This post has taken almost six months to make. I first saw this panel is a presentation done by Sri Sivaramakrishnan in chennai last december, while he explained the nuances of this Ramayana Panel from Tirunageshwaran Temple in Kumbakonam. Heavy rain spoiled our plans to capture the panel in march, but guess the panel wanted it to be showcased - for thanks to help from friends and volunteers, i received superb photos from Sri K.S. Sankaranarayanan, Sri Hari Krishnan. Arvind and Ashok followed up with a specific visit as well - so we get to study this panel in depth.
Ofcourse, we had seen a similar panel but sadly plastered on one half - from Pullamangai ( thanks again to Arvind and Satheesh)
Before, we start studying the two panels, the compositions and key aspects, lets study this episode in more depth. Its a very small but interesting portrayal of Guha in Ramayana. For starters, the very mention of Guha brings up images of a humble boatman, who was immortalized by his love and devotion to Rama, but is he just a boat man. Lets see how Valmiki presents him.
sa tu raamasya vachanam nishamya pratigR^ihya cha |
sthapatistuurNamaahuya sachivaanidamabraviit || 2-52-5
Hearing the command of Rama, Guha quickly received it, invited his ministers and spoke to them as follows:
asya vaahanasamyuktaam karNagraahavatiim shubhaam |
suprataaraam dR^iDhaam tiirkhe shiigram naavamupaahara || 2-52-6
Let a beautiful boat that is solidly constructed, sails well and a helmsman in it, be brought to the bank to carry this hero across!
tam nishamya samaadesham guhaamaatyagaNo mahaan |
upohya ruchiraam naavam guhaaya pratyavedayat || 2-52-7
Hearing that command, the chief minister of King Guha brought a charming boat to the bank and reported the matter to Guha.
apramattaH bale koshe durge jana pade tathaa |
bhavethaa guha raajyam hi duraarakSatamam matam || 2-52-72
Oh, Guha! Remain vigilant in defense, finance, internal security and public relations, for a kingdom is the most difficult one to be protected!
tataH tam samanuj~naaya guham ikSvaaku nandanaH |
jagaama tuurNam avyagraH sabhaaryaH saha lakSmaNaH || 2-52-73
Then Rama, who was a delight to Ikshvaku dynasty, bade farewell to Guha and departed quickly, remaining undistracted, along with his consort and together with Lakshmana.
anuj~naaya sumantram ca sabalam caiva tam guham |
aasthaaya naavam raamaH tu codayaam aasa naavikaan || 2-52-80
Bidding farewell to Guha with his army of men and Sumantra, Rama sat on the boat and directed the boatmen to move on.
Ok, now switching back to Kamban’s tamil version, lets see his portrayal of the same scene.
Paal udai mozhiyaalum, pagalavan anaiyaanum,
seludai nedu heer sinthinar, vilayaada,
thooludai nimir kolin thuzhuvida, ezhu naavaai,
kaaludai nedujendin, sendrathu kadithu amaa!
She whose language is as milk, and he who is radiant like the sun,
played in the waters of the ganges rich in fish,
as he used the long pole to pilot the ship forward,
and it sped like a many legged crab…!
So, now comes the twist in the tale. The next few verses talk of Guha wanting to stay with Rama and Rama in his emotional outpour says the famous words - with you we become Five - meaning, he takes Guha as his own brother !! So, in kamban’s version Guha crosses the river with them. Another interesting thing to note, is the mention of the many legged crab - it could be that there were many who manned the oars of the boat as well, but the sculptor chose to ignore them to focus on just the key players.
So, in Kamban’s version Guha does row the boat and this is the scene that we are looking at in the sculpture - the key aspect being the pole used to propel the ship.
Interesting to view the posture of the man, and compare against contemporary versions - you see that he is really straining and almost bent in pushing against the pole to move the boat!!
Lets look at the other people on the boat - Rama, Sita and Lakshmana ( sadly plastered up in the Pullamangai panel)
Now, there is a subtle difference in the depiction of the passengers in the boat between the two panels. Lets see if you can spot it. Ok, Rama is turned towards Sita in the Nageshwaram panel, but thats not what we have to see.
Pullamangai - Notice how the passengers are standing inside the boat. The length of the torso is important to view.
Now, compare nageshwara depiction
Do you notice, how the torso is much shorter and if you need to extend, they would be below the waterline. Now, which is correct. I was searching for some photos of such boats when i chanced on this antique print of a fishing scene from Andaman islands
Do you notice, the person in the centre of the boat and his height as compared to the people who are handling the poles!!
Now, both these panels are prior to 950 AD. So do these point to an earlier date of Kamban than the current 12th C CE.