I had loaned a book on Funan last week and found a very interesting sculpture. It reminded me of something we saw earlier in Dhalavanur. As i scrambled for the closeups and compared the two, i was stumped. Such a remarkable likeness is hard to achieve by pure chance. Oh, sorry forgot to put the pictures, so that you can all see the same - these are Makhara Thoranas ( The Crocodile Arches). Initially they just looked like some decorative motif, but then slowly a pattern emerged.
Many thanks to Mr. Andy Brouwer for readily giving me the permission to use his amazing snaps .
Do you see the amazing similarity between these two sculptures. lets see them a bit closer
So, it got me thinking of why and how - an imaginary creature adorning an early Pallava cave in late 630 AD could find such a twin parallel in far off Cambodia - Sambor Prei Kuk. Was this just a decorative motiff or is there more into this. When i searched the scriptures, a few references popped up here and there. But mostly were passing references to decorative stuff.
For eg, this 12th Tirumurai
He had makara-toranas, beautiful bunches of areca-nuts
And severed banana-trees, peerless streamers
And garlands arranged in beauteous rows
And thus had the whole city with its long streets
Beautified with auspicious decorations;
It looked as though, the flawless, ethereal city itself
Had come down to the earth.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran
Similar references come in the Ramayana as well. But what in essence is this creature, its sure an auspicious sign - denoting the higher heavens - so whenever a mighty city or godly dwelling was implied, the sculptor threw in the makara - the design elements have evolved into similar structures in most later Chola temples.
We miss these beauties in many later temples as well - Take a look at this decorative hand rail in Darasuram.
And this amazing Gyana Saraswathi from Rajendra’s Gangaikondacholapuram ( thanks to Mohandass for the photos) - the last dnap indicates the two wonderful makaras where the arch starts.
This pursuit led me to seek the guidance of hereditary architect and master sculptor Mr. K.P. Umapathy Stapathi. He was kind enough to explain the nuances of the makara thorana, its design elements combining 6 different species into one and integrating all of them into one confluence of fluid art, the variety of creepers at the base complementing the delightful curves of the front piece. He was kind enough to send us this illustrated photo to identify them.
It will be interesting to compile and study similar thoranas from various places.