We have a particular liking for the small temple inside the fort at Vellore, which is not on the usual tour circuit of Tamil Nadu. The temple compound contains a small mandapam, or hall, with some of the finest stone carving we have seen. The fort was occupied by the British for two centuries and for much of that time the temple was de-sanctified and used as an arsenal – hence the temple is unimproved and the carving largely undamaged.
The carvings range from the sacred to the profane to the amusing. One large block has a very small gecko on it in relief – implying the painstaking removal of a huge layer of extraneous stone (like the Greek herm). Another decorative panel has an elephant and a bull – which share a head. Somehow the elephant’s tusks become the bull’s ears. The platform on which the VIPs sat rides on a turtle, albeit a very flat one! The main columns are beautifully carved with riders on horses and mythical beasts, fighting wild animals.
All of this is done in granite, not the easiest rock to carve. In fact the entire fort is made of granite from the surrounding hills. Vellore fort was built in 1566 by the Vijayanagara Empire, fell into the hands of the Marathas, then the Mughals, and then the British from 1760. The first mutiny against the British in India happened at Vellore in 1806. The fort is now managed as a historic monument by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Vellore can be visited easily in a day trip from Chennai, perhaps combined with Kanchipuram, famous for temples and silk-weaving.