Archives by Month: March, 2010

About 9 years back, i visited Perur - was stunned by what i saw - for what it had to show was truly a connoisseur’s delight. As my journey into sculpture matured over the years, my love for these beauties grew manifold. But, every time i ventured to photograph these beauties, i was turned down. I had to be content with some small resolution snaps published in a newspaper. But then, each unsuccessful attempt strengthened my resolve, and visit to Perur Patteswarar and a request to photograph was a standard feature of every visit to Coimbatore.

Late in 2008, on a fateful saturday i was reluctantly accompanying my wife and son to an event organised by the Annalaxmi group in Singapore - it was called
Dance of India, Taste of India……as i tried to find an excuse to make myself scarce, i spotted at a distance some lovely pen and ink sketches of ganesha - immaculate art - somewhat like this ( i am kicking myself for leaving my camera behind that day)


I sped to the stall - and below the sketch was a small signature - Padmavasan. Oh oh - i was overjoyed for - the card next to it said, the artist was present there to do spot sketches ( profiles) for sgd 20. Having never had the good fortune of meeting him before i frantically looked around for help, asked the next stall person - and he pointed to a small very innocuous looking man just standing around - clad in a simple kurtha. I couldn’t b’ve my
eyes, there he was - the artist himself.

i went up to him, introduced myself ( ofcourse ponniyin selvan ……..kalki…..silpi…sculpture ) and he warmed up. we spent about 45 min
chatting away.

He talked of his interaction with the great man silpi - the divine
gift of his - He also talked of Silpi’s mindblowing talent - pointing out that once
when he was sketching the natraja in tanjore - he sketched the front profile ( running out of paper - he took another piece and pasted in the bottom to complete) . and he went on to sketch the back head portion alone - ofcourse the two sketches were in different sizes - but most amazing was the fact that mr
padmavasan later - for a book, tried to resize both the sketches to the same size - and when he placed the front on the back - they fit like a glove…such a gift to visually capture the divine proportions!!.

We exchanged numbers, and he wrote his address and phone number on a small piece of paper in pencil ( still treasure it)…

Dec 2009. Another mandatory visit to Perur, but this time, i had made it a point to get the permission - come what may. Was assisted by some very good friends and well wishers, but all pointed to the hands of the Temple Executive Officer. I was expecting to hit a blind alley once again, when after about an hour - we were still waiting. But then we finally managed to get an audience with the EO, a smart Young man, who recognised the passion in our voices, yet it took about an hour to convince him of our mission. He finally yielded and once he saw that we were only there to promote the temple and its beauties, doors opened pretty fast. We faced an unexpected one final hurdle in the mandatory power cuts - yet we still had a spare day - so we returned the next day to complete the shoot - of what we thought was an extensive aka comprehensive coverage of the temple.

Next week in Chennai: I caught up with Sri Padmavasan again for the second time, in his home in chennai - in Dec 2009. I showed him my photo gallery and you could see the glee in his eyes and he started showing me more of his rare work. I mentioned about perur and he came out with his entire collection of Perur including a spectacular rendition of the Moolavar in color.


I was speechless by seeing the true color rendition - including the color and sheen of the copper vessel on top of the Linga.

But among the many sketches, there was one, which he considered very special, but we had overlooked it - for it felt too simple and we just skipped it. Later, i would kick myself many times over for doing so. It took another 3 months and help from Mr Praveen and the EO once again to get the particular pillar in the right angle.


Whats so special about this pillar sculpture? Looks like some Rishi in Tapas.

Well we see that in part 2 of this post

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In recent times, the Chola fresco paintings of Tanjore have been in the limelight for various reasons. Not many know that these 1000-year-old frescoes, were discovered as early as 1931 - by a 28-year-old historian, S.K. Govindaswami. Thankfully the HIndu did republish the article giving credit to the right person for the find.

An exciting discovery and a 1931 scoop for The Hindu

Sadly, even after 80 years - there are not many published works on these beautiful paintings and some rare attempts have been met with copyright and other issues. Normal visitors to the site are also not allowed permission to view these !! As i write this, i am forced to use already published photos on the net, but then the question lingers that when the artist himself didn’t sign the work,preferring to remain forever immortal yet anonymous, who are we to put copyrights on mere photos, thereby diminishing the great tradition of this land and depriving many of the sheer joy of viewing these.

To truly understand and appreciate the greatness of this artist, i wish to showcase one small panel in a fresco - the ascent of Saint Sundarar ( on Indra’s white elephant) along with Cheraman Perumal ( on a white horse) to the heavens. Much has been already written upon the theme of this panel and i am given to understand a few Phd thesis have been presented on it, sadly as is the case with many of our draconian policies, these are never accessible to anyone !!! Anyway, coming back to the post, we are going to see only a small portion of this panel - to be specific just Cheraman Perumal and the horse.


Photo: Courtesy

Before we dwell further, just a short note on why i wanted to showcase this particular work. Somehow, horses have a certain raw energy in them, the ripple of the muscle, the grace of the arching limbs, the sway of the tail and mane - they are an artist’s delight ( next only to beautiful women)!. No wonder Da Vinci did considerable studies on them. Recently there was a program on Discovery or National Geographic about one of his unfinished works - a collosal 24 foot bronze horse. As i was following up on the sheer effort the great artist had put on the study of horses, there was something familar about it. See his sketches and read on..


Photos: Various sources on the net

We now come to the Chola fresco. Sri C. Sivaramamurthy, one of the greatest connoisseurs of art and chola art in particular, writes about this specific piece thus ( he has sketched the outline as well for us to enjoy)



The picture of the rider on the horse in fig. 2 is equally attractive in every detail. There is a grace in the way in which he holds the reins in one hand and the long wand in the other. The horse though reminding one of the animals the of that species, especially the white one in the centre in the Battle of St. Egidio by Paolo Uccello in the National Gallery, and though appearing to be defective in drawing to some extent in the so-called modern academic sense–one has to bear in mind that many pictures of great masters cannot stand this test so well, which is, to confess the truth, never a test of true greatness and worth–is yet a unique example of the skill in animal drawing in those far-off days, and testimony to this is borne by the magnificent elephant that is painted very close to it.

We will see the mentioned elephant in a subsequent post. Since the sketch is of low resolution, have retouched it for our better enjoyment. ( i wish i could get one of our more talented artists to paint it as per the original color scheme !!)


Sri C. Sivaramamurthy, does mention the resemblance to Battle of St. Egidio by Paolo Uccello in the National Gallery.


The color combinations do bear an uncanny resemblance. But to me, as i look back at Da Vinci’s sketches and this fresco, it slowly dawns on me - every detail - the roundness of the horses back, the detailing of the rear legs, the fullness of the chest, the majestic head, the neatly cropped and braided mane, the prancing of the front legs,the exactness of proportion, the inch perfect joints, the subtly hinted muscularity - though not as pronounced as Da vinci’s studies, the clarity of the hoofs…..leaves me speech less.

Take a bow, O anonymous chola painter, we salute you.

p.s Maybe, on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the Big temple, the authorities can bring out atleast a book on these paintings if not putting these up on their sites for the world to relish.

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