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Posts Tagged ‘big temple’

For a temple as famous as the Tanjore Brihadeshwara, it does have more than its fair share of legends associated with it. We have seen of these before, including the most popular one of the Shadow of the Vimana.. Today, we are to see another popular riddle - Why are there depictions of Buddha in the temple. Yes, its depictions in plural ! There are three places where we get to see the form of Buddha - two carved into stone and one a part of the famed Fresco.

Buddha
Buddha+panel2
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( Images Courtesy: Mr Satheesh, Mr Arvind and Mr Thyagarajan from the fantastic book )

A careful study of the Tripurantaka episode reveals the clues and explains the panels.

The three sons of the demon Taraka - Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha, and Viryavana , were devout followers of Shiva and by the power of their austerities they sought from Brahma the boon of immortality. This was not within the creators powers as all things had to perish, so they sought a seemingly impossible end - They sought three forts, one of pure gold, another of silver, last of iron and each could fly !! Once in a thousand years, the three would align in a single line for a brief second and it was at this moment that they could be felled by a single arrow of Shiva. Having received this boon they sought the services of the divine architect Maya to cast their flying fortresses.

The years passed as centuries and their power thus complimented they grew in prosperity and challenged the Devas. Powerless against them, the devas sought the help of Shiva, who being the benevolent self, said that ` as long as they are my followers, i cannot do anything’. The time when destiny brought the three flying citadels in the same line drew near and in desperation the devas sought the help of Vishnu. Seeing the need to correct the balance of power, Vishnu took upon himself to lead the Tripura demons out of Shiva worship. He took the form of a Buddha ( the operative word here is “a”) and led them out of the Shivaite faith.

Now, Shiva took on the task of ending their rule. The Devas with the help of Visvakarma constructed the chariot of the earth, the Sun and the Moon became its wheels, the bow was the Mount Meru itself and Vasuki the Bow string. Vishnu himself became the arrow. Brahma became his charioteer and he led the Deva army along with Ganesha, Skanda and Mahishasuramardhini.

Quoting Dr R. Nagasamy from his article
“Lord Brahma addressed Siva and said “Lord you are Omniscient and Omnipotent and you do not require all these chariot, weapons, and the retinue to destroy the Asuras? The Asuras will disappear the moment you “will”, but if you are still resorting to these acts it is purely out of your sport”. Siva laughed and at the same moment the Asuras were burnt to ashes. In order to please the Devas Siva discharged the arrow. That is the story of Tripurantaka. “

Now, lets analyse the panels. Stones first - Panel 1

Tripurantaka+panel

Little closer.

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tripurantaka+panel1

The first part, you can see the three clearly - Mahishasuramardhini on her lion mount, Ganesha on his mouse mount and Skanda on his peacock mount.

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The middle row seems to depict the battle - though Shiva is not shown. The bottom is left unfinished.

tripurantaka+bottom+unfinished+row
tripurantaka+middle+panel

The adjacent row has the depiction of Buddha on top with the Tripura demons worshiping him with their consorts

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second+panel+top+row
Buddha

The next row, seems to show the fall of the demons. The posture of the hands marked below, seemed to implore the fallen demons to seek Shiva’s grace.

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second+panel+second+row+notice

The last row shows them returning to worship of the Linga with one holding it reverently above his head.

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second+panel+bottom+row+worship+linga

Lets now move on to another varied depiction of the same in stone.

Tirpura demons listening to Buddha

Buddha+panel2

Shiva riding on his chariot to battle with Brahma as his charioteer

tripurantaka+panel2
tripurantaka+shiva+chariot

Finally the famed Fresco - which we discussed before.

Here again you see the Depiction of Buddha and also Mahishasuramardhini, Brahma, Skanda and Ganesha.

fresco.jpg
sketch.jpg

Its interesting to note that there was a conscious effort even during the Pallava period to show Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. However, is this Buddha the same as the Sakyamuni is a difficult question to comprehend. But the point to dwell on is the portrayal in both stone and paint - the size and the dignified manner in which he is portrayed. The reverence is very visible.

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April 9, 1931.

“Close upon the discovery of the Pallava paintings in the Kailasanathaswami Temple at Conjeevaram by the French savant, the indefatigable Prof. Jouveau Dubreuil it has been my great good fortune to bring to light the hitherto unknown frescoes of the Imperial Chola period, in the Brihadeswaraswami Temple, popularly known as ‘the Big Temple of Tanjore.’

“It was almost a year since I visited that noble fane [temple] one evening, in the company of my friend Mr.T.V.Umamaheshwaram Pillai, when in the dim religious light of a small oil lamp I felt, as it were, the existence of some kind of paintings on the walls on either side of a dark narrow circumambulatory passage around the sanctum sanctorum.

“But it was only yesterday I found it convenient to examine the place more thoroughly with the help of a ‘Baby Petromax’ whose bright light revealed paintings indeed but paintings of an undoubtedly very late and degenerate age, whose linear contortions and chromatic extravagances shattered in a moment all my wonderful dreams of discovering there the best and the only example of the art of Chola mural paintings.

“Still I chose a part of the western wall for close inspection and found the painted plastering there cracked all over and threatening to fall down. A gentle touch and the whole mass crumbled down, exposing underneath a fine series of frescoes palpitating with the life of other days.”

S.K. Govindaswami in The Hindu, April 11, 1931

Hindu article

Its taken 80 years for the above effort to reach its end, I would be wrong to say it as the end, for this is indeed a new Dawn. The famed Chola Frescos, hitherto seen only by a privileged few, with lesser mortals having to put up with the OOhs and AAhs of scholars and seeing low resolution faded prints in newspapers and magazines, have been given a new life. Thanks to the efforts by the TN Government, The Tamil University Tanjore, Mr Rajendran, Mr Thyagarajan , Mr Rajavelu, Mr. Chandru - we get to see them in new light.

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cholar+kala+oviyangal

There has been lot of talk of such efforts earlier, and when Sri Badri of Kizhakku Pathippagam showed a sneak preview of the book on facebook, my pulse raced in anticipation, but somewhere there was a bit of dread - would the book do justice to the paintings, will the quality of photographs compare with international publications, would the presentation falter, would the quality of paper be compromised ( more so since the price was just Rs 500). Not wanting to take chance, I rushed through two sources to order the book. And 3 weeks ago, the books reached me, thanks to Sri Raman. Normally, i would finish a book of this size in a day or two, but then this was no ordinary work. It took me weeks to finish studying a page - Every inch of the Frescoes have been faithfully captured on Camera and not stopping with that - Artist Sri Chandru has faithfully drawn every line and curve as line drawings. I showed the book to Oviyar Sri Maniam Selvan and he was mighty pleased and impressed as well and showed me a few of his father’s ( Sri Maniam’s sketches of the frescoes as well !! - felt blessed)

Let me explain what i mean, by showing you a sneak peak of the books contents - the famed Dhaksinamurthy panel.

dhaksinamurthy+panel

( have to use low resolution so it doesn’t really do justice to the work, but don’t want to infringe on the book !!)

Now, comes the book specialty - the line drawings

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There is so much to study in these Frescos and I am sure this book would spawn many Phd’s. For eg, take just one part of the panel, towards the top left hand side.

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dhaksinamurthy+panel+bairavar+inset

Notice the highlighted part - its a fantastic Asta Buja ( eight armed) Bairvar form.

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The detailing on the paintings is stunning. Take a look

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devotee.jpg

But the Bairavar looked very familiar, so immediately set about looking into my database. The first one that came up, was this Kstera Balar ( special Bairava from without the Dog mount - favorite of Sri Raja Raja’s queen Lokamadevi!) who is currently stationed just outside the entrance of the Big temple entrance.

ksetrabalar+outside+bigtemple

Though the style matched, the placement of the Trishool - on the right hand compared to the one in the painting - where its holstered ( forgive the pun) to the left waist - showed this was not a match.

Next on the scanner, was this fantastic bronze from the Tanjore Art Gallery. ( imaged courtesy Sri Raman and my cousin Sri Prasanna Ganesan)

bronze+tiruvengadu

The gallery board read 11th C CE, Tirvengadu

I went back to my books and found the reference in Bronzes of South India - P.R. Srinivasan (F.E. 1963, L.R. 1994 - Price Rs. 386), to dig out what they thought of the bronze.

In respect of workmanship, this is in the same style as the bronzes of the Rishabantaka.
Rishabantaka
But its iconography has necessitated the introduction of some new details not met with in any of the figures previously examined.

The eight armed Bhairava is another interesting bronze of this period, the like of which has not been met with. It stands erect, ie, in sama Bhanga posture. The other details peculiar to this figure are the following:

The braided locks of hair are arranged in the forms of heart and it serves the purpose of a Bha manadala ( halo) too. a knob like projection is seen on the head. On one side is seen a serpent and on the other the crescent and the Datura flower. ( there are two serpents and the crescent and flower are on opposite sides !)

crescent+datura+flower

Six tassels are seen, three on each side of the Jata - mandala. The fillet with the gem consists of flower designs. Patra kundalas are seen in both the ears. The raudra or terrific aspect associated with this icon, is attempted to be depicted by means of the knitting of the eye brows, wide open eyes and the small canine teeth. But as was customary with ancient stapathis to introduce benign qualities in the representation of terrific themes, here too the stapathi has depicted the details in the same fashion which goes to make the bronze pleasant looking rather than terrible looking. Even the knitting of the eye brows, in the context of features expressive of joy, seems to add charm to the expression rather than striking terror.

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The necklaces and the pendant ornament on the right shoulder are of the same type as those of the above figures ( Rishabantaka post) and thus affords a proof of its grouping with them. The Yagnopavita is made of two strands, twisted like a rope. Besides, along mala - a string made up of small globules is seen. Perhaps they represent severed heads, in which case thus becomes a Munda - Mala.

Arms are displayed in fan-wise series on either side, and the manner of their attachment to one another is beautiful. The armlets are actual naga-valayas and in no other bronzes armlets of this kind are seen - this is where this bronze started differentiating with the one in the Fresco. Its does not have this feature

bairavar+linedrawing.jpg

Except, the three hands, namely the upper most right hand, the corresponding left hand and the lowermost left hand which hold respectively, a damaru, a bell and a bowl, the rest are in kataka poses. The series of arms seen one below the other in the depth of each side is impressive.

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attributes+right

No tassels are present in the Udara bandha. This figure shows two serpents with their bodies twisted and wound round the waist. Further their heads are converted into decorative pieces adorning the thighs. The manner of showing them hanging on the thighs is superb.

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Now, comes the definitive clue. There are two snakes in the bronze, but only one in the painting ! So this is not the bronze shown in the painting !

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two+snakes

Now, you will understand, how important documenting our heritage is and Kudos to the team behind this spectacular book. Cannot call it a collector’s item, for its something that has to be studied and taught in art schools and subject of many Phd’s.

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