An interesting discussion in Agathiar forum by Dr Jaybee set me up on this post. Thanks to his expert guidance we could understand this much misunderstood sculpture. He had mentioned about this sculpture of Shiva feeding piglets - an interesting episode from the 64 acts of Shiva, which was (is) wrongly depicted as Varahi ( one of the seven mothers in the saptha matrikas). So we had our antennas out for this sculpture in Madurai and Tirupparankundram. But we got a chance glimse of this episode,couple of days before we reached Madurai and tiruparankundram, n a relief panel in Chidambaram just as completed our darshan there.
The interesting part of this sculpture is the line of praying pigs to the left of the panel ( your right as you view it). We will see this as the post progresses.
Ok, the puranam aka story first.
There was once a farmer named Sugalan in a small village called Athimanimaadamuthoor near Madurai. He and his good natured wife were pious and led a astute life. In sharp contrast were their 12 sons. They did all sorts of irresponsible and bad stuff including neglecting their farming duties, teaming up with the hunters in the forest and hunting for sport. During the pursuit of one such hunting expedition, they came across a shrub in which a ascetic was doing penance. They disturbed him for fun, pelting him with stones and hitting him with their arrows. Enraged the ascetic cursed them to born as piglets and to loose their parents at a young age and lead a miserable life. Realising their folly, the misguided youth fell at the ascetic’s feet and begged for his forgiveness and a way out of their curse. Seeing them repenting, the ascetic relented and told them that Lord Shiva himself will redeem them from their curse.
In due course, they were born as piglets and the Pandyan king who had ventured into the forest felled their parents. The piglets were left at the mercy of the elements and devoid of even nursing at their mother’s breasts. Taking pity on them, the loving shiva in his infinite mercy, himself took the form of a pig, sprouted breasts and nursed them and redeemed them from their curse. .
So, armed with the knowledge, we set on our search to find this pillar. It was not inside the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple precincts ( remember this was after our sojourn with the Bronze gallery) - when we were directed to the Pudhu Mandabam. We were sufficiently warned that it was taken over by commercial establishments and spotting anything lest alone searching for a sculpture would be impossible, better to return early in the morning and request the watchman to open up !! But we stood our ground and went for a quick run, scouting for anything that resembled the legend. As luck could have it, we spotted it at exactly the opposite end of the Pudhu (new) mandabam. A few requests for the friendly shop keeper to resettle his wares and we could take our shots. ( we did return the next day for some more of the bottom panels )
Is it Shiva or Varahi?
Well its definitely shiva for you can clearly see the Axe blade being held in his right hand, the left hand has unfortunately broken off.
But some interesting panels in the foot of the pillar tell the full story
The hunter felling the mother pig.
There were piglets allover, clamoring to be fed. Its the same episode for sure
The clincher - our line of grown ups ( pardon the angle - the steel chairs didn’t make life easier for us!)
Armed with this knowledge, we headed to tiruparankundram and were pleasantly surprised to see an exact replica ( ok, some important differences at the base) - but the basic composition was the same, but sadly named as Vaarahi and anointed with turmeric allover !!!
Another angle showing the same styling of the sculpture as the one from Madurai
Including the line of impatient piglets
Again , is he Shiva? Can you spot his attributes.
I did mention a difference, didn’t I, the hunter is shown here shooting down the mother pig from the side of the panel and the carcass is shown inside the main sculpture.
By the way, did you notice the line of grown ups just coming into frame in the bottom of the last picture….a common factor in all three !!
Whats more interesting is a paired pillar to this - which contains an even more interesting aka rare depiction of Shiva from the Thiruvilaiyaadal Puranam. We shall see that is a subsequent post. But with all this clinching evidence, hopefully someone will restore the rightful name for this sculpture in Thiruparankundram.
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