Arjuna's Penance is a very interesting piece of sculpture on rock. It is located at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. The work is 96 ft long and 43 fr high. Studies have showed that it was carved in the 7th century. This is one of the biggest open - air rock sculptures in the world. In ancient times, Mamallapuram was an ancient port. It was ruled by Pallava Dynasty. The rock sculptures, carvings, shore temple etc. make it clear that they were masters of art and architecture
This particular sculpture is named after Arjuna. What is presented in the artwork is a subject of debate now. Some think that is represents a scene from the Mahabharata. It shows how Arjuna performed severe penances to obtain Shiva’s weapon. However, some differ with their opinion. They believe that it is King Bhagiratha’s penance that is represented here. The King had observed penance to bring River Ganges down to earth.
Whatever may be the reality, the work in itself is a masterpiece. The figures on the rock have a special kind of attraction. There are more than 100 figures in the scene. There are Gods and flying heavenly creatures. There are also birds, animals, human beings and saints in this sculpture. The whole sculpture is divided into two. A natural cleft serves as the dividing line between the two The fall of the river is represented by theis cleft. Most of the figures are carved approaching this cleft. Some are with hands folded in adoration. The cleft has a slab with sculpted snakes.