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Archives by Month: January, 2012

Too much is too many…maybe it the bane of our heritage treasures. How else but to explain the sad plight of this delightful gem living precariously on the banks of the Tambraparani, its life blood slowly draining away, having stood for a thousand years, it makes a mockery of our grand visions of cultural renaissance and ingrained spirituality - The Ramaswamy Temple of Cheranmadevi. They called it the Nigarili Chola Vinnagar - Abode without parallel ! read on to see its pathetic state for surely it will not be long before the newspaper headlines lament its demise and pseudo enthusiasts will cry fowl.

The pillar sculpture of Hanuman, in all his humility, affectionately held by his Lord Rama seemed an regular rendition when we entered but as we finished and returned, the posture seemed to gather a new meaning.

entrance+pillar+sculpture
rama+hanuman

As we stepped in, there was nothing extraordinary about the front porch and it resembled any of hundred of temples we see in our villages.

entrance

But as we took the few steps towards the main shrine, what awaited us made us hold our breath.

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main+vimana+consort+shrine
view

its not often you get to see a pristine pre 10th Century Vimana, a Pandya one at that.

Thanks to Pradeep, we had some inclination of what to expect and the introductions to the Priest had ensured that we could do our work unhindered.

For starters - the temple is unique for its one of the very few Astanga Vimana shrines - three tiered Vimana, with forms of Vishnu - Standing, seated and lying in the three sanctums lined one on top of the other.

At the entrance of the main sanctum, we were greeted by one of the most stunning bronzes - Rama group.

mainshrine+bronzes
ramar

When we wanted to climb to the upper storey, the priest asked us again - if we really wanted to go up ! Little did we realise why he did that, till we saw the narrow stairs and got swarmed by a colony of feisty bats whom we disturbed.

stairs

Restaurants with roof top gardens seem to be the fashion these days, but it was really heartbreaking to see a stunning edifice left to rot like this.

trees+everywhere+on+vimana
urgent+need+for+repairs
vegetation
vimana
roof+garden

As we turned towards the Sanctum in tier one, we spotted this.

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The central beam had cracked and the weight was being held by the wooden pillar. My heart filled with dread at the thought of what might happen if it gave way.

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And in the midst of all this, there he was seated ( please note he is not carved out of stone but made of stucco - and hence the fractures can be easily mended)

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The intricate stucco work and the faint colors seemed to remind us of his glory days. Even the walls seemed to have outlines of vestigial paintings.

devi+painting+outlines
intricate+stucco+work
perumal

We willed ourselves to climb to the next tier and there he is, sleeping peacefully on the coils of his devoted sesha, his two consorts in attention, hoping against hope that some good still lived in the hearts of the people he loves.

top+tier+sesha+sayana
sayana+perumal

As we stepped out, we looked again at Hanuman - he seemed to asking us to help, but not wanting his master to know, for the Lord’s answer would be ” I have the entire universe for me !!”

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Fellow enthusiast Shankar had been pushing me to see a faint outline of a Ganesha for sometime now, but for some unexplainable reason, I never spent time to study it, despite him sending me some real high resolution images. Little did I realise then what it held in it and that it would choose its own time to reveal itself to us.

When Numismatist Sri Raman said that he had some photos that had come into a waste paper mart, which seemed to cover areas of my interest and if i would like to procure them, i hadn’t the faintest idea of what they would contain. Yet, he persisted and sent me a few scanned images. He had picked them wisely, one was an immaculate bronze and another the famed Tanjore big temple painting - but the images were atleast half a century old !!! I took the bait and asked him to get the entire lot.

When Arvind and me looked at the eclectic mix of fading monographs, one set struck our eyes. They were marked on reverse Thirunandikkarai and dated 1942.

thirunandikkarai2

My thoughts raced to Shankar and he obliged by sending his entire collection as the cave stood today ” Thiru Nandikkarai - a cave temple protected by ASI in Kanyakumari district, 10Kms from Thiruvattaru ( 40 Kms from nagerkoil)”

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The insides of the cave ( as he had sent me earlier - you wouldn’t fault me for not going over it properly !)

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inside+of+the+cave

The cave itself is attributed stylistically to 8th C CE ( you can see the provision of a channel for the daily ablution water to flow out of the sanctum which is considered a later feature)

provision+abolution+water
sanctum

But what i had missed earlier was the faint red outlines which Shankar had been pushing me to study.

faint+lines
faint+relief
Ganesha+painting+outline

It was when i say the half a century old photographs from the waste paper mart that i realised the folly.

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thirunandikkarai7
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A classy Ganapathy complete with his own dwarf attendant on the top ( reminded me of similar ones from the Kanchi Kailsantha temple !) - notice the bold strokes of the hands. Sadly much has been lost since the time the photos were taken.

This was not all, there were more in the collection. Let me draw your attention to the wall we saw earlier, slightly to the top center right.

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lost+portions
closeup
compare1
outlines

Now to reference the photographs

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thirunandikkarai8

Simply stunning yet sad at the continuing loss of our treasures.

There are two more sets in the collection, which we have not been able to spot in current day.

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thirunandikkarai6

What are these depictions ?

Btw, the cave holds another very important historical information in its entrance.

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inscription+leftside
inscription+right
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There is some speculation on the Birthstar of the Great Raja Raja Chola - if he is born in Aippasi Sadayam or Chittirai Sadayam.

Dr. Kudavayil Balasubramaniam in his book on Tiruvarur Thyagaraja temple, quotes an inscription of Rajendra Chola that gives clarity on subject::

” Naam Pirantha Aadi thiruvathiriyum
Nam Ayyan Pirandharuliya AIPPASI SADHAYAMUM .. ”

The article by sir and the text of inscription

inscription
kbsir+article

- says Rajendra I and gives a grant on the Natal Star of Rajendra I and his father Rajaraja I.

However, in this very cave in Thiru Nandikkarai there is an inscription of Sri Raja Raja himself,

TRAVANCORE STATE

Tirunandikkarai.

185. On the east wall of the rock-cut iva shrine. Belongs to
the eighteenth year of Rajaraja I and records grant to the temple
for the celebration of a festival in Aippasi, Satabhisha, the birth-
day of the king. See Trav. Arch. Ser. t Vol. I, pp. 291-2.”

Btw, we do not know which great soul these collection of old photographs are and how they ended up in a waste paper mart. There are no names on them and hence if someone could identify any, please let us know.

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