Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Mahabalipuram on Friday. Both leaders are scheduled to hold their second informal summit on Saturday. Prime Minister Modi gave a brief tour of the historic temple town to the Chinese president. Mahabalipuram has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its monuments which are closely associated with Hindu mythology. During the course of their tour, both leaders visited the famous 'Pancha Rathas' monument.
The Pancha Rathas literally means 'Five Chariots'. The name is derived from the appearance of these monuments which resemble the processional chariots used in India. The monuments have been named after the five Pandavas and their wife Draupadi. According to history, all five monuments have been constructed using a single rock to form five free-standing monolithic temples. The majestic monuments were constructed during the reign of Pallava king Narshimavarman-I. Here's a brief description of all five Rathas and the significance they hold in Indian mythology.
Draupadi Ratha- The smallest of Rathas, its also the northern-most one featuring a simple hut-like Vimana with an enshrining image of four-armed Durga in the sanctum adored by the two male worshippers. The monument is supported by four corner-pilasters and has a niche on three sides, while the western niche containing the figures of Dvarapalikas that flank either side of the doorway. The remaining niches each contain representation of Durga. In front of the ratha is a standing lion representing the vehicle of Durga.
Arjuna Ratha- The second one which is situated on the southern side and shares a similar platform with the Draupadi Ratha is the Arjuna Ratha. This part of the monument has a small two-tiered vimana which consists of a sanctum with pillared front mandapa. In addition, there are carved panels between the pilasters on the four sides of its main body on the ground floor and in the first storey. The corner panels has standing figures of Dvarapalas. The central panel has a Shiva leaning on the Nandi on the south and Indira to the east. Vishnu's significance can be seen as the monument shows the deity leaning on Garuda on the north. The other panels are Mithuna figures or royal couples. Rishi carrying a staff is also depicted. Behind this ratha is a colossal monolithic couchant Nandi, which, even in its semi-finished state, is a masterpiece.
Bhima Ratha- This Ratha has a roof shaped like the hood of a country-wagon. It is elongated on a rectangular base and is supported length-wise by four pillars and two pilasters. The other ornamentations, false chaitya-windows (kudu) and pavilion, are similar to that of the Dharmaraja- Ratha. However, the Bhima Ratha contains no figure carving or any stone sculptures.
Dharmaraja Ratha- The southernmost and also the highest temple of the group is dedicated to the leader of Pandavas, Yudhistir. The temple is pyramidal structure with a square base. It has three-storied square vimanas with octagonal (eight-sided) Sikahara. The niches around the wall of the sanctum and niches in upper talas contain the images of different forms of Siva. One of the niche contains the portrait of king possibly Narashimavarma-I with the title “Sri Mega” and “Trailokiyavardhana Vidhi” inscribed in Grantha script. In the inscription, this temple is called “Atyantakama Pallavesvaram”
Nakula Sahadeva Ratha - This monument is a monolithic apsidal temple with a front porch supported by two lion pillars. There are no figure carvings on this temple. Close to this is the monolithic elephant suggestive of the Gajapristhakara (elephant back) shape representing an apsidal temple.
Apart from these monuments, the coastal town of Mahabalipuram also has other iconic monuments like Arjuna's Penance, Krishna's Butterball and the Shore Temple. The ancient monuments which were spruced up ahead of the Indo-China summit, is a quiet cue to the artistic genius of Pallava era artisans, who created poetry in stone to bring alive several ideas like the time of the day, long before the clock was invented.
President of China, Xi Jinping, is on his visit to India for the second informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 11 and October 12. The previous Wuhan summit has happened against the backdrop of India and China standoff on the Doklam issue in 2017. It had gone a long way to defusing the situation. Ahead of the Mamallapuram meeting, China has also made statements towards making ties more harmonious.