The controversy over the identity of the two people in this famed Chola painting probably overshadows the Big Temple Vimana’s Shadowless myth.
It is true that many great scholars did identify them as to be the Great Emperor and his teacher, but recent arguments do offer considerable evidence that to the contrary. This post is to line up these arguments and present them in a coherent manner as well as offer some possible evidences to the identity of the two.
1. First and foremost: The Emperor waited 15 years before taking on the crown from 969 to 985 CE. The Big temple was completed in 1010 CE, which is known to us from the inscription which states the Emperor donated Gold for making the alloy for the Top Kalasam / Finial on the 275th day of his 25th year of reign. a simple math gives us 985 + 25 to be 1010 CE. The last inscriptions of the Emperor is from his 29th year of reign ie. 1014 CE. So at the time when the paintings were done he must have been in his advanced years and not the strapping youth as seen in this painting.
Further more, inside the same painted gallery of the vestibule in the big temple, we have his portraits in the other panels, showing him as middle aged and with a majestic beard - when he is shown worshiping in Chidambaram standing and seated worshiping the very peruvudayar in tanjore.
2. The second important point to notice and to me the post important is the very structure of a royal portraiture. In the two panels where we have the great Emperor, no other person is depicted larger than him, except the Lord ofcourse.
I think most of the scholars erred maybe because so little was known of the overall smaller panels and we are to thank ASI, Sri. Sriraman Sir, Artist Sri Chandra Sir for the line drawings and Sri Thyagu for the brilliant photography - the two books added invaluable wealth of material to what we know of the famed paintings - One by the Tanjore Tamil University and the more recent one by ASI authored by Sri Sriraman.
3. Now back to the same wall but from a longer perspective. You can see that this is not a central panel ( as compared to the other two portraits of the Emperor where he is at the center of the panel along with the Lord), and there are two more people painted above them and they are proportionally larger than these two.
Obviously you would not want to paint some other mortal above the Emperor and in a larger size than him.
4. So if these are not the Emperor and his Guru, who can they be. On that subject a very interesting puzzle is the Guru’s sacred thread - if it is that. He is shown wearing it over his right shoulder which is very uncommon and usually practised when one does the funeral rites for the departed.
So there is a possibility that it can be perceived to be the Emperor’s son Rajendra with his Guru on his father’s …But then this is on the outer walls of the Sanctum and very very negligible chance for such a portrayal. It can be argued that it is just a cloth ( though vastra yagnopavithams are in vogue during that period).
5. If these are not them, who can it depict. There is an interesting sculpture in the Tanjore Palace Museum which bear a remarkable resemblance to the odd couple. They are Narada and Chitrasena.
Lets try to mix and match
6. Another possible identification comes from studying the famed Sundarar ascending to heaven panel.
Focus on the top left ( as you view it) of the painting
A host of celestials have assembled to view the divine spectacle and there is a particular row which we need to analyse.
Clearer in the line drawing
These are the Dvadasa Adityas, Ekadasa Rudras
Check the two people who are on the extreme left of them.
So, as per above since they form part of the welcome party when Sundarar ascended to the heavens along with Cherman Perumal, an event that happened well before the Emperor’s times - the two cannot be him and Saint Karuvurar.
Images Courtesy: Sri Gokul Seshadri, Sri Thyagu, Sri Sriraman, Sri Chandru and Hindu archives.