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.
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.
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.
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.
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
An older version at Keezhaiyur
Standing versions at Kodumbalur and Lalgudi,
And at Esalam…
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
Narasamangala, in Karnataka
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.