Archive for September 14th, 2008

We have seen quite a few rock cut structures, in order to truly understand the beauty and appreciate the effort that has gone into these creations one has to study how they were sculpted.

Lets take the monuments of Mahabalipuram for instance. These magnificent creations are cut out of living rock - how did the ancients manage this. To envision and conceptualise such works of art is one thing but what to execute them in the hardest rock is another and with what kind of implements, tools.

We look at a few tell tale marks of the sculptor ( will lead to another question - as to why these beautiful structures are half finished or rather unfinished - leads again to the question of authorship of these monuments, who, when - how long did he rule, were there interruptions /enemy incursions etc )

First off all, once a boulder is chosen - how do you sculpt away bulk of mass. The Pallava sculptor used a very simple technique. Take a look at these row of holes chiseled into many rocks ( you see them almost everywhere in mallai) - we expect them to have had hammers and chisels. Now once they chose a rockface, they would roughly draw a line with these holes.

chiseled holes.JPG
neat row of chiselled holes.jpg
breaking a boulder.jpg

Once done, they would use wooden plugs driven into the holes into a tight fit, and then water it. The wood would absorb the water and expand - the pressure created by this uniform expansion of all the pegs would make the stone crack. What ingenuity ( recently i was watching a channel showing a modern quarry in Italy - and they used basically the same principle to crack marble!)

broken boulder.jpg

OK, this is fine for breaking a boulder. How did they manage to cut the amazing caves into the rock face. Again very simple, this picture should give you a clue of both the techniques in one shot.

Mallai two types of working with rock.jpg
carving into rockface via grids.jpg
hmm wip again.jpg
just started 2.jpg
just started.jpg
was work in progress.jpg
work that was in progress.jpg

The rock face to be sculpted into, would be marked into kind of a grid, and then slowly divided into smaller squares and chiseled - which would eventually chip off the smallest piece of rock. If you can imagine this, then you can appreciate the effort that would have been taken to create these.

the early end product.jpg
The refined  finished product.jpg
early cave adhivaraha.jpg
early cave kodikkal.jpg
mahisa suramardhini cave  pillar.jpg

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Ok, we saw a big post with only one picture in the intro post - so those of you eager to see more of the big temple, apologize for that - but the call of my beloved hero Raja Raja aka ponniyin selvan was too much.

We saw the temple vimanam at a distance - so we approach closer, before the visual spectacle arrests you - lets for a second imagine that someone has blind folded you - and moved you closer to the entrance. We skip the first entrance tower ( which is a later addition) and move your nearer to the second - the Keralantagan ( he who destroyed kerela - one of the first victories of Raja Raja was against the Chera stronghold / martial academy in Kandalur Salai - so his meeikeerthi sings-Kandalur salai kalamarutharuli ) - we skip that one as well and move you to the Raja Rajan gopuram ( The illustrious Arulmozhi took the tile of Raja Raja on his crowning) and slowly remove your blind fold. You open your eyes slowly. what do you see?

a bottom upview of the right door guardian.jpg

You see a Dwarabaalaga - door guardian - we first move you to the right one - with bared fangs and bulging eyes - looking down on you .

doorguardian left.jpg
doorguardian right.jpg
door guardian left.jpg
door guardian right.jpg

You are forced to look down - for his lower right hand is held is a kind of warning pose - Be careful


and then you look at the lower left hand - its says - look down -


there we see a lion,ok and then there is a snake biting something - oh, its swallowing an elephant!!! there is also a crocodile that has been depicted but i don’t have an explanation for that now ( we come to this later)


So we look up again - the upper left hand is pointing inside ( the Lord)

vismaya astonishment.JPG

and the upper right hand is raised in Vismaya ( Astonishment)

doorguardian detail.JPG

ok lets read whats implied, beware,see below an elephant is being swallowed by a snake, and i am so much bigger than them - and inside - the God is much much bigger than all of us.

the right door guardian.jpg

so How big is the door guardian - Ok - lets zoom back - bring a human into frame,hmm lets do better and bring an elephant into the frame -

how is this for size n see the sculpture panels.jpg
how is this for size.jpg

Now do you get the perception of the scale of the doorguardian.

Door guardians Rajarajan gopuram.JPG

Now we zoom even more and bring the entire tower into the frame slowly moving backwards …wow -how massive.

rajarajan gopuram with door guardians.jpg
rajarajan gopuram majestic.jpg
door guardians long shot.jpg

The story of the elephant being swallowed is a pointer to the question on the first post as to why the Vimaana in tanjore is taller than the gopuram. A delightful explanation comes from Saint Sambandar’s Devaram.

Where he describes the abode of Shiva - the Holy mountain of Kailash, where there are huge snakes that are capable of swallowing elephants ( actually the right translation of Anaconda - is Aaanai - elephant - Kolran - killer - as per some? but how did a tamil saint envision of amazonian snake and how did the amazonian snake get such a name ?) - in other verses we hear of the lions in kailash ( as did we see in the angkorian ravana shaking episode). So the depiction of these animals are a pointer that the Vimana - true to its name is Dakshina Meru - Southern Kailash - the holy abode of shiva.

Now see the pictures

The first Tower - built during late 14 C

the first entrance not built by RRC.jpg
the first gopuram ( not chola built).jpg

The second Tower Keralanthagan Gopuram

Keralantagan gopuram.jpg
Kerelantagan gopuram.jpg

The third tower Rajarajan Gopuram

the two gopurams - pciture courtesy flickr ravages.jpg
the two gopurams from vimanam side.JPG

and finally the Maha meru Vimanam - to truly describe the scale of this edifice requires more posts - so just leave you with some breathtaking visuals ( thanks to friends and Mr Rohan R. Rao
http://rohanrrao.wordpress.com/ for allowing me to post some of his pictures)

Layout of the big temple.JPG
a centered front view.JPG
The two gopurams with vimanam in the background.jpg
another view of thanjavore temple.JPG
Please check the people who are walking in front to compare the size of the temple
dakshina meru.jpg
dakshina meru2.jpg
towering into the clouds.jpg
watch the seated people - u get an idea of the size.jpg

There are numerous myths and some little known facts about the great temple. in the coming weeks we will slowly see them…

still another view..thanjavore.JPG
the dakshina meru - south kailash vimanam.jpg
the impact when your peer up at the vimaana.jpg
the maha meru - vimaanam.JPG
the main complex.jpg
the pinnacle of chola temple architecture.jpg

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