Stories that inspire

7th Century Varaha Cave Temple, Mamallapuram

Mamallapuram, a historical town that is very close to Chennai is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shore temple, cave temples, sculptures, and monolithic chariots here tell the story of the Pallava period that flourished in the sixth century. Mamallapuram was an important port of the Pallavas and was named after the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630 – 668 AD). This king who excelled in wrestling was known by the names ‘Mamallan’ and ‘Mahamallan’. The port city was also known as Mallai and Kadalmallai.

Sthalasayanaperumal Temple
Sthalasayanaperumal Temple

Mamallapuram was the birthplace of Boothathalvar, one of the first three Alwars(ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu). The renowned Sthalasayana Perumal temple, one of the 108 Divya Desams, revered by Thirumangai Alwar in the Naalaayira Dhivyaprabantham is at Mamallapuram.  In his hymns, Thirumangai Alwar not only sang about the temple and the idols there, but also wrote in great detail about the port of Mamallapuram, its ships, and the treasures that lurked there. Many devotees believe that the Adi Varaha cave temple and the Sthalasayana Perumal temple together constitute one Divya Desam.

Adivaraha Cave Temple

Adi Varaha Cave Temple
Adi Varaha Cave Temple/Thiruvalandhai

The Pallava Kings built many temples for Lord Vishnu. One of their favourite avatars was of him was the Varaha Murthy. It was believed that one deadly Asura Hiranyakshan once kidnapped the Earth Goddess and hid her under the depths of the oceans. Lord Vishnu took the avatar of a wild boar (Varaha), went inside the ocean, and rescued the Goddess Earth. Hence Lord Varaha is always portrayed lifting Goddess Earth in the temples and sculptures.

The 7th-century Adi Varaha cave temple is located very close to the Sthalasayana Perumal Temple and is still in active worship. There is another cave temple known as the Varaha Mandapa in the Mamallapuram group of monuments with the absence of a sanctum-sanctorum. 

Architecture: Although it is a cave temple, it has a pillared hall in front dating back to the Pallava period. The sanctum sanctorum and the temple faces the western direction. The sanctum sanctorum has a gigantic statue of Adi Varaha similar made of limestone (Sudhai) similar to the Kanchi Ulagalantha Perumal Temple and Pandavadootha Perumal Temple. In front of this limestone statue, is a similar statue of Lord Varaha made from the auspicious Salagramam stone.

Thiruvalandhai  and Thiruvidanthai

The Varaha cave temple is also known as Thiruvalandai (valam meaning right-side in the Tamil Language) because Moolavar Varaha lifts Bhumadevi on his right side here. Not too far from Mamallapuram, there is another Varaha Temple built by the Pallavas known as the Nithya Kalyana Perumal Temple.  Here Lord Varaha is seen lifting the Goddess Earth on his left side, hence the shine is also known as Thiruvidanthai (Idam meaning left-side in Tamil).

Nithya Kalyana Perumal Temple/Thiruvidanthai
Nithya Kalyana Perumal Temple/Thiruvidanthai

Utsava Moorthy: Temples have one main God (Moolavar) in the sanctum sanctorum and one or more metal idols used for processions. These idols are known as Uthsava Moorthy, uthsavam meaning processions in Sanskrit.  The Uthsava Moorthy of this cave temple is known as Gnanapiran. This idol is a four-armed Vishnu along with his wives Sridevi and Bhudevi. There is also a ceremonial statue of Sudarshans mounted on a hexagonal yandhira. Pujas are performed here according to the rules of Vaikanasa Agama.

Other Important Sculptures

Although the Moolavar statue here is made of limestone here, there are many beautiful and interesting stone sculptures on both sides of the sanctum sanctorum.

Gajalakshmi Panel

Gajalakshmi Panel
Gajalakshmi Panel

This beautiful panel of Gajalakshhmi has a seated Lakshmi on a lotus in the centre. On either side, there are two elephants pouring water on top of her like an abhishekam.  There are images of maids on either side of Lakshmi standing with a mug of water,  waiting for the elephants to take them for another round of abhishekam. This is not just a sculpture, but a whole scene waiting to happen.

Portrait sculptures

few important portrait sculptures of Pallava kings Simhavarman and his son Mahendravarman with their respective wives can be seen in this cave. 

Front Hall

In front of the cave temple is a small pillared courtyard built by the Vijayanagara kings of the sixteenth century.


Many inscriptions written in the Pallava Granth can be found here. Two of them belong to the seventh century. One says the names of Kings Simhavarman as ‘Sri Simmavinna Potrathirajan’ and Mahendravarman as ‘Sri Mahendra Potrathirajan’. The most important inscription here was that of all the ten incarnations of Mahavishnu in Sanskrit. This inscription which dates back to about the 7th  century was the first inscription in India mentioning the avatars of Sriman Narayana.


Varaha Jayanti is celebrated annually in the Tamil month of Chittirai (April-may) on the star of Uttirattadhi. Monthly Thirumanjanam (divine bath) for Perumal happens at the temple on the star of Uttirattadhi.

Adi VarahaTemple is open only in the morning. Those who wish to visit this temple should contact the priests of the nearby Sthalasana Perumal Temple.

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