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Posts Tagged ‘kanchipuram’

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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Friends who would have been following the earlier posts know the influence Dr. Gift Siromoney on the genesis of this site.

The Mystery behind the horns of Pallava door guardians

I wrote thus

” Friends, i am writing about a man who changed the course my life’s pursuits. Its a tale of selfless service, the reach of the net, information sharing,knowledge assimilation, leaving a lasting impression on the generations to come. I read that Einstein once said ” If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants”, thereby acknowledging the contributions of the scholars before him.

To start with, i have never met this person. For, he passed away in 1988, long before i even knew where i was headed in life.

The posts he had graciously left behind on the net, quality content, absolutely free, easily accessible, spurred me, 20 years after his death, inspiring me to use the advances in technology, the power of the net and its networking capabilities to tap on the potential of friends, to create a site, with powerful content with an unique visual appeal, absolutely free - that even a chance encounter of a casual visitor, will make him sit up and take notice, of the treasures that our great land bore out of its intellect, help protect and preserve them for future generations. Like the legendary Ekalavya, i try to follow his effort. This effort, hopefully will outlast my human existence, and pray will inspire atleast a few like me, long after i am gone.”

Now i consider it my good fortune that a chance interaction with his wife Mrs. Rani Siromoney and her generous introduction to Dr Michael Lockwood, has given me chance to relive their discoveries. I was overjoyed when he started with the words ” It was Dr.Gift Siromoney who introduced me to the magic of the Mamallapuram monuments,”

We are grateful to Mr Lockwood for allowing us permissions to use his photographs and articles. So here we are seeing a young Mr Lockwood , as he sent me the picture with this footnote - The picture of me was taken in 1969 (when I was 36 years old!). As I said in my earlier e-mail to you, the picture was taken when Gift and I (and Prof. Dayanandan) visited Vallam (2 miles east of Chingleput).)

Mr+Lockwood+vallam+caves+1969

it registered that I wasn’t even born then !!

Read more of him in this Hindu article

Dr. Lockwood

I was overjoyed with the introduction and rushed out many of my Pallava posts to him and he patiently replied to all. One such post was an intriguing one about a visit to Tirukazhukundram in search of the Somaskanda for the Somaskanda evolution series.

Tracking the evolution of the Pallava somaskanda

There in the outside corridor we had found relief sculptures of Rajasimma and I had noted one as Shiva on Rishbavahanam, little realising that it was part of a larger debate many years earlier. Mr Lockwood pointed it out with his references and also advised that there were a mirror-set on the inside of the Sanctum, but photography was not allowed.

tirukazhugukundram+veenadari

It was while reading his references ( part of his work Pallava Art) that i realised that the debate considered a small relief sculpture in the shore temple cylindrical shrine.

shoretemple+cylindrical+shrine

The relief sculpture inside is identical to one in Tirukazhugukundram. Thanks to Ashok for the excellent photographs

sculpture+inside+cylindrical+shrine

Now, if someone had told me that it was not just Shiva , not just Rishabantika Shiva, but a Veenadara - ok, i would have accepted. But Dr Lockwood identified it as an Ardanari as well. Before, we go on, we need to know that Rajasimha had some stunning iconographic signature sculptures and most of his themes are repeated in either the Olakkaneshwara or shore temple or the Kanchi Kailasanathar temple.

Olakkaneshwara doesn’t have this and so we need to look in the shore temple and Kailasantha temple. We will return to the Shore temple shortly. The Kailasanthar temple has a Veenadara Ardhanari icon and another Veenadara.

Thanks to Saurabh and Krishnamurthy uncle for the photographs

kanchi+kailasanathar+veenadari+ardanari
kanchi+kailasanathar+venaadrai+ardhanari1
kanchi+kailasantha+veenadari

We have already seen in the post on Ardhanari evolution about how the two ` halves’ are differentiated.

Tracing the refinement of the Ardhanari Image

Now, lets study the sculpture in Kailasanthar more closely

closeup+veenadari+ardhanari+kanchi
differentiation
face+of+ardhanari

Now that we are sure that it is an Ardhanari image, lets focus on the Veena.

the+veena

The Veena is more like a fret but the thing to note is the resonator. It resembles an inverted cup and is held against the breast. This tradition seems to be very much in vogue , as we see examples in Pudukkottai - A Bhairva Shiva ( Image Courtesy - Kathie), Badami ( Ardhanari again - Image courtesy - Picasa albums), Nepal ( Saraswathi - Image courtesy- Kaladarshna)

Pudukkottai+museum+veenadari
badami+cave1+veenadari+ardhanari
closeup+badami
sarasvati1

Now, the current day Veena has made the top resonator redundant.

saraswati-veena

But would be interesting to find out if we do have a variant of the earlier Veena with the reverse cup. The player would have felt the music closer to his/her heart for sure !

Ok, back to our question of identification of the Icon as Veenadara Ardhanari rishabantika shiva - Mr Lockwood supports his with two more clinching evidences. Study these two sculptures.

photoA
photoB

I quote Dr Lockwood now

Photograph A is of a sandstone image which [was] found in the courtyard of the Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram, and is remarkably
similar to the one in the much larger Tirukkazhukkunram panel. The figure in this photograph, like those of Tirukkazhukkunram and
Mamallapuram, is also seated on Nandi.

Photograph B- Veenadhara Ardhanarisvara seated on a plain throne – not on Nandi. This panel, carved on one face of a four-sided block of granite, was,
at the time the picture was taken, in 1969, located in the forecourt of the Shore temple. The figure in this panel is almost identical in
attributes and pose to the Tirukkazhukkunram, Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram images. Yet, as there is no bull in this panel,
obviously, this figure cannot be called Vrishabhantika-Siva

Further he adds, on the Kailasanatha sculpture - it is of a figure of Veenadhara- Ardhanarisvara, also seated on a plain throne. It is carved on the west side of the outer wall of the vimana of the Kailasanatha temple, Kanchi.

Now, the proof rests with the three sculptures - one is inside the Garba Graha of the Tirukazhukundram shrine - maybe we can get an expert artist to visit and sketch insitu. or get some very closeup shots of the Photo A and Photo B. But then the post script

Postscript 1997:
Pallava Art Photograph A was taken by me in the late ’60s. ThisVïnädhara Ardhanärïvara carving has, at some later time, been removed from Kanchipuram and is presently being exhibited, along with the carved block (Photograph B), in the A.S.I.’s site museum at Mämallapuram!

Postscript current day: can someone help us find these two ?

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