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Archives by Month: March, 2011

Hanuman’s characterisation is every child’s delight and stories abound of his antics. There multitude of such short stories are attempts to paint a mental picture in the minds of readers of his sharp wit matching with his superhuman strength.

Today, we are going to see one such interesting legend. Thanks to Sri. KK uncle’s chance posting of a visit to Varaheeswarar temple at Thamal (is inbetween Vellore and Kanchi) and a picture from Sri. ArvindhanNeelakantan’s Flickr album of a sculpture from Munchirai Sivan Temple, Kanyakumari district, we see today two versions of one story.

The crux of the story is simple, faced with an equally hardy opponent, Hanuman uses his sharp with and tact to get himself disentangled from a potentially long drawn battle.

hanuman
munchirai+sivantemple+kanyakumari

The story is that of Hanuman Vs Surasa.

depiction+in+ack
hanuman+ack

Having brought up on healthy dose of Amar Chitra Katha ( our tribute to Uncle Pai - we salute you for bringing us hours and hours of fun+knowledge), lets for once go through the core text to read what happened.

Time is of the essence as Hanuman attempts to jump across to Lanka is search of Sita, at the foothills of Mount Mahendra. Aided by the wise Jambavan, Hanuman realises his true strength and leaps across. Enroute, the demi gods test his skills.

You can follow the whole episode in verse and detailed text

Thereafter, Devas together with Gandharvas, Siddhas and great sages spoke thus to Surasa, the mother of Nagas, equal to the Sun in brilliance. “This glorious son of Vayu, going by the name of Hanuma is flying over the ocean. You obtain a horrible mountain like demonic appearance and make a face with fearful tusks, red-brown eyes and as vast as the sky, and create an obstacle to Him for an instant. We are desiring to find out if by His strength and also courage and intelligence He can win over you or obtain sorrow.”

That Goddess Surasa, thus spoken to by Devas and also being respected by them, wearing a horrible disfigured appearance of a demon in the middle of the ocean which caused fear to all, and stopping Hanuma who was flying, spoke these words. “O best among Vanaras! You have been given by Devas as my food. I will eat you. Enter inside my mouth.”

mama bhakshaH pradishhTastvamiishvarairvaanararshhabha |
ahaM tvaa bhakshayishhyaami pravishedaM mamaananam || 5-1-151

Thus spoken to by Surasa, the glorious Hanuma, with a happy face and with folded hands, spoke these words to Surasa. “The son of Dasaratha, with the name of Rama entered the forest of Dandaka together with His brother Lakshmana and wife Seetha. When that Sri Rama, with a bitter enmity towards Rakshasas, was diverted in another task, His famed wife Seetha had been taken away by Ravana. I am going for Rama’s sake as a messenger to find Her presence. O subject of Sri Rama! You are suited to help Rama. Otherwise after seeing Seetha and informing that to Sri Rama who makes Seetha without troubles, I will obtain your mouth. I am promising truthfully to you.”

Thus being spoken to by Hanuma, Surasa with power to take desired form, spoke thus: “No one can overcome me. This is my boon.” Mother of Nagas, Surasa, desiring to know the strength of Hanuma, spoke these words on seeing Him going away.

“O best among Vanaras! You are bound to go only after entering my mouth. This boon had been given to me long ago by Brahma.” - speaking thus, with quickness she opened her wide mouth and stood before Hanuma. Then Hanuman speaking thus to Surasa, became angry and became ten yojanas long and ten yojanas wide.

Seeing Hanuma, who looked like a cloud, being ten yojanas long, Surasa also made her mouth twenty yojanas long. Thereafter, Hanuma got angry and became thirty yojanas long. Surasa made her mouth forty yojanas high. The courageous Hanuma then became fifty yojanas high. Thereafter, Hanuma got angry and became thirty yojanas long. Surasa made her mouth forty yojanas high. The courageous Hanuma then became fifty yojanas high.

Surasa then made her mouth sixty yojanas long. The mighty Hanuma in the same fashion, became seventy yojanas high. Surasa made her mouth eighty yojanas high. The mountain-like Hanuma then became ninety yojanas high. The great wise Hanuma seeing that mouth with a long tongue which was horrible and equal to hell being opened by Surasa, greatly reduced His own body and became the size of a thumb.

The glorious Hanuma with great speed, quickly entered Surasa’s mouth and came out of it and standing in the sky spoke these words to Surasa. “O daughter of Daksha! I indeed entered your mouth. My regards to you. I will now go where Seetha is. Your boon also came true.”

so.abhipatyaashu tadvaktraM nishhpatya cha mahaajavaH |
antarikshe sthitaH shriimaanidaM vachanamabraviit || 5-1-168

Seeing that Vanara being released from her mouth like the moon from the mouth of Rahu, goddess Surasa spoke these words assuming her normal form. “O gentle Hanuma! Go according to your comfort to achieve the desired task. Bring Seetha together with the great Sri Rama.”

Seeing that third very difficult task of Hanuma, all the creatures then praised Hanuma saying “Good! Good!”. That Hanuma, equal to Garuda in speed, neared the ocean which is the abode of Varuna, entered the sky and went in His original path.

So, lets go back to the two depictions. The one from Thammai first.

hanuman

It is a brilliant depiction of showing the action of Hanuman diving in almost perpendicular. For people unaware of the story, they are bound to think that the Demoness is swallowing someone. But the ’sculpture moment’ in this work is the depiciton of the tail of Hanuman!

Coming to the Munchirai depiction

munchirai+sivantemple+kanyakumari

Here, he is shown as entering through the mouth and existing through the ear. Considering that such an act is bound to leave Surasa injured it can only be called an error or we may have to give the benefit of doubt to the sculptor for trying out a local variation of the Surasa story.

Sometimes inorder to win some you have to shrink !

( I have been searching for a similar depiction in Sucindram temple. I hope viewers can check and contribute this rare sculpture on their next visit)

Some other contemporary depictions of this found on the net

hanuman-coming-out-of-surasas-mouth
hanuman_and_surasa
sursa
varied+depictions
varied+depictions2

http://www.kidsgen.com/fables_and_fairytales/indian_mythology_stories/hanuman_meets_surasa.htm
http://www.hinducounciluk.org/newsite/circulardet.asp?rec=84

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While the tenets and underlying significance of Hinduism continue to astound many scholars, we merrily pursue our simple pursuit to explain sculptures. Not wanting to repeat the purpose of this controversial sculpture series, would request readers to read the first part prior.

I had wanted to do this post for many years now, but kept putting it away, being unsure of how some readers might opine. But then, when Gaman asked me what is this, after visiting Darasuram, felt that its is duty to atleast explain the iconography. I would request all readers to be patient and read till the end before voicing their concerns/comments.

sarabha+darasuram2

That this sculpture of Sarabeshwarar is present in Darasuram, the pinnacle of Chola artistic expression in stone, is no excuse for the religious one-upmanship of the emergence of this iconography. Whilst the origins of the particular form is lost in the wormhole of times long past - we are talking of Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th C CE here, that the divide has reached such an extreme expression is sad.

Keeping the narrative to the minimum, as most of the versions are indeed inflammatory, the story of Narasimhar is very well know. To rid the world of the evil demon Hiranyakasipu, who had secured a virtually perpetual existence via a boon from Brahma..


O my lord, O best of the givers of benediction, if you will kindly grant me the benediction I desire, please let me not meet death from any of the living entities created by you. Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal. Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving created by you. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. Since no one can kill you in the battlefield, you have no competitor. Therefore, grant me the benediction that I too may have no rival. Give me sole lordship over all the living entities and presiding deities, and give me all the glories obtained by that position. Furthermore, give me all the mystic powers attained by long austerities and the practice of yoga, for these cannot be lost at any time”

Courtesy : wiki

He goes the usual route upon receiving the boon. His son Prahalad is the epitome of devotion to Narayana ( Vishnu) and refuses to equate his father to God. In anger he asks where is this God you talk of, for which the boy replies that he is omnipresent - in this pillar , in this spec of dust. Angered by it, Hiranyakasipu brings out his mace and proceed to break the pillar to see if this God is there ?

To view a clipping of a Cinema ( telugu language) enactment of the scene

Now the form that Vishnu takes is very interesting: to circumvent the rules ( a la 3 G spectrum allocation !) he takes the form of a part lion part human, bursts out of a pillar ( not born or created !), disembowels him with his claws ( no weapon clause !), puts him on his lap ( not on earth not in heaven !), chooses dusk ( neither day nor night !) - etc. He is such a fiery form as you can see from the depictions and is a powerful deity in the Hindu pantheon. Ideally the story must have ended there - ok, he is cooled down by the melodious voice of Prahalada singing his praise.

But, an educated guess is that, the Shivaite Vashnavite divide had grown so much, that a sequel was added. Seems the anger of Narasimha would not subside, and even Laxmi couldn’t come near her beloved. The whole world trembled at the consequences of the wrath of an angry form that they request Shiva to help. He first sends Veerabadra but he is not match for Narasimhar. In order to match up with the dual form of Narasimhar, Shiva takes up one more aspect - he forms a composite man+lion+bird and becomes Sarabeshwarar.

What happens next is left to many interpretations, but he is supposed to have alternatively embraced, restrained Narsimhar and liberated Vishnu from inside that.

The entire story is depicted in the Madurai Meenakshi amman temple in three simple scenes.

Madurai+gopuram+sculptures
scene1+fight+narasimha+hiranyakasipu
scene2+slaying+of+hiranyakasipu
scene3+Saraba+Narasimhar

Now, back to the Darasuram sculpture.

sarabha+closeup

Thankfully Gaman has got us another shot of the entire sculpture.

saraba+darasuram

The depiction of Narasimhar being liberated and a small figure beneath him - could be Prahalada. The devas are shown above, happy at the turn of events.

Narasimha+form
Prahalada
sages+devas

If you notice, there are no visible marks or attributes to identify the forms unlike the later version from Madurai.

closeup+shiva+as+saraba

The second question from Gaman was about the legs. Iconographically he is said to have a pair of wings and four pairs of legs.

notice+wings
4+pairs+of+feet

Some versions also have a multitude of hands as well. check this version from a Muneeshwaran temple in Srilanka ( courtesy wiki)

saraba+lanka

Why i say, i was sad at this depiction is that in recent years there are multitude of interpretations including the ones of Pratyankadevi and people flock those shrines to rid them of various “ailments”. Its time for people to understand that Hinduism is definitely not a mono theistic religion, and its not a question of My God over your God, or even the very existence of God but the maturity that of allowing even a quest to find out if there is indeed God.

To see the greatness of Sri Rajaraja who has wonderfully depicted the confluence of the plurality of Hinduism in such a grand manner in this Harihara sculpture in the Tanjore Big temple,

tanjore+brihadeshwara+harihara
harihara

Am reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s famous address “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. “

Why then this one-upmanship?

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