Everything about Sittanavasal is clouded in mystery. Partly due to the sheer ignorance of common folk and largely due to ridiculous apathy of our system. How else can I describe the continued neglect of this zenith of painting excellence. Had even 1% of what is here, been in any other country, it would be celebrated as a nation treasure !! We have already seen couple of posts which showed the pathetic condition of these fantastic creations. Today, thanks to Mr Ashok Krishnaswamy - who is planning on bringing them out in the medium and in the form that would befit their worth. They are his copyrighted ones. I am forever indebted to him for willingly sharing these with us, so that we might bring out the beauty in this stellar composition and hopefully save what is left of it, at least digitally.
I was first introduced to the magnificence of this particular composition during a session with Prof Swaminathan. From that day, onwards its been more of a penance to bring this as a post, showcasing its true beauty to all. Me and Arvind were there last December, the terrain was harsh and we didn’t have the necessary paperwork to get them on our cameras. Good thing at that, for what we saw needed the expert hands of a professional. ( incidentally This Jaina site and its paintings were first noticed by a local historian S. Radhakrishna Iyer in 1916)
The rockface you see holds two treasures. One on top and one at its bottom. We will see the top one some other time.
We reached the cave front and were immediately taken aback at the site of the front pillars. They were not really the ones you expect of a cave of that date - clear later date additions !!
The rock cut cave could be stylistically dated to the 7th C CE ( notice the chunky pillars ala mahendra style) and was extensively renovated in the 9th C as we glean from an inscription that is on the pillar to the left of the original cave front ( once you step inside - to your right).
The inscriptions is in Tamil and talks of a Jain Ilan Gautaman who renovated the ardta mandapam during the reign of पंड्या king Srimaran-Srivallabhan (815 - 862 AD).
We already saw the location of the two dancers in the previous post, now we go to the main course. The piece de resistance of Arivar Koil ( yes, thats the original name of cave)
The painting style has been done in what is called Fresco Secco - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresco-secco
The treatise Silparatna by Kumaradeva (8th century) gives an account of the Fresco-secco painting technology in detail. According to this text, a picture should be painted with appropriate colours along with proper forms and sentiments (rasas), and moods and actions (bhavas). White, yellow, red, black and terraverte are pointed out in the text as pure colors. Different shades were also prepared from these original colors. Five types of brushes with various shapes and size (flat, long, medium etc.) made of animal hair and grass fibre are also recommended
Whats great about this work, is the difficulty quotient. Working on raised platforms, the artist would have had to work long hours lying down, mixing colors ( mineral dyes at that) and applying them in that position, would have been such a pain.
I can see some of you getting impatient, lets bring it on. Here come the paintings.
Well, whats so great about this work. Let me take you through this journey - visually. Let me mark the areas where you have to focus on.
Still finding it tough, Ok, let me try another way. This is a lotus pond and is filled with lively fishes.
Lets zoom in on a few frolicking fish and see the detailing of the fish.
There are many more hiding in the pond, take your time, go back and see if you can spot them.
Now, this is a huge pond and there aren’t just fishes. If i were to tell you that there is a bison, a buffalo, a cow, an elephant family and a whole herd of frightened geese in that frame, you are not going to believe me…are you.
Ok, lets start with the biggies first. There is actually a small baby as well, try and spot him. ( very vague though - come on - its a 1100 year old work). The large elephant seems have his trunk around a bunch of lotuses and pulling at them !!
Now to the bovines, focus on the top left of your screen. You can see a massive Bison who is starring back at you, just behind him is his mate.
Notice the construction of his massive horns and differentiation provided to those of the cow.
There is one more, but a different species to the bottom center. Yeah, a water buffalo ( must have been my dad’s favorite for he must have called me with that far more times than my own name !!). Notice how the three are expertly handled by the artist.
Now, there is one more badly faded image, which i presume to be that of a horse.
To add to all this fun, there are a whole bunch of geese as well - you could have noticed quite a few already along with the elephants.
But do you notice something in the eyes of these birds. The expert artist has brought forth a sense of alarm in their eyes.
What is it that is causing their alarm. Take a clue from the painting itself, look in the direction of their gaze.
Except for the bottom pair, who seem to disturbed by the elephant to their left, all the rest are looking at a single point in the pond.
Yes, there are two charming men in the pond, the main subjects of this theme. They are part of the Samava Sarana, a Jaina motiff. They are shown as collecting flowers.
One of them seems to be of a darker complexion and is shown in the process of plucking a lotus flower, while on his other hand hands a wicker basket with plucked flowers. Look at the mastery of the artist, you can see the pressure on the stalk as its been pulled !!
The second monk, behind him, is depicted even more spectacularly. He has this serene calm radiant beauty in his face and a gentle grace in his action of pointing the next flower to his friend.
The last exhibit needs a second look.If you notice the three stalks behind the young monk, you will notice a subtle difference in them. Yes, indeed. There are both lotuses and Lilly’s in this pond - a lily stalk is smooth whereas a lotus stalk is serrated.
Thanks to Doyen Sri Sivaramamoorthy’s sketches, we can also see how the outline would look
Such mastery over his art and total understanding of his subjects. Not to take away the variations of different stages of flowering of each - from bud onwards. But wait, we have only finished half the pond. We will see the other side in part 2 of this post.