Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

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.

makara thorana sambor prey kuk.jpg
the makarathorana and koodu combo

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

mahendra dhalavnur makara thorana.jpg
makara thorana sambor prey kuk detail.jpg

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.

darasuram handrail

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.

gkc gyana saraswathi
gkc gyaana saraswathi
gkc saraswathi
gkc - look at the arches
gkc makara closeup
gkc makara

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.

darasuram makara

It will be interesting to compile and study similar thoranas from various places.

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The core of this post is based on a interview that Satheesh conducted with Sri K.P.Umapathy Acharya - hereditary achitect and sculptor. I have supported it with pictures from Shriram,Gokul, graphic work by Ashok and closeups of the individual frames during my recent trip to mallai.

We would have passed this sculpture panel many times ( The earlier post)and each time a new awareness dawns on you. So too is this post

Lets first see the panel as a whole.

Mallai Varaha panel

We have already seen a detailed post of this core theme,so will skip that part. Now, to add some highlights ( thanks to Ashok)


Can you now understand the crux of this post. - we are going to see how the Pallava sculpture has excelled in his portrayal of a multitude of hand and leg postures, am also trying to compare these with Angkorian ( cambodia - thanks to photos from Sri Gokul / sin - ardent cricket fan and best scorer in Singapore league) panel - to highlight why the Pallava sculptor is par excellence.

Inorder to better understand these, have taken individual exposures of the poses - so please take your time to see the indexed version and then proceed to see the individual items.

varahaPanel(hands) index
index 1
index 2
index 3
index 4
index 5
index 6
index 6 closeup
index 7
index 8
index 9
index 10
index 11
index 12
index 13
index 14
index 15

Notice how each of the individual carvings are unique, ie not of the same size, yet every aspect of proportion is maintained for the individual sculpture. No two hands are the same, not only posture wise but also in dimensions.

index 14
index 15

At first glance we tend to miss out the significance of the last two photos.Well you might ask, why bring in the legs suddenly into the discussion. Let me throw in a few snaps of the Angkorian Apsara / dancers and see if you get a hint.

agkorian relief sculpture
angkorian sculpture

No, ok, now do you get it

the depiction of the feet of an angkorian sculpture
the depiction of the feet of angkorian panel

See how the Pallava craftsmen has depicted the feet, especially of the person who is sculpted as facing into the wall. Simply mind blowing.

The depiction of the feet both facing to one side - would be akin to a beginner’s attempt at sketching someone in straight profile. You have difficulty in showing the depth in a one dimensional sketch. But a bas relief is almost a 3 dimensional medium ( well 2 1/2 - 3D would be a full sculpture like an idol or statue). But the Angorian style is more representative of a craftsmen moving from a uni dimensional sketch into sculpture, while the Pallava craftsmen centuries before had already mastered this.

Some more pictures to illustrate the intricacies of the panel for your viewing pleasure.

boomadevi's upper garment fallen loose
varaha eye and snout
varaha right leg on naga hood
varaha tusk

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