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Archives by Month: October, 2012

It actually happened during one of our extended tour / journeys - we had hired a tourist cab and an experienced driver. He was with us for 5 days at the end of which he literally gave up on us. He had been handling clients for 12 years in that area and was pretty confident that he knew every known attraction / street/ gully etc - till he met us. In those 5 days possibly he had to ask directions so many times that he would have been taken as a novice driver - not taking anything away from him, our interests were such. Most baffling to him was the fact that we would spend hours together on a ‘ small cave’ while exiting a large temple complex under 30 min. We tried our best to explain our iterated preference for offbeat locations to no avail - the last time i bid him goodbye in a train station he was still shaking his head, dismissing us as a group of nut cases !!

In our continuing quest to showcase the hidden gems of sculptural art, we are going to see one such best kept secret. 23 kilometers from Senji, in Panamalai is Rajasimha Pallava’s magnificent creation,the 8th C CE structural temple of Talagirishwarar.

Built on top of a small hill, the walls of one of its outer subshrines hold remnants of a rare dancing form called Alindhara Siva and a graceful Parvathi looking on. Sadly we have completely lost the Shiva except for a faint outline, however the Parvathi has survived. The sureness of the hand evidenced by the graceful lines combine fantastically with the brilliant ornamentation and use of color shading, especially the green show the mastery of not only the art , of human anatomy, expressions as well as handling of colors. View her here.

The temple gets very few visitors but even those few, miss the other attraction, for it is not found inside the confines of the structural temple, but at the base of the hill. We would have missed it too, had not the arduous yet exciting, exhausting but enlightening climb, virtually left us drained or rather wanting to drain…well, we had to relieve ourselves and boys being boys - and we being good boys did not want to do it on the holy mountain but chose the first opportunity that showed itself at the base. A few well worn goat trails led us around the hill and a short walk to the left of the stairs leads us to a naturally formed rock cavern. Deep inside this cavern, in such a confined space, in the fading light - we chanced on the beauty - that required the true genius of our expert Photographer - Mr Ashok - to bring to light - that the e Pallava sculptor has managed to carve a beautiful relief of Durga as Mahishasuramardhini.

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The Natural cavern with the relief

The great king Rajasimha Pallava had a particular fascination for the Lion, as can be seen from the profusion of them in all his creations, and hereto the strength of the mount of Durga is shown prominently with its muscled fore limbs dominating the composition.

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Mahishasuramardini relief

The eight armed goddess is a personification of feminine grace, as she strikes a casual pose, but the warrior attributes and strength are seen in the way her right leg is held up high and steady on her mount – Urdhava Janu and the sinuous curves of her hip break the straight lines of her right feet. The volumes of her wait cloth pass under her hand, held in Kati hasta, and fall gracefully alongside. She wears multiple bangles on all her wrists while the long bow is slung casually in front and the superb prayoga Chakra and a heavy straight sword are prominent amongst her various attributes. The interesting feature seen here is the presence of a three headed snake to the extreme right, though the snake is listed as one of the attributes of Durga we do not see this featured prominently as is done here. The Pallavas also seem to prefer having their sword scabbards on their backs instead of at the waist ? Here we see the goddess having a quiver and a scabbard on her back or is it two quivers? check out similar accessory in the Kanchi Kailasanathar kirata arjuna panel.

It should be mentioned that Rajasimha Pallava was not a King who would leave his creations anonymous, for he does make the task easier for historians to identify his creations, after all he embellished the entire base of his Kailasantha temple in Kanchipuram with his 244 Birudas ( Titles) not once – but 4 times, one below the other. He has forever stamped this cavve as his creation with his inscription, with his name and favorite birudas - Sribhara and Ranajeyah.

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Rajasimha Pallava Granta inscription.

Have we missed describing something more in the relief? double up and examine the panel closely and let me see if you can spot…..

Photo credits: Mr Ashok krishnaswamy, Mr Shaswath

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The ancient port town of Mamallai is the uncrowned King of stone sculpting but it has eclipsed quite a few masterpieces in its glory. In our continuing quest to bring out such stunning yet forgotten works of art spread across our land, today we see the 7th C CE cave shrine of Sri Ranganatha Perumal in Singavaram, situated 4kms to the North of Senji in Villupuram district.

Please do read Saurabh’s indepth post .

An unique later day tall Mandapa greets visitors to the site while the actual shrine is atop a small hillock and is serviced by a long flight of steps. As you pass through into the main shine, you are welcomed by a set of matched pillars and pilasters have been hewn into the rock to form the entrance hall or Artha Mandapa. Only then do you realise that the structural temple has built over the cave shrine complete with its own door guardians.( sadly they have been plastered and painted over - we will never get to know how they would have looked in their pristine beauty)

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A fantastic Sayana perumal – the sleeping form of Vishnu, all of 24 feet, has been fashioned from mother rock and is a sight to behold.

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The scant visitors that the shrine receives however do not realise that there is another treasure just nearby. The Thayar shrine which has been added later has a small window to its side from where visitors can get a glimpse of a spectacular relief sculpture of Durga or Kotravai as her form was known in those times.

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Kotravai in Tribanga - Singavaram

In classic sculpting tradition the composition achieves an aesthetic grace with increased flex ion, as compared to a school class group photo attention pose. You can see how the sculptor has stylistically slanted her body three times – the Tribanga and superbly offset the shift of the legs by having her place her right leg on the severed buffalo head – called Urdhvajanu in iconographic texts and counter balanced the same with the lower left hand slightly raised and resting above the hip. The early date confirmed with the Prayoga chakra on the upper right hand and her Conch on the upper left. The kneeling devotee to the right is thankfully not offering his head but only cutting his hand ( symbolic bloodletting) while his companion’s pose mimics that of holding a flower for her.

Considering that the cave has no inscriptions of the Pallavas and hence we cannot have a definite date for it - It would be an interesting exercise to arrange the similar compositions in stylistic order - all executed within a span of 100 years. The logic would be very simple, you would learn to crawl before you walk and once you walk you wouldn’t want to crawl. You can see the superior effect of the Tribanga over the Sama Banga postures of the ones in the Draupadi Ratha and the Varaha Mandapa and also how the left hand rests lower on the hip, the classical Kati Hasta, giving Singavaram a slightly later date than them.

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Durga in Sama Banga – Draupadi Ratha

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Durga in Sama Banga – Varaha Mandaba

In contrast, the multiple armed Adivaraha cave Kotravai has the sculptor striving for more aesthetics, using his artistic license in sculpting her with slightly exaggerated ( elongated ) legs, standing on the severed head of Mahisha, with the right leg coming entirely behind the left giving the entire composition a stylistic grace. Hence we would give it a post Singavaram date.

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Durga in Tribanga – Adi Varaha cave.

So the chronology should be Draupadi/Varaha/Singavaram/Adi Varaha. Do you agree?

Surely Singavaram must find its place in the must visit list of the tourist and pious alike.

Images: Mr Ashok Krishnaswamy, Mr Arvind Venkataraman and Mr. Saurabh Saxena

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