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Archive for July 8th, 2009

Hi friends, today we are returning to a favorite location of mine. Mahabalipuram..Mallai, for a truly amazing panel. we have seen this panel in the past but from a different perspective. ( six pack Abs!!)

mallai mahisha

Yes, I am referring to the spectacular Mahishasuramardhini panel. To truly appreciate this panel we got to spend atleast 3 or 4 posts. So take this as the first of the series, focusing on main character - Durga.

The Panel is truly mind blowing, but lets first give the story a reading for the uninitiated.

Once upon a time there lived a demon named Mahisha. As usual he wanted to make himself invincible and pleased the easiest of Gods to please - Brahma. Mahisha performed severe penances,fasting for months, standing on one foot. In due course Brahma appeared and asked him what he wanted. The request as usual was for a boon of immortality, which could not be given as every creature that is born had to die as well. So he had to modify his, so in his vain ego, seeing that no man was capable of hurting him, he grew over confident and asked that he may be sent to the netherworld only at the hands of a women. He bet his life on the fact that no women would have the power and courage to defeat him!!

Armed with the boon, he conqueres the whole of the earth and then heads off to the heavens ( hmm, how predictable!!). The Gods are caught in a fix and organise for a urgent meeting. They decide to pass the motion that calls for creation of a lady from the concentration of all their powers. Thus was born Durga. She is said to have a thousand or in other versions eight arms. ( we stick to eight for now as it matches with the sculpture). Thanks to Geetha madam, we have this brilliant verse from Devi Mahamathyam ( sanskrit work) which describes what all she was given by the Gods.

The wielder of the pinaka bow ( shiva) drew out a trident from inside his trident and gave her
The dark complexioned Vishnu drew out a Discus from his discuss and presented to her
Varuna ( Lord of Rain) gave her a Conch, Agni ( Lord of Fire) gave a weapon called shakthi
Vaayu ( Lord of Wind) presented a bow and quiver filled with arrows.
Indira ( Lord of the Lords) drew out the Vajra from his thunder ( Kulisam ?) and also a bell from his Airvatha ( white elephant)
Yama ( Lord of Death) drew out a baton from his baton and presented to her
Brahma presented a garland of rosary beads and his Kamandalu ( vessel for carrying sacred water)
Kaalan ( yama again ) presented a sword and shield.

Now, we come to the sculpture. Such a beautiful scupture, Durga is depicted with Eight hands, striking a very beautiful pose on her majestic lion.

mallai mahisha suramardhini
the majestic pose
what a mahestic pose
does look like she is smiling
the rich onamentation well she does look like smiling
hand stretching the bow string

Lets see if we can spot the above weapons in the arsenal.

The most striking ofcourse is her bow and arrow. so two hands of hers are busy with that. See the perfection in the way, her hands are sculpted - the one holding the bow, with the thumb running perpendicular to the floor along the bamboo. the other hand drawing the string back with force, the open shoulders.

does look like she is smiling
hand stretching the bow string
the hand holding the bow

Next obvious weapon is the Danda - the baton - presented by Lord of Death - Yama. Some doubts if it were a sword.

the baton
the hand weilding the baton

Lets see the sculpture in closeup. Its no ordinary stick, for it definitely has some sort of a handle, but its a rounded weapon. You can clearly see the baseball bat style construction and the rounded edge. if it were a broken off sword, it would have defn chipped or atleast the lion’s mane would have be obstructed by it. Since we can clearly see the designer curls of the lion’s mane and the rounded edge, we can safely confirm that this indeed is the gift of Yama.

Displaying the other hands and what they hold below. Try and see if you can match it to the list above

2
hand holding the bell
hand holding the discuss
the hand holding the conch

One obvious missing item is the Trident or trishul of Shiva. Maybe since the Goddess used up two of her hands on the bow and bow string, that was left out !!

But a truly amazing composition - just watch this beauty. The right leg of hers, since this is a relief panel, and to give that dimensional imaging, the master sculpture has sculpted the leg almost completely projecting from the panel.

the foot

Please do remember that this is not just panel, but is infact a rock cut cave, carved into live rock, a mountain side - and this panel froms one side of the internal wall ( the other side is the famous Anantha Sayana Panel).

Mahisha suramardhini cave facade
mallai anthasayana panel
mallai mahisha suramardhini panel

Now you can truly enjoy the Pallava carftsmen’s divine art.

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