Thirumalapuram Rock Cut Temples of Tirunelveli District - this heritage site needs lots of publicity

Thirumalapuram cave shrines

There are many rock-cut temples across the state of Tamil Nadu, the   famous being Mahabalipuram temple complex near Chennai and the rock-cut temples of Tiruchirappalli fort complex.  The Thirumalapuram cave shrines  of Tirunelveli district are not as popular as those at the above places,  primarily due to lack of publicity by the tourism department.

7th CE cave temple, Pandyan Dynasty, Thirumalapuram cave

Located on a hillock in Thirumalapuram (also known as Varunachimalai)  there are  two shrines excavated during the seventh and eighth centuries CE (by the Pandya rulers) which have identical façades, located on the northern and southern sides of the hillock. The northern cave  is almost complete  with an entrance porch or Maha mandapa followed by a rectangular pillared ardha mandapa and a sanctum or garbhagriha, excavated  into the lateral wall instead of back wall of the cave. It has  a  stone linga dedicated to Shiva. The shrine can be reached through  a flight of steps  It has bas-relief sculptures and two inscriptions from the Pandyan period.

 The southern cave is left incomplete for unknown  reasons. The shrines highlight the growing or evolving architectural  design styles in  the region  during  the medieval period.  About 24 km  from Tenkasi town  and 62 km from Tirunelveli city, the Thirumalapuram Rock-Cut Cave Temples are in  Sankarankovil Taluk of the Tirunelveli district. It being a famous heritage site, the rock-cut shrines are being under the care of ASI - the Archaeological Survey of India, 

Pandhya rock cut temple. 7th/8th

The common features of a Hindu temple architecture are found here such as  stone sculptures of dwarapalakas, guarding the entrance to the sanctum as in the 8th CE temples, a Nandi facing  the shrine where the linga is consecrated. The pillars in the façades show  strong  influence of the shrines of the Pallava court. Lotus medallions in the cubical portion of the pillar shafts and  in the pilasters that frame the reliefs on the inner walls, decoration of  scroll ornaments underside of the bracket capitals  are notable features. There  are many carved stone images in relief panels  such as  Ganesha and  Trimurti. In the case of the latter   four-armed Vishnu flanked by ganas, a dancing Shiva and Brahma are well carved. Pallava temple sculptures commonly include   trinity gods.They form part of the  3 bas-relief structures. The first one is a beautiful dancing Siva (in the posture of Chatura) with a bhootha gana and bull on both sides. A dwarf near his foot plays the musical instrument. The second carving is Lord Vishnu with 4 hands in standing posture and 2 seated bhootha ganas on either sides.  Seated Ganesha is seen next to him. The sanctum where  Siva Linga is enshrined has sentinels - dwarapalakas  on either side of the entrance The relief sculpture of Brahma has  4 hands and 3 visible heads. On the center of the hall, facing the Siva Linga is a monolith Nandi which is damaged. The sculptures carry the features of Pandya kingdom.  Chakravartin Srivallabhadeva, a Pandya prince donated the land to the temple as per  the 12th CE inscription.