing the deity’s elephant vahana.
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.