Located at Mahabalipuram, on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal in Kancheepuram district, the temple ‘Varaha Cave Temple’ is a rock-cut temple. Like other historical monuments in the Mahabalipuram, this monument dates back to its seventh century, situated on the hills of Mahabalipuram. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as inscribed in 1984 under criteria i, ii, iii and iv.
The cave reflects a transitional style of architecture in its columns mounted on seated lions and frescoes carved on the walls inside the cave which evolved during the rule of Pallava kings Mahendra Varman I and Rajasimha or Narasimhavarman I known as Mamalla. This style was continued by Mamalla’s son Parameshvaravarman I. It is the earliest known monument in Mahabalipuram though not the most visited due its hidden location.
The temple is a small monolithic rock-cut temple with a mandapa carved into the rock face of pink granite formations, dating from the 7th century.
The cave is of smaller dimension and has a simple plan. The fluted columns separating the openings have cushion-shaped capitals and seated lions at the base. Certain Greco-ROman architectural styles could also be discerned and the sitting statues are said to have likeness to the sitting styles seen in European architecture, as against the Indian cross legged style. The style thus created at Mahabalipuram became a forerunner for Dravidian style of architecture. The walls inside the cave have several striking mythological scenes carved in relief. Vishnu rescuing the earth, Vishnu taking three strides, Gaja Laksmi and Durga are all impressive panels carved in the Adivaraha Cave.
At the centre of the rear wall of the mandapa, opposite to the entrance, guardian figures are carved on either side of a shrine. Inside the mandapa, the walls have four large sculptured panels, good examples of naturalistic Pallava art.
This is the only cave temple where worship is offered every day during morning and evening hours and hence is closed during the rest of the time. The temples is sophisticated, architectonically rich structure. This small temple is shaped in low rock outcropping, only a bit higher than the temple itself.
Side walls inside the temple are adorned with four large sculpted panels. Centrepiece of northern sculptural group is Varaha – avatar of Vishnu, similar to wild boar. Varaha holds up his wife Bhūmī – mother earth – he has saved her from Naga, the snake king. Southern sculpted panel shows Vishnu Trivikrama – as a dwarf with one foot on earth, another – in clouded sky. Third leg is on tyrant Bali, pushing him to underworld. Next to Vishnu stand Brahma, Shiva, Sun and the moon. Eastern panel shows goddess Lakshmi with two maidens and two elephants. Fourth panel shows goddess Durga standing on a lotus under umbrella.
Varaha Cave Temple is one of greatest examples of Pallava art. It has been created during the reign of Narasimhavarman I Mahamalla and represents an early stage in Dravidian architecture with many elements of Buddhist design prevalent.