The complexity and accuracy of carving demonstrated on this panel at Mahabalipuram is unique and testifies to richness of Mahabharat
Monuments at Mahabalipuram can be grouped as per their construction style. Firstly, we have monolithic free standing temples which were carved out of stones as and where available. Most of the Raha style temples are in this category. Secondly, caves excavated in the hills are called mandapas. Thirdly, temples built out of stone blocks. Fourthly, sculptured scenes – a theory, an idea, an incident or the history are carved out on the panel of stone.
Arjun’s Penance is a panel of stone in this complex. It is one such piece of art in the world of stone temple architecture of Bharat which can be described as a masterpiece. The complexity and accuracy of carving demonstrated on this panel surpasses all the boundaries of imaginations of mankind. It was created with great skill and imagination on two large boulders of pink granite in the open air giving the whole a natural effect. The boulders measure 15 by 30 metres (49 ft × 98 ft). The scene here is from Mahabharata. Arjun performed penance to please Lord Shiva and won the weapon Pasupata from him. Two large boulders with a fissure in the centre have been used by the sculptor to narrate the story. Rows of Gods and Goddesses are shown rushing towards the sage who is engaged in the act of penance near the central cleft. Many of the figures carved are life size. There are other animals and living beings from this world and out of this world which have been carved by the imagination of the artist. Gracefully carved figures of nagas and naginis occupy the main position in the central cleft. This is the best example of the use of natural conditions of the available stone to convert it into the most meaningful picturesque depiction of the story.
Such carvings in the premises of the temple complexes and also many a times on the walls of the temple architecture are the real source of information not only about social conditions of that period but about intellectual and artistic status of the entire society.