Archives by Month: September, 2008

I have been very fortunate to have been under the tutelage of many great souls, who lovingly embraced me and took it on themselves to educate and encourage me. Their list is long and in that long list the forerunner is Mr .Dhivakar. A master story teller and author of three superb works of historical fiction in tamil - Vamsadhara, Thirumalai Thirudan and Vichitra Chitan, i invite him to give us a history author’s perspective to sculpture.

Thirumalai Thirudan.jpg

Over to Mr. Dhivakar.Vamsadhara.blogspot.com

I am sure that vijay’s effort at showcasing the art of sculpture in such a splendid manner, will resurrect this forgotten art and place it on the high pedestal that it truly deserves, for how better can we pay tribute to the greatness of these great craftsmen who managed to craft such masterpieces in the hardest stone with just a chisel and hammer.

Tamil Nadu has a had a long foray into this art form, starting from the early 6th Century, sculpture held the sway of the land till the 15th C CE dotting the landscape with thousands of temples, with brilliant sculptures, the countryside resounding with beautiful sounds of chisels hitting stone. Though the art form is still alive albeit in a much smaller spread, lending their art to the new temples that are coming up, but there still exists a wide gap between sculpture of today and then. The ancient works of art were based on strong concepts brought forward in the many myths and moral stories, sung in our literature, these amazing works were art were like moving cinescapes bringing forth the crux of the story, thereby forever etched in our memory. The sculpture would chose a good quality stone to showcase the good moral and hence his creation would stand the test of time, have stood and would still stand if not for the wanton acts of us humans. In comparison the modern works of art are bereft of this liveliness, take this new statue in a temple in Atlanta, its a beautiful work no work with excellent proportions, but something is lacking. It doesn’t move you, evoke a sense of awe inside you, for here lies the mastery of the ancients, to breathe life into stone and make it speak - stories.

atlanta georgia.jpg

The ancient sculptors were not just exhibiting their art but had a deep understanding of our culture, our heritage, literature incl devaram, thiruvaasagam, aazwar works, epics incl Mahabarath, Ramayan - they were multifaceted individuals. They had read and re read these works so as to infer the essence of these works and translate it into works of art, leaving behind a rich repository of sculpture for future generations.

Such beautiful interplay of literature with art is finding its release in this site and based on vijay’s request, i am presenting one such interesting story supported by his pictures.

Bitchandavan ( literally meaning divine beggar)

Tanjore Museum Bronze bikshadana.jpg
kanchi kailasanta bikshadhana.jpg

Shiva means love, shivam means old, one who has no end nor beginning,such are the many epithets that sing the praise of shiva. Shiva means nature as well. for he graced his benevolence on this world by subduing the raging Ganges which threatened to inundate the world in her fury, by catching her in his two locks of hair and then once she was truly subdued let her out as a humble stream to enrich the earth. He who has the moon as a head ornament, is also portrayed with a deer, ax, cobra , holding the flame in his hands, wearing a tiger skin dress and stamping the demon ( muyalagan), is demonic instincts also part of nature ?. How did he get to have so many items from nature as ornaments?

Generally legends and mythological stories are grounds to be threaded with care, for quite often later additions have spiced up the original versions, however there are still some left in their pristine forms -
which educate us not only of intellectual heights of those times but also give us a brief idea on the morals and lifestyles prevalent those days. And if we have the good fortune of the shivaite foursome singing the praise of these in the thevaram - thrivasagam, its a double treat. Their words were spontaneous truths encased in the best of tamil diction. One such is the humbling of the rampant pride of the saints who occupied the forests of Tharukavanam. It was due to this that Shiva adorned himself with these amazing ornaments.

tanjore musuem bronze.jpg

From time immemorial santhana dharma has been the unwritten code so associated with religion in india and no greater souls to preach this than the great saints, who resided in the fringes of humanity, in peaceful groves inside dense forests, where their simple living served as living testaments to the faith and heights of human intelligence mixing with the divine. They were our great ancestors, who lived by the great vedas, propounding the divine knowledge of being one with
God, teaching us the right path. Their selfless yet simple life and pure devotion to God made him reside with them.

Generally speaking, the rishis /saints/ ascetics/monks are all great souls, but at times they too fall prey to the vanity of the human mind, leading to some unwanted disturbances creeping in. One such
excess was what occurred to the saints of Taarakavan.

Their single minded devotion to the vedic culture and the fact that the pure essence of the vedas bestowed on them tremendous power - to control the elements, and with great power comes great evil. They had the ascetic energy to control anything including the devas, and hence sought anything and everything from inside the vedic altar, so much so that they started ridiculing the gods, Shiva and vishnu no longer occupied their senses, for they saw no need in praying to them, for every want of theirs could be fulfilled by their innate power.

when men step out of line, nature has his better half programmed to bring him back to the right path, but the women folk of tharukavan were also so drunk on the fulfillment of their every wish, that they
too sided with their menfolk. The mortal pleasures satiated their every wish and soon they were enjoying these pleasures coming their way without much effort.

Their chastity and the power that their chastity brought on their husbands,filled their every thought. Since the multitudes shuddered to face the wrath of their chasteness, their fertile minds led them to
believe that even if Gods as shiva and vishnu did exist, they too would be powerless against them. This added to their already inflated egos.

Shiva and vishnu decided to bring this spectacle to a halt and teach them a good lesson. So shiva descended on the forest, as a charming ascetic - his brilliant golden body radiant in its nakedness, carrying just a bowl and begging the rishi wives for alms. His charm was so overpowering and the sight of his youthful body sent the women raving, for an instant even forgetting their chasteness and followed his madly.

Mohini Kalugumalai.jpg
Mohini kaanchidevarajaswami.jpg

Vishnu, at the same instant, descended as a charming enchantress, mohini - as she walked her swan step, the Rishi lusted after her, their minds loosing control over their bodies. When they both met each
other, they realised their folly.

The lady’s dropped their heads in great shame, but the rishi’s were mad with rage. immediately they summoned all their powers, and out of their sacrificial fire, they brought forth a tiger ( this was a very sinister and darkest form of yogic practise. As a last resort this was attempted by Indrajith and advised of the dire consequences by Vibeeshana it was stopped by Rama’s arrow)

Back to the forest, the evil tiger was killed by Shiva without as much as breaking a sweat and to add insult to injury, he skinned it and donned it on over his golden sheen body. Immediately the rishi’s
brought forward a horned deer with poisoned horns and a sharp axe -Shiva nonchalantly held them in his two hands. Then they brought forth poisonous cobras - which he wound around his body as ornaments. Finally, not knowing what more to do, the rishi’s threw the sacrificial fire itself at him, which he calmly caught in his begging bowl. On seeing these, their resolve was shattered and they humbly prostrated at his feet.

These deer, ax, fire etc find repeated mention in thevaram and thiruvaasagam verses.

Thus the rishis, in spite of having committed the gravest sins, falling from grace - as they were to be the examples for future generations, yet the lord did not punish them, but only reformed them with his
benevolent grace, so that we may understand the true greatness of him.For what use is the sun without his light, the fire without heat, the flower without fragrance. True sculpture too must be seen - as the confluence of art with godliness. See Bhikshadhana in this context and you would be able to truely appreciate the divine art form of sculpture.


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For all the long years that was in my motherland, i had not yet discovered by true thirst for my language, thought the love for art was there since long. It was a chance introduction of one of well wishers Sri Divakar who brought me into a forum that made me realise the beauty of my mother tongue and like a toddler learning to walk, i relearnt my mother tongue, trying to find my release through the amazing mintamil forum. I was egged on during those initial stages of just a few lines on sculpture to deeply analysing and inferring literature, bakthi and their interplay with sculpture - was catalysed by the interactions i had with Mr. Kannan. a stunning academic whose love for the language and the great devotional hymns, amazed me. As luck could have it, Mr Ashok my photographer friend came up with a set of amazing sculptures from Tirukurungudi, one look a them and i decided inorder to do justice to the mastery of these beauties, the right person to write about them would be Mr Kannan. Grateful to him for agreeing to do so and come up with such a great post in such a short duration. Read on and enjoy…..

It often amazes me! You and me look at a rock, a barren hill as stone. But an artist sees a temple inside. How else could we have those marvelous cave temples in Mamallapuram, Ajanta and Ellora?
There are plenty of stones around us. But only an artist sees God in a stone. A poetry is hidden in words. Poetry is hidden in stones as well. I shoot a butterfly on the other day. It was so beautiful that I felt that this butterfly is nothing other than a Haiku written by the flower! Can we say this? Yes! we can. Beauty and order are the
essence of creation. Whenever there is beauty there is poetry. Vijay has rightly called his blog “Poetry in Stone”.

But of course most of us don’t see a poetry in rock or a flower. We need to develop those aethetics. Tirumular a saint poet of India says that when you see a wooden elephant, at that moment you ’see’ only an elephant and not the wood. In the same way, when you see nature, you see only the elements but not the god. This is certainly an art. To see a poetry in stone and God in everything.

unfinsihed gopuram.jpg

Nammalvar, the poet saint of southern India expresses it in a different way. He visited Tirukurungudi. He saw God there. He saw ONLY god and nothing else. Not even the ’seer’. Only ONE existed. He says
then “If then, how dare I call myself an entity?” I think Nammalvar is correct. After seeing these beautiful sculptures, one forgets oneself. Only the Poetry in Stone Exists.

Govardhana Giri.jpg
krishna flute.jpg
vastra haranam.jpg

The popular belief is that Sriman Narayanan decends now and then as Avatars on earth, as it is one of the playgrounds for him (Leela Vibhuti). Among the most popular Dasavatar (ten) Vamana is celebrated by saints and poets. As it reflects the sentiments of Tirumular and Nammalvar beautifully. Pali was a great ruler,in fact, he was referred as ‘Mapali’ the great one! All the worlds under the heaven was his (in fact, he owned the heaven as well). He naturally forgets God, the creator. This story repeats after his great grand father Hiranya who was a tyrrant and egoist. He was slayed by Vishnu for the same reason. However, Pali is also the grandson of Prakalatha, a well known devotee
of Vishnu. So, Vishnu didn’t kill him but he wanted to show him a lesson. He came as a dwarf and asked for three feet of land as alm. Without relizing the fact that he was God himself, Pali promised HIM his land. Next moment HE grew so big that the entire known universe is under one feet and the unknown universe under another feet. Even Brahma the creator of universes got baffled by this enormous BEING. He realized that HE must be the ‘real’ creator and so he washed HIS feet using water in his kamandala. The water flew in the heavens there after as “Akasa Ganga”. Later Siva brought that to earth for earthly uses. The God who resides in Tirukurungudi is none other than this
huge entity. This beautiful myth is captured in stone.


HE appeared once to the call of Gajendra. Under distress Gajendra called for help. He requested the roots of all roots to appear in front of him to remove his distress. So he called “Adi Mulame” (the
one from it everything springs, the undifferentiated ONE). Before THAT appeared everything else such as all the Devas, Trimurthi, Rishis and Munis appeared. Why? They wanted to see who THAT one was? At that moment Sriman Narayanan appeared in his Eagle cart (Garuda vahanam)
majestically. This story is depicted as poetry in stone as well.

tirukurungdui tiruvikrama.jpg

However, the most interesting one is Krishna stealing butter. The most popular myth of India and elsewhere. Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu as well. However, with a difference. While rest of all avatars are magnificent and majestic. This one is ‘down to earth’. A playful child, mischievous to the core. Naughty and charming. Nothings escapes his charm. Not even the cattle and trees in Brindavan. Krishna is embodiment of beauty, simplicity and benevolence. He undertook major tasks for the benefit of people around him like a child play (the samhara or the destruction of evil in this avatar is unparalleled) mainly to make himself accessible to his dear ones as a child companion to play with. That’s why Krishna is accepted by everyone without cast, creed and religion. This beauty is etched on stone with the same charm in Tirukurungudi.

When poetry emerges, it charms, it enchants and it mesmerize. At that moment only poetry exists. Paranirvana, Satory, Moktsha. Don’t you feel that at this moment in this blog?

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