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Posts Tagged ‘esalam’

We come across many interesting things that pass by before our eyes without registering - until someone draws our attention to it ! Similarly today Shashwath is asking us to study the Veena or more closely the head of a Veena.

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The Hindu article is titled Lion - headed legacy ! But is it a Lion??

It is definitely a Yazhi as this illustration marks it ( source the internet). Over to Shash for part 2 of Esalam n the Yazhi head of the Veena.

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In the last part about this temple, I had merely left a hint about this wonderful Dakshinamurthy, and stopped with the layout of the temple and some of the other sculpture around it. Today, we will look at this Veenadhara.

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Dakshinamurthy is Shiva acting as the supreme teacher - the guru of all gurus. T. A. Gopinatha Rao, who was himself the guru of all who study Indian iconography, has this to say about the Dakshinamurthy form:

“We have already stated that Shiva is a great master of yoga, music and dancing… As a teacher of Yoga, music and other sciences he is known by the name of Dakshinamurthy. (…) This aspect of Shiva is always invoked by students of science and arts.”

According to Gopinatha Rao, there are four aspects of Dakshinamurthy - the teacher of Yoga, of Vina, of Jnana and as an “expounder of other Shastras”, or Vyakhyanamurti. It is the last form that we see most commonly in temples, in the southern niche of the central Garbagriha. At Esalam, too, there’s a Vyakhyanamurti in this location.

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Unfortunately, it’s broken, so somebody decided to install a modern one, hiding the original from view!

Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy is the teacher of music. This is not as common as the Vyakhyana, but it’s not a rare form either. There are several instances of this form - at Gangaikondacholapuram

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An older version at Keezhaiyur

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Standing versions at Kodumbalur and Lalgudi,

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And at Esalam…

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According to the Agamas, this form is identical to the Vyakhyana form, except for the Veena in his hands, the gourd resting on his right thigh. Essentially, matted locks with a band holding them together, the Datura flower, kapala and crescent moon, right leg hanging down and left leg bent and rested on the right thigh, and so on. The upper hands hold either an Aksharamala, a snake, fire, or a
deer - this is a teacher, after all, so he doesn’t hold any weapons.

As I described in my last post, the Veenadhara is up in the Vimana, above the Vyakhyana. Space is limited up there, so many of the usual attributes are missing - there is no tree, and I can barely make out a single devotee below him and to the right. The dwarf he’s stepping on seems either incomplete or badly worn out.

To me, it’s the face and the Veena that are the most intriguing.

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You can just look at it for a while - I don’t have to explain too much!

He’s wearing a decorated band as a crown around his head, keeping the locks away from his face. There are the usual earrings and the moon on his right.

On his shoulders, you can see the cords of the necklaces hanging down. A yagnopavita completes the ensemble There are details here that you can’t really see from the ground. And I’m sure that if we were to get a shot from above, we’d see a tiger belt, too! That dedication to detail - even detail that nobody would actually go up there and see - is what distinguishes our ancient sculptors.

Now, look at the Veena - The gourd is a bit rough on the bottom right, but it’s definitely resting on the right thigh. It’s projecting out a bit outside to the right (something the Agamas prescribe), and the bottom hand is strumming it.

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What I really liked was the other side - the head of the instrument is straight, unlike the modern Veena (which is bent downwards) and carved in the form of a Yazhi’s head.

The date of this Dakshinamurthy is quite certain - Rajendra Chola left enough inscriptional evidence to go by. This temple is probably co-equal with Gangaikondacholapuram (probably, because we don’t know GKC’s date). Look at the one from there:

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Very similar to the one at Esalam! Gourd’s at the bottom right, Yazhi-head to top left. But now, look at the others that I’d posted earlier:

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These are older ones – both Early Chola, from Aditya’s time, maybe a hundred or more years before Esalam and GKC. And here are some older Veena players – Kanchi Kailasanatha:

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Narasamangala, in Karnataka

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These all seem to be inverted - the gourd is at the top! In an earlier Poetry in Stone post on the similar Veenadhari Ardhanari, we saw similar top-resonating Veenas.

Was the Veena itself originally only with a top-resonator? If so, when was the bottom resonator introduced? If both forms existed since ancient times, why did the sculptors of Rajendra’s time alone start using the bottom-resonator instead of the traditional top resonating Veena?

Maybe answering this, we will understand the evolution of music in medieval India a bit better. Sculpture and music converge, and Dakshinamurthy is still teaching us!

Now, another taste of things to come! Remember that we talked about how details of this icon couldn’t be seen from the ground? How did I manage to take those shots, then?

It turns out that, since this temple was under a mound of sand, the ground level of the surrounding village is higher now than when it was built. Walking around the outside of the shrine, you can climb a small stone, and be at eye-level with the Dakshinamurthy.

When we went around to do this, we found two of the guardian deities of the village - the grama devatas. These are both extremely ancient. I will take them up later.

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Youngsters like Shashwath make us believe that the message of heritage and conservation will be taken to the Gen neXt and beyond. Today he takes us on a tour to Esalam via his guest post.

On a late January morning, a small group of us started on a trip down one of the most historical roads in the south, to find one of the most important places in Chola history.

When we met that morning, Arvind told us about this cluster of four temples within about 5 km of each other, and within a day’s journey from the city. When I got to know that one of the places on the list was Esalam, it was too much to resist. I didn’t know what to expect, except that it is a full stone temple, including the vimanam (which is rare enough), and that there was the “most beautiful Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy” ever. More on the temple itself shortly, but first, I must try to why I was so excited to see Esalam.

Often, it’s not the primary temple endowed by a ruler that tells us the most about them. In Gangaikondacholapuram, there is hardly anything that tells us anything about his builder, Rajendra I. Unlike his father, the “Chola who captured the Ganga” is something of an enigma, since the first available inscription at the temple he built is from the reign of his second son, Virarajendra. Who was he? What were his motivations? Who influenced him? Tough questions…

One of the places that help us piece together some of these answers is Esalam. It was here that a copper plate grant made by him was found, along with several wonderful bronzes.

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As Dr. Nagaswamy (who translated the plate) describes the find, “On the 11th of August 1987, the inhabitants of Eslam a village near Villupuram, in South Arcot district, Tamilnadu, stuck upon a group of bronzes, temple utensils and a copper plate charter, within the temple premises of Tiru Ramanathesvara temple of the village, while carrying out renovation work to the temple.” The content of this copper plate is interesting and important, and Dr. Nagaswamy details it in the link above. Just some highlights before we go on: this grant details the creation of a new Devadana to support the temple, dedicated to Shiva in the form of Ramisvara, or Ramaanathesvara. What is most important about this place, and this record, is that this is no ordinary temple. It was built and endowed by Rajendra for his own Guru, the high priest of the Tanjore temple (and quite possibly, the temple at Cholapuram also), Sarvasiva Panditar. Hence, this is a royal temple - built by the strongest of the Cholas, as a gift to his preceptor. As such, some of the best craftsmen in the land would have been called on to work on it, and it shows!

Approaching the temple from the front, it doesn’t really look like much - a miniature modern gopuram greets you in all its garish oil-painted glory.

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It’s when you go in, that you see a beautiful Chola temple.

The first thing we notice is this huge, bulbous dome of the Vimanam, almost Mid-Eastern in proportions, and the wonderful Balipeedam, with miniatures on all sides.

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A stone-work window, with designs and dancing girls on the “bars” covers the front of the temple

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and the entrance is off to the left side

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The walls of the temple are covered in inscriptions

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Around the temple are the Goshtas: Vinayaka, Dakshinamurthy, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga.

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More in part 2 of this post

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