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Archives by Month: December, 2008


Recently i was searching for some specific pictures of an early Pandyan cave in Thiruparankundram, hence had made an appeal for viewers near madurai to help with pictures. One of my friends Smt. Shoba Ramakrishnan sent me her collection but it was from the famed Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple. While going through it - i came across this Gem of a sculpture. Initially I was bit hesitant to publish this post, for it concerned usage of certain sensitive ( in these days) descriptions and some explicit sculpture. But was emboldened by the strength of the legend and the need to explain a sculpture as it is. So inorder to prepare myself in advance for any backlash, i tried to seek assistance from friends on authentic texts - found the Thiruvilaiyaadal puranam authored by Paranjyothi Munivar

http://www.shaivam.org/tamil/sta_tiruvilaiyadal_02_u.htm

Ok, enough of beating around the bush - today we are going to see the sculpture and the story behind the three breasted Queen of Madurai - a name so synonymous with the city that the very mention of her name or the city - brings up the other.

Since the legend is long and well known - starting off with the sculpture first. How would a sculptor show a three breasted maiden, who should be ravishingly beautiful, full of pride bordering on manliness, majestic as a ruler, yet befit the title of the future consort of shiva - add to this her fame as the fish eyed one. Simple task for our master sculptor.

Enjoy the sculpture first

madurai queen thadathakai.jpg
madurai thadatakai.jpg
meenakshi - the fish eyed one

Now we go to the legend, the Pandyan King Malayadhwaja was a great devotee of Shiva and Shakti. Despite this, the couple were unhappy that they did not have any issues and as a King, he had to have a male heir to continue running the Kingdom. Hence, King Malayadhwaja along with his wife Kanchanamala perform a penance. From the great yaga, a three year old girl comes out of the fire. The child was ‘Ayonija’ (not born out of the womb). However, the King was shocked to see that she had three breasts. He pleads that he has been a devote follower and done the penance according to strict rules, yet he has been blessed not with a boy but with girl and she too with three breasts. Just then a divine voice is heard

“Don’t fear. Whatever has taken place is for good only. You bring up this child like a man. Whatever education and training is given for a man, all such education may be given to this child. Name her Thadathagai ( endowed with irresistible valour) When she sees the man who is to be her husband, the third breast will disappear. ”

Since she had eyes shaped beautifully like fishes (Meena) she was called Meenakshi. She grew to be a very beautiful young woman despite her birth defect. After the Kings’ demise, she ruled the country herself - Her valor was unparalleled and she wa unmatched in battle. Kingdom after kingdom fell to her might till she had no one else to conquer by Shiva himself. Destiny drove her on and she marched with her massive army to Kailash to face Shiva.

Shiva meantime, knew of this and came to meet her - clad in his tiger skin, sporting snake ornaments, sacred white ash allover his body, wearing the sacred thread - he smiled knowingly at her. In that instant she realised who she was, the third breast dissapeared, the manly valor gave way to feminine shyness, as she realised it was Shiva her beloved, who had given half of himself for her - who was in front of her…

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We had seen earlier the interesting belly face of Shiva’s assistant in the Mahabalipuram great penance panel. While i was discussing this with Kathie sometime back, she immediately recognised a similar face ( brilliantly) this time from an early Chola temple - situated 50 kms from Trichy - compared to the later temples this pocket sized temple is packed with so much of sculptural beauty - The magnificent Koranganathar temple in Srinivasanallur,

srinivasanallur koranganatha temple.jpg

The temple is situated on the banks of the river Cauvery at Srinivasanallur. It is not a ‘living’ temple. “..Early Chola temples were small with no walls around them. Koranganatha temple 50 km from Trichy is the garbhagriha-and-mandapa type with beautiful sculptures on every surface. The base of the wall has a row of sculpted mythical animals called yazhi that is a special feature of Chola architecture. The first floor is made of bricks which have been plastered. This temple is a prototype of south-style architecture…” Takeo Kamiya in Architecture of the Indian SubContinent

Well, beautiful sculptures is putting it mildly, we will see the beauty of its sculptures in subsequent posts. But today we are to see just a panel - a decorative lintel panel, called Thorana or more correctly a Magara Thorana. This sculpture kind of symbolises the entire temple, for the amount of detailing that’s gone into this piece of stone is mind blowing. Lets take a look at the panel now.

Srinivasanallurpanel.jpg

Set high above the wall above two spectacular damsels ( we will see them later - just that dont want to divulge from the subject) the myriad of creatures - from mythical riders riding spectacular lion yaazhis, who themselves emerge from the mouths of larger Yaazhis, they seem to be at war with each other or just sporting ( This seems to be a popular motif among Cholas - with more definition for such sculptures in Pullamangai, Big temple and Darasuram - we will see them also soon)

The two Ganas.JPG

The main character in the panel seems to be Vishnu as the Boar saving Mother Earth - he is shown with four hands - with the top two hands holding up his standard weapons, he is full of victorious/ triumphant energy - see him sporting her on his left lap - Mother Earth is all devotion, relieved at being rescued shown praying with folded hands. That the sculptor has gone to such lengths to portray even the Naga King and queen in such a miniature but with intricate details ( see them just coming into frame under Varaha murthy)

Our friend tiger belly again.jpg

Noticeably one of the Ganas has the head of a bull - the one to the extreme left bottom. - just abvoe him is our little friend. We saw him in the Mallai penance panel - her he is again, this time upto more mischief, making faces by pulling his mouth with his index finger. The tiger yazhi in the belly seems more gruesome here. Have one more instance of such a belly faced Gana in Pullamangai ( if readers find any more please send us), not all Ganas are depicted thus. So do they have a name, a specific role - like the bull head one, the tiger belly etc??

Words cant be found, no praise too much to drink in this splendid creation. Just makes you sit back and let it fill your senses.

Thanks to Shriram for the temple pictures ( more to come) and Kathie for the panel and for identifying this for me.

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