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Posts Tagged ‘Dasavatharam’

The land of the thousand temples is no tall claim by Kanchipuram. At any spot in the city, you will be able to spot atleast 2 -3 temples and this treasure trove holds in its midst on the earliest and grandest structural temples - the spectacular Kailasantha built by King Rajasimha Pallava. This jewel of a temple holds in its midst some of the most fantastic expression of sculptural excellence - be it the composition, complexity, elegance and sheer volume per square inch of workmanship - this temple is second to none. Today, we are going to see a very unique panel that showcases the intellect and liveliness of the Pallava sculptor as well - the Samudra manthan.

Kailasantha+sculpture

Its very unusual to find the churning of Milk ocean to depicted in stone in India. Though a very important act, we find mostly Vishnu shown as his Kurma ( turtle) avatar depicting this significant event. The only freeze that does justice to this event is the one in Angkor and a few smaller panels in the surrounding sites. The Cambodian version have Vishnu shown twice - both as himself and as his kurma avatar ( including the nice one in the Swarnaboom Airport in Bangkok). The legend is ofcourse a simple one. The good Devas loose their powers due to an act of their chief Indra. They need Amrit to restore their immortality and powers. Amrit can be obtained if the Milk ocean is churned - but the task is so huge. They need the Manthara Mountain to churn and look for a rope - the king of serpents Vasuki volunteers his help. Just as they begin, the mountain sinks into the ocean due to its weight. Vishnu takes the form of turtle ( kurma) and bears it weight. The Devas and Asuras take the two side of the snake and churn the ocean. Finally the nectar or amrit is obtained.

The sculpture in Kanchi however is very different, for it does not have the Turtle depicted anywhere ! Lets take another look.

churning+kanchi

The central eight armed figure is Vishnu for sure, you can clearly see the Conch and the Discus.

discus+conch
discus+conch+offset

He is slightly off center and hence our attention goes to the object on which he is leaning or rather holding up. ( kind of reminds you of the blokes in Baywatch leaning on their surf boards!!)

main+act
vishnu

The posture is also important to notice, there seems to be nonchalant ease or rather an accomplished pride in his stance.

notice+4+hands
notice+posture

Now, to the bottom we do see the Vasuki, the king of serpents ( the rope that was used to churn) looking very much relaxed.

vasuki

So, the pillar which Vishnu is propping up could be taken the Mandra mountain which was used to churn the milk ocean.

mount+madhara

In side the frame of the Mandara mountain, we see a flying figure carrying something.

dhanvantari+nectar+pot

Lets take a closer look at this flying figure.

closeup+dhanvatari+nectar+pot

Ofcourse, its Dhanvatari carrying the pot of amrit. That means its mission accomplished ! Apart from the pot of Amrit with Dhanvantari many more auspicious beings/objects emerged during the churning chief among which are ofcourse the Kaustubham - the jewel worn by Vishnu, Kamadenu , Kalpavriksha, Airavatam - the white elephant given to Indra, by some version the Conch and Discus of Vishnu, and a seven headed white horse - Ucchaishravas. This is where it gets interesting. In its hay days, the entire sculpture would have had a full coat of lime plaster and beautifully painted - however, time has taken its toll, leaving us very little of the minute details, yet we can spot a horse ( its not a seven headed one) but a horse there is. This horse has an interesting legend associated with its tail and color, but we will see that later on.

notice+horse+in+corner
ucchaishravas

Looking at all these, it would be a considered guess that this depicts the final act of the Samudra churning, where the triumphant Vishnu stylistically leans on the Mandara, taking in the applause.

picture courtesy: Sri Ashok Krishnaswamy

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What an interesting exchange on the previous post ! forced me to put this part 2 of that debate.

Lets take a look at the sculpture under question again

Hanuman somnathpur with vishnu attributes and bana lingam
bana lingam
closeup of hanuman
face of hanuman
left hand holding the conch
right hand holding the discus

Is the sculpture indeed that of Hanuman holding the Bana l

Arguments for:

The Bana lingam legend, the facial features.

Arguments against

No tail, presence of two ladies on both sides, presence of Vishnu’s attributes ( but this is not a clear case as Cheenu’s rightly pointed out there are instances !)

What other sculptures could it represent

Macha Avatar

But there is a matcha ( fish) avatar sculpture right next to this sculpture.

somnathpur1
Somnathpur - Matsya

We had arguments for this image as well, but the depiction of the eyes and the typical mouth kind of settled the issue.

Lets see them in closeup again ( thanks Arvind once again)

face of fish, notice the eyes
macha avatar closeup

Compare this macha avatar with the earlier sculpture, both can’t be the same for sure.

Varaha Avatar - Vishnu

A Definite possibility. Lets take a front depiction of Varaha from Ahobilam to compare.

ahobilam varaha side
ahobilam varaham

The depiction of a spherical ( ok egg shaped) earth is not found in sculptures even upto 200 years after this representation. Take a look again, its too defined a sculpture for an artist to err in the shape ( for the finesse in carving the conch and the discus).

bana lingam
left hand holding the conch
right hand holding the discus

While, its definitely a case in point to the two ladies. We see all the avatars and even Brahma sporting such attendants or consorts.

brahma somnathpur

Now, we come to this interesting sculpture. its Kurma ( Turtle) Avatar

Somnathpur - could be kurma

Lets study its features more closely

Kurma avatar
kurma avatar closeup
kurma face

There are some legends related with Vishnu seeking Shiva’s help ( Kachbeshwarar form). But is this and the original sculpture similar. Lets study the face features once more side by side.

face comparison

Well definitely not the same - clear from the eyes especially. I tend to side the argument for Hanuman more based on these.

An interesting sculpture and how a little bit of vandalism can lead to confusions, yet some tell tale signs help assist in proper identification.

another mystery image

Hey,who is this. Except for the face, everything is Ganesha. But the face …Hmm, lets take a closer look

closeup of mystery image showing all atrributes of ganesha

Stumped you. Well dont rake your brains yet, is this a composite Ganesha combined with Varaha / Hayagreevar ….

its our Ganesha only

No my friends, take a closer look at the top left ( of the sculpture)

the piece of the trunk holding a modhakam

Its the broken trunk, with the tip holding his favorite modhakam. Just a case of part of the trunk being broken !! Its our darling Ganesha only.

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