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April 9, 1931.

“Close upon the discovery of the Pallava paintings in the Kailasanathaswami Temple at Conjeevaram by the French savant, the indefatigable Prof. Jouveau Dubreuil it has been my great good fortune to bring to light the hitherto unknown frescoes of the Imperial Chola period, in the Brihadeswaraswami Temple, popularly known as ‘the Big Temple of Tanjore.’

“It was almost a year since I visited that noble fane [temple] one evening, in the company of my friend Mr.T.V.Umamaheshwaram Pillai, when in the dim religious light of a small oil lamp I felt, as it were, the existence of some kind of paintings on the walls on either side of a dark narrow circumambulatory passage around the sanctum sanctorum.

“But it was only yesterday I found it convenient to examine the place more thoroughly with the help of a ‘Baby Petromax’ whose bright light revealed paintings indeed but paintings of an undoubtedly very late and degenerate age, whose linear contortions and chromatic extravagances shattered in a moment all my wonderful dreams of discovering there the best and the only example of the art of Chola mural paintings.

“Still I chose a part of the western wall for close inspection and found the painted plastering there cracked all over and threatening to fall down. A gentle touch and the whole mass crumbled down, exposing underneath a fine series of frescoes palpitating with the life of other days.”

S.K. Govindaswami in The Hindu, April 11, 1931

Hindu article

Its taken 80 years for the above effort to reach its end, I would be wrong to say it as the end, for this is indeed a new Dawn. The famed Chola Frescos, hitherto seen only by a privileged few, with lesser mortals having to put up with the OOhs and AAhs of scholars and seeing low resolution faded prints in newspapers and magazines, have been given a new life. Thanks to the efforts by the TN Government, The Tamil University Tanjore, Mr Rajendran, Mr Thyagarajan , Mr Rajavelu, Mr. Chandru - we get to see them in new light.

book+release
cholar+kala+oviyangal

There has been lot of talk of such efforts earlier, and when Sri Badri of Kizhakku Pathippagam showed a sneak preview of the book on facebook, my pulse raced in anticipation, but somewhere there was a bit of dread - would the book do justice to the paintings, will the quality of photographs compare with international publications, would the presentation falter, would the quality of paper be compromised ( more so since the price was just Rs 500). Not wanting to take chance, I rushed through two sources to order the book. And 3 weeks ago, the books reached me, thanks to Sri Raman. Normally, i would finish a book of this size in a day or two, but then this was no ordinary work. It took me weeks to finish studying a page - Every inch of the Frescoes have been faithfully captured on Camera and not stopping with that - Artist Sri Chandru has faithfully drawn every line and curve as line drawings. I showed the book to Oviyar Sri Maniam Selvan and he was mighty pleased and impressed as well and showed me a few of his father’s ( Sri Maniam’s sketches of the frescoes as well !! - felt blessed)

Let me explain what i mean, by showing you a sneak peak of the books contents - the famed Dhaksinamurthy panel.

dhaksinamurthy+panel

( have to use low resolution so it doesn’t really do justice to the work, but don’t want to infringe on the book !!)

Now, comes the book specialty - the line drawings

dhakshinamurthy+linedrawing

There is so much to study in these Frescos and I am sure this book would spawn many Phd’s. For eg, take just one part of the panel, towards the top left hand side.

dhaksinamurthy+panel+bairavar
dhaksinamurthy+panel+bairavar+inset

Notice the highlighted part - its a fantastic Asta Buja ( eight armed) Bairvar form.

Bairvar.jpg
bairavar+linedrawing.jpg

The detailing on the paintings is stunning. Take a look

devotee+linedrawing.jpg
devotee.jpg

But the Bairavar looked very familiar, so immediately set about looking into my database. The first one that came up, was this Kstera Balar ( special Bairava from without the Dog mount - favorite of Sri Raja Raja’s queen Lokamadevi!) who is currently stationed just outside the entrance of the Big temple entrance.

ksetrabalar+outside+bigtemple

Though the style matched, the placement of the Trishool - on the right hand compared to the one in the painting - where its holstered ( forgive the pun) to the left waist - showed this was not a match.

Next on the scanner, was this fantastic bronze from the Tanjore Art Gallery. ( imaged courtesy Sri Raman and my cousin Sri Prasanna Ganesan)

bronze+tiruvengadu

The gallery board read 11th C CE, Tirvengadu

I went back to my books and found the reference in Bronzes of South India - P.R. Srinivasan (F.E. 1963, L.R. 1994 - Price Rs. 386), to dig out what they thought of the bronze.

In respect of workmanship, this is in the same style as the bronzes of the Rishabantaka.
Rishabantaka
But its iconography has necessitated the introduction of some new details not met with in any of the figures previously examined.

The eight armed Bhairava is another interesting bronze of this period, the like of which has not been met with. It stands erect, ie, in sama Bhanga posture. The other details peculiar to this figure are the following:

The braided locks of hair are arranged in the forms of heart and it serves the purpose of a Bha manadala ( halo) too. a knob like projection is seen on the head. On one side is seen a serpent and on the other the crescent and the Datura flower. ( there are two serpents and the crescent and flower are on opposite sides !)

crescent+datura+flower

Six tassels are seen, three on each side of the Jata - mandala. The fillet with the gem consists of flower designs. Patra kundalas are seen in both the ears. The raudra or terrific aspect associated with this icon, is attempted to be depicted by means of the knitting of the eye brows, wide open eyes and the small canine teeth. But as was customary with ancient stapathis to introduce benign qualities in the representation of terrific themes, here too the stapathi has depicted the details in the same fashion which goes to make the bronze pleasant looking rather than terrible looking. Even the knitting of the eye brows, in the context of features expressive of joy, seems to add charm to the expression rather than striking terror.

notice+eyebrows

The necklaces and the pendant ornament on the right shoulder are of the same type as those of the above figures ( Rishabantaka post) and thus affords a proof of its grouping with them. The Yagnopavita is made of two strands, twisted like a rope. Besides, along mala - a string made up of small globules is seen. Perhaps they represent severed heads, in which case thus becomes a Munda - Mala.

Arms are displayed in fan-wise series on either side, and the manner of their attachment to one another is beautiful. The armlets are actual naga-valayas and in no other bronzes armlets of this kind are seen - this is where this bronze started differentiating with the one in the Fresco. Its does not have this feature

bairavar+linedrawing.jpg

Except, the three hands, namely the upper most right hand, the corresponding left hand and the lowermost left hand which hold respectively, a damaru, a bell and a bowl, the rest are in kataka poses. The series of arms seen one below the other in the depth of each side is impressive.

attributes+left
attributes+right

No tassels are present in the Udara bandha. This figure shows two serpents with their bodies twisted and wound round the waist. Further their heads are converted into decorative pieces adorning the thighs. The manner of showing them hanging on the thighs is superb.

two+snakes

Now, comes the definitive clue. There are two snakes in the bronze, but only one in the painting ! So this is not the bronze shown in the painting !

one+snake
two+snakes

Now, you will understand, how important documenting our heritage is and Kudos to the team behind this spectacular book. Cannot call it a collector’s item, for its something that has to be studied and taught in art schools and subject of many Phd’s.

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Category: Sculpture

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 at 13:21 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Comments so far

Thiru
  1  

Yes, the books is really very well prepared, printed. Kudos to the Tamil University for bringing the book and to the authors.

December 1st, 2010 at 13:30
Mouli
  2  

Great news Vijay.
How can i get hold of one copy?

December 1st, 2010 at 14:34
  3  

Nice posting, Vj.
Eager to get one copy :)
The Chola treasure is coming out!

December 1st, 2010 at 14:43
Innamburan
  4  

Ecstasy on two counts. 1. The self-contained and subdued review is suggestive, persuasive and aesthetic. 2. I am a Tanjorean. Can I buy it in the UK through Amazon?

December 2nd, 2010 at 7:39
  5  

The book is available from Tamil Univ Tanjore Publications division only !!

December 2nd, 2010 at 7:47
Dhivakar
  6  

Amazing work of those unknown artists. Thanks Vijay, but I think you could have given in min. two parts for more concentration…

December 6th, 2010 at 15:46
  7  

dhivakar sir, I tried, but then the continuity was too great to cut !!

rgds
vj

December 7th, 2010 at 7:04
Nastya
  8  

Could someone give some more details about Kstera Balar, please? I can’t find any information.

February 15th, 2011 at 2:02
  9  

Hi Nastya ,
Kstera balar is a form of Bhairva normally shown without the accompaniment of the dog vahana. The tiruvalanchuli vaanar temple is thought to have the earliest Independent manifestation of this form. It was consecrated by the ladies of the chola court and could have been installed to offer protection to their menfolk.

rgds
vj

February 15th, 2011 at 6:58
  10  

sir ungalukum sarethirathil edam oindu

March 10th, 2011 at 10:35
Shibi Chakaravarthi
  11  

It is very awesome. It helps not only tamizhians and not only indians but also the foriegners to know the pride of thanjur and the great king Raja Raja Cholan.Thank you very much for doing this great job.

November 3rd, 2012 at 10:16

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