• Sittanavasal Caves is a 2nd-century Tamil Ramaa cave complex located in Sittanavasal hamlet in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukkottai district.
  • rock-cut monastery or temple serves as a monument. It is known as the Arivar Koil.
  • Sittannavasal literally translates to “abode of the great saints” in Tamil. It has relics of important frescoes from the seventh century. 
  • The murals have been painted with vegetable and mineral dyes in black, green, yellow, orange, blue, and white.
  • Paintings have been created by applying colours over a thin wet surface of lime plaster.
  • These paintings are considered to be among the best of medieval India’s paintings, second only to those in the Ajanta and Bagh Caves.
  •  Archaeological Survey of India has listed Sittanavasal Cave in the list of “Must See” Indian Heritage.

Historical Background

  • Sittanavasal is a north-south running rock-cut cave located on the western side of the middle part of a hill.
  • The Sittanavasal village dates from the 1st century BC to the 10th century AD, when Jainism was prevalent in the region.
  • There are also Jain stone beds on top of the hill, indicating that this area was a pilgrimage site during the Jain era, which lasted until the 9th century AD.
  • This cave temple was built by Pallava King Mahendravarma (580–630 AD) prior to his conversion from Jainism to Hinduism.
  • An inscription, however, credits its restoration to a Pandyan king, most likely Maran Sendan (654–670 AD) or Arikesari Maravarman (670–700 AD).
  • The Śramaṇa beds on the hilltop are thought to have belonged to a Jain pilgrimage center that lasted until the 9th century AD.
  • However, many megalithic burial sites from much older have been discovered in the Pudukkottai region, where the monuments are located.

Cave architectural features

  • The architectural features of the Sittanvasal Cave include the painting and sculptures found within its precincts. Archaeological Survey of India is responsible for the maintenance of the cave and the Jain beds.
  • The paintings have been painted in fresco-secco technique with many mineral colours.
  • Eladipattam is the most recent addition to Sittanavasal’s ancient Jain center. It has been used as a Jain shelter since the first century BC.
  • The cave has seventeen polished stone berths lined up in rows, each with a raised section.
  • The largest of these ostensibly ascetic beds has an important inscription in Brahmi script from the first century BC, though there are inscriptions from later centuries as well.
  • Inscriptions include the names of monks such as Tolakunrattu Kadavulan, Tirunillan, Tiruppuranan, Tittaicbaranan, and others.
Samanar Padukkai
  • Eladipattam is said to have been a site of extreme penance (kayotsarga and sallekhana).
  • Beautiful lotus ponds with lotus flowers, people collecting lotuses from the pond, two dancing figures, lilies, fish, geese, buffaloes, and elephants are depicted in the art work.
  • The west-facing cave’s layout is similar to that of other rock-cut cave temples built in the area throughout the 7th century.
  • It just had a garbha-griha (sanctum sanctorum) and an Artha Mandapam when it was first built (semi hall).
  • The mukha-mandapa (front hall) was, however, an extension to the frontage that had collapsed under the Pandya rule.
  • During the twentieth century, a pillared veranda with a facade was erected in front of the cave at the proposal of Tottenham, the British administrator; the Maharaja of Pudukkottai added this part of the construction.
  • It has two pillars and two pilasters, as well as a square base entry to a hexagonal portico, all of which were transported from the Kudumiyanmalai mantapa ruins.
  • Inscriptions from the 9th and 10th centuries can also be found. Murals from the seventh century cover the Ardhamandapam’s ceiling.
  • The subterranean temple contains modest pillars and Jain Tirthankara statues.
  • The paintings were created using a fresco-secco technique using a variety of mineral colors.
  • Although the decorative paintings in the ceilings of the sanctum and ardha-mandapam of Aravirkovil are similar to the classical cave painting styles used in the Ajanta Caves, there are minor differences in the materials used to create the paintings.
  • The paintings are also said to provide a link between the Ajanta paintings (4th–6th century AD) and the Chola paintings of the 11th century at Thanjavur.
  • The ceilings portray a lotus tank with natural-looking figures of humans, animals, flowers, birds, and fishes that embody the Jain faith of Samavasarana.
  • The monarch and queen, as well as a dancing girl, are carved into the pillars.
  • However, in the last five or six decades, most of the frescoes that were completely covered in plaster have been significantly disfigured or are no longer visible due to insufficient security and care, resulting in vandalism.
  • Originally, the entire cave temple was plastered and painted, including the statues.
  • The paintings are based on the Jain Samavasarana, the “most beautiful heavenly pavilion” (which refers to nirvana) and Khatika bhumi.

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