Arjuna’s Penance’ is an extract from the Mahabharata, of how Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, performed severe austerities in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon. … The ‘Descent of Ganges’ story narrates the penance of Bhagirathi who performed austerities in order to bring Goddess Ganges down to earth.
Located behind Sri Sthal Sayana Perumal Temple, are the bas reliefs bas reliefs (‘bas reliefs’ is a sculpting technique created either by carving the material such as wood, stone, ivory, jade, etc., or by adding material at the top of a smooth surface) built under the reign of Pallava king Mahendravarman in the 600-640 A.D. This monolithic sculpture is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and the largest Open Air Bas reliefs in the world. It is carved out of two huge boulders 27 meters long and 43 feet high and is size of a huge blue whale. Hence, it has aptly been listed as the World UNESCO site. The mammoth sculpture depicts the invincible Pandava Prince and warrior, Arjuna, practicing austerities to please Lord Shiva for obtaining a mighty weapon before the war of Kurukshetra. Some scholars have contradicted this interpretation and claimed that the rock-cut sculpture has been fashioned so as to portray the penance done by King Bhagiratha, an ancestor of Lord Rama, to bring down river Ganges from the heavens to the earth. Lord Vishnu, sages, celestial nymphs, Nagas, holy deities, Gandharvas, Yakshas, auspicious animals and other divine entities also beautify this carved edifice. It is to be noted that Arjuna’s real site of penance is somewhere up in the Himalayas.
The other name for this Bas- relief is the “Descent of the Ganges” referring to the legend of king “Bhagiratha” performing penance and praying to the Lord Shiva to bring the River Ganges to earth so as to gain salvation for his ancestors .
Arjuna’s Penance is a massive open-air bas-relief monolith, which dates back to the 7th century. It is situated in the town of Mahabalipuram, at a distance of 58 km from Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu.
The Arjuna relief is in the centre of Mahabalipuram, facing the sea at a short distance from the shores of the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal where the Shore Temple is situated. It is accessible from Chennai city over a 36 miles (58 km) paved road to its west and 20 miles (32 km) from Chengalpet.