Posts Tagged ‘Bhikshadhana’

We continue this controversial series with another highly controversial sculpture - Kankalamurthy. Lets look at the Iconography first before heading into the murky plots - he is quite often confused with his Bhikshadanar form not without reason, for they appear quite similar but for some key differences.Take these two from Gangai Konda Cholapuram.


The first and most obvious one is the presence and absence of clothing. Bhikshadanar is naked with a few snakes on him, while Kankala is shown fully dressed. The texts do mention however that his upper garment must be the skin of a horse or an ass, which he should wear with the hairy side appearing outside and lower garment made of threads of the hemp and when worn
it should not descend below the knee. ( notice the when worn ! ). Both wear thick wooden clogs /slippers.

The second obvious difference is in the headdress. Kankala has a Jatamakuta ( hair that is worked to form a crown) while Bhikshadana has a Jata Bara ( more like a wandering mendicant’s unwashed thick locks brushed back!) or even a Jata Mandala ( the same like jata bara but the hair kind of radiates to form a circle!).

Hair style differences …thanks for art


However, this hair dress part seems to be not followed 100% with some combination sculptures, meaning there are a few Bhikshadanar with Jatamakuta - maybe the sculptor tried a two in one upsize combo.

But there are some very important differences that enable us to clearly distinguish the two.

Watch what Shiva is holding in his lower left hand. If it is a skull cap begging bowl ( we will come to the story shortly) - it is Bikshadanar and if he is holding a particular variety of drum called a Dhakka, it is Kankala.

Further, the lower right hand of Bikshadanar is feeding his antelope, while that of Kankala must be beating the drum with a stick ( called bana). The second right hand of Bikshanda holds a damaru above shoulder height, while that of Kankala is feeding the antelope. Now we have a peculiar problem in the Gangaikonda Cholapuram sculpture - the Kankala has 6 hands and the front ones are broken but then you can see that only the second right hand is feeding while the third is bent up holding a coiled snake.

The upper left hand of both hold a staff but herein comes the most clinching evidence. The staff is no ordinary staff for the Kankala murthy. Kankala - is termed as a skeleton or corpse. The skull cap in the hand of Bikshadana is the plucked head of Brahma - the popular Lingothbava connection. However the Kankala connection gets more sinister with many a variant being sung about. Its 100% controversial with the most common version - stating that Shiva as Bairava being barred entry by Viswaksena - the head of Vishnu’s staff and an enraged Bairava spearing him with his trident and carrying his lifeless body impaled on it. Sounds gruesome - but believe me this is the most mildest version that i could post. The others versions talk of the spinal cord etc. But the ending kind of brings some parity between the two Gods - by saying Vishnu infact helps Shiva redeem himself from the curse etc ( other versions say it was Lakshmi !)

To get back to Iconography of the supporting cast of the Kankalamurthy form , below passage from Sri Gopinath Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography will be of interest

“The Kankalamurti should be surrounded by a number of women and the bhutaganas (goblins) represented variously as dancing, singing and in other attitudes ; one of the bhutas should carry on his head a large vessel for storing in the food received in alms and be situated on the left of Siva. Of the women who surround Siva some should appear to be completely possessed of irrepressible love for him, some eager to embrace him, some others blessing him, while still others serving in his vessel food ladled out from another with a spoon. Out of lust for Siva the clothes of the women should appear slipping down their loins.. There should also be hosts of rishis, devas, gandharvas, siddhas and vidyadharas everywhere around Siva, with arms crossed on the chest in the anjali pose. The god Vayu should sweep the streets before Siva, Varuna should sprinkle them with water, the other devas should shower flowers on him, the rishis should praise him by repeating the Vedas, Surya and Chandra should carry umbrellas over his head and the celestial musicians Narada and Tumburu should sing songs to the accompaniment of musical instruments.”

When we were in Thirukkurungudi last December, we were fortunate that the Gopura was undergoing extensive upkeep and hence we could climb both the outside ( a little scary and spiderman like ) and also on the inside. It was the last place we expected to find a relief sculpture of Kankalamurthy confirming to iconographic cannons as above !


Must have been a very brave sculptor to attempt this.


You can apply the specifications from above perfectly to this sculpture.


What is a puzzle however is what is shown on the other end of staff. Looks like a reptile


Maybe it is a contingency against him not being so successful in his efforts to secure his breakfast, which is not surprising considering the fact that he has a corpse dangling behind him.

It is important to read these in context to life and culture of those days. What may appear in today’s context to be stupid or ridiculous might have been the norm them. While reading a paper on Self sacrifice came across this interesting reference where ” Viran and Narayana - twin brothers who served under Parantaka Chola I, simply cut off their own heads to demonstrate how they cut off the head of Vikkalan, the King of Nellore’

However, as usual all ends well - with Viswaksenar resurrected and going back to his duties and Shiva regaining his benevolent form .

Leave a comment »

Today, we are going to see another splendid guest post from Ms. Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink. In the last post she had expertly described the Palanquin and parasol for Gyanasambandar. Today she dwells deeper into this remarkable temple and takes us on a guided tour of how the joy of a temple visit is to be savored.

Just like the temple itself, each murti or sculpture of a deity tells several stories. Each murti represents a purana, a myth. And it also tells the story of the time it was sculpted. How the sculptor depicted the myth in his time. Although a depiction of a murti is directed by the doctrine, by the shastra, there was always the genius of the sculptor who gave shape to this doctrine through his own genius, vision and inspiration.

This post will be about the murtis in relationship to the structure of the temple: what is sometimes called the sculptural program. The stories of the individual murtis I prefer to present separately, in order to give them all due attention.

Entering a temple compound for the first time is always an exciting experience. Every temple has its own energy, and also its own treasures. Some temples are very well known and many photos or books about these can be found. When we enter such a temple we have an expectation. Or even a pre-concept. But the actual experience is always different and unexpected. Entering an unknown temple is like entering a treasure trove full of mysteries waiting to be discovered.

Entering the Shiva temple in Thiruvattathurai was truly such an experience. We walked through the first Gopuram into the outer prakara or courtyard. To our left was the entrance to the courtyard of the Devi shrine. To our right a Nandi and flagpole belonging to the Devi temple and ahead the flagmast and Nandi belonging to the Shiva temple. It was an open space, still cool under the December sun. Crossing the second Gopuram we entered the central courtyard where our view was immediately blocked by the walls of a half-closed mandapa.


We turned left to follow the pradakshina, the circumambulation holding the shrine on our right hand side.

The mandapa was pleasant and quite old. The pillars looked like belonging to the Later Chola to early Nayaka period, somewhere in the 14th century. This mandapa opened towards the South. It was attached to the mukha mandapa which was looking considerable older. It too had a porch opening to the South. After rounding this porch only the courtyard opened wide and we could see the shrine.


What we saw was a temple obviously belonging to the Early Chola period. With niches which housed depictions in stone of murtis or deities. I am not sure, but I think I was kind of stopped right there. Because before me I saw one of the most beautiful Bhikshatana or Shiva as mendicant I have ever seen.


Almost life-sized, shining deep black, caught in movement, a mysterious smile on his lips. Shiva as Bhikshatana or mendicant refers to the myth of Shiva’s dance in the Daruvana.

In the Shivakamasundari temple in Chidambaram we find a beautiful painting depicting this purana.


He holds his trident in his upper left hand and slung over his shoulders. From the trident hangs a bundle of peacock feathers . His left hand holds the skull which is his begging bowl. His lower right hand reaches towards the deer that follows him. In the painting we can see he is holding a little bit of grass with which he feeds the deer which accompanies him. On his left side he is accompanied by a dwarf who holds up a large bowl. In Thiruvattathurai one of the rishipatnis is depicted in a side-panel .


At the conclusion of his confrontation with the rishis is the Daruvana forest Shiva performed his Cosmic Dance. The eight corners of the universe shook, and the river Ganga (streaming through Shiva’s hair) trembled with fright. Parvati joined her husband. There, right next to Bhikshatana in another niche is the Ananda Tandava Murti, Shiva dancing his Dance of Bliss together with Shivakamasundari .


This Nataraja is also remarkable. And it is strange it has so far not been illustrated anywhere, as far as I know. Because of its quality, but also because of the place it may hold in the history of the depiction of Lord Nataraja.

In between Nataraja and Bhikshatana the Remover of Obstacles, Lord Vinayaka, is offering us his blessings. Thus Bhikshatana, Vinayaka and Nataraja are the three murtis presented on the South facing ardhamandapa wall.


As we proceed clockwise around the prakara we next come before Shiva as Dakshinamurti. Once again the sculpture is of exceptional quality and beauty .


Surrounded by four rishis and offering us his blessing with the chin-mudra here Shiva is the Supreme Teacher. The niche in the southern wall of the grabhagriha is the traditional place of Dakshinamurti.

As we continue our round we turn the corner to find Lingodbhavamurti in the western wall. This murti represents the myth which is said to have taken place in Tiruvannamalai. Shiva as Lingodbhava in the Western niche is worshiped by Brahma and Vishnu in slightly smaller form.


It is thought the Western niche is the traditional place where we find this murti of Shiva. But was this always so? Just look up at the roof of the vimana. There on the second tala and on the shikara it is Vishnu who occupies the honorable Western direction.


On the second tala Vishnu is seated on Adisesha, the cosmic snake, together with his two consorts, Shri and Bhu. On the shikara Vishnu is also seated accompanied by his two consorts, but without his throne. We may ask, when and why this change in the sculptural program took place? Today we find few Vishnu murtis in the Western niche of Shiva temples. But sometimes Vishnu continues to occupy this position on the temple elevations proving that this was the position of Vishnu in an earlier time. For instance in the Nageshvara shrine in Kumbakonam. Although Ardhanarishvara graces the western niche Vishnu is found depicted on the second tala and on the shikara


Rounding the corner into the norther part of the prakara it is four-faced Brahma who is occupying the northern niche as his traditional position.


Again the northern wall of the ardhamandapa is graced by three murtis. Two forms of Shiva, Gangavatarana and Ardhanarishvara on respectively the western and eastern side of Durga, occupying the central niche . All the murtis are beautifully carved, telling their story through the spiritual vision and with elegance.


The structure of a sculptural program of 3-1-1-1-3 niches on the walls of the ardhamandapa and the vimana is not uncommon for Early Chola temples. But the walls of this temple have an extra niche situated in the north-facing wall of the mukha mandapam, which is very unusual.


The murti in the tenth niche is Kalabhairava. He occupies a single niche in between panjaras.


The single niche in each of the vimana walls is actually standard in most Early Chola temples. We find Dakshinamurti in the niche of the South wall, Vishnu (earliest), Ardhanarishvara (a little later, and only applied for a short while) or Lingodbhava (standard in a later phase, till today). Brahma is always found depicted in the North facing wall. Sometimes other murtis also find a place on the vimana wall, for instance in Kamalasavalli or the Nageshvara in Kumbakonam.

Three niches in an ardhamandapa wall is also not uncommon. But this temple tells a different story. Because four of the six niches are not proper niches. They are niches cut in the temple wall, without the normal structure of a niche: a lintel with a makara-torana on top, and a discontinuation of the vari.


This shows only the central niches in the ardhamandapa walls housing Vinayaka and Durga respectively are genuine niches. What story does this tell? Did the architect decide half-way the construction he wanted to give a place to more murtis? Or the donor? Where does this temple fit in the evolution of Early Chola temples? The Vinayaka and Durga murti can now be understood as having a different style and structure from the other four murtis. Especially the Durga seems to have been sculpted almost in the round. The Mother standing on th head of Mahishasura creates a narrow and tall composition fitting perfectly in the rather high and narrow niche.

The cut niches are shallow, broad and high. They rest on the vari whereas the proper niches are cut through the vari, as is usual in Chola temples. Were the secundary niches cut at a later date, perhaps to give refuge to murtis brought from somewhere else, possibly another temple? Can we discern any differences or similarities between them which can help us understand better. In a following post we will study these murtis further to see if we can find an answer to these questions.

Leave a comment »

 Page 1 of 3  1  2  3 »