Archive for September 19th, 2008

You would have read in the about me section, the yahoo group discussing Kalki’s amazing creation - ponniyin selvan introduced me to host of new friends. One post out of blue in the forum made me stand up and notice ( www.ponniyinselvan.in). A post which was not out of place in a forum that discusses one of the greatest work of historical fiction in the Tamil, but coming from an American woman, it sure raised my eyebrow. Maybe it was one of those pseudo blogger names, so i started a conversation - what unfolded left me dumbfounded. Kathie is an American, who possibly has visited more obscure sites ( including ancient sacred places, even ones without much left at the site) than the celebrated back packer, ardent temple enthusiast in India, not just with an eye to see them as a tourist, but to enjoy the beauty of sculpture, to drink in the true pleasure of stone art at its very best - She has been coming to India since ‘86 seeking out spiritual places filled with amazing works of art. So when i was thinking of calling someone to grace this site with a guest post, she agreed instantly. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her knowledge makes me wince!! over to Kathie

One site I’d been longing to see, on the strength of one photo in J.C.Harle’s “Art & Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent”, was NARTTAMALAI [Narthamalai].

Legend tells that its great granite pile fell off the mountain of healing herbs carried by Sri Hanuman, flying down to Lanka. It’s true that the area is known for medicinal wild plants.

Winter ‘95, I took a taxi down from Tiruchi into Pudukkottai district, wondering if I could find the place. There was the enormous granite hill with a pool at its south end, but where was the temple ?

1 Ayyannar.jpg

Doubtful, I walked along the fairly steep rock-face, noting an Ayyannar shrine across the water; then, through the trees, appeared the beautifully balanced Vimana: Vijayalaya Cholisvara Koil

2 through the trees.jpg

This temple of 866 CE, built by Muttaraiyars — fiduciaries of the Royal Chozhas — shows that their artisans excelled in both architecture & sculpture. The west-facing temple’s round amalaka still had some paint –a soft red–, with 4 side shrines, gentle Nandi, & two caves in the cliff behind.
Murthis on the temple itself was quite worn and hard to see without binoculars.
To my taste, this is the most perfectly proportioned temple in TN.

3 Koil from NW.jpg

The several door guardians here were among the finest I’d ever seen, a platform against the rock had a mala of playful elephants & Yalis, , including one with a human face. There were more loose murthis on the platform.

4 Dvarapalaka.jpg
human face yazhi.jpg

One cave was being used as a storeroom. The other — Samanar Kudagu, once Jain — had interior walls lined with 18(?) carved Vishnus, each subtly distinct.

6 Samanar vishnus.jpg
row of vishnus.jpg

Beside the koil masterpiece, the view east from the temple courtyard– angled rocks and green paddy — was breathtaking.

7 guard & sibs, view.jpg
8 Paola meditates.jpg

in 2007 I visited again with a group of friends. By then the amalaka had lost it’s rosy tint.

This time we continued down the great granite slab slanting to the north, and at its foot, found another Ayyannar Shrine of over a hundred steeds for the village guardians.

9 ayyannar steeds.jpg

A magical place.

There is a newer temple on Narttamalai which we didn’t find.More sculpture from this site can be seen at the Pudukkottai Govt. Museum.

Kathie Brobeck

p.s We will visit this amazing place in more detail in subsequent posts.

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We had seen earlier how profound is the influence of a divine creation on a viewer. The splendor of the masterpiece, transcends time and the joy of the artist’s creation, despite being a thousand years old, continues to pass on from his flesh to stone and from the stone to flesh - of the viewer.


Not many people are lucky enough to be so enormously talented, to be able to give shape to this feeling. It is a void many feel, when one sees pure beauty in front of your eyes, your mind captures it in its eye and your body is overpowered by this dose of sheer exuberance, you are searching for a medium to release this energy. And if you are as talented as my friend Mr Murali, then all the stored responses gushes forth in a spontaneous burst of creativity - adding luster to the creation, a fitting tribute to the masterpiece. Its not often you get a chance to compare two different art forms, products of two different streams of art - spread over a 1000 years, both masters in their craft


Its easy to see why this creation inspired the artist, though the big temple abounds with such brilliant works in stone, the beauty of this creation, leaves you speechless. The Laxmi ( had earlier posted this wrongly as Gyana Saraswati - on further reading notice that this is Laxmi - has two hands and a breast band - whereas Saraswathi is four armed and misses the breast band - apologise to readers) master sculpture of the tanjore big temple. What perfection, the graceful crossed legged seated position, the calm serene face, those arched brows, the benevolent smile, the jeweled crown, the splendid ornaments, the detailing of the garments, Oh - if only i were a chola sculptor i would have felt that my life’s purpose is attained on creating such a masterpiece. So great is this work, imagine to be able to breathe life into stone and create this divine form.

And despite technology bringing you the best in color photography, black and white is the best - the depth that it lends to the finished product is spectacular.


But for the fingers that sketched it on paper, no words suffice, no praise apt. Hats off to you murali and thanks again for sharing your stuff with us. May you continue your quest in art and bring many more such beauties to life

You can view all his beauties here


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