"Arjuna's Penance" Mamallapuram Things to Do Tip by Willettsworld

Mamallapuram Things to Do: 116 reviews and 322 photos


Arjuna's Penance or Bhagiratha's Penance is the name of a massive open air bas-relief monolith dating from the 7th century located opposite the Talasayana Perumai Temple. Measuring 96 feet long by 43 feet high, the bas-relief is also known as The Descent of Ganga. It displays animals, deities and other semi divine creatures as well as fables from the Hindu Panchatantra books and is one of the best sights at Mamallapuram.

The bas-relief has two names, because there is not full agreement regarding which of the stories the mural depicts. One theory is that the relief depicts the flow of the Ganges down from the Himalayan mountains. Legend says that King Bhagiratha brought down the Ganges from heaven to purify the souls of his ancestors. Later he realised that the flood would inundate the earth so he had to undergo a penance to convince Shiva to intervene. The Lord came down to earth and let the flood trickle through his hair, dispersing the water safely in a number of streams.

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  • Written Oct 9, 2009
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