I have been very fortunate to have been under the tutelage of many great souls, who lovingly embraced me and took it on themselves to educate and encourage me. Their list is long and in that long list the forerunner is Mr .Dhivakar. A master story teller and author of three superb works of historical fiction in tamil - Vamsadhara, Thirumalai Thirudan and Vichitra Chitan, i invite him to give us a history author’s perspective to sculpture.
Over to Mr. Dhivakar.Vamsadhara.blogspot.com
I am sure that vijay’s effort at showcasing the art of sculpture in such a splendid manner, will resurrect this forgotten art and place it on the high pedestal that it truly deserves, for how better can we pay tribute to the greatness of these great craftsmen who managed to craft such masterpieces in the hardest stone with just a chisel and hammer.
Tamil Nadu has a had a long foray into this art form, starting from the early 6th Century, sculpture held the sway of the land till the 15th C CE dotting the landscape with thousands of temples, with brilliant sculptures, the countryside resounding with beautiful sounds of chisels hitting stone. Though the art form is still alive albeit in a much smaller spread, lending their art to the new temples that are coming up, but there still exists a wide gap between sculpture of today and then. The ancient works of art were based on strong concepts brought forward in the many myths and moral stories, sung in our literature, these amazing works were art were like moving cinescapes bringing forth the crux of the story, thereby forever etched in our memory. The sculpture would chose a good quality stone to showcase the good moral and hence his creation would stand the test of time, have stood and would still stand if not for the wanton acts of us humans. In comparison the modern works of art are bereft of this liveliness, take this new statue in a temple in Atlanta, its a beautiful work no work with excellent proportions, but something is lacking. It doesn’t move you, evoke a sense of awe inside you, for here lies the mastery of the ancients, to breathe life into stone and make it speak - stories.
The ancient sculptors were not just exhibiting their art but had a deep understanding of our culture, our heritage, literature incl devaram, thiruvaasagam, aazwar works, epics incl Mahabarath, Ramayan - they were multifaceted individuals. They had read and re read these works so as to infer the essence of these works and translate it into works of art, leaving behind a rich repository of sculpture for future generations.
Such beautiful interplay of literature with art is finding its release in this site and based on vijay’s request, i am presenting one such interesting story supported by his pictures.
Bitchandavan ( literally meaning divine beggar)
Shiva means love, shivam means old, one who has no end nor beginning,such are the many epithets that sing the praise of shiva. Shiva means nature as well. for he graced his benevolence on this world by subduing the raging Ganges which threatened to inundate the world in her fury, by catching her in his two locks of hair and then once she was truly subdued let her out as a humble stream to enrich the earth. He who has the moon as a head ornament, is also portrayed with a deer, ax, cobra , holding the flame in his hands, wearing a tiger skin dress and stamping the demon ( muyalagan), is demonic instincts also part of nature ?. How did he get to have so many items from nature as ornaments?
Generally legends and mythological stories are grounds to be threaded with care, for quite often later additions have spiced up the original versions, however there are still some left in their pristine forms -
which educate us not only of intellectual heights of those times but also give us a brief idea on the morals and lifestyles prevalent those days. And if we have the good fortune of the shivaite foursome singing the praise of these in the thevaram - thrivasagam, its a double treat. Their words were spontaneous truths encased in the best of tamil diction. One such is the humbling of the rampant pride of the saints who occupied the forests of Tharukavanam. It was due to this that Shiva adorned himself with these amazing ornaments.
From time immemorial santhana dharma has been the unwritten code so associated with religion in india and no greater souls to preach this than the great saints, who resided in the fringes of humanity, in peaceful groves inside dense forests, where their simple living served as living testaments to the faith and heights of human intelligence mixing with the divine. They were our great ancestors, who lived by the great vedas, propounding the divine knowledge of being one with
God, teaching us the right path. Their selfless yet simple life and pure devotion to God made him reside with them.
Generally speaking, the rishis /saints/ ascetics/monks are all great souls, but at times they too fall prey to the vanity of the human mind, leading to some unwanted disturbances creeping in. One such
excess was what occurred to the saints of Taarakavan.
Their single minded devotion to the vedic culture and the fact that the pure essence of the vedas bestowed on them tremendous power - to control the elements, and with great power comes great evil. They had the ascetic energy to control anything including the devas, and hence sought anything and everything from inside the vedic altar, so much so that they started ridiculing the gods, Shiva and vishnu no longer occupied their senses, for they saw no need in praying to them, for every want of theirs could be fulfilled by their innate power.
when men step out of line, nature has his better half programmed to bring him back to the right path, but the women folk of tharukavan were also so drunk on the fulfillment of their every wish, that they
too sided with their menfolk. The mortal pleasures satiated their every wish and soon they were enjoying these pleasures coming their way without much effort.
Their chastity and the power that their chastity brought on their husbands,filled their every thought. Since the multitudes shuddered to face the wrath of their chasteness, their fertile minds led them to
believe that even if Gods as shiva and vishnu did exist, they too would be powerless against them. This added to their already inflated egos.
Shiva and vishnu decided to bring this spectacle to a halt and teach them a good lesson. So shiva descended on the forest, as a charming ascetic - his brilliant golden body radiant in its nakedness, carrying just a bowl and begging the rishi wives for alms. His charm was so overpowering and the sight of his youthful body sent the women raving, for an instant even forgetting their chasteness and followed his madly.
Vishnu, at the same instant, descended as a charming enchantress, mohini - as she walked her swan step, the Rishi lusted after her, their minds loosing control over their bodies. When they both met each
other, they realised their folly.
The lady’s dropped their heads in great shame, but the rishi’s were mad with rage. immediately they summoned all their powers, and out of their sacrificial fire, they brought forth a tiger ( this was a very sinister and darkest form of yogic practise. As a last resort this was attempted by Indrajith and advised of the dire consequences by Vibeeshana it was stopped by Rama’s arrow)
Back to the forest, the evil tiger was killed by Shiva without as much as breaking a sweat and to add insult to injury, he skinned it and donned it on over his golden sheen body. Immediately the rishi’s
brought forward a horned deer with poisoned horns and a sharp axe -Shiva nonchalantly held them in his two hands. Then they brought forth poisonous cobras - which he wound around his body as ornaments. Finally, not knowing what more to do, the rishi’s threw the sacrificial fire itself at him, which he calmly caught in his begging bowl. On seeing these, their resolve was shattered and they humbly prostrated at his feet.
These deer, ax, fire etc find repeated mention in thevaram and thiruvaasagam verses.
Thus the rishis, in spite of having committed the gravest sins, falling from grace - as they were to be the examples for future generations, yet the lord did not punish them, but only reformed them with his
benevolent grace, so that we may understand the true greatness of him.For what use is the sun without his light, the fire without heat, the flower without fragrance. True sculpture too must be seen - as the confluence of art with godliness. See Bhikshadhana in this context and you would be able to truely appreciate the divine art form of sculpture.