Arjuna's Penance

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Arjuna's Penance


Carved in the mid-seventh century, Arjuna's Penance in Mamallapuram is such a splendid respite area that till today it is a site of marvel. Measuring about 30 metre in length and 15 metre in height, the rock sculpture reflects upon one common subject relating to either the Descent of the Ganges, or Arjuna's Penance or as per some historians, possibly both.

Arjuna's Penance is indeed a story from the epic Mahabharata narrating how Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, carried out strict asceticism in order to gain Lord Shiva's weapon. Primarily, the message which the legend propagates is about how one can obtain anything through self-mortification, which gives one sufficient power even to conquer the expectations of gods from mortals. It is said that in order to guard themselves, the gods would bless the plea of any austere that endangered their pre-eminence in this way – which in other words was a kind of sacred blackmail, or "give to get”.

The Ganges story on the other hand, is somewhat of the similar kind, as per which the astute Bhagiratha performed austerities in the cave in order to bring the Goddess Ganges down to earth. In this story, Lord Shiva was the one who had to agree to let Ganges first fall into his hair, and then fall on earth in a controlled manner as otherwise its force would have been too much for the earth to handle.

Best time to visit

October to March is the best time to visit Arjuna’s Penance and other beautiful attractions of Mamallapuram.


Further, there are various carvings on the interiors of the cave depicting Lord Shiva and various other creatures like elephants, monkeys, etc. Overall, the cave has over 100 figures of gods and semi divine creatures, along with birds and beasts, mortals and sages.


Arjuna’s Penance can be visited between 6:30 am till 6:00 pm.

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