Mamallapuram, about an hour south of Chennai along the East coast, hosts India’s largest and most dramatic relief-sculpture. It represents the celebrated myth of the descent of the river Ganga from heaven to earth. The Great Penance, is carved on a giant granite rock wall 27 meters wide and 9 meters tall, and was believed to be initiated during the reign of the Pallava King Mahendra Varman, ca 7th century ce.
While a traditional sculpture (or other work of art) would memorialize a climactic scene, this Great Penance is depicted as a “continuous narrative,” wherein multiple scenes from a series of events are portrayed on the same canvas, permitting the observer to focus on different parts of the work and recollect different scenes in the narrative. The more details one observes and associates, the more richer the experience.
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